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Tim Kaine Stops in Falls Church For Interview With News-Press

If anyone can rise to the daunting challenge of holding onto a statewide U.S. Senate seat for the Democrats in Virginia next year, former Governor Tim Kaine would be that man.
This editor had an extraordinary opportunity for an up close and personal, 90-minute one-on-one conversation with that man, at Falls Church’s popular Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant a couple weeks back.

 

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FORMER GOVERNOR TIM KAINE sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with the News-Press at Falls Church’s Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant on Aug. 20. (Photo: Graeme Jennings)

 

If anyone can rise to the daunting challenge of holding onto a statewide U.S. Senate seat for the Democrats in Virginia next year, former Governor Tim Kaine would be that man.
This editor had an extraordinary opportunity for an up close and personal, 90-minute one-on-one conversation with that man, at Falls Church’s popular Ireland’s Four Provinces restaurant a couple weeks back.

Of course, Tim Kaine is no stranger. Former mayor of Richmond and Virginia lieutenant governor, he ran and won to serve as governor from 2005 to 2009, was chosen to deliver the Democratic response to the 2008 State of the Union message in front of a massive worldwide TV audience, was widely touted as a potential vice presidential running mate for Barack Obama, and served as the high-profile chair of the Democratic National Committee the last two years, until he launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate in Virginia this April. The election is in November 2012.

Less well known about Kaine is how he got his start in politics – in life, for that matter – and where his considerable “fire in his gut,” if outwardly measured, passion comes from. That’s what our time with Gov. Kaine focused on most.

There is little doubt that at his core, Kaine is a “people person,” not a political ideologue or bureaucrat. That shows from the lifelong impact his one year working with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras had on him, during a hiatus from studies at the Harvard Law School. It extends to his remarkable 17 years in the legal trenches of Richmond as a lawyer working for the poor and disenfranchised for fair housing, and to his current commitment to national policy priorities derived from an appreciation for the critical importance of “human capital” development.

The notion of priority investment in “human capital” through education, science, technology and national infrastructure development is underscored and elaborated for Kaine, he said, by Jim Heckman, a protege of Chicago School of Economics’ Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker.

“Human capital” is defined as “the stock of competences, knowledge and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic capital.” Theories associated with the notion of investment in human, in addition to material, capital were first developed in the 1950s, with Becker writing a definitive work that became a standard reference on the subject in 1964.

Kaine said that whereas he’s never met Heckman personally, he has spoken to him numerous times by phone. For Kaine, the notion of “human capital” is especially important for consideration when it comes to the very young, to funding “Pre-K” programs, and for workforce development.

“I don’t mind making hard decisions,” Kaine said, referring the to major budget cuts he had to make as governor of Virginia, stressing his ability to make “targeted cuts that didn’t tank the economy or shred the social safety nets.”

Growing up in Kansas City, he “left-handed all the way,” Kaine said, “even left-footed.” He had an exaggerated left-handed writing form that caused the nuns in his elementary school to put a brace on his left hand in a futile effort to straighten it out.

Kaine’s father had an iron working and welding shop, an adjunct to the Kansas City stockyards, and he grew up in a non-political family that, ironically, came from an area in central Kansas near where President Obama’s mother and grandmother hailed from. Kaine helped in his dad’s work and at his church.

Enrolling in the University of Missouri, Kaine originally majored in journalism, working on the student newspaper, but he said he found the journalistic approach “too cynical,” and he wanted to pursue a more altruistic approach. So, he shifted his major to economics, with one professor, John Kuhlman, being a seminal influence in that decision. He graduated in three years.

Advancing to the Harvard Law School, he decided to do a “time out,” and spend a year with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras. He saw it as time “to figure out what I wanted to do” in life. He ran a school and taught welding and carpentry.

“It was a spectacular year,” he said. “I was 21. It is where my decision to serve the public interest and civil rights was made.” He never felt in personal danger, but Honduras was ruled by a military dictatorship and he met a group of Jesuit priests were were subsequently assassinated.

There was a degree of risk for him, he conceded, of “being on the front lines fighting for democratic reforms.”

“When I saw how no one there could vote for anything, it made a huge impression on me. I gained a valuable perspective on social justice being immersed with people who were not like me,” he said.

He cited as an example the Biblical parable of the “women at the well” from the Gospel of John. “When that is preached in the U.S.,” he said, “the message is that God wants us to be tolerant toward others. When it is preached in Honduras, it has a much different meaning. It means that ‘God cares for us.'”

For Kaine, his Honduran year called forth powerful emotions of empathy that shaped his subsequent career.

Returning to law school, he met and married Ann Holton, a legal aid lawyer and daughter of a former governor of Virginia, and they subsequently had three children. The choice after law school was either to return to Kansas City, or to his wife’s home in Richmond, and they decided on the latter.

For 17 years, Kaine worked as a lawyer on behalf of the poor and dispossessed against housing discrimination, gaining a national reputation for his tireless effort, especially for battling the insurance industry’s practice of “red lining.”

Often his cases required him to attend meetings of the nine-member Richmond City Council, and he repeatedly witnessed the votes there split on racial lines. In 1994, he decided to run for the City Council in one of the city’s nine wards, and won by 90 votes with African-American support.

In Richmond then, the mayor was chosen by a vote of the Council, and upon his election, the Council voted to make him the mayor by an 8-1 margin.

He ran successfully for lieutenant governor statewide, winning the general election in 2001, and in 2005 he won the statewide race for governor, succeeding Mark Warner.

“I’m a battler,” Kaine told me. “I like being on the battlefield for a cause.” Hearing him tell his story, it’s not hard to understand why.

 

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