By Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine traveled outside the state doing business for the Democratic National Committee half of the days in June, a departure from an initial pledge to limit his work as party chairman to evenings and weekends.
According to newly released documents, Kaine's out-of-state travel has accelerated substantially as he has taken on a more visible national role in selling President Obama's agenda, but it has also come as the economic crisis has worsened in Virginia, where the unemployment rate has been rising and state revenue has been falling.
Kaine also reversed course on Tuesday and announced that he will provide a summary of his daily whereabouts at the end of each month until he leaves office in January. That decision came after his office resisted weeks of pressure that he be more transparent about his travels for the DNC.
"Governor Kaine is working seven days a week on behalf of the interests of Virginians," said Kaine spokesman Lynda Tran. "He is focused on the issues that matter -- getting our economy back on track, ensuring quality services for Virginia families, protecting and preserving the environment -- and it's clear Virginians appreciate it."
The records show that from March 5 to the end of June, Kaine spent all or part of 30 days outside Virginia on DNC business, including trips to New York, Chicago, Boston and California. Kaine's state police security detail has spent a little more than $7,515 on expenses while protecting the governor as he traveled for the party, according to the records. Kaine said in June that the DNC would reimburse the state for those costs.
Kaine has spent five days out of state so far this month, though the records do not indicate whether those trips -- to Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Aspen, Colo., and Biloxi, Miss. -- were on DNC or state business, or for vacation. The National Council of La Raza has announced that Kaine will appear at the group's annual conference in Chicago next week.
Kaine's turnabout came as he has faced increasing criticism from Republicans, open-government advocates and newspaper editorial boards over his refusal to disclose his schedule and provide regular updates how he divided his time between two demanding jobs.
The political potency of those barbs deepened after Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's days-long disappearance last month led to his confession of an overseas extramarital affair, an incident that shed new light on the travel habits of state leaders.
Republicans have long accused Kaine of putting politics ahead of governing. They have tried to use his refusal to disclose his whereabouts to tarnish his reputation as a Democratic candidate, R. Creigh Deeds, attempts to follow him into the governor's mansion. The state GOP has produced a video mocking Kaine for his absences.
Leading Republicans on Tuesday said the newly released records show that Kaine has spent too much time moonlighting for the DNC at a time when Virginia's budget has been eroding and unemployment has been rising. His travels have included stops in Florida, Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, Kansas, Pennsylvania and repeated visits to the District.
"Like so many, I'm very disappointed to learn that so much of our governor's time is being spent on concerns other than the Commonwealth," said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). "During this, the worst jobs environment for working families since the Great Depression, Virginians deserve a hands-on, full-time governor."
They also said they remain unsatisfied with the amount of information Kaine has agreed to release about his travels. Tran said the governor's office will issue a monthly summary of Kaine's travels but those records will not distinguish between trips taken for state business, on behalf of the DNC or for personal reasons.
"They're fuzzifying it," said Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins. "It's almost like they're trying to hide what he's doing. Sure, they'll tell you he's traveling, but they won't tell you why."
In a statement, Tran said the information was released "in the interest of transparency" and in response to multiple public information requests received by the state police.
"The governor is engaged in state work every day," she said, declining further comment.
Kaine's announcement came on the same day that the Virginia State Police was legally required to release travel records in response to a public information request filed by The Washington Post.
Until now, Kaine has said he would answer questions about his work on behalf of the DNC when asked, but would not release a full schedule of his travels and activities, citing privacy and security concerns, as well as state law, court rulings and precedent.
Kaine said in a recent interview that he typically spends one day a week traveling for the DNC and another half a day working at the party's headquarters in Washington. But he said he remains in constant contact with staff from the governor's office by cellphone and e-mail when he is gone. To help, he began carrying a BlackBerry in January.
Kaine, who was on the short list to become the Democratic vice presidential pick last year, said he initially refused to serve as Obama's top political messenger until the president persuaded him otherwise.
"I don't view that, frankly, as consistent with being governor, so I'm going to be governor," Kaine said in November. "I would view it as taking my eye too much off the ball about things that need to happen here."
After he took the DNC job at President Obama's urging in January, Kaine said he would work at it part-time from Richmond on weekends and in evenings, relying on aides, computers and phones to monitor party business. But records show that 25 of his DNC travel days were weekdays. In January 2010, when his term as governor ends, he would become full-time party chairman.
"Ultimately, the issue is, am I working hard on state business?" Kaine said in June, noting that he does five to seven public events each week and is continually rolling out new initiatives. "I'm working seven days a week. . . . I'm very comfortable with the time I'm spending on state business."