Is Democrat Tim Kaine the 'Can-Do' Candidate for U.S. Senate?
Kaine, a Democratic former governor of Virginia and former DNC chair, discusses his views in run for U.S. Senate seat.
As President Obama prepares for a television address Thursday on jump-starting job creation, Tim Kaine, 2012 Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and former Virginia governor, has his own ideas on the subject.
“The only way that we can both fix the deficit and get the economy stronger is to have balance,” he said in a recent interview at Café Nicole in Old Town Alexandria.
"Targeted spending cuts” (he'd like to take a crack at fixing Medicare's inability to negotiate prescription drug prices), tax reform and investment in education and infrastructure, he said, have to be included in a formula to fix the country's ailing economy.
“You can’t cut your way to prosperity,” said Kaine, who left his job as chairman of the Democratic National Committee in April to launch his Senate bid. Tax reform, he said, should also emphasize eliminating loopholes, such as those that many progressives say have been abused by corporations. “I would take away tax subsidies to Exxon Mobil and big oil companies,” he said.
Another step toward eliminating Washington’s red ink, he said, is to cancel the tax cuts for upper-income Americans passed during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
“If we let those tax cuts expire, we won’t have to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Kaine said.
Kaine, an avid harmonica player who gets a kick out of playing bluegrass and gospel tunes, especially on family camping trips, discussed his views between sips of a smoothie after spending a good part of the day campaigning in the state's 36th Senate District for incumbent state Sen. Linda "Toddy" Puller.
Kaine travels the state from his home in Richmond where he lives with his wife Anne and their three children. A former judge, Anne Holton has the distinction of having lived twice in the governor's mansion: as a daughter to Gov. Linwood Holton, who served from 1970-'74 and as first lady with Governor Kaine.
The last time Kaine was on the ballot in Virginia, in his successful run for governor in 2005, he carried Fairfax County by more than 60 percent and nearby Alexandria by 72 percent.
Kaine, 53, recommends copying many of the same steps that worked when he was governor of Virginia from January 2006 to January 2010, especially investments in education and infrastructure, in his roadmap to the U.S. Senate. Fortune 500-type companies flocked to the state, he said, “because of the balance we have here.”
Should he make it to the Senate, Kaine said he would hope to work on issues he is most passionate about: boosting education and workforce development and caring for the military and veterans.
Kaine vs. Allen
Meanwhile, the recent debate over raising the ceiling on the national debt, he said, further illuminates differences between him and his likely opponent, former Sen. George Allen. A Republican, Allen is also a former governor, and trying to win back his old Senate seat.
Kaine noted Allen’s opposition to the debt-ceiling compromise favored by other leading Virginia Republicans, including Gov. Bob McDonnell and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia's 7th District, the U.S. House majority leader.
“He [Allen] was against a compromise that was necessary to preserve the financial condition of the United States,” Kaine said.
The last-minute deal that Obama negotiated with congressional leaders called for coupling a debt-ceiling increase with a requirement that Congress immediately enact close to $1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years and that a congressional “super committee” come up with recommendations for an additional $1.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving.
If a deal hadn’t been reached by Aug. 2, the United States would have risked defaulting on its debts for the first time in history.
As it was, the divisive process that led to the deal resulted in one of the major credit-rating agencies, Standard & Poor’s, giving the country its first-ever debt downgrade, from AAA to AA-plus. The action threatens Northern Virginia localities due to their heavy reliance on federal agencies and contracts.
Kaine also noted that when Allen previously served in the Senate from January 2001 to January 2007, the budget surpluses achieved in the 1990s disappeared.
He also says Allen’s support of the budget proposals of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., should alarm voters. Ryan proposed turning Medicare into a voucher program where seniors would be on their own to buy health insurance from the private market. Ryan’s critics saw that as essentially gutting the program.
“I would fight that tooth and nail,” Kaine said of the Ryan plan.
Kaine and Obama
Many pundits note Virginia's fairly new status as a presidential battleground state. Kaine said it was one of his goals as governor to make the state more competitive. "We're not a blue state, but we've gone from red to purple," he notes. Next fall, when Virginians go to the polls, he and Obama will both be on the ballot. Although some recent polls show Obama continuing to retain a slight edge in Virginia, it's uncertain how things will look come next November.
About his relationship with Obama, the former DNC head said, “I am a proud friend and supporter of the president … but we don’t agree on everything.”
For example, Kaine said he believes Obama should have sought authorization from Congress before involving American forces in Libyan operations.
Hot-Button Issues: Energy, Abortion, Immigration
On energy, another issue often at center stage this year, Kaine favors an “all-of-the-above” strategy for the short term that would include allowing exploratory drilling off the Virginia coast. For the longer term, he said, the emphasis should be on sources that emit little or no carbon.
Abortion, another perennial issue, prompts Kaine to say he has moral objections to it and supports restrictions, such as parental-consent laws and a prohibition on partial-birth abortions unless the life of the mother is in danger. And he is all for making abortions rarer through promotion of adoption and similar steps. Yet Kaine, a Catholic, said he is not for criminalizing women if they choose abortion and doesn’t think government has the right to interject itself in such decisions.
And this is another point that clearly separates him from Allen, his potential Republican opponent, Kaine noted. “He believes abortion should be criminalized, and I do not."
When asked how that squares with his faith, Kaine reflected on how he had a good relationship with Virginia’s Catholic bishops while governor and can’t imagine they would want to criminalize such women, either.
Kaine talks seriously about his own Catholicism. “My faith is central to everything I do,” he said. “My faith position is a Good Samaritan position of trying to watch out for the other person.”
On an issue almost as divisive as abortion—immigration—Kaine said he favors comprehensive reform, marked by stricter border security and making illegal immigrants already in the country acknowledge they committed a crime and pay stiff fines as a condition of entering a path to citizenship.
Counties such as Prince William have experienced firsthand the issue’s factious nature, as a surge in Hispanic residents prompted the county board to vote in 2007 to give police authority to check the immigration status of anybody they arrest.
“Prince William is a victim of failed federal policy,” Kaine said. “We haven’t had the guts to enact comprehensive immigration reform.”
In the end, the economy and jobs are likely to dominate 2012 races, Kaine said. “People are looking for answers. They are looking for somebody who lays out a compelling vision.”
More on Kaine:
Full name: Timothy Michael Kaine
Born: Feb. 26, 1958, in St. Paul, Minn.; grew up in Kansas City, Kansas
Worst habit: Drinking Dr. Pepper
Exercise: Every morning for 45 minutes
TV: Watches mostly sports
Favorite book/author: "The Moviegoer" by Walker Percy; one of his favorite authors is also George Orwell
Favorite movie: "Citizen Kane" by Orson Welles
Education: Rockhurst High School, a Catholic boys school in Kansas; University of Missouri, B.A. in Economics; Harvard Law School, Juris Doctor
Languages other than English: Spanish (he spent a year doing missionary work in Honduras and recorded campaign announcements in English and Spanish)
Offices held: Richmond City Council member; Richmond mayor; lieutenant governor; governor
(Lorton Editor James Cullum contributed to this story.)