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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Law enforcement issues have candidates sparring; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

Who supports law enforcement? Not my opponent.

That was the gist of two conference calls put together by the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor on Wednesday.

The campaigns of Republican former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore and Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine took turns unloading on each other over law-and-order issues on the dueling calls.

Kaine’s camp attacked Kilgore’s record on funding for law enforcement. By opposing a 2004 deal that raised taxes by $1.6 billion, the former attorney general failed in his promise to support law enforcement, Democrats said.

“The reason I’m so excited about Tim’s run for governor is … he’s got the right idea, the big picture, as far as his support for law enforcement,” Bristol Sheriff Jack Weisenburger said.

Budget reform had a direct impact on the way sheriff’s departments operate, he said. More funding makes it much easier to keep qualified dep-uties.

“We’re having trouble keeping deputies,” he said. “You cannot keep good people without paying them an adequate salary.”
Roanoke County Sheriff Gerald Holt said a Kilgore administration would likely be a “repeat of [Gov.] Jim Gilmore days,” in which budgets for law enforcement would start to shrink.

“Public safety would certainly suffer,” he said. “Tim Kaine has been a strong supporter of budget reform for public safety.”

Across town at Camp Kilgore, the campaign put together a group of law-enforcement officials who questioned Kaine’s stance on the death penalty.

In particular, the group discussed a statement Kaine made in 1987, just before the execution of Richard Lee Whitley.

Whitley, 41, was convicted of the 1981 murder and sexual assault of his 63-year-old next-door neighbor in Fairfax County.

Kaine represented Whitley, and told reporters before the execution 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,” according to reports published at the time.

Kilgore called on Kaine to repudiate the statement during the July debate between the two men in West Virginia, but Kaine wouldn’t back down.

“Life is life. And I believe that,” he said. “And so, once again, there is an effort to come back at me because of my religious belief that life is sacred, and try to attack me for that.

“All I can do is, as I said, is put my hand on a Bible, affirming everything I believe, and swear that I will uphold the laws of Virginia and the laws of the Commonwealth,” Kaine said during the debate.

The candidate has said he we would use the “clemency power in the narrow circumstances that other governors have used it — circumstances generally involving grave doubt about someone’s guilt or innocence.”

But Virginia law gives the governor the sole ability to commute death sentences, Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White said. A person who has said the death penalty is murder is “not someone I want reviewing these cases.”

The Kilgore campaign also sent reporters’ audio from a 2001 debate, in which Kaine lays out why he supported a moratorium on the death penalty. Kaine has since said he wouldn’t impose one on his own.

Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade said he found Kaine’s 1987 comments offensive, because it equated an execution to murder.

“To refer to that whole process as an unlawful process, I feel that’s the wrong opinion,” Wade said, adding that he has personal experience with the court system and capital cases, and knows how hard it is to legally take a life in the commonwealth.

White agreed, saying there is no comparison between then-Soviet occupied Afghanistan and Virginia’s legal system.

“I am not a Soviet prison guard,” added former Wallens Ridge State Prison Warden Stan Young. “Neither are my staff. I take offense at that.”