Politics and Capital Punishment by John Cali


Tim Kaine is a politician. He’s also the former governor of Virginia, a state that was home to me for many years. Kaine is one of the few American politicians I deeply admire.

A devout Roman Catholic, he’s a former missionary to Honduras. He’s a compassionate, genuinely caring man, an advocate of social justice, a positive political campaigner, and a highly successful politician who is admirably bipartisan. One of his political opponents describes him as “a really nice guy.” Kaine is now running for yet another political office—US senator from Virginia. He’s never lost an election.

For those of you who follow this sort of thing, Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of executions in the United States since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

In addition to his other admirable qualities, Tim Kaine is a vigorous opponent of capital punishment on moral grounds. His church is also opposed to capital punishment. Kaine, as a civil rights attorney, before he became Virginia’s governor, defended death row inmates pro bono.

Yet as governor he presided over 11 executions, each one of which created deep pain and sorrow for him personally. His most infamous client had brutally murdered a widow by slashing her throat. He was there when the client was executed at Virginia’s Spring Street Penitentiary. At the execution he told reporters “Murder is wrong in the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala…and even in Spring Street Penitentiary.”

So how did he balance his personal beliefs as a Catholic while presiding over Virginia and 11 executions? With great difficulty.

As he said, “I really struggled with that (capital punishment) as governor. I have a moral position against the death penalty. But I took an oath of office to uphold it. Following an oath of office is also a moral obligation.”

Talk about a daunting dilemma—you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t!

Most of us will never have such a heavy responsibility as Tim Kaine. But most of us face similar, albeit less dramatic, situations in our personal lives. Situations which challenge our personal religious, spiritual, and moral beliefs and values.

Related posts:

The Death Penalty

Justifiable Homicide



If you had been in Tim Kaine’s place as Virginia’s governor, what would you have done?

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2 Responses

  1. Ron

    So where is the democracy? If someone whose platform for election does not stand firmly behind his moral ground ( beliefs), then is it any wonder that he might be unhappy with his job?
    If the voters agree with his beliefs, then does it not follow that he would have laws which run contrary to them changed? Or do I have a wrong understanding of what democracy means?

    • John Cali

      Good point. I don’t know what the answer is. But personally, my highest priority would be to follow my inner guidance, or conscience.

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