Kaine enters U.S. spotlight, leaves incomplete tasks in Va.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine entered office four years ago with ambitious plans to take on some of the state's most entrenched problems -- reshaping the relationship between land use and development, raising teacher salaries to the national average, expanding early education opportunities and, most of all, finding a fix for the state's crumbling transportation system.
But as he delivers his final address to the General Assembly on Wednesday night in advance of leaving office Saturday, Kaine's original agenda remains largely unfulfilled. Of the top six campaign pledges he made while running for governor in 2005, Kaine was able to achieve just one and made a measure of progress on two others, largely because of poor relations with Republican legislators and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Nevertheless, Kaine will also leave office with some unexpected achievements: passing a ban on smoking in many bars and restaurants; setting aside millions to clean up the Chesapeake Bay; and preserving 400,000 acres of open space, an area the size of Virginia's Eastern Shore. And he will perhaps be best remembered for his leadership after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, which led to statewide mental health reforms and won him praise from members of both parties.
He also helped his party win unprecedented political victories, including taking over the state Senate, winning both U.S. Senate seats, claiming three new seats in the U.S. House and casting Virginia's electoral votes for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in more than four decades.
Kaine ends the single term he is constitutionally allowed with a healthy approval rating -- nearly 60 percent of Virginians said they approved of the job he was doing according to a series of Washington Post polls last fall -- and as one of the leading national figures in his party. As a close confidant of President Obama who will assume the full-time role of chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Kaine has an apparent bevy of political opportunities ahead, should he choose to pursue them.
In a recent fireside interview at the governor's mansion, Kaine, 51, called being governor the "best job" he ever had and said he probably would not run for office again.
Kaine vs. the Republicans
Kaine was elected in 2005 as the heir apparent to Democrat Mark R. Warner, a fellow Harvard alum with a vastly different background and temperament. In what has become one of the defining moments in modern Virginia politics, Warner persuaded a number of Republicans to support a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2004 to boost spending on education, health and public safety.
Democrats said the experience, which greatly boosted Warner's popularity and made him a national figure, convinced Republicans that they should not make the same mistake with Kaine.
"They let Mark Warner have a major win. They weren't going to do that again," said Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), who serves as the Democratic caucus chairman.
Republican leaders in the House deny that they refused to work with Kaine, saying rather that Warner was collaborative where Kaine was secretive.
"There was no real dialogue," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem). "He made no serious effort to work with the legislature. Kaine just said, 'I'm doing it my way.' "
Del. Edward T. Scott (R-Madison) said he realized that Kaine was not sincere about negotiating when the legislature was deadlocked on the budget in Kaine's first year and the governor's political action committee began attacking Scott in radio ads.