Getting to know Tim Kaine
Story by Chris Graham
Tim Kaine knew when he made his mind up that he was going to run for lieutenant governor in 2001 that he was committing himself to another political campaign four years later.
“Honestly, when I ran for lieutenant governor, I thought, you know, if I am lieutenant governor, then I will run for governor. I’m not coy. ‘Well, I’ll think about this later.’ I decided to run for lieutenant governor, and when I made that decision, I knew that if I was lieutenant governor, I would run for governor,” Kaine told The Augusta Free Press.
The Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee’s political career had actually gotten off the ground seven years before his first run for statewide office. Kaine ran for and won a seat on Richmond City Council in 1994.
“I never would have thought that I would have run for office,” said Kaine, who cited his desire to improve Richmond’s public-school system and the locality’s crime-fighting efforts as his primary motivations for wanting to enter public life.
He also thought he could be a “bridge-builder,” he said, among the sometimes racially divided city leadership.
Kaine got more out of the experience of serving on city council than he had bargained for – including the selection by his peers on the governing body to serve as mayor in 1998.
“One of the things about having been a mayor is people ask me about transportation, and I was a leader of a regional transportation system that had to be involved in policy decisions on roads, rail, airports, a port, a bus system. You want to talk about schools, I figured out a way to finance and build four brand-new schools, and took a closed high school and renovated it and reopened it. Anything that government does, you do when you’re a mayor,” Kaine said.
Kaine decided in 2000 that he was not going to run for what would have been a fifth term on city council two years later. He then announced his support for Charlottesville Sen. Emily Couric’s bid for the 2001 Democratic Party lieutenant-governor nomination – before the news hit that Couric, the older sister of “Today” anchor Katie Couric, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“The aftermath of that, as the shock wore off, I started to think about my own dealings as a mayor with the state government, and a particular frustration that I’d had was the state not fully meeting its educational-funding obligations to local governments,” Kaine said. “I had built this coalition of mayors and county-board chairs that was trying to bring the state’s defaulting on education funding to the forefront. We had worked on some legislation together.
“I sort of thought, it’s been a long time since somebody with local-government experience has run for state office. I believed that the state’s defaulting on education was hurting local governments and hurting kids. That’s really what propelled me into the race,” Kaine said of his 2001 battle for the second job in Virginia government with Republican Jay Katzen.
Kaine won the election and joined ticketmate Mark Warner at the head of Virginia’s executive branch.
He learned early on just how differently the number-two guy gets treated in state government. Kaine set up a meeting during the transition period with the outgoing lieutenant governor, Republican John Hager, to talk to Hager about what the job entails.
“He gave me some good advice, and at the end of the interview, he said, ‘You know, they give you a license plate with a 1 on it.’ I said, ‘Really? I thought the governor had the number-1 license plate.’ And then Hager said, ‘No, for security reasons, they give him a four-digit plate, and a security detail. But you get the number-1 plate and no security detail.’ That kind of told me what being lieutenant governor was all about,” Kaine said.
During the Virginia General Assembly session, “it’s wall to wall,” Kaine said of the job of lieutenant governor, whose primary constitutional duty is to serve as president of the Virginia Senate, “but outside of the session, you make it what you will.”
“I did have the opportunity because I was serving with a Democratic governor, and because Mark and I are long-time friends, to participate in the Cabinet and all the workings of the Warner administration to lend my voice, to lend my support, so that I could be an effective advocate for what the Warner administration was doing, but also to learn,” Kaine said.
“That’s been very valuable for me. Being in the front row and participating when decisions are being made, hashing things out, has been great for me,” Kaine said.
Kaine had already been receiving gubernatorial training for years from his father-in-law, former governor Linwood Holton, a Republican elected in 1969.
Holton, Kaine said, “faced very difficult challenges when he was governor,” being a Republican governor in what was then a solid Democrat state government, “but he wasn’t afraid to make a hard decision or an unpopular decision.”
“He served as governor at a time when the legislature was 90 percent Democratic, but he got virtually everything that he thought was important through that legislature,” Kaine said. “He created the Cabinet system in Virginia, paved the way toward integration of state public schools, dramatically improved the cleanup of rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, expanded the state-park system, and a whole series of things that got through, not all of which were initially popular with the legislature.
“Lin only succeeded by being bipartisan,” Kaine said.
The Warner-Kaine administration has followed that model – as Democrats leading an executive branch at a time when the state legislature is dominated by the GOP.
“Having been at the table with Mark as we’ve done everything from the cuts and reductions of the first two years to the budget reform of ’04 to all the management improvements, we’re the best-governed state in America, and some of that is because of the big-ticket items like budget reform, the big, flashy headline grabbers,” Kaine said. “But we’ve reformed the way the state leases and buys real estate. We’ve reformed the way the state looks at it purchases and uses technology. We’ve reformed the way buys its goods and services. We’ve gone into some very unglamorous parts of state government, and made dramatic improvement.
“Being part of those decisions is going to make you a better executive. And having been the presider in the Senate and involved in the legislative process is going to make me much better at working with the legislature to move the ball down the field,” Kaine said.
To continue his career in politics, Kaine will need to win one more statewide election. That, as he knows from 2001, is easier said than it is done.
“The two things that I could do without are fund raising and, most importantly, time away from Anne and my kids,” Kaine said. “That’s the hard part. And really, since 1994, when I ran for office for the first time, I’ve missed out on a lot of family stuff. I’ve sort of carved everything in my life out except for work and family.”
And then there are the critics – sometimes in the media, oftentimes in the rival political party.
“The challenge that you have to have as a public official is to develop really thick skin but still have ears that are open. You can’t just completely wall yourself off. You have to be a good listener and really pay attention,” Kaine said.
“I don’t like it when I see a letter that goes out that says I’m an enemy of faith, family and freedom. But nothing that anybody can say about me will change my own qualities,” Kaine said.
“And frankly, I hold myself to a much higher standard than even my worst critics do, and as long as I’m doing OK by my own standards, I don’t really worry about what anybody else says,” Kaine said.