Tim Kaine's failed leadership

The Washington TimesBy Ed Gillespie Published February 23, 2007

Citizens across Virginia are watching with interest as Republicans in the General Assembly work to solve the pressing problem of traffic congestion in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, but one who should be doing more than simply watching is Gov. Tim Kaine.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in Richmond who thinks Mr. Kaine has been even marginally relevant in the ongoing debate over Virginia's most vexing policy challenge. He has followed a self-marginalizing path on transportation — and he's running out of time to change his course.

There is a viable compromise plan on the table that would funnel billions in new dollars to the most gridlocked areas of the state. But for weeks now, Mr. Kaine has been hunkered down at an undisclosed location, irresolute and uncharacteristically silent. He's been awaiting a sign of a breakthrough so he can race in and take credit, but otherwise has meekly avoided doing anything to irk the Senate's increasingly isolated advocates of higher taxes.

At their behest, Mr. Kaine last year jettisoned his no-new-taxes campaign commitment with embarrassing haste and ease, jeopardizing both his credibility and long-term political viability in the process. He ended up with nothing for the commuters stuck in traffic and nothing for his legacy.

Despite that recent experience, he began this session of the legislature with another proposal for massive tax increases to fund transportation needs in Virginia — virtually identical to the one that failed to pass the legislature just last year, calling a billion dollars per year in new revenue "modest."

Mr. Kaine would probably tell us Terrell Owens is a "modest" athlete, Madonna is a "modest" entertainer and Donald Trump is a "modest" little real-estate developer.

This was a brash effort to raise taxes at a time when record revenue to our commonwealth's coffers has created a billion-dollar budget surplus — a surplus the governor proposes to spend on seemingly everything but transportation, which he says is his top priority.

I don't know what his definition of "priority" is, but I do know that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

But let's be honest: Mr. Kaine is not expecting a different result from the same failed approach to transportation. He's expecting the exact same result, and is hoping to campaign against Republicans for not going along with his tax hike, even though he said when he ran for governor in 2005 that we can solve our transportation needs without raising taxes.

His stated goal is for Democrats to take control of the General Assembly this November, and he's working with Sen. James Webb and former Gov. Mark Warner to raise millions toward that end. But Mr. Kaine will soon learn that voters can tell when a politician would rather run on a problem than fix it. His plan to run against Republicans in the General Assembly for the good of the Democratic Party rather than work with Republicans in the General Assembly for the good of Virginia will backfire in November.

If his approach is not the definition of insanity, it is the definition of failed leadership. Virginians know gubernatorial leadership when they see it. Our last five governors demonstrated that an effective chief executive can set the agenda, reach across party lines, and get results:

• Gov. Gerald Baliles championed a major transportation plan.

• Gov. Douglas Wilder managed the state through a recession without a tax increase and passed one-gun-a-month legislation.

• Gov. George Allen abolished parole, reformed welfare, brought high academic standards and accountability to education, revamped the state's economic development apparatus, and opened the way for innovative public-private partnerships for infrastructure development.

• Gov. Jim Gilmore hired thousands of new teachers and passed car-tax and food-tax relief.

• Gov. Mark Warner raised taxes by an unprecedented amount to remedy a perceived structural imbalance.

Whether you agree with their policies or not, these governors got in the game and got things done, which Mr. Kaine has yet to do. Nearly nine in ten Republicans in both houses of the General Assembly and all but one of the legislature's Republican leaders have offered a forward-looking plan to invest billions in transportation where they are most urgently needed. They have come together to provide strong and sensible leadership, proposing the largest transportation investment in Virginia in two decades without new statewide tax increases and without imposing regional taxes, which voters have already rejected.

As the General Assembly session comes to a close, the question is whether Mr. Kaine will emerge from the shadows and finally engage in a meaningful way. It's now time for Citizen Kaine to start acting like Gov. Kaine, and to realize that doing nothing is no longer in the interest of his party or our commonwealth.

If another year goes by in Richmond without sending major relief to the congestion-choked regions of our commonwealth, the people stuck in traffic will know which party put forward a positive solution, and which party chose to play politics.

And the Republican Party of Virginia will make sure they do.

Ed Gillespie is chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.

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