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Senator Tim Kaine: a Progressive Voice for Vice President

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Wed Jul 27, 2016 00:31:57AM | Categories: Tim Kaine & Hillary Clinton

Senator Tim Kaine speaking at the Presidential Scholars BriefingBy: US Department of Education

For those of us who were first introduced to Senator Tim Kaine at the Miami Clinton/Kaine rally at Florida International University expecting a boring “Mike Pence like” white guy speech, we were surprised and blown away. We witnessed an energetic, animated, and smiling Tim Kaine give an inspiring speech captivating all of us with his every word. At times he spoke in fluent Spanish to appeal to the Latinos in the audience. At other times he joined in the Democratic Party progressive talking points on inequality of opportunity.

As he spoke, however, the excitement started growing through the audience with the realization that this was not the “boring Tim Kaine” we had expected, but rather a real progressive with strong character and commitment. The term “boring” has been erroneously applied by lazy journalists again and again as they seemingly have borrowed each other’s lines to define Kaine. Likewise, their often repeated “safe establishment choice” was hard to see as anything but an attempt to cause angst with anti-establishment Bernie Sanders supporters who doubt that he is progressive enough. Others have noted that he sings in his church choir. Oh and he plays the harmonica! Wow. How boring is that? One journalist in Coed News cruelly wrote, “this dude is as exciting as watching your grass grow”. Ouch, that hurts. I hate to tell them that they are all flat wrong. Tim Kaine is a progressive with a long history of hard fought actions that have made a difference with the poor and minorities…accomplishments that should warm the hearts of Bernie supporters.

My new found excitement on the day was shared by the audience who interrupted him several times with wild applause and cheering. The speech had all the usual feel good campaign rhetoric, but mostly he took the time to introduce himself to an audience that had little prior knowledge of him except what they had been spoon fed by the media. At times he sounded like a Joe Biden as he spoke from the heart about his life and how his experience as a volunteer at a Jesuit mission in the Honduras inspired him to enter a life of public service. Most importantly, that commitment took the form of a champion for the many Americans marginalized in our society where wealth and privilege have served those at the top, but left so many others struggling.

“My time in Honduras…convinced me that we're got to advance opportunity and equality for everybody, no matter where they come from, how much money they have, what accent they have, or who they love.”

That passionate quote from his speech defines the real Tim Kaine and his aspiration in life. Nothing boring about that. While attending Harvard law school, the then 22 year old Kaine decided to take a year off to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Honduras where he taught carpentry and welding to young poor people at a Catholic school. The skills he acquired in his high school days working in his father’s iron works shop came in handy in his new foreign environment. He speaks appreciatively of his time there crediting the young people he worked with for not only inspiring him to take on his life’s mission of public service but also teaching him Spanish.

Some 36 years later seeing the now 58 year-old Tim Kaine speak so eloquently and proudly about his life’s ambitions and his progressive accomplishments, I feel really elated that Hillary Clinton made the right choice in selecting him as her running mate. Kaine certainly had a specific focus on the Latinos in the crowd when he spoke so sincerely in Spanish about how the diversity from immigration in this country is our true strength and greatness. But his progressive worldview of the problems and needed solutions in our society reaches far beyond the Latino community.

Tim Kaine comes across as natural and unpretentious. You feel his energy…and you feel his pain when he talks about bad days in his life. He is likeable. However, much like President Obama, there is much more to value in his candidacy than being able to articulate a vision in a wonderful speech. In the days, weeks and months ahead we will learn more about Tim Kaine than the media caricature of him to date. Sound bite journalism and its catchy phrases, often void of factual accuracy, can amplify false impressions. They also contribute to enraging the uninformed through social media websites. Browsing commentaries in social media websites it appears that a campaign of misinformation about Tim Kaine’s progressive values is well underway.

Private Life: Tim Kaine grew up in the Kansas City area, attending a Catholic high school where he served as student body president. He graduated summa cum laude in three years from the University of Missouri with a degree in economics. That was followed by a law degree from Harvard, interrupted by his one-year mission to Honduras.

While attending Harvard he met his future wife, Anne Holton, the daughter of former Governor Linwood Holton. Kaine and Holton discovered they had a shared ambition to use their law degrees to help the less fortunate. They later married in 1984 in the St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, a black church located in a poor Richmond neighborhood. Fellow church members for the past 30 years will regularly see Kaine singing and “swaying to the gospel groove” during Sunday sermons. Their three children were baptized at St. Elizabeth amongst their many friends.

