Kaine says 'no regrets' on Soering case in AP interview
(by Bob Lewis, The News & Advance, Lynchburg, May 5, 2011, Link)
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - When Tim Kaine left the governor's office 17 months ago to head the Democratic National Committee, he figured he was done with electoral politics.
That could explain unpopular moves such as a major tax increase, closing some interstate rest stops and proposing a return to Germany - and eventual freedom - for a former German diplomat's son serving a life term in Virginia for butchering his then-girlfriend's parents.
Kaine, now running for a U.S. Senate seat next year, said in an Associated Press interview he would have done what he did anyway, and he offers no apologies.
"From my time on (Richmond) City Council in 1994 to the end of my time as governor, I've made decisions that people could argue with," Kaine said. "I feel like people care about your character. Even if they disagree with you on an issue, they can respect that someone with conviction is in the position."
Throughout the single, nonrenewable term to which Virginia uniquely restricts its governors, Kaine would say in conversations that he did not envision a future in elective politics. He believed his future would be in an appointive or private sector position, whether it be a college president, a return to his law practice, a stay at DNC or possibly another senior slot serving his friend, President Barack Obama.
"I frankly thought that I wouldn't see my name on a ballot again," Kaine told the AP. "What I would have bet I would have been doing would have been in higher ed somewhere because I am so passionate about education policy."
But in February, when Democratic Sen. Jim Webb shocked his party by announcing he would not seek a second term, all eyes turned toward Kaine, the only eligible Democrat with a recent track record of winning a high-stakes statewide election.
Reluctant at first, Kaine slowly warmed to the idea after conferring with political allies, advisers and his family.
The election, still 17 months away, became an instant marquee national contest in a critical Southern state where Kaine helped Obama win in 2008 - the first Democrat to carry Virginia in a presidential race since 1964. The race could speak loudly because it could pit Kaine against Republican George Allen, a bright 2008 Republican presidential prospect before he fumbled away a seemingly easy 2006 re-election to Webb through a series of blunders in a toxic year for Republicans.
Determined to reclaim a seat they feel Webb, once a Reagan Republican, usurped five years ago, Republicans are already savaging Kaine. In part, they're using Kaine's final year as governor, particularly his intervention on behalf of Jens Soering, to do it.
Soering was convicted of killing his girlfriend's parents, Derek and Nancy Haysom, who were stabbed and nearly decapitated in 1985. Soering and Elizabeth Haysom fled the United States as police closed in and traveled Europe until they were captured in London.
Both confessed to the killing. Soering later said he did so only because he wanted to spare his sweetheart the death penalty, wrongly believing his father's diplomatic immunity shielded him. Since then, Soering has penned books proclaiming his innocence and picked up international support for his release.
Kaine said Germany's ambassador to the United States asked him to transfer Soering back home in the summer of 2009. The request was denied because the German government could not guarantee that Soering would be imprisoned once he was returned.
"He should continue to be imprisoned, but I believe imprisoned on German taxpayer costs," Kaine said.
In the final days of his term, Kaine said, the German ambassador came back to him.
"He said, `We've gotten the (German) court system to do something a little bit unusual, and that is to guarantee that he will be in prison and that there will not be any reassessment of his status for, I believe, a period of two years," Kaine recalled.
Kaine met with Soering supporters, including Roman Catholic Bishop emeritus Walter F. Sullivan. Then, he asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to allow the transfer.
Kaine publicly said nothing of the request. It came to light Jan. 15, 2010, with only hours left in his term, in a report by The Roanoke Times. Kaine left office the next day without ever addressing the issue. His successor, Republican Bob McDonnell, rescinded the request as one of his first acts in office.
Soering told the AP he believes DNA tests done decades after the crime eliminated him as a suspect and that it played a role in Kaine's decision. He accuses Kaine of withholding that information from McDonnell for political reasons. Forensic officials have said the tests prove nothing.
"He is not a sympathetic character, that's true. I would never grant him clemency," Kaine said. "But I did feel like Virginians have paid for his incarceration for a very long time, let the Germans pay to keep this guy."
Now 44, Soering has been in prison since he was 19. He has been eligible for parole since 2003, and he goes up for consideration later this year.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, sensing a potent issue, has filed freedom-of-information requests with state and federal agencies, including the State and Justice departments, seeking correspondence to and from Kaine regarding Soering. So far, all its requests have been fruitless, said Brian Walsh of the NRSC.
Kaine said he had no problem with his correspondence, now in the Library of Virginia's archives, being made public.
Nor does Kaine back down from his out-the-door recommendation in December 2009 to boost the state income tax by $2 billion a year or to close 19 of Virginia's 42 interstate highway rest areas.
While the move was unpopular, Kaine said, it proves he is willing to make the sort of difficult cuts that now embroil Congress as it tries to cope with trillions in debt.
"Starting with my own salary in the fall of 2006, I made hundreds, if not over 1,000, cuts," Kaine said.
The tax increase was rejected unanimously by the General Assembly in January 2010 with few Democrats defending it. But Kaine said it was not only a straightforward way to end a deep budget crisis, it would have finally delivered on Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore's promise 12 years earlier to end Virginia's hated property tax on personal automobiles.
"I don't think I made any decisions in my last year that were out of character with decisions I made in my first three years," he said. "If I thought something was important, I did it."