Empower Parents, Punish Criminals: Jason Miyares’ Commonsense Approach as Virginia Attorney General

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Three months into his tenure as Virginia’s attorney general, Jason Miyares is delivering on his promises to promote parental rights and punish violent criminals. Those issues animated voters last November and they’re now front and center for the state’s top law enforcement officer.

Miyares is part of a trio of Republicans who sent shockwaves through Richmond, unseating a two-term Democrat attorney general—the first to beat an incumbent for the job since 1885.

Just days after taking office, Miyares found himself defending Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order empowering parents to decide if their kids should be masked in school. He hasn’t slowed down since.

Miyares joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss parental rights, rogue prosecutors, and his family’s escape from Communist Cuba. Read the lightly edited transcript, listen, or watch the interview.

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Rob Bluey: Virginia voters are focused on education and parental rights, and that’s been a priority of yours. What are some of the actions that you’ve taken early in your tenure?

Jason Miyares: Our election, if there is anything that kind of encapsulated what happened in Virginia, was obviously after the infamous debate where [Terry] McAuliffe said, I don’t think parents should have a say in their children’s education. And within 48 hours, Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin’s campaign had signs that just said “Parents Matter.” And that kind of really summarized—that carried us through the campaign into elective office.

And so, aggressively standing up for that mindset of “parents matter” really started from Day One when the governor signed his executive order on the mask mandates. And it was simply this really “radical” idea, which is parents know what’s best for their children.

If you’re a parent, you want your child to be masked for eight hours a day, go ahead. But if you’re a parent and you know what’s best for your child, you know they have asthma, they have either a health condition, they just know it’s affecting their mental health, boy, you get to make that decision.

And it is amazing what we’ve seen in Virginia. … When the governor signed these executive orders and then he gave them to our office, the Attorney General’s Office, to defend them, at the times when we do it the media decries as somehow radical when just two or three weeks later, a Democratic governor doesn’t list the mask mandates, then it’s crickets.

What we’ve seen is we’re now entering the third year of this pandemic and people generally have the attitude of “let’s treat people like adults, let’s empower parents.” And then it also says what happened in our school, the curriculum and what we’re seeing in our schools.

I can think of no time that you’ve seen in recent history where in polling, where traditionally Democrats have been, “Who do you trust more in education?” The Democrats have always had that edge. I don’t agree with it, but that’s just what the polling has shown.

Now you’re seeing Republicans and conservatives have that edge, and it’s because parents have such a sense that these school boards and so many of these elected officials and so many of these school administrators aren’t listening to parents. Empower parents, listen to parents, parents matter—they know what’s best for the child. Let’s give them the tools to do what they need to do.

“Empower parents, listen to parents, parents matter—they know what’s best for the child. Let’s give them the tools to do what they need to do,” says Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, pictured with his wife and daughters. (Photo courtesy of Jason Miyares)

Bluey: What’s going on in Fairfax County with Thomas Jefferson High School?

Miyares: Well, for your listeners, Thomas Jefferson High School is a magnet school for sciences and technology. They’ve had this really “radical” idea, which is, if you are smart enough and good enough and you have the background, you can get into Thomas Jefferson High School based on merit. Your grades are there, your scores are there, you got to be able to go to Thomas Jefferson High School.

It is a majority-minority high school, traditionally. The majority of the students that attend Thomas Jefferson have been Asian. Well, the school board and Fairfax decided that even though you’re a minority-majority high school, it’s not the right minorities. And so we’ve seen communication that has since come out, they designed a policy for the No. 1 goal of reducing the number of Asian students.

Tragically, what has happened is you have state-sanctioned bigotry. The oldest form of bigotry is antisemitism, but the only state-sanctioned form of bigotry in America today is anti-Asian bigotry.

And as one parent shared with me, she said, “My daughter had straight A’s her entire life since the first grade. She’s done everything right. She has had gone the extra mile, studied on weekends for every test you can imagine. And I’m realizing that she’s going to be denied her dream to go to Thomas Jefferson High School, not because of anything she’s done, but because of who she is, because she’s Korean American.”

And so we’ve seen, since they changed this more equitable policy, a 20-point drop in enrollment of Asian American students at Thomas Jefferson High School. That is heartbreaking. No child in America should be denied their dream of what they want to achieve just because of who they are.

So, I filed against state-sanctioned bigotry, but somehow me doing this was considered a form of bigotry, which I find quite interesting.

But you had some brave parents in Fairfax County, the Coalition for Thomas Jefferson High School, and just parents that wanted something simple, just treat our kids the same, equal protection under the law, let them apply, let them achieve their dreams. And they have received such abuse. Online, they’ve been belittled, they’ve been mocked.

