- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. | What Tim Kaine wanted to achieve as Virginia’s 70th governor finished second to a sometimes vexing, sometimes triumphant and sometimes heartbreaking agenda the world forced upon him.

In the heady weeks before his January 2006 inauguration, Mr. Kaine readied his case for early-learning programs for every pre-kindergarten child in Virginia. He envisioned broad reforms to the state’s mental health care system. He explored ways to pump hundreds of millions of new dollars into the state’s moribund highway construction efforts.

That was before a student gunman killed 32 classmates and professors on a snowy April day at Virginia Tech in 2007, plunging the state deeply into grief and Mr. Kaine into the role of comforter.

That was before the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression melted away billions in projected state revenue, forcing layoffs and service cuts.

And it was before he was rumored to become Barack Obama’s vice president in a campaign that made Mr. Obama the first black president and the first Democrat to carry once-Confederate Virginia since 1964. In the spoils, Mr. Obama persuaded a reluctant Mr. Kaine to moonlight as Democratic National Committee chairman while serving his final year as governor.

Those developments define Mr. Kaine’s term, as do two failed initiatives to persuade legislative Republicans to enact new transportation revenues and his compromise that effectively ended smoking in restaurants in a state dependent on tobacco from its Colonial founding 400 years ago.

Transportation remains Mr. Kaine’s chief disappointment.

As gridlock traps commuters for hours daily, the gasoline tax revenues that pay for more and better roads tanked, a victim of the recession.

Twice, in 2006 and in 2008, Mr. Kaine convened lawmakers in special session to consider packages of new fees and taxes he proposed to ease the funding crisis, and twice a Republican-ruled House balked. Since spring 2008, cuts to the state’s six-year road construction plan approach $6 billion, the most recent cuts coming in December.

“I tell you what made me angry. It’s not the people who were just voting against it out of the principle that you should never raise taxes. It’s the Republican members of the House who told me, ‘You know, you’re right, we need to do it, but politically I can’t buck my caucus [and] vote the way I think I should,’ ” Mr. Kaine said in a wide-ranging conversation with the Associated Press.

Now, with the Republicans’ hand strengthened by resounding statewide victories and a gain of six House seats in November’s elections, differences in politics become stark contrasts in policy.

Mr. Kaine insists that after nearly $7 billion in budget reductions, a residual shortfall of $3.6 billion in the next budget can’t be reconciled without additional revenue.

“So far, all of it has been done through cuts or one-time things like the rainy-day fund or swapping out cash for [debt],” Mr. Kaine said. “Somewhere, whittling down that $3.6 billion number, I’m going to get a cut that I don’t want to make, that I know would be the wrong thing for Virginia.”

The Republican to whom he yields the office at noon Jan. 16, former Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, has steadfastly pledged to reject any new taxes, as have House and Senate Republican leaders.

Mr. Kaine, Mr. Obama’s hand-picked Democratic National Committee chairman, pumped nearly $5 million in DNC cash into Virginia to defeat Mr. McDonnell and his Republican ticketmates. Yet he speaks warmly of Mr. McDonnell, generously praising his victorious campaign. His staff has sent directives to state agency chiefs for the governor-elect to prepare them for changes the new administration will make.

“I find Tim to be friendly, I find him to be honest, he’s affable,” Mr. McDonnell said.

Mr. McDonnell for years has held up Mr. Kaine’s response to the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre as a model for leaders faced with crises of crushing horror and sadness.

Mr. Kaine had just arrived in Japan on a trade mission when he was awakened in Asia’s wee morning hours with word from Virginia of the worst campus shooting in U.S. history. Mr. Kaine caught the next flight home, boarded Air Force One in Washington and flew to Blacksburg with President Bush. Battling exhaustion and speaking passionately with no script at a globally televised campus memorial service, Mr. Kaine lauded the community spirit Tech had shown the world through its tears. “He showed an amazing amount of character,” Mr. McDonnell said. “On virtually no sleep, he gave one of the most inspirational speeches I can remember.”

In Virginia’s darkest hour, Mr. Kaine said, experience guided him.

“I think I had been prepared to deal with a situation like that for a variety of reasons. I had friends whose lives had been really affected by violent crime. I’ve walked people into death row,” said Mr. Kaine, a Harvard-educated civil rights and criminal defense lawyer before he entered politics.

Mr. Kaine appointed a fact-finding commission to review events leading up to the shooting, the faults that aggravated it, and the immediate official response. The commission’s led to substantial legislative reforms, including treatment of the mentally ill and mandatory updates to the firearms background check database.

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