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Jason Miyares wants to be Virginia’s chief crime fighter

Person speaks into microphone
Cliff Owen/AP
FR170079 AP
Republican Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares speaks at a September candidate forum. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Republican Jason Miyares promises to put victims before criminals as Virginia’s new Attorney General. He says that’s his top priority once he’s sworn in at Saturday’s inauguration.

As a former commonwealth’s attorney in Virginia Beach, he says most of the cases he prosecuted were for drugs or theft. However, he insists that regardless of the crime, there is always a victim.

“They’re exhibiting a lot of the same traits, PTSD, as somebody who has come back from war,” he says. “But they didn’t sign up for combat.”

Miyares’ philosophies are in stark contrast to laws Democrats recently passed — such as ones that reduce penalties for certain crimes and eliminate the death penalty – all largely in response to calls for racial equity in a justice system that has historically targeted Black people.

In a recent Washington Examiner op-ed Miyares accused “social justice” prosecutors like Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano of forgetting victims and failing to prosecute serious crimes. 

“Part of our legislative package that we are going to propose would be a bill that says, listen, if you have a local prosecutor that’s refusing to prosecute certain crimes, the chief of police and the sheriff’s office can come to the attorney general’s office and say, ‘take a look at this,’” Miyares told VPM in a recent interview.

Descano argues Miyares doesn’t understand what drives crime or the effects of what he says are failed policies.

“I don’t answer to him,” Descano says. “I am elected by the people of my community and I answer to them. And what they want is the type of job that I’ve been doing for the past two years.

“He can advocate for powers to do things that would undermine the will of local communities, but I’m fairly confident that there are enough right-thinking people in the General Assembly to make sure that that type of bill would never get through.”

Miyares also says he’ll work with the federal government to bring back a controversial crime-fighting tool called “Project Exile” to combat gun violence in Virginia. Another vistage of the tough-on-crime era of the ‘80s and ‘90s,  the program sent people convicted of carrying an illegal firearm while committing a felony to out-of-state prisons.

Despite Miyares’ focus on crime, the Office of the Attorney General is chiefly tasked with defending the state in civil cases, not criminal. University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias says the day-to-day work of the attorney general’s office typically involves things like the Department of Transportation’s liability or lawsuits over disagreements within state agencies.

“I’ve actually had people in that office tell me that they don’t see much difference in a vast run of cases. And I think that’s true, because if you think of some of the kind of litigation they’re involved in, it doesn’t have a political angle to it,” Tobias said.

Miyares has also weighed in on COVID mandates, saying he’ll fight the federal requirement that businesses with more than 100 employees have their employees vaccinated. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether that policy can stay in place.

There is, however, some overlap with his Democratic predecessor Attorney General Mark Herring.

He’s committed to policies that protect consumers.

“We’re seeing so many cyber threats and ransomware,” Miyares said. “We just had that happen in the General Assembly. I think there’s a lot of policies that we could push forth and advocate for.”

Miyares plans to release his legislative agenda following Saturday’s inauguration.

Miyares will be the first Latino to serve in a statewide office in Virginia.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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