Poor Tim Kaine: the recession has gotten so bad that he has had to get a second part-time job—as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
It turns out that Kaine’s instinct was correct when Barack Obama first broached the subject with him last year. Kaine said that taking up the new post would not comport with his job as governor. Yet, he still managed to accept the position, where he has supposedly been serving a weekends-and-evenings role in traveling for party business. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as Virginia matters take precedence and his time/money/staff are not used inappropriately.
Last month, when requests for Kaine’s travel records arose, he told the press, “If anyone wants to know where I am, all they have to do is ask. . . . There’s nothing covert about it.” Yet he delayed for weeks in releasing the reports, only relenting when the Virginia State Police (which provides his security) decided that they had to release their own records of travel. The information provided shows that Kaine, from the beginning of March through the end of June, traveled outside of Virginia on thirty occasions, fifteen of which occurred in June alone.
Now, leaving the state to give speeches and campaign for candidates is obviously not the most egregious activity in which a governor could partake (see: hiking the Appalachian Trail). Nor is Virginia—which, like many other states, is seeing its budget deficit widen as tax revenues fall short of projections—in any special crisis (see: California). Further, there is not undue national scrutiny on our state political antics (see: New York, Alaska).
The General Assembly wrapped up its legislative session in February, so it’s a bit disingenuous when part-time Republican lawmakers are chastising Kaine. House Speaker William Howell said that “During this, the worst jobs environment for working families since the Great Depression, Virginians deserve a hands-on, full-time governor.” In fact, Kaine was the first governor in the country to call for a special legislative session in August to address the Supreme Court’s recent ruling requiring lab analysts to give testimony at criminal trials. So, I think it’s fair to say that he’s pulling his weight as much as the assembly is pulling theirs.
Still, Kaine has to deal effectively with many distractions before his term expires in January: he has to monitor the budget woes, campaign for gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds and House of Delegates candidates, monitor stimulus spending in Virginia, be on call in case a crisis emerges—all while trying to fend off Republican gains on a national scale next year.
In a sense, Republicans’ concerns are legitimate. And unfortunately, Deeds will undoubtedly be linked to Kaine’s mini-travel scandal under a larger attempt to smear the national Democratic leadership. But Kaine has already wrapped up his legacy more or less satisfactorily. The recession has dominated his last year-and-a-half in office and he was not able to fix transportation in the state, but he did push through a cigarette ban in restaurants, oversaw the groundbreaking for Metrorail to Dulles Airport, and led the state through the Virginia Tech shootings.
In my opinion, Kaine will have enough of a challenge trying to get a Democratic successor elected in the fall without the need to travel all over the country. However, as long as he does so transparently and no more than a couple days each month, I see no harm in that.