By David T.S. Jonas
Virginia Democrats have two amazing choices for Attorney General in 2021.
Mark Herring has been a very successful AG, winning important battles in court and in crucial policy fights over the past seven years. He’s advanced Virginia on criminal justice reform, environmental protection, reducing gun violence, consumer protection, and generally beating back Republican attempts to undermine our progress and do real harm to everyday Virginians.
As a result, the bar for any primary challenger ought to be set very high. As a candidate, you need to show you can maintain this level of effectiveness and generate even more legal momentum for improving people’s lives in Virginia.
In other words, it takes someone with real talent and an overwhelming case to be our next AG—and Del. Jay Jones has cleared that bar for me.
This endorsement is a long time coming: I saw all these qualities and more firsthand when Jay was working to pass his legislation to bring down the cost of electric bills in Virginia—the Fair Energy Bills Act.
Coalition-based politics can be messy, and there are few places where that’s more true than when confronting Dominion Energy.
Often times, it’s not policy preferences that dominates the debate on utility policy in Virginia, but rather who gets the benefit of easy campaign cash, plum committee assignments, and other goodies that come from advancing the interests of a state-granted monopoly.
The law itself has been designed (often quite literally by the utilities) to be opaque and too complex for your average part-time legislator to understand. Untangling all the tricks and traps takes real legal and policy chops.
It’s not a game for the weak of stomach.
But Jay never seemed all that worried about those real and immediate costs as he took on the fight. He never whined or complained as obstacles started being thrown in his way. He just got to work.
Jay had to do the impossible—he had to inspire newer elected Democrats to take the risk of angering more senior allies, he had to peel off traditionally utility-friendly legislators, and he had to court enough Republicans to get past Dominion’s staunchest Democratic backers in the General Assembly.
Watching Jay do it was impressive. I don’t think there’s a skillset in politics I admire more than being able to build and manage “underdog” coalitions. Whatever that magic is, he has it.
One moment in particular: Jay was testifying on his bill in front of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee (which Dominion has effectively run for decades) when Republican Leader Tommy Norment said something terrible/wrong, and the pro-reform crowd broke out into boos.
Jay turned around, asked the crowd to be respectful, and quickly refocused the debate back on the issues at hand. He wasn’t there to score points off making Norment look bad (Lord knows he could have)—he was there to show that his legislation actually fit the committee’s stated policy goals over the years.
In the end, his bill failed in the Senate by just one vote—a miracle in-of-itself.
And Jay’s reaction to that: we’ll be back. It’s a long fight, and we’re not close to done.
I will be quite honest: I think Mark Herring has been a great Attorney General. I think he does his homework, tends to win the battles he engages in, and would normally be an easy choice for a third term.
But I always set out a bar for any candidate to clear. In this case, it was very high.
But Jay cleared it. He’s the leader we need as we confront a new generation of challenges. And I hope voters will reward his promise with their support.
I’m proud to endorse him.