A little-celebrated victory was overlooked by the press in last month’s election results when Republicans held onto their 26-member majority in state attorneys general offices across the country.
“We kept all five incumbent seats, despite the fact that, in October, Democrats were claiming they were going to take up at least three seats,” said Adam Piper, the executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
A state attorney general is that state’s top lawyer. Their responsibilities are broad, from investigating criminal operations, protecting seniors from scams, monitoring larger mergers that may overstep anti-trust laws, as well as investigating public corruption, and defending a state if it is sued.
They are also political, often working with or challenging their governor or state legislature.
Piper said the line of defense Republican attorneys general will possess will be more coordinated than ever before. “You will see Republican AGs take bold action to make sure that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cannot unconstitutionally use the phone and the pen the same way Barack Obama attempted to do so,” he said.
“I say ‘attempted to do so’ because when you look at after the two years where Barack Obama had a Democrat U.S. Senate, after Harry Reid left, Barack Obama really wasn’t that successful in getting unconstitutional executive actions through, whether it was the overtime rule, the Clean Power Plan, immigration, Waters of the United States, and dozens of others. Republican AGs were able to solve those. Protecting the right to work, protecting the rule of law, and protecting predictability in the process for our business regulatory and legal climates,” Piper explained.
As Piper sees it, Republican attorneys general are the one thing that will defend the country during the Biden-Harris administration.
Next year, Piper has his eyes on Virginia — which he admits is an uphill climb considering how blue Old Dominion has become since 2009. To date, only one Republican candidate has announced his intention to run for the office: Jason Miyares, a state delegate and former Virginia Beach prosecutor who has served in the House since 2016.
Democrat incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking a third four-year term. Delegate Jay Jones, a Norfolk Democrat, is challenging him in a primary. “That will definitely be a contentious Democrat primary,” said Piper.
Piper added that it is too early to tell what the Republican Attorneys General Association’s investment will be in Virginia. “We are taking a very hard look at it, but frankly, right now, we have not made any definitive decision with our board because we have not looked at the raw numbers,” he said. “While Virginia does have a history of swinging back and being a check on power, we also have to be cognizant that Virginia is really about four or five different states.”
Piper’s big win in 2019 was Daniel Cameron in Kentucky, a race that few covered but ended up becoming a rising-star moment for the Republican Party, with Cameron giving a powerful personal speech at last summer’s Republican National Convention.
While the Democratic Party’s counterpart was flush with money this cycle, most of which was spent on television buys, the Republican Attorneys General Association takes a more surgical approach, spending about 40% of their budget on television ads.
Of course, Democratic candidates had a lot more money to spend on their races. In Pennsylvania, Democrat incumbent Attorney General Josh Shapiro outspent his Republican challenger Heather Heidelbaugh 6-to-1 but didn’t have an overwhelming victory.
“In North Carolina, Josh Stein spent $8 million just on TV from Labor Day to Election Day, and only won his seat by 10,000 votes, not impressive,” said Piper of one of two seats they lost to well-funded incumbent Democrats.
In 2018, Republicans lost four attorney general seats in the brutal midterm elections. Piper said he will stop short of saying they are going to gain four seats in 2022, “but we’re going to try our hardest. We’ve regained the majority since I’ve been executive director, and we want to increase that majority. People thought I was crazy when I said we could do it in North Carolina. We’ve come a razor blade away from doing so.”
Piper is blunt about why he believes conservative attorneys general matter: “Let’s just strip the bark off the tree here. The rule of law matters. The Constitution matters. The safety and security of states matter. If people want to live, work, and play in the safest places and safest communities possible, they want a Republican attorney general who supports the rule of law. Not a Democratic attorney general.”
Piper points to the “America is burning, but that’s how forests grow” comment from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to the Boston Chamber of Commerce in June. “Republican AGs support the rule of law, and Democratic AGs cheer and condone the burning of our communities.”
Piper is pragmatic about what 2021 and 2022 may hold for Republican attorney general candidates. “I think that we have a chance to pick up a seat or two between 2021 and 2022,” he said. “Virginia is an opportunity. Iowa is an opportunity. Nevada is an opportunity. And Wisconsin is an opportunity.”
Those races will move their way, Piper says, the more people reject the liberalism of Biden and Harris and how they’re going to try to govern.
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