John Adams might share a name with one of America’s founding fathers, but he’s spent most of his life outside of the political arena. This year, however, Adams is following in his namesake’s footsteps by serving as the Republican Party candidate for attorney general.
A longtime lawyer and former federal prosecutor, Adams hopes to defeat incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring, who is running for a second term.
The two candidates possess starkly contrasting philosophies: During his first term, Herring promoted liberal stances by fighting policies including United States President Donald Trump’s travel ban and a state amendment banning same-sex marriage. Adams is a staunch conservative who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, but he said that unlike Herring, he will not let personal beliefs guide his actions as attorney general.
My decision to get into the race was motivated by what I believe is the sort of extreme politicization of the attorney general’s office,” Adams said. “If you look at my life experience, I haven’t been a politician. I’ve been a lawyer.”
“My decision to get into the race was motivated by what I believe is the sort of extreme politicization of the attorney general’s office,” Adams said. “If you look at my life experience, I haven’t been a politician. I’ve been a lawyer.”
Adams was raised in Chesterfield County and studied economics at the Virginia Military Institute. Following graduation, he became a U.S. naval officer and was deployed to areas including the Pacific, the Middle East and Central America.
After completing his naval service, Adams enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law. He has worked in law ever since, first as a clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court and now as a private practitioner.
According to Adams, these experiences have prepared him to hold the position of attorney general. He said that his time at the Supreme Court enabled him to understand complex constitutional issues, while his role as associate White House counsel to former U.S. President George W. Bush taught him how to advise government officials.
Although he holds conservative views –– in addition to opposing liberal stances on several hot-button social issues, he supports the right to purchase and own firearms and believes in a privately-run, competitive insurance market –– Adams said that the attorney general’s job is to determine appropriate legal action rather than advocate for partisan legislation.
I’m running to be the lawyer for Virginia, and that’s an important, important distinction between, let’s say, running to be in the legislature, where … you’re going to take certain policy ideas and push [them],” Adams said. “I am going to provide legal advice that is objective, accurate and timely. Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, if you ask me, as attorney general, what the law allows, you’re going to get the same answer.”
“I’m running to be the lawyer for Virginia, and that’s an important, important distinction between, let’s say, running to be in the legislature, where … you’re going to take certain policy ideas and push [them],” Adams said. “I am going to provide legal advice that is objective, accurate and timely. Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, if you ask me, as attorney general, what the law allows, you’re going to get the same answer.”
If elected, Adams’s first step will be tackling Virginia’s opioid crisis. He plans to establish a substance abuse coordination center where representatives from the law enforcement, rehabilitation and medical communities can connect and share information regarding aid efforts.
Other priorities include protecting religious freedom –– previously, Adams has provided pro-bono legal work for a religious group, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and defended Hobby Lobby’s refusal to provide contraceptive services under the Affordable Care Act –– and fighting “spoofing,” a trick fraudsters use to display false caller I.D. information.
Adams said that many individuals laugh at the concept of spoofing; however, it remains a problem that can lead to significant criminal activity.
Spoofing is one of several issues Herring and Adams have clashed over during the campaign. This July, Herring opted not to join a group of attorney generals petitioning the Federal Communications Commission for greater efforts to fight spoofing and robocalls. Adams referred to this decision as a “failure” and said that his campaign team decided to highlight the issue in response.
At an Oct. 20 debate in Leesburg, Virginia, Adams accused Herring of using his office to push a liberal agenda, particularly regarding social issues. He called Herring’s efforts to stop a state ban on same-sex marriage “unconscionable,” at least from a legal standpoint, and criticized the incumbent’s failure to end the opioid crisis.
In response, Herring cited successes including the testing of 3,000 backlogged rape kits and continuing efforts to increase Virginians’ access to health care. He said that Adams is the one fixated on social issues and added that political stances play a larger role in the attorney general’s job than Herring thinks.
Overall, Adams said he will strive to be a lawyer for Virginia, not another politician –– and he thinks that this approach may help him win over younger voters.
“My impression of young voters is they share my frustration with politics just being so deeply ingrained in every part of their life, and they feel like we need a government that is more responsive to the citizens,” Adams said.