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Tag Archives: Tim Kaine

            Democratic state senator Creigh Deeds is lagging behind in the gubernatorial polls.  What’s more, he’s running about even with his opponent in Northern Virginia—a majority-Democratic area within a state that voted for Barack Obama and Mark Warner last year…and Jim Webb and Tim Kaine in the cycle before that.  What’s handicapping Deeds?

            Two things: one, it’s not a “Democratic year.”  Independents who were willing to give Obama a chance and are now wary of his policies are taking their frustration out on statewide elections.  There is not too much that can be done about that unless the economy turns around (it will eventually, just perhaps not by November).  But the other factor is fixable: liberals, particularly in Northern Virginia, are just not that enthusiastic about Deeds.

            Which is strange—considering that he beat two Northern Virginians in the primary by large margins even in their own backyards.  Former Congressman Tom Davis, who is a Republican but not a staunch conservative, said of Northern Virginia that “People here don’t get up in the morning and ask if I can go hunting and fishing.”  The inference is that Deeds is too much of a backwoodsy, gun-loving, Bible-thumping enigma to be trusted with cosmopolitan issues—even though his opponent fits almost the same caricature.

            Republican Bob McDonnell may seem like the more urbane candidate on the surface.  As a legislator, he represented Virginia Beach in the House of Delegates, he worked at Newport News at an Army hospital as a lieutenant colonel, and he is sure to mention that he grew up in Fairfax County.  But Fairfax County in the early 1970s was a far cry from Fairfax County today.  In McDonnell’s childhood, Fairfax had fewer than half a million residents.  There was no Metro, no commuter rail, no HOV lanes, and no corridor of defense contracting and IT firms.  Today, the County is affluent, one-third non-white, with large enclaves of Asian and Latin American immigrants, and has excellent public schools.

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            So, neither of these men is really familiar with the Northern Virginia lifestyle.  What are the issues important to us?  Well, healthcare and the economy, of course.  But the governor does not really have control over those issues.  Deeds could try to run away from the controversial stimulus package and healthcare legislation.  Or he could embrace what the Obama administration is doing, saying that thousands of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and state workers have avoided being fired because of the stimulus.  He could also agree with Obama that every citizen needs quality, affordable insurance—something he can appreciate after growing up in rural poverty.

            The issues over which he will have control, however, are essentially two: education and transportation.  At George Mason University this week, he made an earnest—though at times stuttering—defense of state-funded public schools and universities, citing his own experience and that of his children in working their way through college.  On transportation, he has made only one thing clear: his opponent’s plan to divert money from schools and utilize the one-time revenues from liquor store privatization is bad news.  Deeds is open to any other means of funding, which traditionally infers that “new sources of revenue” (or higher taxes) are on the table.

            These are good core issues around which to run a campaign.  But the message needs a medium in order to get through.  Deeds needs to stand out on Metro platforms at 7 a.m. and rap with commuters about transportation funding.  He should hop into one of Arlington’s enviroCAB “green” taxis or get on a bus with local officials and drive through the Springfield Interchange.  He and Mark Warner (the most popular elected official in Virginia) should be touring the construction of Metro’s Silver Line and talking about how many jobs the Metrorail extension will bring to the Dulles corridor.

            Unfortunately, Deeds has hinted at his willingness to bring abortion into the campaign to rile up social liberals.  Now, I’m not saying that abortion isn’t a fair issue, considering that McDonnell pursued anti-abortion policies quite vehemently as a legislator.  And obviously if the McDonnell camp tries to link the moderate-to-conservative Deeds with liberal Obama policies, Deeds is right to pull the mask off of McDonnell’s centrist costume.  But considering that Deeds won the primary amid misguided negative campaigning by his two rivals, having a progressive plan and demonstrating it to voters may be a better strategy—as is constantly reminding the base that his opponent has a bad plan that is regressive.

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            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.

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            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.