Advice for Dems from “America’s Dad”
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine has “a little window” into what it looks like when the balance of power shifts in a Virginia legislative body.
He was Virginia’s governor in 2007 when Democrats took control of the state Senate. That wasn’t nearly as seismic a change as Virginians will witness this General Assembly session when Democrats will have control of the entire state government for the first time since 1993 (see Page 20 for our General Assembly preview), but it was enough to give Kaine some insights into the pitfalls Democrats should avoid this time around.
Kaine shared his predictions for the commonwealth’s 2020 legislative session with me during the Virginia Chamber Foundation’s 10th annual Virginia Economic Summit, held Dec. 6 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
“There’s a couple of things I predict,” said the 2016 Democratic presidential running mate who was once dubbed “America’s Dad.” “First, the Republicans will use their parliamentary mastery from running the [legislative] bodies to try to throw roadblocks into Democrats’ way.”
It’s been 25 years since Democrats have called the shots in both chambers, and Republicans have been running the General Assembly more or less consistently since then, so Kaine has cautioned the legislature’s new Democratic leadership that they need “to be super diligent on the procedures and parliamentary measures” to ensure that Republicans don’t block legislation from getting out of committees.
Additionally, Kaine has counseled eager legislators in the new majority party to prioritize their session wish list. “There’s such a pent-up demand because there hasn’t been a [Democratic] legislative majority” for such a long time, he said. And even though there are probably a hundred or more bills Democrats would like to pass, it’s “better to do five big ones and get them done” and focus on another five in the 2021 session.
Two of those five priorities, said Virginia’s junior U.S. senator, will most likely be the Equal Rights Amendment and gun safety legislation. The latter issue was a major factor in the 2019 General Assembly elections, Kaine added, with voters expressing displeasure at the way Republican lawmakers shut down Gov. Ralph Northam’s special session on gun violence following the May 2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
Taking “meaningful steps to address gun violence — the scar tissue of which is still felt in Virginia for all kinds of reasons — that’s really important,” said Kaine, who was governor during the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, then the deadliest such attack in U.S. history.
What’s also really important is that this session’s legislature will be composed of the most diverse group of lawmakers in Virginia’s long history, featuring a record number of female legislators. (You can read about some of the assembly’s notable women in our feature on Page 26.)
As with tensions seen among the national Democratic presidential hopefuls, such diversity can also create a push and pull between various factions, such as moderates and progressives. However, Kaine described it as healthy for the party, saying, “We pride ourselves on that. There’s no way to be a big tent demographically and be a small tent ideologically.”
And emblematic of this change is the person on Virginia Business’s cover this month — Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, the commonwealth’s first female speaker. (Read our interview with her on Page 32.)
“I think it’s massive,” Kaine said, noting that Filler-Corn will also be Virginia’s first Jewish speaker of the House. “I was the first Catholic governor and it took 70 governors to get to a Catholic. It’s taken hundreds of years to where a Jewish person could have one of the highest positions in Virginia.”
Of course, Filler-Corn didn’t campaign on either of those firsts when she was seeking the post. She was the legislature’s first female House minority leader and she worked hard to earn support for her speaker bid, he said, “but we can all celebrate that she’s breaking two glass ceilings.”