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A pair of former Virginia governors are gunning for an open seat in the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Richmond are pushing back against the commonwealth’s current governor, Bob McDonnell, on a range of hot-button issues. We explore the political landscape in Virginia, and what it means at the federal and local levels.
- Toni-Michelle Travis Associate Professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University
- Anita Kumar Reporter, The Washington Post
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the Civil War, musically speaking. But first, all eyes are on the federal government as a shutdown looms, but it's not the only political fight going on in the region. The last few days have seen a flurry of activity in Virginia. Former Governor Tim Kaine has stepped down from his position with the Democratic National Committee and announced his candidacy for the Senate. It looks like it's going to be a likely Allen-Kaine showdown when all is said and done, but that showdown won't take place until 2012.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday, contention continues in the legislature as the general assembly rejects many of the governor's proposed budget changes and other bills, including a closely followed measure regarding insurance coverage for autistic children and the wrangling over redistricting continues. Joining us by phone from Fairfax is Toni-Michelle Travis, professor of government and politics at George Mason University. Toni-Michelle, thank you for joining us.
MS. TONI-MICHELLE TRAVISGood to join you. Thank you.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone from Richmond is Anita Kumar, staff writer with the Washington Post, covering Virginia politics. Anita, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANITA KUMARThanks for having me.
NNAMDIGovernor Bob McDonnell faced more of a challenge than expected yesterday when the general assembly rejected parts of his state budget proposal. Anita, legislators overruled some of his vetoes and written some other legislative efforts. What were yesterday's major upset, surprises?
KUMARWell, he had his first veto overridden by the legislature pretty overwhelmingly, particularly by his own party in the House of Delegates. That was a measure that dealt with the medical malpractice caps, the legislature wanted to cap -- wanted to raise the caps for medical malpractice awards. And the governor vetoed that and the legislature overrode that and that was the first time that it happened in his term.
NNAMDIToni-Michelle, the governor's own party, as Anita pointed out, helped to reject some of his proposals. What, if anything, does infighting among Republicans tell us about the current political climate in Virginia?
TRAVISI think that it's going to continue. I think the Republicans will continue to be fighting each other not only within the legislature but as we see the election coming along with Tea Partiers versus more mainstream candidate.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850 either to discuss developments in the general assembly or the upcoming race for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Democratic Senator Jim Webb. The governor did score at least one victory yesterday. Today he got a long sought seat on Metro's board of directors. We know that train service in Virginia is expanding. What do you see is the impact of this change, Toni-Michelle?
TRAVISWell, I think it does put more power in the hands of the governor to be able to determine who gets that seat and I don't know quite how that will all play out when they deal with Northern Virginia people on that board as well as regional people up here, though.
NNAMDIAnita Kumar, one bill that received a lot of attention involved insurance coverage for autistic children. Autism activists said the governor's proposal would complicate an otherwise good bill, requiring insurers cover certain therapy for autistic kids. What else should we know about this new bill?
KUMARWell, the bill would be -- they had been trying to get this bill through for 11 years and the speaker of the House, Bill Howell, had put his support behind it this year, which is the reason it went through. The governor had proposed five amendments but one of them -- four of them were technical. One of them, the advocates said we've got the bill. And the legislature soundly rejected it. But the governor said this morning that he would let this bill become law. He wouldn't change it anymore. He wouldn't re-veto it. He would sign the bill and it will become law.
NNAMDIIs there any potential damage, Toni-Michelle, to McDonnell's image that could come out of this? Could this issue provide ammunition for future challenges?
TRAVISWell, I think there always going to continue to be attacks, but I think he's going to weather them fairly well. But I think it is fascinating to see this shift down there in the general assembly. And the speaker's support of this bill. I don't know what that may mean internally for the future too.
NNAMDIAnita, I'd like to get back to the Metro for a second. What do you see as -- how does this change the game, if you will, now that the governor has got that long-sought seat on Metro's board of directors?
KUMARI thought this was a huge, huge victory for him. And I thought the governor's office was even surprised that they got it. When I called them to tell them, they didn't realize that they had gotten it through. Three Democrats in the Senate from Northern Virginia voted with all the Republicans in the Senate, which means, you know, which had gotten him the vote. He had tried a number of ways to get this, you know, through, you know, law, you know, through, you know, changing the compact, though all different ways he had asked, you know, Northern Virginia officials to get him, you know, the seat.
KUMARAnd they always rejected him. I think this really changes things for him. He had tried to withhold money from the Metro to get the seat. He was very please this morning about this and thinks that, you know, he thinks Metro is not safe and he thinks that his input along with the Maryland governor and D.C. mayor is really going to change things.
TRAVISWell, why did the Democrats go along with him?
KUMARWell, I think that the three Democrats, you know, I felt -- I think they feel like, you know, Virginia the state is putting in $50 million and that maybe that one seat, just one, really should be represented from here. Now the governor said this morning, and he has said it before, that he has pledged that this person, whoever this person will be, will be from Northern Virginia. So it still will be a Northern Virginian, you know, but...
