Tag Archives: Tim Kaine

Is Marc Ambinder Crazy?

In a post assessing Obama’s VP shortlist, Ambinder writes this

Sebelius and Kaine are both governing choices, not campaign choices. They’re not going to match Obama’s enthusiasm levels; they’re not going to do all that well at the VP debates; they’re not even going to solve political problems (even Kaine).  But they are solid; they are centrist-in-style; they are Washington outsiders; they know how to balance budgets and deal with Republicans. As an historical analogy, think Clinton’s choice of Gore.

Choosing Biden or Bayh would put in the White House strong and knowledgeable legislators who would be expected to do heavy lifting with allies and adversaries. both would do well at the debates; Biden is flashy and might upstage Obama, but he’d be the best sheer campaigner and his selection would bring a jolt of enthusiasm to the Democratic ticket (as if it needed more).  The downside here is the same as the upside: the focus will be on the ticket and not on Obama, per se.

It seems to me that Ambinder is dead wrong. Not only are Sebelius and Kaine appealing because of how perfectly they fit in with Obama’s message of unity. They are red state governors who have been successful, though far more successful in Sebelius’ case. While both certainly would be assets in office, again, Sebelius more than Kaine, in my estimation, neither have a ton of governing experience. They are both governors, but neither has been in office longer than six years. Plus, as outsiders, they don’t have a grasp on how Washington works and how to govern from the White House.

Biden and Bayh, on the other hand, are creatures of Washington. They know how the legislative process works, know what has worked and failed for past presidents and have a lot more experience in government than either Kaine or Sebelius. Plus, the worry that anyone could overshadow Obama on the ticket seems perposterous to me. Obama is the biggets thing in American politics since sliced bread. There is no way his number 2 will over shadow him in the fall campaign. It simply isn’t going to happen.

In short, it seems to me that if Obama wants to reinforce his campaign narrative with his VP choice, Kaine or Sebelius is the way to go. On the other hand, if he wants a governing partner who can help him steer legislation through the sausage factory, Biden or Bayh seems the way to go.

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Veepstakes

Now that Obama is starting his vice presidential search process, its as good as time as any to take a look at the potential VP candidates on both sides. So how should Obama and McCain go about making their picks?

So it’s an idea the candidates might consider. But whenever they make their picks, there are essentially two models to follow (in addition to picking someone from a key swing state, which is so twentieth century). There’s the Cheney model, in which you select a running mate who shores up your weaknesses, or the Gore model, in which you find someone who reinforces your strengths. In 2000, Dick Cheney appeared to be everything George W. Bush wasn’t: experienced, serious, knowledgeable and steady. In 1992, Al Gore appeared to be a virtual clone of Bill Clinton: young, Southern, ideologically moderate, and fresh. Both picks were extremely effective.

Marc Ambinder has some informed speculation up about the possible candidates. For Obama his list is:

1. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) — Obama really likes her; that’s very important.
2. The Virginia boys: Kaine and Webb
3. Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH) — the Clinton stand in.
4. Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ)
5. Sen. Hillary Clinton — there’s a fine balance between subtle pressure and overt hectoring

Wild card: Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE)

I think a lot of these would be good solid picks for Obama. They’re all in some way hybrid picks, with both Cheney and Gore elements. I’ve long though Sebelius was a great option. She’s got executive experience, but in many ways she personifies Obama’s change message. First, she’s a women, which would highlight the trailblazing nature of the Democratic ticket. Secondly, she is a popular, moderate governor from a red state, who has had incredible success winning Republicans over to the Democratic party. She’d highlight Obama’s bipartisan appeal and provide an actual example of what he wants to do with the country.

I’m not wild about a Kaine pick. First, I’m not sure he guarantees Virginia for Obama, and I think Obama could win it without him. Secondly, he doesn’t have much of a record as Governor. He’s faced Republican obstructionism, but he’s been manifestly unable to work across party lines to find acceptable solutions. Also, Democrats would lose the Virginia governorship if he were elected.

Webb is a different story. He’s got great military credentials and a real appeal to culturally conservative, Appalachian voters. He’s been a shocking effective Senator thus far, getting his GI Bill passed while putting McCain in an impossible political situation doing it. He also passed his Truman Commission for the Iraq War, which is looking into contracting abuses and war profiteering. He has a knack for proposing legislation dealing with the war that even pro-war Senators can get on board with. He’s a former Republican who has the ability to bolster Obama’s message of brining people together. Also, he’s a great attack dog, if a somewhat suspect campaigner. His response to Bush’s State of the Union in 2007 was the most effective I’ve ever seen, dwarfing Sebelius’ effort this year. He’d be hard to reign in, but he would really be a strong pick.

Strickland would only be an OK choice. He’s a former congressman and an ordained minister, which would be a plus, but he’s not particularly dynamic or nationally well known. He would probably bring along Ohio though. However, if you’re looking for strong Hillary supporters there are better options. General Wes Clark would be an outstanding choice, as would Senator Evan Bayh.

