- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

ROANOKE The difference between the two candidates for Virginia governor once again boiled down to basic themes in last night's debate, with Republican Mark L. Earley saying his opponent will raise taxes and Democrat Mark R. Warner accusing Mr. Earley of negative campaigning and distortions.
At root is Mr. Warner's $2.25 billion transportation plan, $900 million of which would come from a sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia. Mr. Warner says he simply wants to give the region the chance to vote on the plan, but Mr. Earley says counting on that money shows Mr. Warner's support for a tax increase.
"On the day after the stock market fell 600 points, he released a written plan that called for over $900 million in tax increases in Virginia," Mr. Earley said. He said he would veto the tax referendum in the current economy, citing his own pledge not to raise taxes and Mr. Warner's refusal to make the same pledge.
But Mr. Warner said letting the voters decide isn't the same as his raising taxes.
"You've now said 13 times I'll raise taxes. You've got that one-trick pony it's just not going to work. The fact is, I will not raise taxes," he said, arguing that voters will reject Mr. Earley's continuous charges as "politics as usual."
Mr. Earley, though, wasn't shaken off his theme. "I may have said it 15 times, but it's a $900 million tax increase, so it may need to be mentioned a few more times."
At times it seemed like Chinese water torture, with both men hammering time and again on those arguments, regardless of the question posed to them.
But Mr. Earley and Mr. Warner both responded to pointed questions about their personal lives and their positions.
At one point, Mr. Warner was asked how he could reconcile supporting public schools even though he sends his children to private schools.
"My wife and I made the decision that we thought was in the best interest of our children. I'm not embarrassed about that, and I'm not apologizing for that, but I am strongly supportive of public education in Virginia," he said, pointing to his endorsement by the state's largest teachers union.
Mr. Earley, meanwhile, was asked to defend or distance himself from two of his supporters, Christian broadcasters Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson said part of the blame lies in America's moral decay.
Mr. Earley called the remarks "inappropriate," but didn't go any further in criticizing them.
The two men did respond to and disagreed on what to do about the state's hate-crimes law.
Mr. Warner said he would include sexual orientation as a protected class under the law, which imposes stricter penalties on those convicted of committing a crime against someone because of their race or religion, for example.
Mr. Earley said he opposes hate-crimes laws in general, arguing that all crimes should receive strict penalties and saying he would impose a mandatory sentence on anyone convicted of assault, regardless of the victims' membership in a special class.
The two also differed on past controversies, like the debate over Gov. James S. Gilmore III's failed attempt in 1998 to stop Michele Finn from removing her brain-damaged husband's feeding tube. Mr. Warner said he opposed the governor's intervention in such a personal decision, while Mr. Earley said it was right in that case, because Hugh Finn's parents had asked the governor to step in.
As in past debates, the two men found things to agree on.
Both men will make sure retroactive pay raises for teachers and other public employees are included in next year's budget in order to make up for the legislature's failure to enact pay raises in the budget this year.
They also reiterated their support for raising teachers' salaries to the national average.
Both will rework the system to make it easier for some convicted felons to regain their voting rights. Currently, felons must apply to the governor, who only restores voting rights of a few dozen felons a year.
The debate was aired on tape delay on NewsChannel 8 at 9 p.m. last night. It will be shown today at 10 a.m. on WRC-TV (Channel 4). It is the fourth and final debate between the two, but the only one aired statewide.
Libertarian candidate William Redpath, also on the ballot Nov. 6, wasn't allowed in the debate because he is receiving far less than 15 percent in polls, according to the debate's moderator, University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato.

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