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Tradition of AGs Stepping Down to Run for Governor Dates to 1950's

Library of Congress

For the last 60 years, trying to move from the attorney general’s office to the governor’s mansion has usually meant stepping down — resigning from one office to focus on being elected to the other.

The year was 1957. Lindsay Almond was attorney general, and Virginia was desperately trying to maintain segregation. In August of that year, Almond resigned as AG ostensibly so he could devote his full time and energy to campaigning for governor. But stepping down also let him sidestep the possibility he might be forced to defend segregation in the courts. Since that time, every AG has stepped down to run for governor except Ken Cuccinelli in 2013.

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says that allows for a clean break.

“And so I think that’s why you’ve seen attorney generals resign their offices as they were going to run for governor because they need some distance from a lot of those cases that they may be involved in or that their offices may be involved with that are seen in partisan ways.”

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says that tradition is becoming increasingly relevant.

“People expect less partisan performance from their attorney generals than they sometimes get. But that’s one of those norms that’s really changed as politics has become much more a process of trench warfare.”

Now that Attorney General Mark Herring has confirmed his is running for governor in 2021, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert is calling on the AG to resign immediately. But a spokesman for Herring says he won’t be resigning anytime soon. The election is still three years away.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.