He’s not the same John Adams who played a key role in America’s founding, but he is related to the second president and is running for attorney general in Virginia to restore the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution to an office he says is being used for political activism.
“I actually am from the same family in Massachusetts, and I always tell people I think we’re going to be in good shape as long as Thomas Jefferson doesn’t get into the race,” said Adams.
The contest for attorney general is one of three statewide in Virginia, along with races for governor and lieutenant governor. The Old Dominion is one of only two states in the U.S. electing top leaders in 2017. New Jersey is the other.
Adams is an attorney in private practice who has never before run for public office. But he points to plenty of public service, including in the U.S. Navy and as a federal prosecutor, a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and associate counsel in the George W. Bush administration.
He is challenging incumbent Democrat Mark Herring, who scored a razor-thin and controversial victory over Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain in 2013 to become attorney general. Adams says Herring has turned the office into a political apparatus for the Democrats.
“Our attorney general in Virginia has politicized the office, and he’s taken it from being the law firm of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which has a lot of important things to do, and he’s turned it into almost a political weapon for his causes. To me, that’s just entirely improper,” said Adams.
“In our form of self-government, once the citizens of Virginia decide what they want the law to be and the law is passed, it’s the job of the attorney general to defend that law and to support the citizens of Virginia as their lawyer, not to pick and choose what laws he’ll defend or even attack,” said Adams.
Adams said there are several issues on which Herring abdicated his responsibility to defend existing law and instead held the opposite position.
The most well-known example came in the definition of marriage. Virginia voters approved a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. As a state lawmaker, Herring himself voted to preserve traditional marriage.
However, upon entering office in 2014, Herring soon announced he would not defend the amendment against court challenges and actively supported the couples challenging it.
Adams said that regardless of what voters think about the definition of marriage, Herring’s actions were way out of line.
“Setting aside what your belief is on the issue, it was not his right as our attorney general to sue his own client on that case and take a position opposite to the people who hired him to be their lawyer. That’s really problematic,” said Adams.
But Herring’s activism extends to many more issue and costs Virginia taxpayers a lot of money, Adams said.
“Our voter ID law was challenged. He refused to defend that. That cost Virginia taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, going out and hiring another law firm to do the job the AG should have done,” said Adams.
Another alleged abdication came on the issue of right to work, a law Virginia embraces.
“He doesn’t like right-to-work laws. He filed briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court in a case last year, arguing that public schoolteachers in California should be required to join a union to get a job. But that’s not the law and policy of Virginia. And we shouldn’t have an attorney general using our attorney general’s office to pursue his own political agenda,” said Adams.
Adams is also slamming Herring for being a political activist on issues such as concealed carry and illegal immigration.
“(Herring) singlehandly revoked concealed carry reciprocity, which was so outlandish that he was overruled by that bastion of conservatism, (Virginia Democratic Gov.) Terry McAuliffe. Mark Herring did that and people remember it and they know it.
“His decision on allowing in-state slots and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is something he did on his own,” said Adams.
In addition to defending laws on the books, Adams said the attorney general needs to exercise good judgment in deciding which cases to prosecute, and he said Herring has dropped the ball there as well.
“As the attorney general, when do you use the power of the attorney general’s office to go on offense to sue, typically the federal government, could be another state or other entities. Clearly Mr. Herring uses that power in a very highly political, highly partisan way,” said Adams.
As an example, Adams pointed to Herring’s challenge to the Trump administration’s travel ban, which he called unconstitutional and un-American.
“They lost 9-0 in the U.S. Supreme Court. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t agree,” said Adams.
There are also major ethical concerns, including Herring’s repurposing of money from a fund created from seized assets that the previous attorney general had set aside to assist victims of human trafficking. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Herring used that money to give raises to his lawyers and other staff.
“As a policy matter, we don’t allow them to use that money for pay raises or bonuses because that gives terrible incentives to give those in the government [reason] to seize assets,” said Adams.
With that track record over the past four years, Adams said it’s not hard to make a case against another term for Herring.
“He’s actually not running on his record. I’m running on his record. He’s trying to run from it. But he’s got it. We’ve gotten a lot of attention, and we feel great about it coming down the homestretch,” said Adams.
Adams is well-versed on his indictment of Herring, but how would he conduct himself as attorney if elected?
“I’m a lawyer. I have a client and my client is Virginia. If the federal government, for example, exceeds its legal authority and harms Virginia, then I will go on offense because that’s my job. I’m a lawyer and I know how to do it,” said Adams, noting that he has experience as a prosecutor and Herring does not.
He said he has no problem filing suit against an administration of either party if he believes it is violating the law and harming Virginia.
“I’ll go against the federal government whether there is a Democratic president or a Republican president. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is I have a client. That client is the sovereign Commonwealth of Virginia. The citizens of Virginia have a right to govern themselves. If their rights are infringed by the federal government, I will take action to defend those rights,” said Adams.
Adams said it goes without saying that he will vigorously defend all laws on the books in Virginia and that he will also take aim at growing problems like the opioid epidemic and rising crime due to the scourge of gang violence in several Virginia cities.
With federal politics playing out just across the river in Washington and two other races higher on the ballot, it would be easy for the attorney general’s race to take a very low profile, but Adams said Herring’s record is well known by the voters even before they hear his message.
Adams promises Virginians will “be sick of me by the end of the next few weeks” as he plans an aggressive campaign to highlight Herring’s record and his own promises.
As always, Adams said the results in November will depend upon turnout.
“This is coming down to the wire. The most important thing is for people to get out and vote on November 7th. Call all your friends, your family, your friends from church, your co-workers. If we’re going to restore some sanity to the attorney general’s office, we need to get everyone out to vote on November 7th,” said Adams.