Kilgore's Record May Polarize Voters in Va.

"If your streets aren't safe, you can debate no other issues the society faces," Jerry W. Kilgore says of his policy focus. (By Don Long -- Associated Press)
By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 21, 2005

Jerry W. Kilgore's public record in Virginia over the past dozen years is as reassuring to Lori Templeton as it is disturbing to Earl H. McClenney Jr.

The two share a deep religious faith, a passion for community service and a concern for the future of their commonwealth.

But when they look at the Republican candidate for governor, one is attracted and one repelled by the way Kilgore has framed the dangers facing Virginians and the policies he has pursued.

Kilgore was a prosecutor in southwestern Virginia and served near the top of the state's legal system for six of the past 12 years. He says his experience in and commitment to protecting Virginians make him the right choice in the Nov. 8 election.

That's an approach that has proved effective in previous races and has gained the support of people such as Templeton, a friend of Kilgore's who is high on the campaign's list of character references. McClenney, an educator with little personal contact with Kilgore, sees a harshness in the same record and feels alienated.

Templeton, 26, got to know Kilgore back home in Scott County, where Kilgore and his wife, Marty, led Templeton's church youth group. She sees Kilgore as a devout and caring man whose approach and sincerity are beyond reproach. "You can see Jerry's heart through his eyes," Templeton said.

She said that in the hours after her boyfriend attacked her at a Christian festival in the early 1990s -- an attack that followed months of private violence -- the Kilgores helped steady her resolve to leave the abusive relationship. Their choice of scripture that day also helped inspire her to launch a prevention program, she said. "It's because of Marty and Jerry Kilgore and what they said to me: 'Think it not strange the trials that you go through,' " Templeton said.

Kilgore's drive against domestic violence in the years since has been solidly in character, Templeton said.

As attorney general in 2002, Kilgore pushed successfully to eliminate a legal provision that had blocked prosecutions of rape cases involving married people who were living together.

"A lot of politicians will attach their name to something just to look good," Templeton said. "Jerry doesn't do that. . . . He attaches his name to things he actually believes in."

Three hundred and fifty miles across the commonwealth, McClenney, an associate professor at Virginia State University, a historically black college in Petersburg, is skeptical of Kilgore's law-and-order push.

Kilgore points to his work as secretary of public safety in the mid-1990s, when he helped then-Gov. George Allen junk the state's parole system. As attorney general from January 2002 to February of this year, he supported bills to tighten drug laws. He also pushed to expand the list of death penalty crimes to include certain gang-related killings.

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