Saturday, January 22, 2005

With Jerry Kilgore’s announcement last week of his resignation as Virginia attorney general, the stage has been set for a classic conservative vs. liberal showdown in the race to become Virginia’s next governor, pitting Mr. Kilgore against Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine.

Since winning a 20-point landslide election in 2001, Mr. Kilgore has been an activist attorney general in the best sense — at times overshadowing Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who won with 52 percent of the vote in 2001, and Mr. Kaine, a Warner loyalist who was elected with 50.5 percent of the vote. This was particularly true during the year following the November 2002 landslide defeats of two referendums pushed by Mr. Warner that would have increased taxes to pay for transportation projects.

Mr. Kilgore has pushed the General Assembly to enact legislation making it easier to prosecute violent street gangs, in particular the Salvadoran gang known as the MS-13, which is active in Northern Virginia. He opposed Mr. Warner’s efforts to permit illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition rates. Mr. Kilgore worked with members of the General Assembly to enact legislation (over Mr. Warner’s objections) banning driver’s licenses for illegals. He has questioned efforts by state colleges and universities to institute racial preferences. The attorney general opposed the efforts by the governor and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester to pass a $1.38 billion tax-increase package last year. Mr. Kilgore has also been extraordinarily active in prosecuting serial sexual predators.

In the early stages of his campaign for governor, Mr. Kilgore has sought to focus attention on the differences between himself and Mr. Kaine over capital punishment. Mr. Kilgore favors the death penalty, while Mr. Kaine opposes it. Mr. Kaine says that although he personally opposes executions, he will enforce the law. But Mr. Kilgore contends that Mr. Kaine is so fervent in his opposition that he would be incapable of doing this. Mr. Kilgore cites the case of Richard Whitley, executed in 1987 for sexually assaulting and murdering a female neighbor. Mr. Kaine, who was Whitley’s lawyer, told The Washington Post that “murder is wrong in the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala, in Fairfax County … and even the Spring Street Penitentiary,” in Richmond, the former site of Virginia’s executions. In a state where support for the death penalty is strong — if not overwhelming — Mr. Kilgore believes that he may be able to raise questions in voters’ minds about Mr. Kaine’s willingness to enforce the state’s death-penalty law.

To his credit, Mr. Kaine, as mayor of Richmond during the late 1990s, was known for his efforts to implement the successful Project Exile, a program that focuses on aggressive prosecution of criminals who use handguns in the commission of crimes. But since becoming lieutenant governor, Mr. Kaine has generally been a Warner loyalist — taking moderately left of center positions on an array of issues, such as supporting the governor’s tax increases, backing affirmative action and supporting in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants. On homosexual “marriage,” he supports amending Virginia’s constitution to ban the procedure. But Mr. Kaine opposes a federal constitutional amendment banning it — in effect, giving the federal courts free rein to impose gay “marriage” on Virginia at any time. On partial-birth abortion, Mr. Kaine talks out of both sides of his mouth — pretending to be pro-life, while actually supporting abortion rights. He denounces General Assembly Republicans for refusing to pass a partial-birth abortion bill with an exception for the “health” of the mother — a loophole permitting, in essence, abortion on demand.

One of the things Mr. Kaine will need to do — sooner, rather than later — will be to distance himself from the party’s far-left fringe, such as the people who have posted a memo on the Virginia Democratic Party Web site denouncing Mr. Kilgore and the Virginia Republican “Party of Hate.” The offense? Mr. Kilgore’s legal objections to racial preferences. If Mr. Kaine proves incapable of separating himself from such foolishness, he will ensure his political demise.

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