- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

RICHMOND — So much for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s legislative honeymoon.

The first six months of his four-year term, the Democrat was locked in a partisan turf fight with conservative Republicans who rule the House of Delegates.

Some of the results are unprecedented in Virginia:

• Profound disagreement over a new stream of money for road, rail and transit projects statewide created a budget impasse that came within two days of leaving government unfunded. It is the third time in five years that the state missed its late-winter budget deadline, but never had the state been this tardy enacting a budget.

• For the first time, a gubernatorial appointee to a Cabinet-level position failed to win legislative confirmation. Daniel G. LeBlanc’s nomination as secretary of the commonwealth was defeated in the House because Mr. LeBlanc had headed the state AFL-CIO in right-to-work Virginia.

• The House unsuccessfully tried to strip Mr. Kaine of much of the governor’s authority to appoint members of state boards and commissions, including the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

The $1 billion annual transportation funding imperative Mr. Kaine identified as his first-year priority has gone nowhere. Prospects that the House will end six months of unyielding opposition to new taxes as a special legislative session lingers into autumn are unlikely.

How easy it would be to despair. Somehow, Mr. Kaine is unbowed.

“I’m happy. I have one bit of unhappiness, and that’s that we’re not there yet on transportation. That is a very significant issue and I ain’t giving up on it,” Mr. Kaine said in an Associated Press interview in his office Friday.

“We’re going to come back and we’re going to deal with it some more, and I know we’re going to make significant advances even on the funding side, which is the hard piece,” he said. “The question is whether we’re going to make it this year or whether we’re going to make it in two or three years when construction costs have gone up 25 or 30 percent.”

The House and Senate agreed to extend their rancorous and dysfunctional 2006 session into autumn and try then to agree on long-term financing for $100 billion in backlogged road-building needs. Mr. Kaine held two dozen town-hall-style forums across the state, aired radio ads and organized phone banks to pressure Republican delegates to support new transportation taxes. It only hardened the resolve of the House Republican Caucus, which is unlikely to soften in September.

In other areas, Mr. Kaine scored himself well.

“Outside of transportation, this budget just makes me whistle,” Mr. Kaine said. The House was unable to commandeer for transportation large chunks of the general fund, which pays for such operations as education, health care and public safety, he said.

Teachers this coming year get a raise and their first mandatory statewide system of job evaluations. Some funding is available to expand educational and health care offerings for children before kindergarten, and generous funding has been provided for conservation and federally required Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.

So what letter grade would Mr. Kaine choose? The same one legislative leaders and pundits would: neither A nor F, but an “incomplete.”

“There’s a steep learning curve to being governor, and he’s on it,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, the state’s most powerful legislator and a frequent critic of the freshman governor.

“He has his agenda and it’s not the same as we have in the House, so there will be conflict there, but I’m not going to second-guess him,” Mr. Howell said.

Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, Pittsylvania Republican, said it is not fair to judge a governor just one-eighth of his way into his term.

No one could have known four years ago when Mr. Kaine’s predecessor, Mark Warner, a Democrat, had been manhandled by a Republican legislature that he would leave office with the highest job-approval rating of any Virginia governor since pollsters have kept records, Mr. Hawkins said.

“You can’t put a grade on it because it’s incomplete,” Mr. Hawkins said, but added that Mr. Kaine must be more involved this fall in offering ideas on transportation than he was this winter and spring.

For all the acumen Mr. Kaine demonstrated as Richmond’s mayor and then as lieutenant governor in building alliances among conflicting groups, he underestimated the split between the House’s Republican conservatives and the centrist Republicans who rule the Senate, said Robert D. Holsworth, professor of government and politics at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“He was known for being an extremely successful bridge builder. What he discovered over this learning period is that building bridges from the House over to the Senate is the largest chasm he has ever tried to span,” Mr. Holsworth said.

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