Virginia Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D) will assume office on Jan. 14 with fewer initial obstacles than his predecessor, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), but some new challenges as well, both men said Friday.
Warner won the governorship in late 2001 and took over from a Republican governor just as the boom times of the dot-com economy were coming to an end. By the time he took office in 2002, Warner had announced a budget shortfall of more than $3 billion.
Kaine, by contrast, starts with a rosy economy and a state surplus. Kaine also will inherit from Warner a solid relationship with many members of the legislature; Warner's predecessor, Republican governor James S. Gilmore III, left office with few friends among lawmakers in either party.
"The state is in a great place right now. We've got a lot to thank this governor for," Kaine said Friday after meeting privately with Warner in the executive mansion that will soon become his home for four years. "My plan is not to go back to square one."
Kaine and Warner spoke with reporters three days after the Democrat's victory over Republican Jerry W. Kilgore. Meanwhile, it will be days, or even weeks, before a clear winner emerges in the attorney general race. Del. Robert F. McDonnell (R-Virginia Beach) holds a razor-thin lead over Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath).
As lieutenant governor, Kaine presided over the Senate and saw the legislative process firsthand. Warner said Friday that that will help the new governor when the General Assembly convenes in January.
"He comes, actually, to this job with more relationships in the House than I had," Warner said. "I think he starts much further down the road than I started."
But Kaine also starts his first year headed toward a direct confrontation with conservative Republicans in the House and Senate over taxes, something Warner managed to avoid until the third legislative session of his term.
Kaine already has announced he will launch a pre-session tour of Virginia to talk about transportation and how to finance it. His first round of town hall meetings, which will include a stop in Manassas, will begin Wednesday in Roanoke.
By putting that subject at the top of his priority list, Kaine is inviting his first session to be a contentious one, said Professor Larry J. Sabato of the University of Virginia.
House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) "is just determined not to have another tax vote," Sabato said, referring to the extended debate over tax increases during the 2004 session. "The House is going to be a tough nut."
Sabato said Kaine must resist the temptation to be more liberal than he seemed during the campaign or risk a damaging confrontation with Howell and other conservatives early in his administration.
Howell said this week that he looks forward to working with Kaine and sees areas of cooperation, including Kaine's pledge to "lock up" the transportation trust fund so that money for roads cannot be siphoned to other purposes.
But Howell also warned that his caucus will not support any tax increases: "We're not going to be with him on that."
Warner said Friday that members of his administration are briefing Kaine and his new staff on personnel and budget issues.
Kaine said he welcomes requests from Warner staff to stay on during his administration and said he will actively look for Republicans to be part of the cabinet.
"Bipartisanship is definitely one of the criteria," he said.
After the meeting at the mansion, Warner gave Kaine a tour of the third floor of the nearby Patrick Henry Building, where the governor's office and offices for cabinet members are. Warner's office moved there this year because of a renovation of the state Capitol.
Walking to the building Friday morning, Kaine said to Warner: "Superstitionally, I've never been to your new office."
In the attorney general's race, McDonnell has declared victory but Deeds maintains the race is too close to call. Both men have assembled transition teams. Each campaign also has volunteer observers watching as local election officials around the state double-check unofficial vote tallies from Tuesday night.
McDonnell's lead has narrowed because of the addition of provisional ballots and some absentee ballots to the total, as well as the discovery of errors in initial vote tallies. On Thursday afternoon 1,520 votes, of about 1.9 million cast, separated the candidates. By Friday, McDonnell was ahead by 619 votes.
Under Virginia law, if the margin of victory is less than 1 percent, the loser may request a recount within 10 days after the state board certifies the results, which will occur Nov. 28. A three-judge panel oversees the effort.
John Phillippe, McDonnell's spokesman, said McDonnell remains confident that he will prevail. He said McDonnell has begun work with a transition team that includes three former Virginia attorneys general.
The Deeds camp said McDonnell's victory announcement is premature. "We're just going to watch until they all come in," said Mark Bergman, a spokesman for lawyers assisting Deeds.
Jean Jensen, state Board of Elections secretary, said most jurisdictions have completed checks of vote totals, but some tweaks are still being made.