- Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 March 2009 18:02
- Published on Wednesday, 04 March 2009 18:02
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Every Governor wants a legacy. But in Virginia, with only one term in which to leave their mark, it’s a tough thing to do.
Mills Godwin in his first term created the Community College system.
Linwood Holton presided over the enactment of a new state constitution that for the first time in a century had no reference to segregation or discrimination.
John Dalton focused on efficiency and a lean government.
Chuck Robb and Jerry Baliles put their emphasis on building the state’s education system and George Allen did away with parole and created the standards of learning.
More recently, Mark Warner succeeded in bringing both sides of an increasingly hostile legislature together to put Virginia’s financial house in order.
However, Tim Kaine, a decent man, well liked and generally thought to be a good governor, has had a tough time creating a legacy. Certainly not one that fits into the mold of his predecessors. As the last legislative term of his administration comes to a close, the Governor can’t point to any landmark legislation that be considered the Kaine legacy.
This isn’t necessarily his fault.
The Governor has tried hard to propose new ideas and new initiatives, but none managed to make it into law. Unfortunately, Kaine just wasn’t able to navigate the shoals of politics in Richmond. He faced a doggedly partisan and conservative House of Delegates. The State Senate was often an ally, but he was never able to do what Mark Warner did and find much common ground with the House.
His transportation bill was a good example. This was his signature issue in 2005, but the legislature, and in particular the House, never gave him an inch. He proposed a long term capital fund to support state transportation improvements. Under this notion, funding for transportation improvements would be separate from the operating budget and would have its own source of funds.
For the thousands of Virginians routinely stuck in traffic on I-81, I-66, I-64, and I-95, it made a lot of sense, but the legislature wouldn’t budge. They nixed the idea in 2006.
Later in 2007 the Governor, unfortunately, put his signature to an embarrassing bill, crafted by the House and Senate that raised transportation money from regional authorities and created a special abusers fee for driving infractions. The former was declared unconstitutional and the latter unleashed such a firestorm from drivers that it was quickly repealed.
Alas, that was just about it when it came to the Governor’s legacy on transportation.
Pre-kindergarten was another idea the governor put at the top of his list. It too was an excellent idea. Unfortunately, it didn’t get far. It needed funding and the legislature, once again, just wasn’t behind it. The Governor couldn’t craft a compromise with House Republicans and the idea continues to languish.
The one success, and this is to his credit, is the smoking ban. Thanks to the unlikely, but welcomed cooperation of Speaker Bill Howell, Virginia, the home of the tobacco industry has a ban on smoking in restaurants. Restaurant workers and non-smokers who have breathed in unwelcomed second hand smoke for years are grateful.
However, it’s important to note that Governor Kaine hasn’t been like most Virginia governors. Usually, even those with higher ambitions aren’t all that partisan. It’s sort of a Virginia thing.
But, Kaine never shied away from his Democratic Party identity. This might have been part of his problem in dealing with a GOP legislature, but it also had its returns. During his administration Virginia moved steadily towards the Democratic column. During his tenure, and thanks to his hard work, the State Senate is now dominated by the Democrats while the House of Delegates has added eleven new Democratic members.
At the same time, during his administration, the state elected two Democratic U.S. Senators and watched as a majority of its Congressional delegation went to the Democrats. Most substantially, for the first time in forty four years, Virginia voted for a Democrat for President. And Kaine, an early Obama, supporter was rewarded with the Chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.
Kaine’s legacy, while not so remarkable when it comes to legislation is likely to be strong for other reasons. He will be the Governor who helped guide Virginia away from its long Republican tradition. He organized, planned, and worked tirelessly to shift the politics of the state and he succeeded. Thanks to Tim Kaine nothing from this point is going to be the same.
You may reach David Kerr at