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Beyond Taxes and Education: Where the Candidates Stand

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 1997; Page B06

They marched all summer to the drumbeat of competing plans to cut taxes and improve education, but Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Republican James S. Gilmore III are talking about other issues in their campaign to be Virginia's next governor.

With Gilmore focused more on his plan to eliminate the state's personal property tax on cars and trucks, Beyer in particular is trying to expand the debate to include a range of other issues, such as abortion, the environment, crime and tobacco.

"There are a number of bright line differences," said Beyer, the state's lieutenant governor. "And our differences on the environment and abortion are of fundamental importance."

Gilmore, a former state attorney general, is answering the call by questioning his opponent's consistency on several issues, notably the abolition of parole and parental notification in abortion cases.

"Don Beyer has flip-flopped on parental consent, flip-flopped on the abolition of parole," Gilmore said. "I don't think voters want that kind of governor."

With polls showing the race for governor virtually even just two weeks before Election Day, here is a look at where the candidates stand on some key issues:

Abortion

Gilmore is personally opposed to abortion, but he said he recognizes constitutional limits on what he can do at the state level.

"After a baby is formed, at eight to 12 weeks, I believe abortion is the wrong decision," Gilmore said. "But what I'm really concerned with is what I can do under the law. My belief structure is one thing; the law is something else. What I can do is deal with notification and taxpayer funding of abortions."

Under state law, a minor must notify a parent before having an abortion. Gilmore said he would support a further restriction to require a girl to receive a parent's permission before undergoing the procedure, but he indicated that it is not a priority.

"If the General Assembly sends me a bill with the appropriate bypass, I will sign it," said Gilmore, explaining that any bill he would sign would have to include a provision under which, in exceptional circumstances, a minor could appeal a parent's decision to the courts.

Gilmore came under criticism from abortion-rights groups last week after saying that he believed Virginia should consider a law requiring married adult women to notify their husbands before having an abortion. He quickly retreated after learning that such laws, which were on the books in 11 states, were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992.

Beyer supports the state's parental-notification law but says he would oppose any further restrictions on abortion, including any plan requiring girls to get a parent's consent before having an abortion.

"I think parents want a right to be involved in the important decisions of their children, but I don't think we should ever give another human being the absolute right to control," he said.

Gilmore has accused Beyer of flip-flopping on parental consent, saying that as a candidate for lieutenant governor in 1989 the Democrat favored "parental notification and consent." Beyer acknowledges that, but says that at the time, the terms "notice" and "consent" were used interchangeably. He says he has never favored requiring girls to get a parent's permission to have an abortion.

"My opponent has said that it's his personal belief that we should make abortion illegal," Beyer said. "I will defend Roe v. Wade and existing Virginia law. It's irresponsible [for Gilmore] to take a position and say, `Oh, it doesn't matter because I'm not going to do anything about it.'"

The Environment

In the wake of the discovery of the microbe Pfiesteria piscicida in Virginia rivers, Beyer is stressing the environmental record of Republican Gov. George Allen's administration and linking Gilmore to its alleged failings.

The Democrat says the Allen administration -- which included Gilmore for 3 1/2 years before the Republican resigned as attorney general in June to run for governor -- has coddled corporate polluters and farms that send waste into rivers and streams.

Beyer has accused the Allen administration of dragging its feet over the microbe crisis.

"In the last four years, we have watched the deconstruction of the Department of Environmental Quality," Beyer said, referring to a reorganization of the agency in which several senior managers were ousted.

Smithfield Foods Inc., one of the East Coast's largest meatpackers, "got off for years with polluting and was only held accountable by the federal government," Beyer said. Smithfield was fined $12.6 million by a federal judge for U.S. Clean Water Act violations.

Beyer also pointed to a 1996 audit of DEQ by the Virginia General Assembly's investigative arm, which found that state fines levied on water polluters dropped from $327,000 in 1992 to $4,000 in the first half of 1996, a period that roughly coincides with the time in office of the Allen administration.

Beyer has proposed a nine-point plan that would "rebuild" the DEQ and stock it with people who "put the environment before politics." He is also planning to expand the state's efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Chesapeake Bay by 40 percent by 2000. And he says he would expand and improve Virginia's parks, noting that only 42 percent of $95 million in voter-approved bonds has been spent by the Allen administration.

As attorney general, Gilmore was not responsible for the environmental policies of Allen's administration, but he has defended Allen's stewardship.

"I have been a vigorous enforcer of our environmental laws," Gilmore said. "To the extent that fines have diminished, I think we should look to see whether or not businesses have been required to spend capital to clean the air and clean up any pollution they have made. If they have had to expend, and they have, I think that's a good program."

Gilmore argued that it is more effective to obtain voluntary cooperation from businesses than to drag them into court.

"You've got to have some balance" in environmental policy, he said. "You've got to make sure the environment is clean, and you ought to look at your regulations and find out if they are improperly impinging on the ability of people to have jobs."

Gilmore noted that previous Democratic administrations entered into agreements with Smithfield that allowed the company to exceed its permit requirements for waste discharges. And he said he brought Smithfield into court to answer for its alleged pollution. The case was dismissed.

Gilmore also said he prosecuted several environmental offenders, including the District's Lorton prison complex in southern Fairfax County and the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant.

Gilmore dismissed criticism of the Allen administration's handling of pfiesteria in rivers feeding into the bay, noting that Beyer praised Allen's approach just days before he criticized it.

"Don Beyer came out in a very hysterical way," Gilmore said. "I don't think this is a political issue. It is a public health issue."

Crime

The candidates have dueled on who should get more credit for recent changes in the state's criminal justice system, including the abolition of parole, that were ushered in by the Allen administration.

"My record is very complete," said Gilmore, who depicts himself as the co-author of many of the Allen administration programs. "I've kept my promises -- the abolition of parole, juvenile justice reform. My most proud moment as attorney general was the mandatory arrest statute for spousal abuse. I'm as proud of that as anything I've done as attorney general."

In a recent political advertisement, Beyer, who was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, took credit for helping to eliminate parole. Gilmore, supported by Allen, has contended that Beyer was invisible on the issue of parole abolition when he wasn't casting doubt on the proposal as the lieutenant governor, who also serves as president of the state Senate.

Gilmore is proposing laws to tackle drug- and gang-related crime, including making it a crime to recruit a young person into a gang or to employ a young person to distribute drugs.

He also says he would reimplement "Weed and Seed" programs, which combine tough policing with economic development programs in inner cities.

Both candidates support a "Megan's Law" for Virginia, which would require authorities to notify a community if a convicted sex offender moves into the area. Only local police departments are informed now.

Beyer also says stricter laws must be accompanied by social programs that address the root causes of crime.

"We need to balance get-tough-on-crime with prevention -- early childhood education, teenage pregnancy prevention, high school dropout prevention," he said.

Tobacco

Another major difference between the candidates is their approach to tobacco, the crop that for generations was the economic backbone of Virginia.

Beyer said the state should have participated in the lawsuit negotiations between several states and the tobacco industry.

He said the pact, now before Congress, has no provisions to help tobacco growers -- who may face difficulties as efforts to limit smoking curb demand for tobacco -- because Gilmore didn't participate in the talks.

"Virginia had no place at the table," said Beyer, who advocates that a major piece of any settlement be reinvested in the state's tobacco-growing communities that in the future would no longer rely on the crop.

Gilmore said he declined to participate in negotiations with tobacco companies for good reason.

"I wanted to keep my hands free to work in the Congress," Gilmore said.

Any national settlement, he said, needs to sustain Virginia's tobacco industry, because moving to other crops is not a viable alternative.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company


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