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McCartney: Kaine defends transportation record, work for Obama

McCartneyI quoted Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine in my column Thursday about his legacy as he prepares to step down Saturday after four years in office, but I didn't have nearly enough space to include everything he said in an interview Tuesday. He talked then about his record on transportation, his controversial decision to take the job as Democratic National Committee Chairman, and the future of the party in Virginia. Since I hate to see work go unused, here are some highlights from the telephone interview:

On transportation: Kaine defended himself against criticism, including from me, that he didn't do enough to win over Republicans to get a deal to raise revenue for roads.

"I did plenty of schmoozing and horse trading. I will grant that people probably wanted more courting," he said.

He said he wrote a birthday card by hand to every legislator every year, and did the math in his head: "140 times four years, that's 560 cards!"

In an indirect swipe at Republicans like his successor, Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell, who emphasize the importance of state's rights vis-à-vis the federal government, Kaine said, with edge in his voice: "In getting money for roads, the only positive advance in four years was the state eagerly taking money from President Obama's recovery act."

He said the state was "shirking its responsibility" on road funding and had an attitude of "either make local jurisdictions pay or beg from the federal government."

Kaine also took credit, justifiably, for playing an important role in ensuring that federal money went to help fund extension of Metrorail to Dulles Airport. Working quietly behind the scenes, he helped overcome conservative objections at the federal level in George W. Bush's administration.

On his last budget: I asked Kaine why he presented McDonnell with a budget including the possibility of a $1.7 billion income tax increase, given that Virginia voters had just given a landslide victory to Republican candidates at the state level who ruled out any tax hike. He said he had to do what's right for the state.

"I'm the governor until Saturday. My job under my oath is to do the best job for Virginia. My job was not to write a budget that the House [of Delegates] Republican majority would like and say good things about," Kaine said.

"It may be immodest for me to say so, but I think we know what we're doing. A triple-A bond rating, eight times named the best managed state in country, the best state for business," he added.

On accepting the DNC job: Kaine insisted that working only part-time as Virginia governor in his final year in office "had zero effect on the results that I was able to deliver for Virginians." He noted that polls showed he maintained his popularity rating at 60 percent.

Kaine also said Virginians benefited from his close relationship with Obama. He cited the presidential order to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the decision to keep a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier based at Norfolk rather than moving it to Jacksonville, Florida as the Bush administration was considering.

On the Deeds campaign: In response to a question, Kaine faulted the failed gubernatorial campaign of state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) to succeed him. He diplomatically put all the blame on Deeds's advisers rather than the candidate.

"I don't want to rehash the race too much. I think the Deeds campaign operatives ran a campaign far inferior to their candidate." Kaine said. "The basic advice - distance yourself from the president, be negative about McDonnell instead of positive about Creigh -- that wasn't a winning strategy."

On the future of the Virginia Democratic Party: Kaine called on Democrats in the legislature to maintain a solid front opposing cuts in education that he thinks McDonnell will propose.

"They need to stick to their guns. There's got to be a line that's not going to be crossed in terms of education reductions," Kaine said. "We've fought from the back of the pack to the front of the pack primarily on wise educational investments. There are potential challenges coming down the road that could potentially be completely counter to the progress of Virginia over the past decade."

-- Robert McCartney

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  January 14, 2010; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Timothy M. Kaine  
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