The church’s black pastor, Reverend James Arsenault speaks kindly of Kaine’s involvement in the church and community. "He is a bridge-builder among races and communities and regardless of ZIP codes, where people are from or what education they have. He really helps build community."

As a demonstration of their support for public education, Tim and Anne Kaine elected to enroll their children in the predominately black Richmond public schools, rather than white private schools. Anne currently serves as Secretary of Education in Virginia.

Public Service: As a lawyer, Tim Kaine passed up more lucrative opportunities in the legal profession to follow his inspiration to be an advocate for minorities and the oppressed in Richmond by specializing in fair housing law and fighting against discriminations based on race or disability. As a passionate board member of the Virginia chapter of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Kaine won a landmark discrimination lawsuit against Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.'s practices in Richmond. Kaine also did regular pro bono work, and is a founding member of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. These are all progressive actions that Bernie Sanders would embrace and admire.

Tim Kaine’s public service includes being elected to four terms on the Richmond city council, two of which he was also elected as mayor, four years as a lieutenant governor and four years as governor of Virginia, two years as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and currently a Senator since 2013. In his Senate role he is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed Services Committee and the Budget Committee. He is highly popular with the citizens in the Commonwealth of Virginia and highly respected on both sides of the aisle in the Senate. His track record as a public servant and fighter for civil rights has earned him the admiration of his constituents including many of his Republican colleagues.

As Republican Jeff Flake tweeted on Hillary Clinton’s choice for VP: "Trying to count the ways I hate @timkaine," Flake wrote on Twitter. "Drawing a blank. Congrats to a good man and a good friend." He joined Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, in sharing kinds words about the Virginia senator. Of course, Donald Trump, on the other hand, has wasted no time in trying to undermine him with demeaning tweets and lies to define Tim Kaine on his terms before everyone else can see him up close.

What political naysayers should also understand is that Tim Kaine is a winner, having never lost an election at every level. He has never taken an election lightly and has never taken his voters for granted. He has earned every vote, many of them in hard fought campaigns pushing progressive proposals and values. What makes him so endeared by Democrats and Republicans is his honesty and sincerity. There is nothing phony about Tim Kaine. Kaine’s friends and former colleagues describe him as “deeply unpretentious, with little regard for the trappings that come with high public office”.

Kaine’s entry into public service as Richmond City council person in 1994 and mayor in 1998 is consistent with his progressive goals to improve the lives of his fellow citizens: support for education, building and renovating schools, a tax abatement program for renovating old buildings and attract business, and community activities that lowered the homicide rate by 55 percent. As mayor, he also issued an apology for the city’s role in slavery. Overall he improved the quality of life as mayor of Richmond. During his tenure as mayor, Forbes named Richmond as one of the “10 best cities in America to do business.”

Kaine won a hard fought campaign for the governorship of Virginia in 2005, having survived a smear campaign and over the top attack ads by his opponent related to his personal opposition to the death penalty. However, Kaine said he would abide by the laws in administering capital punishment, which in turn has drawn criticism by both progressives and the Catholic Church. Kaine responds: “I really struggled with that as governor. I have a moral position against the death penalty,” he said. “But I took an oath of office to uphold it. Following an oath of office is also a moral obligation.”

As governor, Kaine also experienced what he calls “the worst day of my life”, April 16, 2007, that terrible day when a gunman killed 32 students and faculty on the campus of Virginia Tech. He spoke softly about the events that day, choking up momentarily as the audience quieted while listening to him recall the personal story of one of the victims. Out of that horrible experience, he has made gun safety legislation one of his life’s missions, courageously taking on the NRA whose national headquarters are in Fairfax, Virginia:

“We will not rest until we get universal background checks and close loopholes that put guns in the hands of those and terrorists who should not have them. The American public wants it. Gun owners want it. The NRA [members] wants it. The NRA campaigned against me in every statewide race that I have ever run, but I have never lost an election.”

