RICHMOND — Jerry W. Kilgore and Timothy M. Kaine clashed last night over taxes, abortion, the death penalty and illegal aliens in their final debate before Virginians go to the polls Nov. 8 to choose a new governor.
The debate, the first and only to be televised statewide, was the third between the two men, who are neck and neck in the polls.
Mr. Kilgore, a Republican, and Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, sparred over the $1.38 billion tax-increase package passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in May 2004.
Mr. Kilgore, who opposed the increase, said a healthy state economy and budget surplus prove that it was unnecessary. He also has promised to allow voters to weigh in on any future tax increases.
“Taxation is the most basic relationship between a people and its government,” Mr. Kilgore said. “I trust the people to make decisions on whether they want to pay more in taxes or less in taxes. … [Mr. Kaine] campaigned in 2001 pledging not to raise your taxes, yet he passed on the most massive tax increase in Virginia history.”
Mr. Kaine, who supported the increase in 2004, said the money provided needed investments in critical state services, such as education, public safety and health care. He also mentioned current Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, who is popular among voters in statewide polls.
“Mark Warner and I and the whole state faced a very tough decision in 2004,” he said. “We made a hard decision to reform our tax code and find more revenue so that our schoolchildren all across the commonwealth could succeed. … It was a tough one, it wasn’t politically popular, but it was the right thing to do for Virginia.”
Polls show that voters mostly approve of the package, which also cut some taxes, and that most voters think the state is headed in the right direction.
Mr. Kilgore also pledged to fully phase out the car tax if elected governor. Mr. Kaine pointed out that Mr. Warner initially proposed a tax-increase package in 2004 that would have fully phased out the car tax. Mr. Kilgore opposed that plan, which was rejected by the legislature.
Last night, Mr. Kilgore said Mr. Kaine is a liberal who would raise taxes and overturn the death penalty. Mr. Kaine cites his Catholic faith as the basis for his opposition to the death penalty, but repeated his promise to sign death warrants and to not use his clemency power in any unusual way.
He also said Mr. Kilgore is “always crying liberal.”
Mr. Kilgore repeated the term several times last night.
“There is one conservative in this race and one liberal,” Mr. Kilgore told reporters after the debate.
“I’m going to continue to use the word ‘liberal’ throughout the final 30 days of this campaign, because he is.”
Mr. Kilgore also hit Mr. Kaine on his support for a day laborer center recently approved in the town of Herndon. The center will be on town property and paid for in part by a taxpayer-funded grant from Fairfax County.
Mr. Kilgore has said the center gives illegals incentives to come to Virginia, and last night asked, “Mr. Kaine, I ask you, what part of illegal don’t we understand?” Mr. Kaine has called Mr. Kilgore “mean-spirited” for his position on the center.
Mr. Kaine repeated a call upon federal officials to enforce immigration law and said he has supported “wise” state restrictions on benefits and services afforded to illegals, unless public health or public safety demands it.
“I’m deeply opposed to illegal immigration,” he said. “But there is a serious local problem in Northern Virginia caused by the federal government’s intentional policy of not enforcing the immigration laws.”
He said he would not support state efforts to open day laborer centers, but said Herndon local officials are elected by their own citizens, “and they should do what they think is best.”
The debate was hosted by the University of Virginia Center for Politics and was moderated by political pundit and university professor Larry J. Sabato.
Independent candidate H. Russell Potts Jr. was not allowed to participate in last night’s debate because he did not reach the threshold of 15 percent in two statewide polls, set by debate organizers.
Mr. Potts, a Republican state senator from Winchester, sued the Center for Politics last week in hopes of being included. He said his exclusion was set on arbitrary terms and violated the First Amendment.
A Charlottesville judge on Friday ruled in favor of the Center for Politics, allowing the two-man debate to continue.