Monday, March 21, 2005

GATE CITY, Va. — Former Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore kicked off his gubernatorial campaign in his hometown last night, saying if elected he would cap real estate assessments and allow voters to decide on proposed tax increases.

Mr. Kilgore, a Republican, officially began a statewide tour with a rally at Gate City High School, where he was joined by his family and U.S. Sens. John W. Warner and George Allen. He was expected to make stops today in Arlington, Roanoke, Virginia Beach and Richmond.

Mr. Kilgore said he will run a campaign of “honesty” and “reform” and take back the state’s top office from Democrats.

Mr. Kilgore, 43, praised the state’s top Republicans for past reforms, such as abolishing parole and overhauling the welfare system. He also promised that, if elected, he would fully phase out the car tax, a statement that drew huge applause.

“Republicans are the party of reform,” Mr. Kilgore told the nearly 1,000 supporters who packed the gym at his alma mater last night. “Over the last decade, we have listened to the people of Virginia. We took to heart their desire for reform. We made only those promises that we meant to keep, and we kept the promises we made, and we have earned the trust of the people of Virginia.”

Mr. Kilgore is the likely Republican nominee for governor. He faces Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch in the June primary. Mr. Kilgore’s main challenger is Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, who kicked off his campaign with a statewide tour last week.

State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, is running as an independent.

During the rally, supporters waved blue and orange signs and clapped along to tunes played by the high school band.

In a nearly 25-minute stump speech, Mr. Kilgore told supporters that over the next 10 weeks, he will outline plans to improve schools, allow local regions more power to come up with transportation solutions and ease skyrocketing real estate taxes.

Under his plan, real estate assessment rates would not increase more than 5 percent a year unless the property is sold or improved, he said. He did not discuss his plan in detail yesterday.

Mr. Kilgore also said any tax increases should be subject to voter referendum, an issue that he and Mr. Kaine disagreed on last year. Mr. Kilgore last year opposed a $1.38 billion tax increase, which Mr. Kaine supported. Mr. Kilgore called for a voter referendum before the legislature approved the tax package, which also cut some taxes.

Last year, Mr. Kilgore said Virginians should be trusted to decide on taxes, a sentiment he repeated last night.

“This proposal is not about the tax fight last year. This proposal is about the future,” Mr. Kilgore said. “It is right to give the people a voice in the most fundamental of decisions about the size and cost of their government.”

Mr. Kilgore also appealed to centrist voters and minorities. “We will reach out to every independent and Democrat who shares our Virginia values,” he said. “I say, if you give me a chance, I will give you a choice.”

Mr. Kilgore, who stepped down as attorney general last month to campaign full time, has made a career of being tough on crime and is considered as a favorite son of state Republicans. He served as a commonwealth and U.S. attorney and as secretary of public safety under Mr. Allen, who served as governor from 1994 to 1998.

In his speech, Mr. Kilgore tried to paint Mr. Kaine as a tax raiser who is out of touch with everyday Virginians. He also noted scandals on the Richmond City Council, where Mr. Kaine served as a member and as mayor.

“While we were pushing ethics reforms for state government, my opponent was presiding over a government racked by corruption and did nothing,” he said. The scandals, however, occurred after Mr. Kaine left the council when he assumed the lieutenant governorship in 2002.

Supporters from the small town where Mr. Kilgore and his twin brother, Delegate Terry G. Kilgore, grew up said last night that Mr. Kilgore was a good man.

“Just about everybody knows Jerry,” said Allen Provence, 63, of Wise County. “He’s an honest, Christian fellow.”

Mr. Allen agreed. “He’s taking the values that we all hold dear in Virginia, and particularly here in Southwest Virginia with him,” Mr. Allen said.

Former Virginia Gov. A. Linwood Holton introduced Mr. Kaine at his rallies last week. Mr. Holton, who served as the state’s Republican governor from 1970 to 1974, is Mr. Kaine’s father-in-law.

Mr. Warner, considered a Republican centrist partly because he supported last year’s tax increases, said Mr. Kilgore has “unquestioned integrity.”

“He carries the values of this community with him wherever he goes,” he said.

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