Democracy & Government

What You Need to Know About Tim Kaine

Politicians on the left and right seem to like the Virginia governor, but his candidacy concerns and angers some progressives.

What You Need to Know About Tim Kaine

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., plays "You Are My Sunshine," on the harmonica during a MomsRising.org and National Womens Law Center event to highlight the importance of affordable child care (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Even before Hillary Clinton announced her running mate last Friday, the press has been writing extensively about Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who will speak tonight at the Democratic National Convention.

When Kaine bounced up to the microphone in Miami on Saturday, where Clinton introduced him as her vice presidential pick, he joked that for many it may not only be the first time they heard him speak but “the first time you have heard my name.”

That kind of self-deprecating humor is part of the reason why many describe the Kaine as a “nice guy” liked by both Democrats and Republicans, writes The Washington Post’s Paul Schwartzman. He may be nice, but in terms of his policy positions, some see him as an “anti-progressive,” as Demos’ Nomi Prins describes him. It’s a selection that reveals Clinton’s “desperate need for those last few months of campaign contributions,” she writes.

Catholic Missionary

Kaine methodically rose through the political ranks over more than two decades: He has served as mayor of Richmond, Virginia, as Virginia’s governor and is now the state’s junior US senator. In his folksy, enthusiastic speech on Saturday, he showed off his fluency in Spanish, which he learned while taking a year-long break from his studies at Harvard Law School during the 1980s. In an interview with C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, Kaine said he needed to “step away from the treadmill” to “decide on my path in life,” so he joined Jesuit missionaries in Honduras.

After his return, Kaine graduated from Harvard and began working as a civil rights lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, where he specialized in housing-discrimination cases. In a piece titled “Tim Kaine Was Fighting for Civil Rights While Donald Trump Was Discriminating Against African-Americans,” The Nation’s Ari Berman writes that Kaine won a major lawsuit against Nationwide Insurance in 1998 for “refusing to offer insurance to black homeowners in majority-black neighborhoods.” As governor, Berman adds, Kaine disappointed civil rights leaders for failing to end Virginia’s felon-disenfranchisement law (something which the current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, is attempting to do now over judicial opposition).

Political Rise

Kaine practiced law for 17 years in Richmond and won a city council seat in 1994 before becoming the city’s mayor in 1998. Kaine was elected as Virginia’s lieutenant governor in 2001 and in 2005 became governor; he accepted $162,083 in gifts in those years, which he disclosed as required by state law. Mother JonesPatrick Caldwell writes that Kaine had “few defining achievements” as Virginia’s chief executive, outside of a smoking-ban law and a recession-era budget compromise.

In 2007, he became one of the earliest supporters of Barack Obama’s bid for the Democratic nomination, and was on Obama’s short list for VP in 2008. Instead, Kaine became the “low-key” chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2009 to 2011, presiding over an election that cost Democrats their House majority. In the Senate, where Kaine has served since 2013, he quickly became a ranking member of both the armed services and foreign relations committees. He has “waded into the details on ISIS and Middle East strategy,” writes Caldwell, serving as a “liberal counterpoint to John McCain or Lindsey Graham.”

While Clinton described Kaine as “a progressive” in their joint appearance on 60 Minutes last Sunday, Jon Queally of Common Dreams writes that the progressive wing of the Democratic party is disturbed by her choice. In an earlier story, Queally quoted Norman Solomon, a co-founder of RootsAction.org, as saying that picking Kaine for VP would represent “a pronounced middle finger” to the millions who voted for Sanders during the primary season. They see Kaine’s positions on issues such as reproductive rights, climate change, financial regulation and trade agreements far to the right of where the Democratic Party and the US need to be.

Economy and Trade

While Kaine says he supports Dodd-Frank, the financial reform that Congress passed in 2010 in response to the Great Recession, he believes that the rules are placing undue burdens on local and regional banks, a position in line with critics of the legislation and frustrating to some liberals, as Max Ehrenfreund explains in The Washington Post.

Kaine has long favored free trade, but since Clinton tapped him as her VP pick, his position appears to have changed, writes Dave Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future. He voted to fast track the TPP, but now it seems he no longer favors the deal. Clinton has also flipped on TPP, having once called it the “gold standard” of trade deals, but now is in opposition.

Environment

Kaine has expressed concern about rising sea levels on the Virginia coast, home to a number of military bases, and sponsored a bipartisan event in 2014 to address the problem. He was also an early opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, which Clinton came out against last September. But he’s supported offshore drilling and fracking, leading some environmental groups to express concern about Clinton’s VP pick, writes Stefanie Spear at EcoWatch. As secretary of state, Clinton supported fracking globally, but during the 2016 election season has changed her position. She now says she supports the practice as long as there’s environmental oversight and no local opposition.

Foreign Policy

Kaine supported the Obama administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba and the Iran nuclear deal. Molly O’Toole writes in Foreign Policy magazine that Kaine waged a “relentless and at times lonely campaign” against the president’s ability to use military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria without authorization from Congress. On Saturday he said his eldest son, a Marine, would soon deploy to Europe to “uphold America’s commitment to our NATO allies.” It was surely a poke at Donald Trump’s recent statements in which he said he would not necessarily defend NATO allies if they are attacked.

Immigration

In 2012, Kaine made history by becoming the first person to deliver a full speech on the floor of the Senate in a language other than English. He spoke in Spanish when he argued for immigration reform in the debate on the Senate’s immigration bill, crafted by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight.” Kaine, like Clinton, backed Obama’s executive actions aimed at protecting up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Reproductive Rights

Kaine supported some restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and “informed consent,” while he was governor, which had led some, such as Rewire’s Jodi Jacobson, to criticize him as an “unacceptable” choice. Kaine says he is a Catholic who personally opposes abortion, but is also a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade. As a senator, Kaine pleased reproductive rights groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood having a perfect voting record. He denounced Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.

Tunes and Orthography

Kaine’s love affair with the harmonica, which he picked up as a young boy, is the subject of a feature piece by the New York Times’ Nick Corasaniti. Kaine, who, according to The Week, “carries several harmonicas in his briefcase,” is seen here serenading some of his constituents awake on Washington, DC TV station WJLA.

Take A Look

Another unusual distinction: the senator in 2013 won the National Press Club’s once-every-100 year spelling bee for politicians and journalists in a nearly two-hour marathon, which the Kainiacs among you can watch here in its entirety. (Pro tip: Things really get heated around the 1:30 mark.) Among the words Kaine successfully negotiated on his way to becoming Washington’s grown-up spelling champion: nescience, peripatetic and nonpareil.

Karin Kamp

Karin Kamp is a multimedia journalist and producer. She has produced content for BillMoyers.com, NOW on PBS and WNYC public radio and worked as a reporter for Swiss Radio International. She also helped launch The Story Exchange, a site dedicated to women's entrepreneurship.