For Kaine, a Time to Get Down to the Details
Friday, January 13, 2006
RICHMOND -- When Virginia Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine chose college president and political commentator Thomas R. Morris to be his secretary of education, Morris wondered whether he should go back and check some of the things he'd said to reporters about Kaine's political fortunes.
Morris might have found plenty -- "I just don't see how Kaine is going to appeal to people down here with some of his positions," for instance -- but Kaine told him not to bother.
Indeed, if serving in Kaine's administration required a rock-solid belief that the 47-year-old Democratic transplant from the Midwest would be the one sworn in as Virginia's 70th governor, Kaine would be selecting his advisers from a fairly small pool.
Nothing builds confidence like accomplishing something so many people thought impossible. And so it is that after he takes the oath in historic Williamsburg, Kaine has set for himself an immediate first test that is just as difficult as the high-wire act he performed to get elected: trying to wrangle the General Assembly into fixing one of the state's most intractable problems, traffic congestion.
He is aided by the strength of his impressive win -- his margin of victory was even better than Gov. Mark R. Warner's four years ago -- and a growing sense in Richmond that this is the year to come up with a long-term fix to pay for the state's compounding transportation needs.
He is hindered by the lack of specificity he laid out along the campaign trail and a suspicion, especially on the part of the Republicans who control the General Assembly, that he is more like the liberal his opponent tried to portray during the campaign than the pragmatic moderate whom voters believe they elected.
To some, Kaine remains a bit elusive, his victory achieved by his promises to carry on the policies of Warner rather than by bold policy initiatives of his own.
"Kaine is an unknown factor at this stage," said House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax). "I hardly know him at all."
Added Robert D. Holsworth, a Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor who moderated one of the debates between Kaine and Republican Jerry W. Kilgore: "His mandate is issueless."
None of which seems to much faze Kaine.
"I'm not cocky that way, but I did come through a very difficult race, and I've been in difficult races before, and I know my mettle, that I don't shrink from hard challenges," Kaine said in a recent interview in an office overlooking the state Capitol. "I have a degree, a very high degree, of optimism.
"I know that I'm going to get my head handed to me on a platter by the legislature on a whole variety of issues. That's the way the game's played. But I have a high degree of confidence that I will achieve success in a number of things over four years."