Q&A With Gov. James S. Gilmore III
Bob Levey's guest this week was Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore III. The state's 68th Governor, Gilmore was sworn in on January 17, 1998. He was previously Virginia's Attorney General, winning the 1993 election with 56 percent of the vote, a surprise because the race was expected to be a close one.
Born in Richmond, Virginia on October 6, 1949, Gilmore is the product of a working class family. He worked as a grocery store cashier to help put himself through the University of Virginia, from which he graduated in 1971. After serving in the Army, Gilmore graduated from the University of Virginia's Law School in 1977.
Here is a transcript of today's session:
Bob Levey: Virginia is still smarting over the comments of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said Virginia had an obligation to accept New York's trash. Your reaction to Giuliani was actually a bit milder than the reactions of some other state leaders. Care to comment further now?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: First of all, I'm glad to be able to speak to the participants with washingtonpost.com. We have in Virginia in this past legislature passed very aggressive and forward-looking legislation to limit out-of-state trash from coming into Virginia. We have placed daily limits on the amount of trash that can be put in any landfill. And we have banned trash barges from our rivers. Virginia is a forward-looking, modern and beautiful state and we refuse to be the trash dumping ground for any other state. We all understand the need for solid waste control but public health requires that there be reasonable regulation.
Washington, D.C.: Is Virginia going to do anything to limit the sale of handguns and fight the impression that the state is the supplier of guns for the east coast?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I am a believer in Article II of the Bill of Rights with respect to a citizen's ability to keep and bear arms. In fact, I believe in all ten of the Bill of Rights and don't think that any should be ignored. However, we have in Virginia a one gun per month law which prevents Virginia from being an easy venue for mass purchases of firearms by criminals. In the end, responsibility must be placed on those persons who would misuse firearms. Under my sponsorship, Virginia has just expanded Project Exile statewide to severely punish people who misuse guns and commit crimes by removing them from the community with mandatory 5-year sentences.
Washington DC: So why did you 1- try to block Michele Finn in her attempt to give her husband a dignified death and 2- block compensation for her expenses incurred in defending against your block? I'm interested in hearing your reasoning.
Gov. Jim Gilmore: The issue was brought to me literally in the eleventh hour before the feeding tube was to be withdrawn from Hugh Finn. The removal of the feeding tube would cause Hugh Finn to die from thirst. Many family members were desperate to have a full review before it was too late. As such, I intervened to give an opportunity for a final look at the facts. The family had asserted that Hugh Finn was communicating and was not in a persistent vegetative state. As such, I was in court for a total of 3 and 1/2 days. I didn't think that was too much for Hugh Finn who had done nothing wrong when we routinely take years to make these kinds of decisions in death penalty cases. I opposed compensation because the law doesn't require the taxpayer to pay unless the action was without foundation. My review was in good faith and reasonable under the law.
Arlington, VA: You very successfully ran on elimination of the car tax. What are you prepared to offer to those of us pedestrians who feel that they were overlooked?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: No shoe tax. We'll see!
Arlington, VA: Gov. Gilmore, it's good to have you online this afternoon. While we are chatting today online, my question has to do with the online community. While Silicon Valley is known for more tangible high tech products, such as software and chips, this area seems to the Internet community. I know it's one of your goals to make Virginia "the Internet player" in the world, but what are you doing to promote it?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: Virginia has a broad ranging high-technology and information technology community. It is one of Virginia's big advantages. I have established a new Secretary of Technology position to enhance this industry and the use of information technology in government. I expect to be the chairman of the National Commission on Internet Commerce. Virginia has also now passed the first comprehensive Internet policy. My goal as governor is to make Virginia THE information technology state.
