By Mason Votes Staff Writer Ethan Vaughan
As the Virginia campaign enters its final week, voters are tasked with the important responsibility of electing several key government officials, among them is the Commonwealth’s attorney general. Both Democrat Steve Shannon and Republican Ken Cuccinelli have claimed to be the most qualified for the position, but what does being Virginia’s senior lawyer actually entail?
According to the attorney general official website, the office, currently occupied by Republican Bill Mims, “is charged with providing advice to state agencies and the Governor; serving as consumer counsel for the people of the Commonwealth; defending criminal convictions on appeal to ensure that justice is served; and defending the laws of the Commonwealth when they are challenged on constitutional grounds.”
The attorney general is one of only three statewide elected officers, the other two being the lieutenant governor and governor. Virginia attorneys general serve four-year renewable terms.
When a legal question comes before a state institution or the constitutionality of a state policy is in question, the Office of the Attorney General is responsible for providing the governor and other relevant officials with prescient counsel, directing them toward the path that best defends citizens’ rights while responsibly advancing the interests of the state.
This direction can sometimes take the form of written legal opinions delivered to members of the General Assembly to assist them in the drafting of laws.
The Office of the Attorney General takes an active role regarding issues that affect large numbers of residents, such as domestic violence, consumer protection, debt collection, assisting criminal investigations in some instances, enforcement of child support obligations, supervising “the appointment and payment of private attorneys hired by other state agencies,” assisting crime victims in their legal cases, fighting identity theft, administering grants, and operating a sexual offenders’ registry, according to the attorney general website.
The attorney general must also oversee the important task of defending criminals’ convictions on appeal.
In a statement released to Mason Votes, Shannon’s campaign touted the Democrat’s experience as a Fairfax County prosecutor who confronted gang and domestic violence, specifically targeting sexual predators. The statement went on to say that Shannon who in 2001 co-founded, with his wife Abby, the Washington metropolitan AMBER alert system, is “running to make Virginia safer by cracking down on drugs, gang leaders and Internet predators who target our kids.”
“I’ve actually sat in a court room with gang members sitting behind me as I argued a case against one of their own,” Shannon said during this month’s attorney general debate. “I’ve had the sheriffs escorting me to and from the courtroom, checking under my jeep to see if there’s a car bomb there. I’ve presented the photographs of children who were beaten to death by members of MS 13. I’ve been through that.”
The campaign went on to criticize Cuccinelli, saying that he “wants to use the position to push his own radical political agenda on the people of Virginia.”
Cuccinelli’s campaign did not respond to attempts to contact them, but throughout the campaign he has emphasized his experience as a court-appointed attorney for the mentally disabled and stressed the importance of his economic and social policies, and his ability to defend what he sees as critical constitutional issues, among them Virginia’s right-to-work laws.
“We need to reduce regulations and strip out those that don’t provide more of a benefit than a cost,” he said during this month’s attorney general debates. “I do not favor collective bargaining. I have a zero percent voting record with the AFL-CIO. My opponent has a 100 percent voting record with the AFL-CIO. That’s a job-killing record.”
Cuccinelli has also been a vigorous advocate of mental health reform, urging more “humane” treatment for the mentally disabled.
“I don’t want to minimize [mentally disabled defendants’] culpability,” Cuccinelli told the George Mason University College Republicans at their first October meeting. “But there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be in jail in the first place if it weren’t for their mental health issues. We need to change the statutes we have and get these folks treatment that is more appropriate. Deputies aren’t trained to deal with mental health issues, so they resort to things like imposed isolation to handle it, and that’s a problem. We need to deal with these people in a way that’s more…effective.”
Go here for more information on the Shannon and Cuccinelli campaigns.