- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It’s the $3 billion question. Should Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine take on the role of national party leader with his state facing a ballooning budget deficit?

“He’s going to take the most partisan job in the country, and we need him in Richmond working things out,” said Virginia House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican. “If he can be in Richmond and do what he needs to do there and focus on the budget and be the leader of the national Democrats, I can’t criticize that. But only time will tell.”

Word that President-elect Barack Obama selected Mr. Kaine as the replacement for Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean trickled out Sunday evening. Mr. Kaine, once a candidate to be Mr. Obama’s running mate and in the final year of his term, will work part time gratis for the national party until 2010, when he can work full time for the committee.

Mr. Kaine said he envisions working in a largely supervisory role in his first year. The governor said he declined the job when approached last fall, but that Mr. Obama and his team reached out to him shortly before Christmas.

“As Americans found on Nov. 4, he’s a pretty persuasive guy,” Mr. Kaine said.

The new post is tailor-made for Mr. Kaine’s political leadership: Since he was elected in 2005, Virginia Democrats have taken control of the state Senate, won both U.S. Senate seats and taken a majority among the state’s House delegation.

Mr. Kaine also was the first governor outside of Illinois in 2007 to endorse Mr. Obama, who became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964.

Still, state Republicans have criticized the move as ill timed. Virginia is facing a projected $3 billion budget deficit, and lawmakers will convene next week in Richmond for the 2009 General Assembly session to consider how to fix the fiscal shortfall.

“This is a highly partisan post at a time when Virginians desperately need bipartisan leadership,” said Phil Cox, a spokesman for Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican running to replace Mr. Kaine next year.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, accused Mr. Kaine of “taking a job he said he wouldn’t accept” during a time when lawmakers must come together to solve the budget deficit.

“Now is not a time for more partisanship from our governor, but a time for leadership, to cross party lines and provide solid, common-sense solutions for Virginians who are hurting and worried about their future,” said Mr. Frederick, Prince William Republican.

Mr. Kaine said he plans to build a party attractive to Republicans and independents as well as Democrats. He vowed his focus will remain on Virginia and that he will be working “absolutely full time” during the legislative session.

“I know what my first priority has to be, and I’ve made that plain to the president-elect,” he said. “Not only does he get it, he wants me to do that.”

State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat and party caucus chairman, thinks Mr. Kaine can do both jobs and already has done the “hard lifting” on the budget. The governor last month announced measures he hopes will close the deficit, including a 30-cent increase in the state’s cigarette tax.

“I am confident that he will continue to have the time and certainly the interest and commitment to the issues facing Virginia this year,” Mrs. Whipple said.

House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong, Henry Democrat, said naming Mr. Kaine to the DNC post continues the centrist trend of Mr. Obama’s appointments, and having Virginia’s governor in that position will aid the state as the president-elect considers issues that include a federal economic stimulus.

“This is a way for him to continue to have the president’s ear, and I think that relationship between the two will strengthen, and that only helps Virginia,” Mr. Armstrong said.

The Virginia governorship has past and present ties to national party leadership posts. Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III served as head of the Republican National Committee from 2001 to 2002, and former DNC head Terry McAuliffe is running for governor this year.

Mr. Gilmore’s RNC term coincided with his final year in office and was marked by tension with the White House and a budget impasse back home. The Republican eventually was forced out of his position by the White House, but said Monday that he was able to do both jobs successfully.

“I think that Governor Kaine has been trying to work his way into the national scene for some time, but I think he needs to remember his primary duty is to the people of Virginia as governor of Virginia,” he said. “He’s got a budget mess on his hands … and he has an obligation to get that corrected.”

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