Chris Graham | Do the right thing, Tim

I get that the flap over Gov. Tim Kaine’s travel schedules got going because Republicans didn’t have anything better to do with their time this summer. But the wild swing by GOP chair Pat Mullins has connected solidly and sent the political baseball uncomfortably toward the cheap seats in deep left-center, uncomfortably, that is, for us Democrats out here trying to lay the groundwork for Creigh Deeds and other Democrats toward the state elections in November. 

And so it is that I make this public request of the governor – release the records, the whole kit and kaboodle, gruesome detail and all, and make it snappy.

I’m saying this today after reading the Thursday Washington Post online and seeing that Gov. Kaine has already given Republicans the pound of flesh that they wanted, in the form of his admission that he’s spending a day and a half a week on business associated with his new post as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, including a day a week traveling out of state to fundraisers and policy meetings and the like.

As the Post story pointed out, Kaine had said back when he took the DNC post in January that he’d conduct DNC business from Richmond on nights and weekends. That’s proving not to be the case, based on the schedule of past events with Kaine in attendance that the Post and other organizations have been able to put together.

It was also revealed in the piece in the Post today that while the DNC had been paying for Kaine’s travel on party business, state taxpayers had been paying for his security on DNC trips. After questions surfaced on that matter two weeks ago the governor said the DNC would begin reimbursing the state for his security.

So like I said, the Republicans have their pound of flesh. And yet Kaine continues to fight the travel-schedule issue, which has now morphed from being a partisan-political issue into being an open-government issue. The Post and Associated Press have taken up the cause, and both have had their requests for access to Kaine’s travel schedules denied by the governor’s office, citing the “governor’s working papers” exemption in the state open-records law and a 1991 Virginia Supreme Court decision that excused then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder from a request for his administration’s telephone records.

I checked with Megan Rhyne, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, to get her thoughts on the soundness of the citations from the governor’s office in its denial, and Rhyne is of the opinion that the governor has “a legally-supported justification for withholding the records as working papers. “But even though I say it’s a legally-defensible position, I don’t think it’s a very good public-policy decision,” Rhyne told me.

“When he’s in a position like he is in, when he has this dual role as chairman of a national committee, I think he has more responsibility to be transparent in showing what he is doing, when he he is taking taxpayer money in what he is doing, and when he is not,” Rhyne said.

“No one, not even the Republicans making political hay out of it, is saying that he is using taxpayer money, but it should be out there for people to see for themselves,” Rhyne said.

That’s where I am on this. I don’t want to think that Gov. Kaine is misleading us when he tells us that he’s spending a day and a half a week on DNC business, but I think we have a right to be able to see for ourselves, especially considering that we fronted the money for his security details for several months before the DNC’s belated move to offer to pick up that tab.

And back to another place where I am on this – the November elections loom off into the distance. We’re already seeing Republicans raising flimsy suspicions about our gubernatorial nominee, Mr. Deeds, based on his sensical campaign strategy to promise Virginia voters to continue in the recent tradition of good government brought to us by the likes of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Given that we’re going to be hearing plenty from the Deeds side about Kaine, “We need to examine the record of Tim Kaine,” Mullins has said.

So let ’em examine it. Again, the cat is out of the bag, so it’s not like any more harm can be done. Seems to me that the only harm being done is to Creigh Deeds, which is patently unfair to Deeds given his longstanding record of being an open-government guy to the umpteenth degree, pushing election reforms and nonpartisan redistricting on the eve of an apparent Democratic takeover of the General Assembly that would allow his party to literally redraw the political map for the next 10 years.

Deeds has been careful not to step on Kaine’s toes in questions related to the travel-records issue. The only public statement from Deeds that I’ve found came on his visit to the annual Boys State event in Central Virginia last month. “Tim is certainly capable of doing both jobs. I think one job will probably be enough for me,” Deeds said.

The stakes are this – both could be looking for another job if November doesn’t turn out the right way.

C’mon, Tim. Do the right thing, man.

 

– Column by Chris Graham


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