- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

RICHMOND — House Speaker William J. Howell yesterday called on Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to publicly reject a “more than flippant” threat his chief of staff-designate recently made about seeking retribution against lawmakers who oppose the governor’s multibillion-dollar transportation plan.

So far, the Stafford County Republican received a phone call and a couple of apologies from Mr. Kaine and his chief of staff-designate, William H. Leighty.

The political flap began Saturday in Fairfax at a town hall meeting intended to promote Mr. Kaine’s transportation package.

As first reported on a Web log, Mr. Leighty was asked what the governor would do to ensure that a strong transportation proposal makes it out of the Republican-controlled House.

“I have four staff members looking at every bill from every Republican House member,” Mr. Leighty responded, according to the blog. “We are not going to the member, but compiling a list of who asked for each bill. We are going to those people to tell them their bills are in jeopardy.”

Mr. Howell said Mr. Leighty confirmed the accuracy of the blog’s quote in a meeting Tuesday and that Mr. Leighty apologized to the House leadership.

Still, the comments prompted Mr. Howell to call an unscheduled press conference in which he questioned the administration’s sincerity, saying there “was unease that these circumstances might be an indication that the Kaine administration’s expressed commitment to work in a bipartisan manner may be solely restricted to public posturing.”

Later in the day, Mr. Kaine said he didn’t plan to meet Mr. Howell’s request.

Mr. Kaine, who campaigned with a promise to continue governing in the same bipartisan spirit as his predecessor, Gov. Mark Warner, said he and Mr. Leighty had apologized to Republican lawmakers and that they could decide “whether or not they want to accept [it].”

Mr. Leighty also served as Mr. Warner’s chief of staff.

“Bill [Leighty] made a statement he regretted,” Mr. Kaine said. “We all have days when we’re not at our best … We’re all big boys and girls. We have a natural tendency to work more closely with those who support us than those who don’t.”

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Mr. Kaine, said that the governor has already proven his commitment to working with both sides of the aisle.

“The speaker knows better than that,” Mr. Hall said. “All you have to do is look at the appointments we made, including the wife of the governor’s opponent.”

The governor appointed Marty Kilgore, the wife of Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, as executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation. Mr. Kaine defeated Mr. Kilgore in the governor’s race last fall.

The disagreement over how to pay for improvements to the state’s transportation network has been the most contentious issue this legislative session, with Mr. Kaine and the two Republican-controlled chambers each proposing a plan of how to fund road improvements.

Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, said Mr. Leighty’s remarks “makes negotiations very difficult.”

“It is really troubling and can make it really difficult I think to negotiate in good faith,” he said.

The blog that printed Mr. Leighty’s comments and that he later apologized to the Republican leadership was created by Ben Tribbett, a Democrat from Northern Virginia.

Democratic sources said privately yesterday that Mr. Leighty is not the best public speaker and should not have been allowed to address such a large meeting.

If yesterday is any indication, the political rhetoric is about to heat up and could muddy up the remainder of the session, which is scheduled to adjourn March 11.

“The governor certainly hopes not,” Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Howell and other members of the House Republican leadership said yesterday they have not made a decision whether to confirm Mr. Leighty’s appointment or that of Daniel G. LeBlanc, Mr. Kaine’s nomination for secretary of the commonwealth. Mr. LeBlanc is former president of the state AFL-CIO and a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Cabinet secretaries must receive an affirmative vote from both the House and the Senate to make their appointments permanent.

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