- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

RICHMOND — Timothy M. Kaine toiled four years raising and spending millions of dollars to win a job that will pay him $175,000 annually and give him four rent-free years in Virginia’s Executive Mansion.

Now comes the difficult part.

The transition from the promise-the-world fantasyland of campaigning to the cold accountability of running a $32 billion-a-year government can be unsettling for new governors, who discover that a glib slogan or a barbed rejoinder won’t balance a budget or fix a broken state agency.

So what do those who’ve been there recommend?

Task No. 1 is to assemble a staff capable of transforming political pledges into legislative reality, managing unforeseeable crises and disasters, and forcing scores of balky bureaucracies to carry out the policies — all within the constraints of a state budget, said Gov. Mark Warner and former governors.

“When you’re a candidate, you don’t necessarily organize your whole government because you’re trying to win, and you’re on the campaign trail a lot and dealing with political consultants and campaign managers and so forth,” said former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who took office in 1998.

Mr. Gilmore’s signature goal was to make good on his campaign promise to end the despised local property tax on personal cars and pickup trucks.

Elected overwhelmingly on the appeal of that promise, Mr. Gilmore prevailed on a House of Delegates still under Democratic rule to adopt his car tax cut months after his inauguration. Today, 30 percent of that tax remains, frozen in place three years ago by a fiscal crisis.

It also pays for a new governor to find plenty of good lawyers — experts in making sense of an avalanche of technical and legal paperwork, said Mr. Gilmore, who is in private practice with a major D.C. law firm.

“There’s a tendency for the previous governor to send over boxes and boxes of material. That previous governor is sending over that material so he can later say he gave it all to you. He gives you a million pages and you have to have someone to collate and separate the important from the mundane,” Mr. Gilmore said.

Virginia gives its governors no grace period. By the time Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, is sworn in Jan. 14 in Williamsburg, the Republican-run General Assembly will be four days into its 60-day session.

“Most civilized states allow the governor at least a few days to get his feet set before the legislature comes to town,” Mr. Warner said, partly in jest.

Mr. Kaine got high marks last week for his first key appointment when he persuaded William H. Leighty, a career administrator hailed for turning around troubled state agencies, to stay in his job as the governor’s chief of staff.

Mr. Warner, barred from re-election by Virginia’s unique ban on consecutive gubernatorial terms, said governors-elect must shake off swiftly the mesmerizing afterglow of victory and learn the Byzantine mechanics of state government.

“You know — but you don’t really know — how all the various state agencies relate to each other,” said Mr. Warner, who was forced to make deep operational cuts the first year of his term to reconcile a $6 billion budget shortfall.

Virginia’s fiscal crisis taught him that governors must be flexible and resilient when fate lays waste to the dearest goals of their terms. Mr. Warner recalled the moment four years ago when he learned that much of his campaign agenda was doomed.

“When [Finance Secretary] John Bennett came to me and said this budget shortfall was five or six times worse than my predecessor had said it was, and it’s getting worse by the day,” Mr. Warner said. “The budget drives policy, and you have to get your arms around the budget.”

Mr. Kaine inherits from Mr. Warner hundreds of millions of dollars in cash surpluses. Economists who privately counsel Virginia’s governors expect the state’s economy to continue outpacing the nation’s. But they are wary of energy costs and signs of weakness in the housing market, factors that could stall the economy and force budget cuts again.

Unlike Mr. Warner, Mr. Kaine moves into the Executive Mansion with experience in elected office. He was Richmond’s mayor for two terms before he was elected in 2001 as lieutenant governor, a post from which he presided over the Senate and became familiar with the legislature’s workings.

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