Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore said Tuesday that he will push for tougher laws aimed at locking up wife-beaters and other domestic abusers if he is elected governor next month.
In a conference call with reporters, Kilgore vowed to pass a new law requiring judges to immediately jail husbands or boyfriends who violate a court's protective order. Kilgore said judges now have total discretion over how to punish such violators.
"If you violate a protective order, you will get mandatory time," Kilgore promised. "We can act to further protect the lives of women all across Virginia."
That message is part of a television ad, unveiled Tuesday morning, that touts Kilgore's work on behalf of domestic violence victims while he served as the state's attorney general. In the 30-second spot, Kilgore says, "Our domestic violence initiatives have made a real difference in the lives of women."
Kilgore was joined on the conference call by Barbara Shifflett-Fridley of Harrisonburg, whose two girls were killed by her ex-boyfriend despite four protective orders. Kilgore said he would name the new measure Christina & Jessi's Law in honor of her slain children.
Shifflett-Fridley said she is supporting Kilgore because of his desire to toughen the laws.
"I'll never forget the days standing before the judge, pleading with the judge, asking for his help," she said. "This person had his chance to come into my home, take the life of my oldest daughter, and then take my youngest daughter. It was our judge's choice about what he wanted to do with the situation."
Delacey Skinner, a spokeswoman for Democratic candidate Timothy M. Kaine, said that Kaine supports mandatory jail sentences for people who violate a court's protective order.
Skinner, however, questioned Kilgore's commitment to ending domestic abuse, citing his statements during previous campaigns that victims of rape and incest could be required to report the crime within seven days in order to end their pregnancies legally.
"It doesn't show any sort of sympathy or understanding for victims," Skinner said.
Last month, in a news conference organized by the Kaine campaign, rape victim Joyce Allan said Kilgore's stand was a "glaring sign of ignorance and arrogance."
Spokesman Tim Murtaugh said that Kilgore believes crimes against women should be reported promptly. Murtaugh added that "Jerry would never punish women for the decisions they make."
The new ads reflect a shift in tone for the Kilgore campaign, which has spent the past week attacking Kaine for his position on the death penalty. Kaine has said he opposes the death penalty but would enforce state law on executions.
In two ads featuring the relatives of murder victims, Kilgore drew attention to Kaine's stand.
Kilgore aides said those ads are still running but declined to give details of where or how often they are being shown.
Instead of focusing on his opponent, Kilgore centered Tuesday's news conference on his own accomplishments.
State Del. Terry Suit (R-Virginia Beach), state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax) and U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.) praised Kilgore's efforts on behalf of women during the past three years, when he was attorney general.
Suit said that Kilgore helped pass a bill that toughened punishments and for the first time allowed women in Virginia to file a charge of rape against their husbands.
"Jerry, you did an outstanding job personally, coming to committee, representing the bill," Suit said.
Davis agreed, saying that Kilgore's efforts to push tougher laws had benefited women.
"Up until not too long ago, the penalty for abusing your pet was more severe than the penalty for abusing your wife," she said. "I know that all women appreciate Jerry's leadership in putting women first."