- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

When it comes to the death penalty, Virginia Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine is in danger of morphing into the 2005 version of Michael Dukakis. That’s a very bad position to be in in the Old Dominion, which Mr. Dukakis lost by 21 percentage points to George H.W. Bush in 1988, and where a recent poll showed Virginians favoring the death penalty by a margin of more than 3-1.

During an Oct. 13, 1988 debate, Mr. Dukakis was asked if he would be willing to support the death penalty in the case of someone who raped and murdered his wife,. He robotically replied that he would not — providing one of the most memorable moments during his political free-all in the final weeks of that campaign. Mr. Kaine looks to have a Dukakis-like problem of his own on capital punishment, and state Democrats are worried about the fact that Republican nominee Jerry Kilgore is running a factual, hard-hitting series of advertisements noting Mr. Kaine’s doctrinaire opposition to the death penalty.

The Kilgore commercials feature murder victims’ relatives criticizing Mr. Kaine’s opposition to capital punishment. The family members say they do not believe Mr. Kaine when he promises not to block all executions and says he will “uphold” Virginia law. Mr. Kilgore makes the point that Virginia law gives a governor wide-ranging authority to implement an effective death-penalty moratorium by blocking executions on a “case-by-case” basis.

Indeed, few issues have defined Mr. Kaine’s legal and political careers as much as his across-the-board opposition to the death penalty. When running for lieutenant governor in 2001, Mr. Kaine supported a moratorium on executions. When Mr. Kaine moved to Richmond to practice law in 1984, he contacted death-penalty foes and volunteered to assist death-row inmates in appealing their cases. One of his first clients was Richard Whitley, who was executed in 1987 for the rape and murder of an elderly Fairfax County neighbor seven years earlier. Mr. Kaine, who did not dispute Whitley’s guilt, said he provided approximately 1,000 hours of largely free legal work on behalf of Whitley. Afterwards, he suggested that Whitley’s execution was somehow analogous to political persecution abroad. “Murder is wrong in the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala, in Fairfax County… and even the Spring Street Penitentiary,” he told The Post at the time. In 1996, he participated in a rally against the death penalty. In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch last month, Mr. Kaine refused to say definitively whether he would agree that Hitler should have been executed.

This is just part of Mr. Kaine’s long record of across-the-board opposition to the death penalty. The Washington Post and other death-penalty opponents have stridently denounced Mr. Kilgore for pointing out that Mr. Kaine, while in private practice, voluntarily decided to represent convicted murderers; they claim that by criticizing Mr. Kaine, Mr. Kilgore is somehow suggesting that these defendants are not entitled to legal representation. This is nonsense. Of course Mr. Kaine has every right to represent any client he chooses. But it is no less reasonable for Mr. Kilgore to suggest that Mr. Kaine’s legal work on behalf of people like Whitley is more than just an attorney representing a client. It is also part of a larger political/legal effort led by groups like the ACLU to prevent the most violent criminals from ever being executed. The shrill political campaign to distort Mr. Kilgore’s legitimate substantive points about Tim Kaine and the death penalty strongly suggests that the Republican nominee is on the right track.



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