Arlington: Five executions in 23 days? Doesn't the Bible say: Thou Shalt Not Kill? How can you live with this on your conscience?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: Capital punishment is the law of Virginia and confined to murderers in particularly terrible cases. The governor doesn't impose or carry out capital punishment. The law does. The source of these penalties is the legislature which passes the law, and the juries from our communities who decide in the small number of cases that the penalty is right. I review every case personally to decide whether clemency is appropriate. I always try to remember not just the inmate but also the victim and the community as a whole. The community has a right to a standard that says we will not viciously commit murder. The community is entitled to know that we are a nation of laws and not the publicity of the moment. Every person condemned to death is entitled to the protection of the laws and the most thorough and sensitive review before execution.
Springfield, VA: Gov. Gilmore: Seeing from where I am from, I bet you can guess my question. The largest VDOT construction project ever begins today at the area known as the "mixing bowl." This is a much needed project, but I'm fearful that for the next few years, the commute through the area could be a disaster. What do you recommend for us traveling through there daily to do keep our patience with this enormous project?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: In transportation we want to move as aggressively as we can to hurry in construction to relieve congestion. The frustrating part is that in order to construct we have to increase congestion. I travel on the roads of northern Virginia all the time, and I want them to be as clear as possible. Rail is an alternative as well as trying new routes. We are open to all input and suggestions from the traveling public as we work to make the roads easier for travel and commuting.
Colesville, Md.: Trying to put aside party politics for a second, who do you see winning a George Allen - Chuck Robb Senate race?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: George Allen and I have been good partners in government for many years. I am confident he will be elected to the Senate and I will support him vigorously.
Reston Va: To follow-up on the death penalty question: Gov Gilmore, have you ever commuted a death sentence? Will you ever, and in what circumstances?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: In the one year that I have been governor no case has been submitted so extraordinary as to justify gubernatorial intervention into the criminal justice system. I review every case to be sure that I am satisfied that the person is in fact guilty. It is possible that extenuating circumstances could justify clemency.
Bob Levey: It's obvious to everyone that Tysons Corner has huge traffic problems. Yet a subway line for Tysons is still all talk and no action. I'm not suggesting that you can solve this problem all by yourself, but why doesn't the state leap in and apply SERIOUS money to this problem?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I am in Tysons Corner frequently and love the place! We have to decide in this state the best comprehensive plan to address the problems of congestion and speed of commuting. Everyone has a different priority. The challenge is to choose the options which most effectively address this issue. I am forming a blue ribbon commission on transportation to make sure that as we make these choices that we can actually improve the situation. We should make a quick decision on rail and all other options and get our money behind those projects which show promise of good long term results.
Bob Levey: Your fellow Republican governor, George W. Bush of Texas, is eight lengths in front for the Presidential nomination in 2000. Yet you haven't endorsed Bush yet. Why not? Will you do so soon?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I have total confidence in my friend Governor George Bush and I believe he would make a great President. Governor Bush and I have discussed the Presidency in 2000 and I should be able to announce my support for a candidate soon.
Bob Levey: Your comments, please, on taxes for Internet use? And your logic, please, in pushing through a bill that would fine spam-senders when you don't fine junk mailers or telemarketers?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: As chairman of the National Commission on Internet Commerce Taxation I would not predetermine the best answer. However, everyone knows I'm always trying to reduce taxes. Many proposals are now under discussion regarding Internet commerce taxation. Some would like to avoid all taxation on the Internet transactions. Others urge that such taxation should be fair to non-Internet business transactions. We are interested in all points of view as the commission does its work. Spam is a unique problem because it overloads capacity and availability of lines in e-mail and threatens to prevent this unique and new form of communication. But who says we shouldn't penalize junk mail? We'll have to think about that.
Dunn Loring, VA: Governor, isn't it time we admitted that the last thing we need in Northern Virginia is a Major League Baseball franchise? Traffic gets worse every day, and any franchise will demand subsidies we can ill afford. Besides, our economy is booming without the team.
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I would like to see major league baseball come to northern Virginia. I believe it would add to the quality of life of the state. We can't stop growing as a community because of fear of congestion. New York didn't. We will all work to minimize the negative aspects of a Virginia team while trying to enhance the positives. I am very reluctant to subscribe to subsidies by the taxpayer. Any deal must demonstrate financial or other benefits that justifies any taxpayer participation. Baseball must be a good DEAL for Virginia. We are all proud of our booming economy with or without baseball.
