RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Mark Warner will spend the remainder of his term rolling out new initiatives that encourage healthy lifestyles and promote early childhood education, unlike his predecessors who focused on national issues as their terms ended.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, told The Washington Times he knows it is unusual to promote major initiatives so late in the term, but wants to make the most of his last six months in office. Though he is thought to be eyeing the White House, he said he wants to stay focused on Virginia until his successor is sworn in in January.
“There have been times I feel constrained by this four-year term, and if there is another idea that I think makes sense I’d like to try to build the case, even if I’m not going to be here to see it,” Mr. Warner told The Times on Friday.
Virginia governors by law are not allowed to serve consecutive terms, a tradition Mr. Warner and several former governors think should end.
Mr. Warner, 50, said he wants to expand his Healthy Virginians initiative on exercise and healthy living and do more work with early childhood activities to help children reach their fullest potential. He said he would pick “one or at maximum two” new initiatives, though they are likely to be overshadowed by the state’s three-way gubernatorial race.
Mr. Warner is campaigning for Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democratic candidate who he thinks will continue what he has begun. However, he is pushing government agencies for results so he can cement his achievements.
“I want to make sure that the policies that we’ve started are measurable, accountable and that no matter what happens that the next governor is going to have a hard time reversing,” he said. “If these initiatives have shown results, it’s going to be tough to reverse them.”
Mr. Warner points to his successful Education for a Lifetime program, which focuses on 18- to 24-year-olds who did not graduate from high school.
The Middle College program encourages students to attend community colleges to earn their general equivalency diplomas and continue to take classes toward other degrees or industry certification. The program has been expanded from two community colleges to five.
Nearly 90 percent of the several hundred students in the program are on track to earn their GEDs, and more than 70 percent are on track to attain some higher form of education.
Mr. Warner soon will celebrate his teacher retention program, which was tested in Caroline County and Franklin. Under the program, high-performing teachers were recruited from other districts and each were paid a $15,000 bonus for committing to at least three years in these districts.
Permanent teachers from Caroline County and Franklin, where students showed progress on the state Standards of Learning (SOL) exams also were given bonuses.
Mr. Warner said the program helped stop the districts from losing teachers.
He said he thinks there is much more he can do at the end of his term, especially since his first years as governor were plagued by events such as the sniper attacks in 2002 and Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
“I’m more comfortable in the role, and people, I think, are more comfortable with me. They don’t want me to check out. I don’t intend to check out,” he said.
Previous governors have focused mostly on national issues during their last year in office.
Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, served as chairman of the Republican National Committee and was considered for a Cabinet post in the Bush administration. Gov. George Allen, a Republican who left office in 1998, was eyeing a U.S. Senate seat he won in 2000.
Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat who left in 1994, made three trips to Africa during his last year in office. One of the trips involved a five-day summit of African heads of state and U.S. black leaders.
Still, Mr. Warner is keeping his national options open. Last month, he hired a former adviser to former Vice President Al Gore to work as a part-time political consultant and formed a committee to explore a bid for higher political office.
In Virginia, Mr. Allen is up for re-election in 2006, and U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican, is up for re-election in 2008. Mr. Allen is rumored to be considering a bid for the White House in 2008.
During the past year, Mr. Warner has been in the national spotlight as chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA). This weekend, he will hand over the chairmanship to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, but he will continue to lead NGA projects on federal education policy, reforming high schools and Medicaid.
Mr. Warner often points to his ability to work with Republicans and Democrats as a crowning achievement. Last year, he teamed up with state legislators from both parties to pass a $1.38 billion tax-reform package that included a combination of tax increases and cuts.
On the national stage, Mr. Warner says, Democrats must attract independents and Republicans if they want to win elections.
At an Arizona Democratic Party’s dinner Saturday, Mr. Warner told state Democrats how he thinks the party can remain competitive nationwide.
“There are those on the Democratic side who think the only answer is if Democrats just have a better turnout operation that that will be successful,” he said. “I don’t buy that. You have got to reach out and appeal to some people who have not voted Democratic in some time to take a fresh look.”