October 21, 2005
The Contest for Virginia Governor
J. Dionne Jr.
contest for governor of Virginia is being viewed as almost everything
except a race for governor of Virginia.
to be a test of the political impact of President Bush's growing
unpopularity, of the wide popularity of incumbent Democratic Gov.
Mark Warner, and of the political skills of George Allen, the
state's ambitious Republican junior senator.
the Bush factor will be much studied, and it will be worth noticing
if Warner helps elect Tim Kaine, the state's Democratic lieutenant
governor, or if Allen gets Republican former attorney general
Jerry Kilgore across the finish line.
election is between Kaine and Kilgore, and the most important
national implications of November's voting will grow from issues
-- the death penalty and sprawl in particular -- that the two
men are raising themselves.
wins on the basis of a truly scandalous series of advertisements
about the death penalty, it will encourage Republicans all over
the country to pull a stained and tattered battle flag out of
a Roman Catholic who opposes the death penalty. ``My faith teaches
that life is sacred,'' he says. ``I personally oppose the death
penalty.'' I cheer Kaine for being one of the few politicians
with the guts to say this in the way he does. It's disturbing
that faith-based political stands that don't point in a conservative
direction rarely inspire the church-based political activism that,
say, abortion, arouses. Maybe some of the churches will examine
has a death penalty on the books, so Kaine says plainly: ``I take
my oath of office seriously, and I'll enforce the death penalty.''
good enough for Kilgore. You have to read much of the ad he ran
on this issue to believe it. In the commercial, Stanley Rosenbluth,
whose son Richard and daughter-in-law Becky were murdered, declares:
Sheppard shot Richard twice and went over and shot Becky two
more times. Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who
murdered my son. He stood with murderers in trying to get them
off death row. No matter how heinous the crime, he doesn't believe
that death is a punishment. Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler
doesn't qualify for the death penalty. This was the worst mass
murderer in modern times. ... I don't trust Tim Kaine when it
comes to the death penalty, and I say that as a father who's
had a son murdered.''
has every right to his rage, and all of us empathize with his
loss. What can't be justified is the exploitation of someone else's
emotion for the crassest of political purposes, or the underlying
message of the ad.
death row inmates is unpopular but essential because those who
do allow the justice system to work -- and that includes finding
guilty people guilty. Challenging prosecutors to make sure the
wrong people aren't executed can actually be a service to crime
victims. No one wants an innocent person put to death so the guilty
party can remain at large to kill again.
was that astounding Hitler reference. What does Hitler, who is
thoroughly dead, have to do with the future of Virginia? When
a reporter for The Richmond Times-Dispatch asked Kaine
about the death penalty and Hitler, Kaine struggled with what
is the hardest case of all for capital punishment's opponents.
``God grants life, and God should take it away,'' Kaine said as
part of a lengthy and somewhat indeterminate answer. ``(Do) horrible,
heinous things deserve incredible punishment? You bet.''
conflicted over this difficult hypothetical, and why not? I respect
him for not giving the easy, political answer -- which, I confess,
I would have been tempted to give: make an exception for Hitler,
put him to death, next question.
under fire for the ridiculous death penalty ads, moved on this
week to other issues. So did Kaine. He is trying to win over previously
Republican voters in Northern Virginia's rapidly growing Prince
William and Loudoun Counties by offering localities more tools
to regulate development.
just tax and pave our way out of traffic,'' Kaine says. ``I'll
give your community more power to stop out-of-control development
that increases traffic.'' Note the conservative side of the anti-sprawl
message: Kaine is talking about the limits of taxing-and-spending,
and about the importance of local control. Sprawl is one of those
issues with the potential to scramble existing political alliances.
the Virginia governor's race has national implications. It is
a contest between backward-looking wedge politics and forward-looking
problem solving. My hunch is that Virginia's voters know this.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group