Mark Herring is the attorney general of Virginia. He has attracted growing attention in recent days, because of the growing scandals engulfing both the governor and the lieutenant governor of Virginia. But on Wednesday morning, Herring came forward to talk about his own past. In a statement, Herring said that he and a group of friends once put on blackface before attending a college party. Herring said he and his friends ‘put on wigs and brown make up” and dressed up as their favorite rappers. You can read his full statement about that here.
Virginia governor Ralph Northam has faced calls to resign ever since his medical school year book surfaced. Northam’s year book page includes a disturbing photograph featuring one person wearing a Klansman’s hood and another wearing blackface. Northam initially said that he was one of the people in the photograph, but later said he was not in the photo at all. He has vowed not to step down as governor.
If Northam does resign, his lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, would be next in line. But Fairfax is facing a sexual abuse scandal; according to a story on the conservative news site Big League Politics, a woman has accused him of sexually assaulting her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax has denied the accusation. The Washington Post has said that the woman also approached them with the story, but that they decided not to run it because they couldn’t substantiate her allegations.
In the event that both Governor Northam and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax resign, attorney general Mark Herring would be next in line to take over as governor of Virginia. Here’s what you need to know about Mark Herring:
1. Herring Has Called on Governor Northam to Step Down
On Saturday, Mark Herring released a statement saying that it was “no longer possible” for Northam to lead the Commonwealth of Virginia. Herring pledged to support Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax if Northam steps down. He didn’t refer directly to the racist year book photo that surfaced from Northam’s medical school. Herring wrote, “It is no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down. I have spoken with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax and assured him that, should he ascend to the governorship, he will have my complete support and and commitment to ensuring his success and the success of our Commonwealth.”
Lieutenant Governor Fairfax has said, about Northam’s year book page, that he “cannot condone the actions from his past that, at the very least, suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping, and intimidation.”
2. Herring Has Said He Plans to Run for Governor in 2020
In December, Herring, a Democrat, told the Washington Post that he is planning to run for governor of Virginia in the next election. The attorney general talked about his work on gun control, health care, and “pushback on the Trump administration,” and said that he would like to continue to work on those issues as governor. He told the Post, “I’ve been really honored to play a part in building a safer, stronger, more economically dynamic and inclusive Commonwealth as a county supervisor, a state senator, and as attorney general, and I think the best way to continue that work would be as Governor. There’s still a lot I want to accomplish as attorney general, but when the time comes I’ll be ready.”
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is also expected to run for governor, although he has not officially announced plans yet.
3. Herring Made a Name for Himself by Refusing to Back Virginia’s Ban on Same Sex Marriage
In 2006, when Herring was a state senator, he voted in favor of Virginia’s law on same sex marriage. But in 2014, after being elected to his first term as attorney general, he announced that he had changed his position. Herring argued that the ban on same sex marriage violated the constitution and that he would not defend the ban. He laid out his argument in an opinion piece in USA today, which you can read here.
Herring wrote, in part, “In my independent constitutional judgment, Virginia’s ban on marriage equality violates the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. In the tradition of past attorneys general, I believe I am duty bound to uphold the U.S. Constitution, rather than support a Virginia law that is both unconstitutional and demeaning to Virginia’s same-sex couples.”
4. Herring Was Raised by a Single Mother & Worked His Way Through College
Herring spent most of his childhood in Loudoun County, Virginia. He was born in Johnson City, Tennessee, in the Appalachian Mountains. His mother, who was originally from Memphis, worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines but left her job when she married Herring’s father. The couple got divorced when Herring was young, and he, his mother, and his sister moved to Loudoun County.
Herring later said he remembered seeing his mother’s struggles, as a single parent raising a family. “I remember seeing how she struggled with some of the hardships raising my sister and I,” he told Richmond’s Style Weekly.
As a young man, Herring worked to pay his way through college, taking on construction jobs and odd jobs. Herring says that, as attorney general, his priorities are cracking down on heroin dealers, and going after violent gang members, gun runners, and human traffickers.
Herring also says he’s proud of his office’s work reducing Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits. And he points to his work on the opiod crisis, where he pushed for easier access to the overdose treatment drug naloxone, as another success for his office.
5. Herring Is Married & Has Two Grown Children
Mark Herring has been married to his wife, Laura, for 27 years; they met the summer before he began law school. Laura works as a middle school teacher in Loudoun County. The couple has two children: a 24 year old daughter, Peyton, and a 21 year old son, Tim. They have an apartment in Richmond and a house in Leesburg, Virginia. They are members of Leesburg Presbyterian Church.