RICHMOND — Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, officially announced his candidacy for Virginia attorney general Tuesday, highlighting his history as a prosecutor in Orange County as he billed himself as a “conservative and a crime fighter” ready to fill the role of the state’s top law enforcement official.
In a news conference at the General Assembly Building in Richmond announcing his campaign for 2013, Bell touted his experience prosecuting more than 2,400 cases in Orange and his legislative record on crime issues such as drunken driving and sexual abuse.
“We have had successes, but there is so much more that we can do,” Bell said. “Every night, there are Virginians who lock their doors and bar their windows to keep dangerous criminals at bay. I believe that’s backwards. I believe we should lock the criminals up, not our citizens. Our work will not be done until any Virginian can walk anywhere, anytime, without fear of assault or robbery or worse. All Virginians, rich and poor, deserve safe neighborhoods.”
The announcement from Bell, a 10-year veteran of the General Assembly, comes after current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s announcement last week that he’ll seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2013, setting up a nomination fight with current Lt. Gov Bill Bolling.
Bell, 44, referenced Cuccinelli several times during his speech, pointing specifically to his work with the former state senator to pass legislation to protect private property from eminent domain.
“As attorney general, I would continue to fight crime and to promote safer schools and neighborhoods,” Bell said. “I would carry on Attorney General Cuccinelli’s battle to rein in unconstitutional overreach by the federal government. I would fight to protect property rights and to eliminate unnecessary and burdensome regulations.”
State Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, is also exploring a run for the GOP nomination for attorney general, but Bell declined to comment on Obenshain’s exploratory bid.
“I’m just going to present myself, and hope that voters think I’m the right guy,” Bell said.
Bell was asked whether he saw any early alliances forming between the candidates for attorney general and the gubernatorial candidates, but he declined to align himself directly with either Cuccinelli or Bolling.
“I can work with either,” Bell said. “Of course, Ken Cuccinelli is our current attorney general and so I’ve watched what he has done and there’s some things of course that he’s worked on that I’d like to continue. I’m comfortable working with either of them, and have over the last 10 years.”
Bell ran uncontested in his 58th District in last month’s election, and said he intends to remain in the seat until the end of his term. The district includes northern and eastern Albemarle County, as well as Greene County, much of Fluvanna County and part of Rockingham County.
A graduate of the University of Virginia and the UVa School of Law, Bell also weighed in on how he would handle the “climategate” controversy, during which Cuccinelli attempted to compel UVa to turn over documents related to the research of climate change expert Michael Mann.
“The issue is if in fact there is fraud, not only can the attorney general address it, but he should address it,” Bell said. “It’s not a partisan political issue to say that you’re getting government grants using bogus data. If in fact it turns out that it’s not fraud ... then it’s not something we should be addressing.”
Bell also currently chairs the Virginia State Crime Commission, a 13-member body tasked with studying public safety and law enforcement and offering recommendations for legislative changes.
Bell said he considered a run for attorney general four years ago, but decided against it.
“My kids are four years older,” Bell said. “My law practice is in a better place where I can take a year off. I think this is a little more practical for me.”
Bell lives with his wife, Jessica, and their two children, ages 8 and 3, in northern Albemarle.
Rachel Schoenewald, chairwoman of the Albemarle County GOP, said she’s excited about Bell’s run and intends to support him in the primary.
“I’ve worked with Rob for several years now and he has been one of the most conscientious legislators I have ever met,” Schoenewald said. “His constituent service is the best out there, and he’s meticulous about the way he drafts legislation. He’s extremely hard working. When you combine all of those different things, the step up to attorney general seems like the perfect step ... I think he’s going to do a magnificent job.”
Schoenewald said 2013 is still a ways off, and the party still has plenty of work to do to prepare for next year’s elections.
“It’s great that these guys have announced ... but I think that a lot of voters will really be focused on 2012 first and then they’ll turn their head to 2013 when the time is right.”
Hometown: Born in Palo Alto, Calif., but moved frequently as father was in the Navy
Residence: Northern Albemarle
Education: University of Virginia (B.A., 1988; J.D. 1995)
Experience: Ten years in House of Delegates representing the 58th District; five years as prosecutor in Orange County
Family: Married to Jessica with two children, Robbie, 8, and Evie, 3