Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney race enters home stretch

Michael Dranove Politics

This year’s Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney (CA) race has been unusual. Typically, these races are sleepy affairs.  According to the Virginia chapter of the ACLU, between 2005 and 2015 72% of CA races in Virginia were uncontested.  For decades, Fairfax County has been a part of this story, with only two CAs since 1967.  However, for the first time in a long time, Fairfax’s CA race has become hotly contested.

What is a CA?

CAs are responsible for creating policies and procedures that determine who is prosecuted and how harshly they are prosecuted.  They are also important criminal justice lobbyists in state government. In short, they shape policy on a state and local level, and actively determine on a case by case basis how to deal with those accused and convicted of crimes in localities across Virginia.

What is this race about?

In Fairfax, nine year incumbent Ray Morrogh is facing off with former federal attorney Steve Descano.  The critical question in the race is who can claim credibility when it comes to reform.  Morrogh points to his work as a champion of a number of progressive reforms. On his website, he points to the creation of a Drug CourtVeteran’s Court, and Mental Health Court to divert non-violent offenders away from incarceration.  Descano, however, has criticized Morrogh on a number of issues, including for his opposition to voting rights for former felons, his support for the cash-bail system, and for using “failed” “tough-on-crime” strategies to combat drug use, in addition to a number of other issues.

A national trend

The debate in Fairfax represents trends in attorney elections nationally. Recent years have seen social-justice organizations focus their energy on attorney elections. Progressive attorneys have won big in Philadelphia and Chicago in races that revolved around very similar issues to the ones in Fairfax.

As voters remain undecided, big names have weighed in on the race, hoping to tip the scales. Earlier this month, The Washington Post, along with a slew of VA lawmakers, endorsed Morrogh.  On the other side, former governor Terry McAuliffe joined a broad coalition supporting Descano. 

Descano and Morrogh will face off in person one more time at a debate next Monday, June 3rd, 7-9pm at the First Baptist Church of Vienna, 450 Orchard St NW. Voters will choose between the two at the Democratic Primary on June 11th.