And I’m so proud that those parents and I’m proud to stand with those parents who want their kids to be treated like every other child. Let’s judge them based on merit and not put them in subgroups, that’s what America should be about, that’s what I want America to be about. Proud to stand with them.

At a time when “defund the police” is a common theme for the left and the media, Jason Miyares has a message for law enforcement officers: “We have your back.” (Photo courtesy of Jason Miyares)

Bluey: As big of an issue as education has been for you, there are some other things you’re working on, and I want to make sure we cover those as well, one of which is crime.

We’ve seen a spike in crime across this country. We’ve also seen George Soros funding, what we call at The Heritage Foundation “rogue prosecutors,” and you have some of those in Virginia. What efforts are you taking as attorney general to make sure that Virginians are safe in their homes and communities?

Miyares: What you’ve had is you’ve had a lot of over $30 million been spent by these far-left special-interest groups to elect these local district attorneys. In most areas they are called district attorneys, in Virginia they’re called commonwealth attorneys, but they’re local elected prosecutors.

And they’ve realized, “I don’t have to change the governor’s mansion or control the state House to change the law. I can elect these far-left, ‘criminal first, victim last’ prosecutors that will simply decide not to enforce the law.”

So you’ve had in major cities, in San Francisco and in New York City, you’ve had it in Fairfax County, in Northern Virginia, where prosecutors say entire categories of sections of the criminal code, we’re just not going to enforce. Well, not shocking, when you essentially legalize larceny by not prosecuting larceny felonies, what are you going to see more of? Larceny crimes and other crimes.

And it’s so amazing when people try to claim that this is in the name of social justice. It’s not social justice, it’s warped justice. Because criminal justice reform without criminal justice is not criminal justice, and it certainly isn’t justice for the victims of violent crime.

What you have seen is you’ve seen a murder rate skyrocket in Fairfax and all these other localities. And so we have really pushed for changes to allow us to go after a lot of these violent criminals. We have to change the code in Virginia.

I’ve actually decided to be the honorary chair of a new group called Protecting Americans Action Fund that’s going to actually provide some support for these commonsense prosecutors that really they just want to enforce the law. That’s a lot of it. And lot of it is we’re having a mass exit of law enforcement.

And the one thing that the governor and I have really been big on is to make sure law enforcement understand they’re appreciated, they’re valued, obviously, push for a big pay increase for them. But right now, you talk to law enforcement, they don’t feel like anybody has their back. They don’t feel like the media has their back. They don’t feel like these local far-left prosecutors have their back.

One thing we’ve been messaging—I’ve been going around Virginia talking to them—is: We have your back. For me to go to work in the morning and put on a coat and tie, they go to work in the morning and put on a bulletproof vest. It’s a job unlike any other.

And so we are pushing aggressively back on this. Crime is up, obviously, we’re dealing with the opioid crisis as well. And so having a “criminal last, victim first” mindset, that’s one of the first steps we’re doing in Virginia.

Bluey: You brought up the opioid crisis. I know that’s an issue that it does not get the attention that it really deserves from the national media, even state media. What is the situation in Virginia and what are some of the steps that we can take to get to solutions?

Miyares: I’ll tell you this, we are in the midst of unlike anything we’ve ever seen as a nation on this issue. We’ve lost 105,000 Americans to overdoses from opioids and fentanyl. To put things in perspective for your listeners, that is the equivalent of two Vietnam wars in 12 months. We lost about 50,000 men over 15 years of fighting in Vietnam. We’re losing twice of that in 12 months.

And if you don’t think elections matter and leadership matters and you see what’s happening at our border—it was already tragic. We were losing about 50-some thousand about every 18 months, it’s doubled for every 12, and it’s all because of what’s happened on our border.

So our office is actively, aggressively talking to other attorneys general about what we’re going to be able to do in our capacity on the border—not quite ready to announce it yet, we’ll be coming soon.

But what has happened right now, and the fact that the Biden administration is thinking about lifting Title 42 … That has been a mechanism in place to try to control some of the influx. It’s already a disaster what’s happening on our border, it’s going to be even more disaster.

And it’s not just the fentanyl and the opioids, it’s the human trafficking. These cartels, they know what’s going on. I talked to a Homeland Security agent and says the cartels knows what’s happening. They see our meager forces that we have on the border being drawn to try to deal with a humanitarian crisis and as a result, they are flooding over the border with this fentanyl.

Fentanyl the size of what’s my fingernail, it could kill everybody in a ballroom here, hundreds of people. It’s just lethal. And so it needs to be treated almost like a [weapon of mass destruction], it’s that lethal.

I talked to one state police officer, we’re having to send Narcan out with our dogs, our sniffing dogs, that’s how potent this is. It’s flooding our areas. It’s incredibly potent and we are doing everything we can to push back. But it begins with harsh sentencing for drug dealers and getting them off the streets.