Napolitano would be a solid, Cheneyesque pick. She’s got great executive experience and has been effective in running Arizona. She also might be able to put Arizona on the map, which would be a plus given Obama’s preexisting strength in the rest of the Southwest. However, her record on immigration might be a little suspect, given that she signed the toughest employer sanction law in the country. That could lead to her being seen by Latino voters as anti-immigrant, a problem given Latinos preexisting affinity for John McCain.

Hillary herself may be the best option. She would bring the party together allow Democrats to present a united face in the fall. On the other hand, she would mobilize the right and could make Obama look weak if he is seen as being forced to pick her.

Biden or Hagel would be outstanding selections. There isn’t a better foreign policy attack dog than Joe Biden, whereas Hagel’s opposition to the war and status as a Republican, and close friend of John McCain, would emphasize Obama’s bipartisan appeal. Both are probably longshots, Biden especially given his habit of putting his foot in his mouth. On the other hand, picking Biden and publicly forgiving him for his infamous “clean” comments could help bridge the gap to white voters upset at being branded racists.

Ambinder’s GOP list:

1. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN)
2. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
3. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-NY)
4. Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC)
5. Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Pawlenty would be an interesting choice. He’s a conservative Mid-Western governor who would satisfy the right. He’s also young, energetic and a good campaigner. On the other hand he’s not terribly popular. He’s never won more than 46 percent of the vote and probably wouldn’t allow McCain to carry Minnesota.

Romney would be a terrible pick for McCain. He’s a phony, electoral loser and blatant opportunist. He couldn’t bring his home state along and wouldn’t be anything more than a sop to the right who have for some reason adopted him as a hero.

Bloomberg would be a great choice, if he’d do it. There’s also been speculation that he’s favoring Obama. If he did go with McCain he’d emphasize McCain’s reach to the middle and put a popular executive on the ticket. He’d have a real appeal in parts of the country the GOP hasn’t competed in in for ever and would add real balance to McCain’s ticket, while still emphasizing his independence.

Sanford would be another interesting choice. He’d pacify worried social conservatives, yet still emphasize McCain’s reformer and budget hawk credentials. A McCain-Sanford ticket could make fiscal responsibility and pork busting central elements of their campaign. It could be a very strong ticket.

Thune would be another interesting option. He’d bring social conservatives solidly on board and has proved an ability to go toe to toe with Democrats, having beaten sitting Democratic leader, and Obama confidant, Tom Daschle in 2004. He’d be the best attack dog of the bunch and would provide solid regional balance for the ticket.

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Virginia’s Transportation Problem

Virginia has a transportation problem. Traffic is badly clogged in both Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and the primary funding mechanism in Virginia’s 2007 Transportation Bill was largely struck down by the Virginia Supreme Court in March. That was after the other funding mechanism in the bill, the abusive driver fees, had to be repealed because of voter backlash. Virginians have been complaining about transportation for years now and the General Assembly has completely failed to deal with the issue. As of now, not only does Virginia lack adequate capacity on its roadways, but it is facing a shortfall in funds for road maintenance.

But Virginia’s General Assembly is getting another chance to get transportation right. Governor Kaine has called for a June Special Session of the Assembly to deal with transportation. Everyone more or less agrees agrees what needs to be done. As a coalition of Virginia business groups said,

“We believe the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure is a critical component of its economic success and the quality of life of all Virginians. Additional investments of at least $1 billion annually must be made to sustain maintenance and construction costs,” the letter said. “The most appropriate solution is a package of revenue generators that are simple, sustainable, and sufficient and accrue from broad-based revenue options.”

The only question is how to raise the $1 billion a year Virginia needs.  Governor Kaine just proposed his plan to raised the needed money. He wants to increase the sales tax by 1 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, raise the grantor’s tax, a tax on home sellers, from 10 cents per $100 of assessed value to 35 cents, increase the sales tax on cars by 1 percent and increase the annual car registration fee by $10.

So what is the Virginia GOP’s response? According to the Washington Post:

Del. David B. Albo, a Fairfax Republican involved in transportation negotiations, said Kaine’s plan had a “0.000 percent chance” of winning approval.

Many see Kaine’s tax proposal as a way of reaching out to Republicans in the House of Delegates. According to Jim Bacon, a conservative Virginia policy blogger,

Kaine appeared to adopt key elements of the plan — a motor vehicle sales tax, a vehicle registration fee and a grantor’s tax — because House Republicans embraced them last year when they crafted HB 3202, although not in precisely the same configuration. In his naivite, the governor no doubt assumed that if GOP legislators liked those levies last year, they would be OK with them this year. So, how did those charges become so unpalatable all of a sudden? It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that they are just opposed to anything that Kaine might propose?

Republicans aren’t the only ones who are down on Kaine’s plan. Liberals like Raising Kaine and Not Larry Sabato have blasted the plan, arguing that the sales tax increase is overly regressive and will hurt the working poor.

