Anne Holton didn't show up when her husband, Timothy M. Kaine, announced his candidacy for governor. She has not endorsed him, nor does she intend to.
Can she say he is a great guy? she is asked. No, she doesn't believe she can. "It's a thin line," she said. "But that's where I'm comfortable drawing it."
Like many political spouses, Holton has her own last name and career. But because she is a judge in Richmond's Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, she is ethically bound to keep her work more separate than most.
Holton can't gaze lovingly at Kaine at his campaign rallies, attend fundraisers or say she is going to vote for him. "There are canons of judicial ethics, and one of the canons specifically provides that judges are to refrain from political activity," she said in a recent interview. "Virginia's tradition of the independence of the judiciary is very strong, and the judicial ethics support this."
By contrast, Marty Kilgore, wife of Republican nominee Jerry W. Kilgore, has quit her state government job overseeing the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation and embarked on the campaign trail for her husband.
Holton is not alone in her predicament. Across the Potomac, Catherine Curran O'Malley, the wife of Martin O'Malley, Baltimore's mayor and a Democratic candidate for governor, is a Maryland district court judge. Catherine O'Malley did attend her husband's recent campaign announcement with the couple's four children, ages 3 to 14, but she did not speak.
Holton said such choices are up to the individual. She said she confers "regularly" with Virginia's Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission (fondly pronounced by judges as "jerk," she said, smiling). "One thing that's kind of tricky about it is that their advice is confidential. . . . Not only can they not tell you what they told me, I can't tell you what they told me.
"I'm responsible for my own interpretation of the canons of judicial ethics."
There was chatter in Richmond after Holton appeared in one of her husband's television ads, which shows the couple and their three children preparing for a camping trip. The children -- Nat, Woody and Annella -- narrate the piece and speak directly to the camera. Holton is heard . . . laughing.
"I consulted with JIRC and decided I could -- basically, the way I've come down is I'm comfortable doing something on camera that I could do privately," she said. "The public has a legitimate interest in knowing about a candidate's family, and that could be accommodated without my violating my canons of ethics."
She said it was not intentional that she doesn't speak -- "I think I could say, you know, 'Hey, honey, hand me the tent.' " But she said she didn't think she would say anything that would be seen as a testimonial, even to Kaine's attributes as a husband and father.
Holton's distance from the campaign is all the more striking because she is a child of politics, and if Kaine wins Nov. 8, she will be moving into the governor's mansion for a second time.
Holton was nearly 12 when her father, A. Linwood Holton, became Virginia's first Republican governor in modern times. And she and her brother and sister drew national scrutiny when they enrolled in predominantly black Richmond public schools, as part of court-ordered busing. A photo of Linwood Holton escorting one of his daughters to an all-black high school made the front page of the New York Times and established him as one of the South's new progressive governors.
"My father took [sister] Tayloe to Kennedy that morning, and my mother took my brother and me to Mosby, which is now Martin Luther King Middle School, and they got all the attention," she said. "And she was wearing my dress."
Holton describes those days as an "adventure." "Mom and Dad made us feel like we were part of the decision, and they made us feel like we were part of something bigger than ourselves," she said. "It was really a life-forming experience."
If Holton can't campaign for her husband, she is eligible to swear him in, as she did when he became lieutenant governor. But Holton sounds like a political spouse when asked if she'll do it again if Kaine is elected. She skips over the "if" part.
"I could, but I won't," she said. "This time, I'll be in the wife role."