As Kaine’s reputation and prominence grew in the state, he easily defeated the high profile former governor and senator George Allen by six points to become the freshman senator in 2013. For progressive liberals, however, probably one of the most contentious points about his role as senator is his religion. Senator Kaine was raised as an Irish Catholic, and much like the John Kennedy and Joe Biden he is personally against abortion. The Washington Post dubbed him a “Pope Francis Catholic”. However, like Kennedy and Biden he has stated that his personal views on abortion would not interfere with his ability to adhere to and support the law. Indeed, his support for abortion has evolved from his earlier days in public office, and he now has a solidly pro-choice voting record in the Senate. He is rated 100 percent by both NARAL and Planned Parenthood. NARAL released this statement in full support of Senator Kaine as Clinton’s vice president nominee.

As Clinton’s choice for running mate there should be no doubt about Senator Kaine’s experience and his ability to not only immediately step into the vice presidency role, but also the presidency if something were to happen to Secretary Clinton. That is especially important to Clinton as she discussed her choice of Kaine as her running mate. While not talking about it much, Hillary Clinton must be painfully aware that fear, anger and hate in America and at the Republican Convention has been the catalyst for crazies to take actions as we have witnessed in Orlando, Dallas and Baton Rouge. Tim Kaine is qualified to step into the role of the presidency on Day 1 if Clinton too became one of those victims of hate.

There should also be no doubt as discussed previously that Senator Tim Kaine is a life-long liberal/progressive on most issues, but not so ideologically driven that he cannot work across the aisle to seek consensus and compromises. In that sense he is the ideal choice for a running mate for Secretary Hillary Clinton as they share similar views on governing -- that compromise is often necessary to achieve progress. Some naively see his willingness to compromise as a negative…hence they label him “not progressive enough”, a moderate. Nevertheless, his life’s commitment in public service and his progressive record on many issues of the day are consistent with those of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

To summarize, Tim Kaine has been true to the commitment he made to himself teaching young Hondurans 36 years ago. In doing so, he has helped transformed Virginia, a previously red state, into a purple state that is increasingly voting Democratic with progressive initiatives. It has been a political revolution of sorts, perhaps not of the grand vision of the Bernie supporters, but having political gains towards more equality. And for the Bernie supporters looking for a “Bernie clone” of sorts to carry their political revolution into the next decade, the 58 year old Tim Kaine will be a young 66 in 2024. At that age he will be ready to take over the leadership of our country if purity tests and misguided populism are not allowed to carry the day.

Despite his impressive progressive record of achievements, many of which are not known to voters (the same could be said for Hillary Clinton), opponents have focused on the few things that do not necessarily meet their progressive purity tests. In particular, they continue to cite his personal views on abortion, his prior record on supporting the TPP, and his support to deregulate credit unions and some small banks. Those concerns are misguided and overblown and ignore the many progressive accomplishments that he has championed. I will not dwell on them here. Much will be written about Kaine’s views in the days ahead, some negative and some positive. Hopefully many stories will also be shared of how he has made a real difference in people’s lives.

Rather than dwelling on single issues in a quest for purity and perfection with one’s worldviews, we should be concentrating on the many broader and more important economic and foreign policy issues on which Senator Kaine is in agreement with the modified positions of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders, in particular, has moved on from the divisiveness of the primary election. It’s time that his supporters take a look hard at the real important issues separating Clinton and Kaine from Republicans, and not get distracted with petty disagreements within the party.

Open minded progressive Democrats can learn by listening to Tim Kaine’s 38 minute speech (link above) and continue to Clinton’s website outlining in considerable detail all of the issues and proposed solutions of interest to Clinton and her fellow progressives. It is all transparent for everyone to view.

Likewise, the Democratic Party platform for 2016 is the most progressive platform ever as it is heavily influenced by Bernie Sanders and his supporters. Bernie Sanders endorses it as does Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine. It is the basis for which Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine will challenge the unorthodox fear and hate campaign of Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the general election. Bernie Sanders has promised to be there campaigning as well.

Finally Senator Kaine chose to quote Harry Truman near the end of his speech in Miami. Truman’s quote epitomizes the shared worldviews of Clinton and Kaine: “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

Democrats must move fearlessly with courageous determination and unity if we are to win for the progressive values that Clinton and Kaine have both championed so admirably their entire lives…to advance opportunity and equality for everybody, no matter where they come from, how much money they have, what accent they have, or who they love.

It is that never ending quest to make life better for everyone, every day, every year that defines Tim Kaine. We should feel very fortunate to have Kaine’s progressive voice and values representing America as our next vice president.

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