As Kaine Dances, N. Virginia Taps Its Toes Waiting
WILLIAMSBURG, Jan. 14 For probably the first time in four years, Tim Kaine got a bigger ovation than Mark Warner. Within seconds of Kaine's swearing-in under a steady drizzle on the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg, Warner and his wife, Lisa, unceremoniously walked off the stage. That's Virginia tradition, and in Virginia, tradition rules.
The orange-haired tech mogul-turned-hugely-popular-governor left headed toward a larger stage. Next: New Hampshire. The new business cards he was handing out have an Alexandria address, the Old Town offices of Forward Together, his nascent presidential campaign.
And now, Tim Kaine -- a more fluid speaker, brainier in first impression, more openly true to his liberal core (within minutes of taking office, he issued executive orders protecting the rights of gay people and the disabled), supremely confident yet winningly unassuming.
On this day of pomp and tradition, everyone was polite and welcoming. But within seconds after Kaine's speech, some were already asking after the beef. Heck -- even before the speech, the hunger for specifics was palpable:
Reporters walking below the inauguration stage approached Pierce Homer, the state secretary of transportation, to beg for the governor's long-awaited transportation plan. Homer reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a document and dangled it over the edge of the stage, just above the outreached hands of the working press. Everyone had a good laugh, but within a few days, the demand for specifics will become insistent, even ugly.
While Northern Virginians were by and large focused on the Redskins game Saturday, the inauguration took top billing on the news in most of the rest of the state.
"It's more what they live for here," says John Milliken, a former member of the Arlington County Board and prominent Northern Virginia Democrat who was one of relatively few faces from the Washington suburbs at Kaine's inaugural concert Friday night. "The state government is more central to their lives."
Imagine this: The concert, which starred 10 musical acts from all over Virginia but with just one from the northern part of the state, led the local TV news. The Richmond paper put out a special souvenir inauguration edition. On Washington TV, it often takes a missing kid or a slaying to get Virginia on the news.
So far, Kaine has made fixing Northern Virginia's roads a centerpiece of his plans for his term in office, and his supporters point to the new governor's repeated visits to Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William as evidence that he means to make a difference in the traffic congestion that chokes the area. But others note that Fairfax was the next-to-last stop on Kaine's transportation town-hall tour of the state.
And the drum roll of announcements coming out of Kaine's press office in recent days sounded much like business as usual in a state that relies heavily on the D.C. suburbs for tax revenue yet remains almost dismissive of the region in its spending. Just two of the 13 members of Kaine's Cabinet are from Northern Virginia. Only one of 37 bands and other performers in the inaugural parade hailed from the region. (The sole Washington area act in the big Beach Boys concert Friday was an Arlington band called the Constituents, a mainstay at Democratic barbecues that features the county's commissioner of revenue, Ingrid Morroy. They played "Guantanamera." Message: Northern Virginia = lefties.)
It's not just a numbers game; hang around the bars and receptions during the inaugural weekend and the overwhelming majority of the folks on hand are from parts of Virginia where state government is front of mind.
Whether the setting is Richmond or Williamsburg, these functions, like sessions of the General Assembly, feel like Virginia, whereas Fairfax feels like Washington. (Kaine, by the way, plays totally legit bluegrass harmonica; sitting in with the band No Speed Limit at Friday's concert, he was a natural, but for the white shirt and red tie.)
"What concerns me more than the lack of Northern Virginians who are here is the lack of weight we have in the legislature," says Ron Seward, who serves on the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council and is a high-tech business consultant in Burke. The region will gain a more equitable share of state resources only when Democrats regain control of one house of the legislature, he argues, because only then will Northern Virginia lawmakers wield real power.
A few years ago, such a goal might have seemed a wild fantasy. It's still likely to provoke guffaws in Richmond. But Seward and other Democrats high on the Kaine victory -- knowing that Kaine's winning margin came in the supposedly Republican suburbs of Loudoun and Prince William -- believe that if Democrats do well in this year's midterm congressional elections, they can make a strong comeback in next year's Virginia vote.
First, however, Kaine has to show that he can do something about traffic. Why he decided to take on the state's toughest problem first, and in such dramatic fashion, has some Democrats shaking their heads, but they admire his gumption. And they credit Warner for fixing Virginia's finances so that Kaine has some room to maneuver in his transportation battle. Unlike Warner, who came into office facing a $6 billion shortfall, Kaine enters with the prospect of a $1 billion surplus.
"You'd much rather come into office when there's an opportunity to do things, not just digging out of the hole you've been left," says Milliken.
"Mark had to spend a lot of time fixing things that people don't necessarily notice," says Kate Hanley, former chairman of Fairfax's Board of Supervisors.
If Kaine makes a dent in traffic, people will notice. Of course, if he doesn't, they'll notice that, too. Even in the place the rest of Virginia considers barely Virginian.
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