- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2008

RICHMOND

With just a year left in his term, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine counts whipping his traditionally Republican state into a win for Barack Obama as one of his biggest successes, but he hopes to leave a mark on the legislative landscape with a final push to promote the environment and conservation.

“I have three jobs: I’m an executive, I work with the legislature and I’m a political leader. And I would say in the area of political leader, we’ve been remarkably successful,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, told The Washington Times during an assessment of his tenure thus far.

Mr. Kaine rattled off several policy accomplishments - from reforming the state’s mental health laws after the Virginia Tech massacre to expanding pre-kindergarten education in the state - but acknowledged his failure to forge a solution in one critical area: finding more transportation funding.

In June, he called state lawmakers to Richmond for a special session to help fund transportation projects. The lawmakers rejected his plan to raise $1 billion, then adjourned in July without finding their own solution.

“I have not been able to get the legislature to spend more on primary, secondary and urban roads, and I would consider that to be definitely a disappointment so far,” Mr. Kaine said.

So while the legacies of recent Virginia governors have been molded by signature state initiatives - James S. Gilmore III had his effort to repeal the car tax, Mark Warner the approval of his billion-dollar tax increase - Mr. Kaine may best be remembered as the governor who helped turn Old Virginia from Republican red to Democratic blue.

He became the first governor outside of Illinois to endorse Mr. Obama last year and stumped for the president-elect at home and outside the state.

Mr. Obama earned 53 percent of the vote to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964.

Democrats also have taken control of the state Senate and won both U.S. Senate seats since Mr. Kaine was elected in 2005. The party took a 6-5 majority among the state’s House delegation after November’s elections, dramatically reversing what had been an 8-3 lead for Republicans.

“My top political goal was we’re going to be competitive in presidential politics,” Mr. Kaine said. “We were more than just competitive. We were a key part of the win.”

As 2009 approaches, Mr. Kaine has been forced to confront a roughly $3 billion state budget deficit, and is aiming to close it through measures that include systemwide cuts, employee layoffs, a move to trim the state’s inmate population and one proposal already adamantly opposed by Republicans: a 30-cent increase in the state’s cigarette tax.

How his proposals fare once the General Assembly convenes in Richmond on Jan. 14 will help define his legislative legacy. But the governor disagrees that his budget, with its tobacco tax increase, reflects a departure from the past.

That view is similar to the notion that Virginia wouldn’t vote for a black presidential candidate, Mr. Kaine said.

“There’s some stereotypes about Virginia that I don’t think are accurate. So the notion that my budget is trying to be against Old Virginia, it’s like ‘Gosh, that sentence doesn’t even compute in my brain,’” Mr. Kaine said. “We are the best managed state in America, and we’ve got to do things that are smart.”

As Mr. Kaine enters his final year as governor, the race to be his successor will dominate headlines. Three Democrats - state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, former Delegate Brian J. Moran and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe - likely will vie to battle Republican Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell to become Virginia’s 71st governor.

As for Mr. Kaine’s 2009 agenda, think less red and blue, and more green.

The governor said his biggest legislative and executive priorities will be energy and the environment, with his “Renew Virginia” initiative aiming to make the state a leader in conservation and environmental protection.

Mr. Kaine said his budget includes tax incentives to promote green jobs in Virginia, and he will roll out legislative policy around issues such as energy efficiency and conservation in January. He also plans to continue pushing key issues such as cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and open-space preservation.

So will that be his legacy - the “Green Governor”? Mr. Kaine isn’t too concerned about the label he’s given.

“Talking about how people remember me is too much about me,” he said. “I hope people appreciate that Virginia’s a great place to live and that we’re doing a lot of things right.”

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