NNAMDIBut the governor gets to make the call.
NNAMDIThat may be where the game change is coming about. We're talking with Anita Kumar. She's a staff writer with the Washington Post, covering Virginia politics. And Toni-Michelle Travis, she's professor of government and politics at George Mason University. Anita, you were there yesterday when former governor Tim Kaine spoke in Richmond. What did he have to say?
KUMARHe talked a lot about how he made the decision. I think there was a lot of talk before hand that he had been convinced -- that was a nice word -- strong armed was the word he had used. That he had been you know forced into running for U.S. Senate by the president. And he talked a lot about how he had made his decision, that he had spoken to the president twice, once in person, once on the phone, but the president did not force him to do this. It was something that he said the president said you should do whatever you want to do; you should make the decision with your wife, with your family and really make the decision yourself. He said he talked to, you know, a lot of senators, former, current senators, Republicans, Democrats and how he really decided that this is something he wanted to do.
NNAMDIToni-Michelle Travis, walk us back with it for a second here, please, because it was clear that Tim Kaine was reluctant to give up his post as head of the Democratic National Committee and run for the Senate seat, replacing Senator Jim Webb who's stepping down at the end of his term. What was the basis of his reluctance?
TRAVISWell there are rumblings that congressman Bobby Scott might also seek the seat, and I doubt that would weaken the Democrats if both of them contend for the nomination on that. And also, Bobby Scott is the only African American in congress representing Virginia, so that might be complicated their if you're going up against the only one.
NNAMDIThere was also the sentiment, and I guess President Obama is representative of it, that Tim Kaine having been a fairly popular governor of Virginia himself is nevertheless and in spite of, despite the potential Bobby Scott candidacy, the best placed Democrat in Virginia. The best placed in terms of who can probably beat former Governor George Allen.
TRAVISWell I think that is the thinking that he is the strongest candidate the party could put up at this point. And that's why the president would really want that. If Kaine could, you know, work it out with the family.
NNAMDIAnita Kumar, how would you measure the level of enthusiasm there that former Governor Kaine expressed yesterday because all we've been talking about so far is how he had to be pushed into this, arm twisted into this. How enthusiastic a campaigner is he likely to be here?
KUMARI thought he was pretty enthusiastic.
KUMARHe was there, his wife was there. They seem very enthusiastic about it. He gave three reasons for wanting to run. You know, a couple dealing with the economy and helping with the economy. And then he talked about bringing civility to Washington. Bringing a little piece of Virginia to Washington. And now he's traveled the country and been in Washington a lot lately in the last year or two and he knows that he could help bring some civility to Washington. He talked a lot about that. He seemed very enthusiastic about it.
NNAMDIOkay. Then he's overcome the enthusiasm gap. Toni-Michelle Travis, begin to frame this campaign for us. How is George Allen likely to characterize his term as governor and how is Tim Kaine likely to Characterize his?
TRAVISWell I think Allen's going to talk about efficiency, what he did with the prison situation, you know, no parole. His accomplishments in that area. Privatizing parts of the government that's why he should be returned.
NNAMDIAnd Governor Kaine?
TRAVISKaine, I think, will talk about facing budget shortages and how he managed that and he said, I think Anita was saying in the column, crisis manager. That he's going to, you know, refer to those kinds of skills that he has.
NNAMDIAnita Kumar, the fight over redistricting continues in Virginia. No one seems to be happy with anyone else's proposals for redrawing district lines. Should we be surprised about that?
KUMARNo. I think it's probably always the way that it is. There's a lot of still arguing going on. The Senate is looking at -- they're going to debate their plan today, but I hear they're going to revise it once again. And I expect that the Republicans in the Senate are not going to be happy with it still. And there's more pressure today from the lieutenant governor saying, who's a Republican of course, calling on the governor who's also a Republican to only approve the plans if they're bipartisan. If both, you know, the Democrats and Republicans' approval. But I don't know how that's going to turn out.
NNAMDIYeah. What's your take on that, Toni-Michelle, the lieutenant governor Bill Bolling saying essentially adopt plans drawn up by a bipartisan commission that the governor appointed. What can we expect as this process moves forward?
TRAVISI think it's more talk than reality on that. I went to one of the redistricting hearings up here and I think they're doing -- the commission is doing a fine job. But, you know, at the end of the day, it becomes politics as usual I think and nobody's going to give up power whether it be those in the Senate with the Democrats or the Republicans in the House of Delegates.
NNAMDIToni-Michelle Travis is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. Toni-Michelle, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnita Kumar is a staff writer with the Washington Post covering Virginia politics. Is there anything that you wanted to talk about that I omitted, Anita?
KUMARNo, I think you hit the highlights.
NNAMDIWell, in that case, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, looking at the Civil War through the music associated with it. You'll be surprised to find out that some of that music was not intended to be written for the Civil War at all. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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