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Soering case separates U.S. Senate candidates

(von Jonathan Hunley, The News Virginian, December 11, 2011)

RICHMOND, Va. -- While we Virginians are anxious about the 2012 race for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., we’ve got a pretty big in-state contest, too.

And the combatants in that political prizefight, certainly heavyweights in their own right, sparred here Wednesday.

They’re former governors George Allen and Tim Kaine, who seek the U.S. Senate seat Democrat Jim Webb is giving up next year.

The hopefuls, who most everyone presumes will easily win primary races to get their parties’ nominations, debated at AP Day at the Capitol, an annual event put on by the Virginia AP Managing Editors, the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Virginia Pro Chapter.

And if that event is any kind of preview of what’s to come, the campaign trail may get rough after the calendar changes to 2012.

Each man tried to paint the other as making bad fiscal decisions. The Democrat Kaine hit Allen for voting in favor of funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the Bush tax cuts.

Likewise, the Republican, who served one term in the Senate until being defeated by Webb in 2006, tried to persuade the crowd that Kaine wasn’t responsible with money when he was in the Executive Mansion.

Are they right?

Well, tea partiers and some Republicans fed up with Allen seem to agree with Kaine’s assessment that Allen wasn’t necessarily a fiscal conservative if he agreed with Bush policies that drove up the debt.

And Allen makes a good point when he puts forth the idea that if an audit done recently could identify savings in the Virginia Department of Transportation, then the Kaine administration should have found that waste years ago.

The bottom line is that life in the Old Dominion probably will proceed just fine no matter which of these men is elected. Each has his supporters, and each has accomplished a lot in public service over the years. Allen’s work to abolish parole is laudable, for example, as were Kaine’s efforts in lessening violence in Richmond when he served as a city councilman and mayor there.

One clear difference between the candidates that came up Wednesday was on Jens Soering.

On the eve of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s inauguration in 2010, news broke that Kaine had asked the Justice Department to send Soering, who was convicted of a double-murder in 1985, back to his native Germany.

This was of particular interest to me because I remember Soering’s trial from when I was a kid in Roanoke. I’m still not convinced that Soering, and not his girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom, actually stabbed Haysom’s parents in their home in Bedford County.

However, even if Soering, who like Elizabeth Haysom was a UVa student at the time, is guilty, it seems perfectly reasonable to ship him back to his home country.

Why should Virginia taxpayers have to foot the bill for his incarceration, especially with the promises Kaine received that Soering couldn’t come back to the U.S. and that he would serve at least two years’ imprisonment in Germany?

As Kaine said in the debate, “with those guarantees, my attitude was, ‘Good riddance.’

“This is a foreign citizen who abused our hospitality and committed a horrible crime. We had the ability to safely transfer him back to his country, where he would be imprisoned on the German nickel — not ours — and at that point, with those assurances that he would never come back and the Germans would put him in jail, I felt sufficient to make a recommendation, knowing that the attorney general would review it.”

McDonnell, however, reversed course to maintain the status quo on Soering. And Allen, whom McDonnell has endorsed, said Wednesday that anyone convicted in Virginia should serve time here.

“My view is, when Virginians, judges or juries, sentence someone to a sentence, they ought to serve that sentence,” he said.

That sounds great as a “tough on crime” sound bite, but it’s not prudent, given the economy and our need to find savings anywhere we can.

The voters will have to decide who gets sent to Washington. But Soering? Soering ought to get sent to Germany.

    Jens Söring ist ein deutscher Schriftsteller, der mehr als 33 Jahre in amerikanischen und englischen Gefängnissen verbrachte für einen Doppelmord, den er nicht begangen hat. 2016 zeigten DNA Tests, dass Blut am Tatort, welches einst ihm zugerechnet wurde, tatsächlich von zwei anderen Männern stammte.

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