- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Once considered a top choice to be Sen. Barack Obama‘s running mate, he must now balance his time between campaigning for the presidential candidate and trying to fix a $2.5 billion budget crisis.

Hustling between appearances last week in Northern Virginia, Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said his first priority “absolutely” is managing the state. But his critics suggest that a more focused chief executive may be better-suited to tackle the issues confronting Virginia.

“He clearly has spent almost as much time out of the state as he has in the state,” said House Majority Leader Delegate H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican. “I think we’re going to find a lot of little things that he probably should have been on top of.”

The months and weeks leading to the Nov. 4 election have indeed kept Mr. Kaine bouncing from one task to another.

The governor said a dismal national economic picture this summer showed him the need to reforecast state revenues - a precursor to the budget-paring measures that he announced roughly a week ago.

In June, he called state lawmakers back 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.

Last month, Mr. Kaine and Mr. Griffith exchanged verbal jabs when a state police policy on prayer led to the resignation of six volunteer chaplains.

Then on Oct. 9, Mr. Kaine announced the layoffs of nearly 570 employees and cut deeply into state spending to help close the $2.5 billion shortfall in the state’s biennial budget.

Three days after announcing the cuts, the governor was stumping for Mr. Obama in Colorado. Delegate William R. Janis, Glen Allen Republican, said the timing couldn’t have been worse.

“I think he’s abandoned any pretense of trying to be the governor,” said Mr. Janis, who accused Mr. Kaine of calling the summer’s special session to keep his name in the news as Mr. Obama vetted potential vice presidential candidates. “At least Nero stayed in Rome and fiddled while it burned. He’s out in Colorado.”

Mr. Kaine said his visit Oct. 12 to Colorado followed the philosophy that he has held when campaigning for Mr. Obama: Limit such activities to nights and weekends, and try not to travel out of the state more than once a month.

The governor has spent a little more than nine days outside Virginia for Obama-specific events since Nov. 17, 2007, said Charlie Kelly, executive director of Mr. Kaine’s political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward.

The trips have taken him to Georgia, Iowa, Indiana and Texas, and all have been on a weekend or night except for one on New Year’s Day, Mr. Kelly said.

“I’m entitled to a personal life, too,” Mr. Kaine told The Washington Times. “And if I want to take a night where I might be at home watching TV [and] instead go to a campaign event or go away on a weekend, that’s the way I try to do it.”

Mr. Kaine also has strived to maintain a presence in the community. He traveled on Oct. 14 to more than five locations in Northern Virginia with members of his Cabinet in tow - including a Fairfax high school, a training site for an urban search-and-rescue team in Fairfax County, a waste-to-energy facility in Lorton and a senior center in Woodbridge.

The governor touched on everything from telecommuting to flu shots and rarely, if at all, mentioned Mr. Obama.

“People need to realize that what government does every day are things that are very small and things that are very huge, but all done to serve the citizens,” Mr. Kaine said at the Fairfax County Fire Academy, where he witnessed a simulated rescue by the search and rescue team.

State Secretary of Finance Richard D. Brown said Mr. Kaine was “heavily involved” in the budget cuts, which the governor said included twice-a-day meetings between Sept. 26 and Oct. 9 as well as lengthy weekend meetings with state officials. Mr. Kaine said he was involved in “every discussion of every line item.”

“It was pretty intense,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Griffith acknowledged that the governor made his budget cuts “in a timely manner,” but said the chaplain issue underscores the point that Mr. Kaine has spread himself too thin.

“The governor said he didn’t know anything about it,” Mr. Griffith said. “It was brewing for a month and a half before we went public with it.”

Mr. Kaine makes no apologies for initially not knowing about the prayer issue, which stemmed from a decision by State Police Superintendent Col. W. Steven Flaherty.

He said he gives his agency heads latitude to run their departments, and once the colonel explained the rationale for his decision, the governor supported it.

“There’s 105,000 state employees. Maybe there are things I should know about that I don’t? Sure,” Mr. Kaine said. “This is a human institution and not everybody always shares everything they should to the degree that they should. But that is an example, I think, of something that was handled appropriately.”

Mr. Kaine said he has spent more time doing in-state events for Mr. Obama since the senator secured the Democratic nomination, and his Obama-related duties are not unrelated to his job as the state’s chief executive.

“I think the direction of the White House and the executive federal government has a huge amount to do with how successful we’re going to be as a commonwealth,” Mr. Kaine said.

The governor also has promised that he will finish out his term next year rather than accept a possible Cabinet spot in an Obama administration.

But Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, is not convinced, saying a top position with Mr. Obama could prove too enticing to turn down. Mr. Kaine in 2009 enters the final, lame-duck year of his administration.

“We have to take him at his word, but what if Obama calls and says, ‘Tim, I want you to be my attorney general?’ ” Mr. Sabato asked “Is he really going to say no to that?”

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