Attorney general candidates make pitches at forum

FRONT ROYAL – There wasn’t much space – literally or figuratively – between three Republican candidates for attorney general who appeared at a forum Saturday organized by the Warren County Republican Committee.

The three – Chesterfield attorney John Adams, Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, and Virginia Beach attorney Chuck Smith – were seated close together at a table as they took turns denouncing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s efforts to restore voting rights for convicted felons who have completed their sentences. They also vowed to resist President Obama’s directive allowing transgender students to use bathrooms of their choosing.

They also objected to the title of the Black Lives Matter movement, declaring that all lives matter in debates about violent encounters between police and blacks and violent crimes – whether committed by police or black civilians – should be equally prosecuted.

Adams, Bell and Smith also heaped scorn on Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat who is running for re-election. The election is more than a year away and the fast approaching Clinton-Trump presidential election is claiming most of the public’s attention, but candidates for statewide office in 2017 are already campaigning.

“I am running because of Mark Herring,” Adams said, “because I have seen what he had done to us, and it is intolerable.”

Adams is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, a former naval officer and former associate White House counsel for former President George W. Bush. Adams also clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and worked as a federal prosecutor.

Bell cited Herring’s refusal to argue on behalf of the state when the prohibition against same sex marriage, eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, was challenged in a lawsuit. Bell also criticized Herring for refusing to defend the state’s voter identification law and refusing to recognize concealed handgun permits from 25 states, an action later reversed by a law signed by McAuliffe.

“It’s time to fire Mark Herring,” Bell said.

Smith drew scattered applause in his comments about Muslims and refugees from Syria.

“We don’t need more laws,” Smith said. “We need to enforce the laws we’ve got. We don’t need more mosques, and Muslims and refugees until we first protect the citizens we have.”

Smith added: “We need to make sure we do not become another Dallas, we do not become another San Bernardino, we do not become Paris or Nice. We need to make sure we are securing Virginia for Virginians.”

Smith told the audience that he enlisted in the Marines in 1970 “at the height of the Vietnam War,” but records from the National Archives show the war had tapered off considerably from 1968 when the number of American deaths peaked at 16,899. There were 6,173 deaths in 1970. Direct U.S. military involvement ended in 1973.

Smith, a graduate of North Carolina Central University School of Law, has practiced law for 36 years, including stints as a prosecutor and defense attorney in the Navy JAG Corps. He has also been a special assistant U.S. attorney.

Bell graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law and has been a member of the General Assembly since 2002. He cited his persistent work leading to passage of a constitutional amendment limiting the power of government to seize property for development purposes as an example of his effectiveness. He has also worked as a prosecutor.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com