I largely agree that the sales tax isn’t the way to go. To begin with, it’s regressive. Sales taxes hit the poor the hardest and increase their tax burden as a proportion of their income the most.

Secondly, it has absolutely no connection to the people who will use the roads that are built with it. It will tax everyone at the same rate regardless of how much they use the roads or what choices they make. Jim Bacon is right in that “This highway funding mechanism will do nothing — repeat N-O-T-H-I-N-G — to encourage drivers to seek alternate modes of transportation or otherwise change the behavior that has created this crisis in the first place.”

Thirdly, the sales tax is only increased in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Now, I know there is a somewhat compelling argument to be made that since NoVa and Hampton Roads are the localities that need transportation improvements the most they should pay for it. It’s a logic that is probably very persuasive to Delegates from the rest of Virginia. But that logic is wrong. Every year, NoVa and Hampton Roads pay far more into state coffers than they get back. Taxpayers in these two regions have subsidized the rest of the state for decades. It is time they finally got some help back from the rest of the state to pay for transportation improvements that will improve the economic climate in NoVa and Hampton Roads, which will in turn increase the amount of tax money they send down to Richmond to subsidize the rest of the state. It’s an everybody wins scenario.

Lastly, its already been rejected. In 2002 Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads had the opportunity to pass a referendum which would have increased their regional sales tax. The referendum failed miserably. Now Kaine is trying to bring back a solution that citizens rejected directly and put it through the General Assembly.

A gas tax increase would be a far better solution. As Lowell at Raising Kaine wrote:

Virginia’s gas tax is among the lowest in the nation and hasn’t been raised since 1986, which  means that inflation has seriously eroded its value.

Currently, the Virginia gas tax constitutes only about 5% of the total price at the pump, and that percentage is declining all the time.  Looked at the other way around, every 1-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax raises about $65 million per year. This means that to raise $860 million per year, the gas tax would have to be raised about 14 cents per gallon. This may sound like a lot, but to put it in perspective, the overall price of gasoline has risen more than $2.20 per gallon since May 2002 — about 16 times the 14 cents per gallon mentioned above.

A gas tax benefit would have other benefits too. It would reduce the demand for fuel slightly, thereby helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It would be paid directly by the people using the roads, making heavier users pay more and allowing people to save on the taxes my making different choice in how they get around. Senate Democrats are on board for a gas tax hike. They passed one last session and are willing to do it again. However, its the no tax GOP who is unwilling to even consider a gas tax hike.

One final criticism. Kaine’s plan doesn’t envision any way to prioritize what projects get funding, beyond repairs to existing roads come first. To quote Bacon yet again,

No objective methodology for setting priorities. Nothing in this bill requires the commonwealth to establish an objective methodology for prioritizing projects based on their effectiveness at mitigating traffic congestion. There is nothing to prevent the usual suspects with the most to gain from boring into the political system like beetles into tree bark, canoodling administrators, making donations to elected officials, attending obscure public hearings, and bird dogging projects through the bureaucratic maze.

There is at lest one real positive in the Kaine plan. The grantor’s tax increase would be dedicated to a Transportation Change Fund, which would “increase investment in transit, rail, and innovative solutions to reduce traffic congestion like teleworking and ridesharing.” That is a major improvement over the way things are done. That would put about $155 million annually into mass transit, which would help create alternatives to driving for Virginians.

Kaine is at least trying here. He’s been willing to anger his political base, including the blog that was created to elect him, in order to propose a plan he had reason to think would be palatable to GOP lawmakers. But the House Republicans are saying “no” once again. It is pretty sad to see. Kaine was elected on an unambiguous platform of transportation reform. He’s now in his third year as governor and has yet to get a long-term, workable plan passed. Every time he has tried he has run into the roadblock of House Republicans. Even when the State Senate was in Republican hands Kaine was able to work with them and come to agreements. Yet the only thing House Republicans have proposed thus far is what turned into the awful 2007 transportation compromise that has already been almost entirely struck down or repealed. And Republicans wonder why there are only a handful of them left in Northern Virginia.

I’ll leave the end of this post to Jim Bacon. Virginians should take Kaine’s imperfect plan as a jumping off point. He has moved the ball forward at least somewhat on transportation and hopefully it won’t all come to naught again. Bacon addresses his list to “no tax” Republicans. But it really goes for everyone. Here’s what we need.

(1) Create a mechanism for actually raising money. We can’t build a transportation system for the 21st century with fiscal tricks and legerdemain.

(2) Be sustainable over time, and they need to be structured so that legislators can’t lay their hands on the tax money for other purposes.

(3) Display a direct and transparent nexus between who pays and who benefits from transportation projects.

(4) Address the “demand” side of the transportation equation, in other words, incentivize people to seek alternative means of mobility and access.

(5) Incentivize citizens and developers to adopt more transportation-efficient human settlement patterns.

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