Senator Tim Kaine on Virginia's Future

Senator Tim Kaine on Virginia's Future

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee members (L-R) Sen. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Tim Kaine, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Chris Murphy and Sen. Tammy Baldwin during Betsy DeVos' confirmation hearing.

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Why you should care

Because this former vice presidential candidate isn’t done swinging quite yet.

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The story of Virginia is a nuanced one, and who better to tell it than Hillary Clinton’s former running mate and the current senator, Tim Kaine, the Democrat who worked his way up from Richmond City Hall to governorship — and now, perhaps, to becoming one of the most prominent voices on Capitol Hill. From his Senate office adorned with items such as a baseball cap collection, a tome extolling the beauty of Shenandoah and a Native American dream catcher, Kaine spoke to OZY about his state and its political future.

How do you balance protecting red-state Democrats like yourself with opposing President Trump and a Republican agenda in Congress?

Sen. Kaine: I’m not worried about it. I’m up in ’18 and I’m focused on my own race, not so much on others. But I just think that I know Virginia pretty well. What you’re supposed to do, to be a good elected official, is to listen very carefully to people but then do what you think is right. It’s not ultimately about reading an opinion poll.

There’s definitely an overarching strategy, and it’s to advance on anything we can with the administration that will be good for Virginians and Americans. We’ll rewrite the Higher Ed Act on the HELP Committee. I hope we’ll save the Affordable Care Act and improve it, rather than foolishly reverse it and kick 30 million people off health insurance. I expect the president will talk about infrastructure at the State of the Union, and we will work together with him on that.

However, there are a series of things that he’s done already that I deeply oppose. I’m going to use the tools that the framers put in the Constitution, in Article I. Congress is supposed to be an independent political branch, but maybe they put us in Article I because they thought we were even more important than the Article II branch. I’m going to use my tools to make sure we protect people from getting hurt.

I think anybody who is in a part of the state that is less populated always wonders if officials are only paying attention to the population centers.

 

How would you describe Virginians to folks from other states?

Sen. Kaine: Virginians are very proud of our history, but there was a period of time in which we were more interested in our history than maybe our future — and I think that dramatically has changed. This “Virginia for lovers” thing … it’s rare that a tagline lasts for so long [since 1969], but it’s lasted, and we really like it, because we’re loving people but we’re also history lovers, beach lovers, outdoors lovers. You can tailor it to your particular thing.

We’re a progressive state, and in some ways we’ve gone from behind the nation on a progressive scale to ahead. We’re a heavily diverse state — 1 out of 9 Virginians were born in another country. That’s very different from the Virginia of my birth — probably about 1 out of 100; a vastly internationalizing state.

What are the most pressing issues for the state going forward?

Sen. Kaine: It’s still a state of transition and a very diverse state politically. We’re now more of a bellwether, when we used to just be super reliably red, which I think is great because nobody can take us for granted.

With each census, rural regions lose representatives while population centers, like Northern Virginia, gain seats. Do places like Roanoke wind up feeling underrepresented?

Sen. Kaine: It’s population. Look, my wife’s family is from Roanoke and from Big Stone Gap, which is on the border of Kentucky. Before I got into politics, I was spending a lot of time in southwest Virginia and have continued to for political reasons. Every time there is a decennial census and we do redistricting, the number of legislators in the south side of Virginia gets smaller, because we have to allocate one man, one vote, and the population centers are up north.

This is a challenge of a statewide official in Virginia, but also in any other state — to fully represent everybody, whether or not they are living in a populous region, whether or not they voted for you. As a statewide official, you really are called on to understand everybody’s issues. Again, do what you think is right, but you have to make sure that you’re paying equal attention to all regions.

I think anybody who is in a part of the state that is less populated always wonders if officials are only paying attention to the population centers. But that’s been a good thing for me — I don’t live in Northern Virginia; I live in Richmond. But because I have family ties in Roanoke and Appalachia, that has been a helpful thing to me in politics. I don’t have to remind myself to take seriously their concerns; I have a family telling me what I ought to know.

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