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Virginia's Gov. Kaine Oversees His Last General Assembly Session

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine hugs his daughter, Annella, who was a Senate page during this year's legislative session, the governor's last, after she completed her duties at the State Capitol in Richmond.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine hugs his daughter, Annella, who was a Senate page during this year's legislative session, the governor's last, after she completed her duties at the State Capitol in Richmond. (By Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP)

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 1, 2009

RICHMOND -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine oversaw the conclusion of his final General Assembly session last night, virtually assuring he will leave office without fulfilling his most conspicuous campaign promise: to resolve Virginia's transportation mess.

Facing the worst economic crisis in generations and stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers who felt burned by past efforts at compromise, the commonwealth's 70th governor discovered that the ambitious agenda he laid out to voters in 2005 would remain largely beyond his reach.

As the gavel fell Saturday night on the 2009 legislative session, he acknowledged leaving his efforts to address vexing traffic issues unfinished and his pledge to fund pre-kindergarten programs statewide unresolved. But Kaine, ever upbeat, said he found other ways to deliver for voters, including Saturday's accord on revisions to the state's $77 billion budget and last month's decision to impose a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.

"There are things I wanted to do that I will not get done, and then there are things I have gotten done that I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams," Kaine said in an interview. "It's been a weird three years."

The House and Senate adjourned about 8:45 p.m., signaling to Kaine that they had completed their work. The close of this year's session marks the start of a 10-month transition for Kaine from elected chief executive to full-time chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

During a rare moment of self-reflection, Kaine said Wednesday night that he thinks he's done a "pretty good job" as governor of the nation's 12th-largest state.

"You know, I would have gotten more done had I had more money to deal with it," Kaine said. "But, you know, in some ways . . . it might be better to have a friend when times are tough than when times are good."

Some of Kaine's greatest accomplishments were the product of his ferocious appetite for elective politics, which has resulted in dramatic Democratic gains in traditionally conservative Virginia.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) said Kaine "will be remembered as the Democratic governor who married into a Republican family and converted them to Democrats."

During his tenure, Kaine has built a reputation for being an unflappable administrator, a quiet promoter of Northern Virginia's increasingly liberal take on social issues and a calming presence after of the Virginia Tech massacre.

But Kaine's governorship has been badly marred by the slumping economy and housing market, forcing him to cut several billion dollars out of his final budget. Kaine has also been at the center of unprecedented partisan division in Richmond, in part a byproduct of Virginia's new status as a swing state in presidential politics.

His plan to offer universal taxpayer-funded pre-kindergarten fell victim to a drop in state revenue, although he noted that he pushed last year to pump an additional $25 million into the program. "We have set it up so the battle over pre-K is not over," Kaine said.

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