Where Is Kaine in the Transportation Debate?

Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal, hit the nail on the head. Transportation improvements still have a chance of passing during this year’s General Assembly session, but only if Gov. Timothy M. Kaine pushes his party toward compromise, he told the Northern Virginia Daily‘s Garren Shipley.

As Governor, Kaine leads the Democratic Party in Virginia. In crucial issues, most Democrats will follow his lead. When he bargains with the faction-ridden Republicans running the state Senate and House of Delegates, he brings more power to the table than his veto pen. He brings 42 Democrats in the 100-member House (and more if you include independents) and 18 Dems in the 40-member Senate. (That’s based on a quick tally from the General Assembly website. Someone please correct me if I can’t count.)

On Friday, the Governor pleaded with warring General Assembly Republicans to compromise. “We need everyone to stay at the table. I’m not taking my marbles and going home.”

But it was Democrats in the Senate allying with Sen. John H. Chichester, R-Northumberland, and a handful of other Republicans, who pulled the parliamentary maneuver that threatened to derail the Republican compromise. Three logical possibilities present themselves: Either (a) Kaine was ignorant of what his fellow Democrats were hatching with Chichester, (b) he knew but was powerless to stop them, or (c) he knew and they were acting with his consent. The newspaper accounts provide no clues as to which scenario is the most likely.

Kaine’s predecessor, Mark R. Warner, learned the fine art of triangulation — cutting a deal with the “pragmatic” GOP wing of the state Senate, then hiving off wobbly-kneed members of the House of Delegates. With a unified Democratic contingent behind him, Warner maneuvered the 2004 tax hike past a hostile GOP House leadership.

But the correlation of forces is very different today. The Chichester-Potts-Quayle splinter of the GOP is too small to work with. Any bill with Chichester’s name on it would be rejected by the House before the laser-jet ink dried. If Kaine genuinely wants to achieve a compromise, he has to work with the General Assembly leaders who crafted a transportation package that won the endorsement of most GOP legislators. Kaine is in a strong position to extract concessions from this group, as long as he appreciates the fragility of the coalition and doesn’t push so hard that it collapses. With the support of Democrats and a large majority of Republicans, he could easily shepherd the legislation through both houses, claiming much of the glory.

Frankly, I am baffled as to why Kaine is not pursuing the triangulation scenario. Is the Governor simply posturing when he says he wants a compromise? Does he secretly want to see the GOP fail so he can attack them in this fall’s elections? Alternatively, did Chichester catch him off guard with last week’s maneuver? I would appreciate any insight that anyone could lend.

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One response to “Where Is Kaine in the Transportation Debate?”

  1. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Kaine has been AWOL. Why isn’t he leaning on Senators such as Janet Howell, Mark Herring or Richard Saslaw? They are too busy protecting the General Fund, which is filled by their constituents for the benefit of RoVA.

    Tim Kaine is no Mark Warner!

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