When you turn your criminal justice system into a catch-and-release program, you get these dealers back on the street, they’re dealing more of this poison to our kids, and we’re seeing more and more funerals and more loved ones lost. It’s tragic, and it really goes back to making we’re sure we’re tough on these dealers and get them off the streets, and also go after these cartels.

Terrence Sears, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears, Suzanne Youngkin, the first lady of Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares, and his wife Page Miyares hold hands as the governor leads the group in prayer at the Virginia Capitol on Jan. 15, 2022, in Richmond. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Bluey: We’re talking about some pretty heavy issues here. We’re also in a situation in our country where so many people think we’re headed down the wrong track with President [Joe] Biden in the White House and some of the policies he’s pursuing, whether it be on the border or lack of enforcement there. You have the opportunity to travel Virginia and talk to people. What is your message to them?

Miyares: I think one of the main things we’ve forgotten as Americans in some ways is we’ve forgotten that we are indeed this last best hope on Earth.

I mean, I’m proudly wearing my Abraham Lincoln socks here, your listeners can’t see it. But Lincoln called us the last best hope on Earth. And if you think about it, when he said those words, we were only 80 years young as a country, we were in the midst of a horrific Civil War. But Lincoln is genius as he knew what we could become as a country.

And so that last best hope means we’ve given more second chances to more people than any country ever. We have been that beacon on a hill for so many people. And so sometimes we forget it.

What we have become and so far in this country, we have a lot of people that have created a crisis of confidence, it begins in our education system. We don’t teach American exceptionalism anymore. That’s the one thing that is astonishing for me when I talk to high school students, is they don’t ever hear it.

And I had a young person that challenged me on this recently when I was visiting a school and I said, and your listeners can do this, I said, “Listen, if you don’t believe we’re unique, go on YouTube and type in ‘Summer Olympics Tokyo,’ the most recent Summer Olympics, and watch the opening ceremony, the Parade of Nations.”

One hundred and nineteen countries walk in. There’s only one country that, when that country walks in, it looks like everyone. It looks like every color, every creed, every faith. That is what’s amazing about this country, and that we have been that light of freedom for so many people.

And young people, we could talk about where we have fallen far short, and we’ve had some dark chapters in our nation’s history, we should teach it, but goodness gracious, we should also teach that we have gotten it right a heck of a lot more than we’ve gotten it wrong as a country. And you could just look at how we are so different and it’s an amazing thing.

I’m a little biased, obviously, since my mother fled Cuba with nothing as a homeless teenager. So I tell people all the time gratitude is one of the most underrated human traits. And gratitude is one of the most underrated. I’ve always had such gratitude, the fact that I could breathe the air as a free American.

So, it’s a unique country. Those are the type of messages. And people are drawn to it. When they hear it, they instinctively realize, “You know what? We are different, we are unique, we are worth fighting for.” And it’s been a joy to be able to talk to more and more Virginians who feel that way.

Bluey: And you have a remarkable group in Richmond, the governor and Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears.

Miyares: It’s been awesome.

Jason Miyares’ mother fled Communist Cuba as a homeless teenager. “I’ve always had such gratitude, the fact that I could breathe the air as a free American,” he says. (Photo courtesy of Jason Miyares)

Bluey: You mentioned your mother and fleeing Cuba. But for our listeners who might not be familiar with your own personal family situation, what was it like growing up? And why do you value America as much as you do?

Miyares: One of my earliest memories, I remember being in my kitchen and my mother asking me to teach her the Pledge of Allegiance. And I remember thinking as a child, “Why would I teach her the pledge? How does she not know it?” And she had to learn it for her U.S. citizenship. And that’s when I finally realized.

And then I saw her become a U.S. citizen at age 6. And then short thereafter, she took me with her to go see Ronald Reagan—cast her first vote as a free person for Ronald Reagan. And that was an amazing moment for me.

And being raised in that household, it gave me such appreciation that the way we live our life is fundamentally different than the way most other people live their life, that we’re not looking over our shoulder in fear, that nobody is going to take you away in the middle of the night because you worship God in a manner the government disagrees, whether you’ve spoken out for human rights or free elections.

So, as Americans, we take that for granted. The fact is, most people don’t live their life like that. And so once you realize that, you realize we are unique.

A freedom of religion is unique and precious and is a miracle. A freedom of speech is unique and precious and is a miracle. A freedom of press is unique and special and is a miracle. Throughout most of human history, people haven’t had that, we do. So let’s make sure we preserve it.

Bluey: Thank you so much for sharing your hopeful vision for America and Virginia. Great to have you on the show.

Miyares: Thanks, Rob. Appreciate it.

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