The gubernatorial race became a local issue last Thursday as all three candidates appeared in Alexandria to court votes. The candidates appeared at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce's 2005 Gubernatorial Candidates Forum on Sept. 8 at the Old Town Holiday Inn on First Street, speaking separately and avoiding personal contact with one another.
JERRY KILGORE, former Virginia attorney general from Gate City, was the first to speak. The Republican candidate for governor advocated for transportation improvements in Northern Virginia and a role for Alexandria in the upcoming 400th anniversary of Virginia's founding. He made a special attempt to appeal to the business community in Alexandria, advocating low taxes and reduced regulations.
"I'm running because I want to create a commonwealth of opportunity," Kilgore said, calling Northern Virginia the "economic engine" of Virginia. "My campaign is about honest reform."
Kilgore started his speech by recounting his career as attorney general, highlighting a tough-on-crime theme. In 2001, he was elected attorney general after serving as Virginia's secretary of public safety under Gov. George Allen.
"We successfully convicted the eighth largest spammer in the world," Kilgore said, adding that his office worked to prosecute snipers, gangsters and wife-beaters. "We will continue to get tough on crime."
Kilgore also sold himself as a candidate that was very friendly to business interests, advocating low taxes and freedom from regulation. His campaign seeks to extend the Virginia Coal Employment and Production Incentive Tax Credit and the Coalfield Employment Enhancement Tax Credit.
"I am the most pro-business candidate in this race. As governor, I will keep taxes low and regulation to a minimum," he said, adding that Northern Virginia plays a crucial role in Virginia's economy. "I want Alexandria to play an important role in the celebration of Virginia's 400 anniversary."
One of the lighter moments of the forum came when Kilgore was asked about the budget shortfall that happened when Gov. Jim Gilmore left office in 2002. Although the Virginia constitution requires a balanced budget, the commonwealth experienced a budget crisis after partial phasing out the car tax. Estimates vary about how large the deficit was, but the hole in the budget left by Gilmore was a key factor in the victory of Democrat Mark Warner in the 2001 election.
"We didn't have a deficit," Kilgore said. "We just weren't meeting revenue expectations."
His defense of the Gilmore administration brought an unexpected round of laughter from the audience.
On the issue of education, Kilgore wants Virginia to assist with the payment of student loans for new teachers who take jobs in distressed school districts for a minimum of five years. He also wants to establish a statewide teacher pay policy. On the issue of emerging technology, Kilgore was dismissive of computers in schools.
"It's not the computer but the teacher who has the most impact," he said, adding that he thinks Virginia should do more to recruit and retain teachers. "Teachers change lives — I ought to know because I married one."
On transportation, Kilgore wants to create "regional transportation authorities" to solutions to transportation problems. Like all the candidates, he pledged to protect the integrity of Virginia's Transportation Trust Fund. In Northern Virginia, Kilgore proposes to widen Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and build another crossing across the Potomac River.
"Folks, it's time to get transportation moving again," he said, vowing not to use money from Northern Virginia to fund projects in other parts of the commonwealth. "Dollars raised in a region will be used in that region to improve transportation in that region."
RUSS POTTS, the veteran Republican state senator from Winchester who is running a maverick independent campaign, took the stage with humor and energy.
"If you're looking for a free lunch, I'm not your guy. If you're looking for investment, I'm your guy," Potts said. "The hard, cold truth is that we've got to make an investment."
Potts spent a majority of his time talking about transportation issues. One of the central tenets of his campaign is the need to address the "transportation crisis" by calling a special legislative session similar to the one called by Gov. Gerald Baliles in the late 1980s. Potts said he would press the lawmakers until they produced a long-range financing package.
"Not since 1886 have any transportation improvements been made in Virginia," Potts said. "It's impossible to fix transportation problems out of the general fund."
Like all the candidates, Potts vowed not to raid the transportation fund for other projects. But unlike the other candidates, he said that new sources of revenue are needed to improve transportation.
"You're not going to fix transportation problems without new money," he said. "There will be no free roads in Virginia, and yes — you're going to have to pay for them."
In the end, Potts recognized that his campaign was a long shot. But he said that his experience and his forthright nature would help him on Election Day.
"It's about experience, and we can use a little gray hair in the governor's chair," he said. "If the Boston Red Sox can win the World Series, I'm telling you that Russ Potts can be elected governor."
TIM KAINE, Virginia's lieutenant governor, also focused on transportation issues. The Democratic candidate from Richmond said that the next governor will have to address problems with transportation, especially in Northern Virginia — an area that he called "the breadbasket of Virginia's economy." Like all the candidates, he vowed not to raid the transportation trust fund.
"Often, money is taken out of that fund for other projects," Kaine said. "I'll make sure that stops."
Kaine also focused on his record as mayor of Richmond, saying that he improved the city's business climate, cut taxes, created jobs, enhanced public education and combated crime.
"As mayor, I worked to turn the city around, building the first schools in a generation," said Kaine, adding that that his experience with city government would help him run Virginia. "I learned that I had to get along with other people and compromise."
Kaine was critical of the budget shortfall that faced Virginia after Gilmore left office in 2002. He promised to lead a more fiscally responsible administration, taking in enough revenue to fund expenditures.
"Part of being fiscally conservative is paying your bills," Kaine said. "And funding obligations is part of being fiscally conservative as well."
One of the obligations that Kaine said was not being adequately funded was education. Kaine praised Virginia's Standards of Learning tests, but said that more needs to be done to benefit education in the commonwealth.
"We do a lot right about education in Virginia," Kaine said, adding that he is a former teacher who has three children in the public education system in Richmond. "But we have a paradigm focused on competence rather than excellence, and I want to change that paradigm."
One focus of the Kaine campaign is early childhood education, and at Thursday's forum he again advocated making pre-kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds. The program, known as the Start Strong initiative, seeks to create local advisory councils to begin the process of expanding access of pre-kindergarten to children. The advisory councils would be composed of parents, educators, business leaders, local elected officials, school superintendents, private day care providers, children's advocates and community leaders.
"I want to change the system so that any 4-year-old who wants it, has access to pre-kindergarten," Kaine said, adding that good teachers were crucial to improving education in Virginia. "I think we need to treat teachers with respect and with the salaries they deserve."
On the subject of higher education, Kaine said that Virginia needs a new establishment. "We've got to start planning for a new institution, and I want to do it in the south side of the state," said Kaine, adding that he wants to locate a new school near Danville.
When questioned about eminent domain, Kaine responded that property rights don't always overrule concerns about urban renewal. While the two other candidates seemed to suggest that they would always give precedence to property rights, Kaine said that he would work to find a balance.
"The power of government to take private property has got to be limited," he said, adding that he used the power of eminent domain while mayor of Richmond. "Sometimes it's a good idea."
Kaine also expressed a concern over establishing law and order in Virginia, noting that the gang problems should be addressed with law enforcement and prevention. In his campaign, he has advocated giving judges the authority to commit minors to juvenile facilities for first offenses involving a gun. The House of Delegates has so far blocked measures to change the juvenile code to expand the authority of judges to do this.
"We've got to make children see that they've got options," he said. "That's why I'm a believer in early childhood education."
When questioned about taxes, Kaine made no promises.
"I don't take a no-tax pledge and I don't take a no-referendum pledge," he said. "I take one pledge, and that's the oath of office."