Annandale, VA: Since Gov. Glendenning is working very hard to keep slot machines out of MD, what is your feeling about allowing other forms of gambling in VA besides the lottery?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I oppose casino gambling in Virginia. We already have a lottery, horse racing and bingo. We don't need more gambling in Virginia.
Arlington, VA: Governor Gilmore, I was wondering why you have decided to double and triple speed limit enforcement on Virginia's interstates? While I understand the public safety aspect of the program, frankly it seems like something a "Big-Brother Democrat" might do, not a Republican Governor advocating less government intrusion. Wouldn't these enforcement assets be better used elsewhere instead of creating even more congestion on Virginia's roadways?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: The public has expressed great concern about excessive speed on our interstate highways, especially by truck traffic. We have decided to step up speed enforcement to make the interstates safer for the families traveling in cars on the interstates. Just drive 65 mph and everything will be okay.
Richmond, VA: I am a state employee and I recall that over the past 20 years, state employee salaries have not kept up with those salaries in the private sector. Will state employees get a pay increase, and if so, how much?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I believe Virginia's state employees are dedicated and do a good job. The people of Virginia are entitled to the best qualified and most efficient workforce. I held town hall meetings across the state to listen the state employees. As a result, I proposed and the legislature passed pay increases in this past session. We also addressed a variety of benefit issues including retirement after 30 years. Most of all, we want state employees to know that they are part of the team and that we appreciate their hard work.
Richmond, VA: How many questions are you not answering?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I'm trying to answer every question I can in the time I've got. We're certainly not avoiding anything. If you have a question we can't get to write me at the State Capitol, Richmond, VA 23219 or e-mail me through my website which is www.state.va.us/governor
Personally, where do you
Gov. Jim Gilmore: These are tough questions which still have to be argued out in the public forum. We all want a high quality of life. I believe in offering the maximum choices to people in a free society to decide for themselves how they want to live. In our past this has often meant homes for people for their families, good schools and good jobs. I would be cautious about government dictating to people through regulation how they are supposed to live. Stay tuned for further debate on this topic.
Bob Levey: You've recently provided some help for parents of Virginia college students. But higher education is still incredibly expensive. Any plans to reduce it further at Virginia's public universities?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I proposed and the legislature just passed a 20% tuition roll back for Virginia students at public universities. I believe that Virginia has the best public colleges anywhere and I am committed to continuing that success. Virginia colleges are the instruments of Virginia's high public policies to provide excellent higher public education. I believe, therefore, that our universities must emphasize affordability, accountability and quality. To carry out these goals I established a blue ribbon commission on higher education which proposed the 20% tuition cut. More will be done on all three of these great values of accountability, affordability and quality as this administration carries out its top priority in education.
Arlington: I am from Northern Virginia, but I attended Hollins College in Roanoke for a year. The difference between Northern Virginia and the rest of Virginia -especially Southwestern VA- is overwhelming. How do you make laws that affect all of us when we are so different -like personal property taxes are much higher in the north than the south-? Thanks for the personal property tax break--it's looking great!
Gov. Jim Gilmore: A main emphasis of my administration is to draw people together and to recognize that we are one Virginia. There are qualities and advantages in every region that add to the success of our Commonwealth. Virginia is very diverse, and it is a challenge every day to find common ground for everyone, but this is our great goal. No region is superior to any other and no person is superior to another in this diverse and rich state we call Virginia.
That's it for today. Many thanks to our guest, the governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore. Be sure to join us each Tuesday at the same time for "Levey Live." Next week, we take the show on the road--to Columbia College in Columbia, S.C., where our guests will be three female students who are about to graduate. What do they think of the glass ceiling? Men? Marriage? Women's role in society? And don't forget "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," our anything-goes show. It appears each Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.