Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Candidates square off in separate debates
Russ Potts was shut out of the first debate and Jerry Kilgore refused to participate in the second.
The latest from our Blue Ridge Caucus politics blog
From The Roanoke Times
McLEAN - Two debates. One Northern Virginia hotel. And more bad blood than rush hour on the Capital Beltway.
Virginia's three candidates for governor staged some unusual political theater Tuesday at a hotel in the state's most prosperous and traffic-clogged region. Democrat Tim Kaine appeared in both acts, participating in back-to-back debates staged by different organizations. But independent candidate Russ Potts was shut out of the first debate and Republican Jerry Kilgore refused to participate in the second.
Kaine and Kilgore sparred for an hour in a long-scheduled debate sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. The two major party candidates stuck closely to talking points honed through months of campaigning. There were few spontaneous moments, the most notable coming when Kilgore refused to answer a pointed question on abortion rights from moderator Tim Russert, the host of NBC's "Meet the Press."
Kaine later joined Potts in a basement ballroom for a debate sponsored by a coalition of education advocacy groups. Kilgore turned down an invitation to participate, calling the event a "stunt." Potts, who has been clamoring for an opportunity to debate both of his rivals, referred to the absent Kilgore as "Casper the ghost."
Kaine used the forums to emphasize his political partnership with outgoing Gov. Mark Warner, saying he would govern in the same fashion if elected. He and Kilgore revived their long-running argument over tax increases passed during the 2004 General Assembly session, with Kaine defending the legislation as necessary and Kilgore assailing it as "the largest tax increase in Virginia history."
Kaine, the lieutenant governor, and Kilgore, the former attorney general, also discussed transportation, the death penalty and policies dealing with illegal immigrants. But nothing charged up the jam-packed ballroom more than Russert's questioning of Kilgore on abortion.
Russert raised the "very real possibility" that two U.S. Supreme Court vacancies could be filled by jurists who would vote to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and allow states to outlaw abortion. When Russert asked Kilgore whether he would sign legislation to outlaw abortion except for cases involving rape or incest, Kilgore said: "That's a hypothetical. You don't know what any Supreme Court in the future is going to do."
Kilgore's response drew hisses and groans from the audience. Russert then asked Kilgore whether he would sign or veto a tax increase passed by the General Assembly. When Kilgore said he would veto it, Russert butted in and said, "That's a hypothetical question." The audience erupted in laughter and applause as Kilgore tried to steer the discussion back to taxes.
After the debate, Kilgore said such comparisons are unfair because a governor "has no ability to deal with the Roe v. Wade issue unless or until the Supreme Court gives new parameters." He also said he recognizes Roe v. Wade as "the controlling law of the land."
Kaine said he opposes abortion on moral grounds but would veto any legislation to outlaw the procedure.
"I want to reduce abortions, and there are proven ways to do it - better education, better access to health care and contraception, enforce the restrictions we have," Kaine said. "But I will veto legislation that criminalizes women or doctors for their health care decisions."
Kaine also said he would uphold the state's capital punishment statutes despite his opposition to the death penalty, countering Kilgore's argument that the Democrat would put the brakes on executions.
Kaine and Kilgore argued fiercely over taxes. Kilgore mocked Kaine for using the term "budget reform" to describe 2004 legislation that increased taxes by $1.4 billion in the current two-year budget cycle.
"Just admit it, Tim. You raised taxes," Kilgore said.
Kaine said Kilgore's opposition to the tax package was a slap to public schools and underfunded state programs that benefited from the additional revenue. Kaine declared that Warner has put Virginia on the right track and that Kilgore refuses to recognize it.
"If you don't know success when it's looking you in the face, you can't be a leader," Kaine said.
In both debates, Kaine was accused of taking too much credit for the Warner administration's record. Kaine's only constitutional duties as lieutenant governor are to preside over the Senate and break ties.
Potts, a Republican state senator, said voters looking for "Mark Warner 2" should choose him over Kaine because he played a larger role in getting Warner's agenda through the General Assembly.
Potts has staked his campaign on his plan to increase transportation spending by $2 billion annually, and has called for tax increases to cover most of the tab. He criticized Kilgore and Kaine on Tuesday for promising new spending initiatives without fully explaining how they will pay for them.
"I say to my opponent -show me the money," Potts said in his debate with Kaine.