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Kaine talks politics, trade, infrastructure

Times Staff Photo/Tara Slate Donaldson
Sen. Tim Kaine (D) speaks to the Northern Virginia Executive Forum in Gainesville.
Politics and business intersected in a bigger-than-usual way last week when Sen. Tim Kaine (D) paid a visit to the Prince William Chamber of Commerce’s Northern Virginia Executive Forum.
About 60 local business and political leaders were invited to the forum breakfast to hear Kaine speak on trade, infrastructure and politics.

If Virginia is a battleground state, “Prince William is the battleground of the battleground,” Kaine said, highlighting the reason for his appearance.
Kaine is one of a very few politicians to have served as a mayor, governor and senator. The differences, he said, are staggering.

A new perspective

“Governors are often very unhappy senators,” he said, noting that as the state leader, he ran the show whereas he arrived in the Senate ranked 95th out of 100 in seniority and spent six months in a temporary office space.

He said Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell often says that when you meet a senator who used to be a governor, “if they tell you they’re happy in the Senate, they’ll lie to you about other stuff too.”

The biggest difference in being in the Senate is that “it's not an executive job; it's an expertise job,” he said, explaining that each senator ends up with several areas of interest and becomes an expert in them. For Kaine, it's trade and the military with a focus on Latin America and the Middle East.

His military specialty developed in part because he spent time in the Honduras as a young man and speaks Spanish and in part because his son is an infantryman in the Marine Corps. And being a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee with a son in the infantry makes every decision personal.

“It just adds an extra dimension to the way I think about things,” he said.

His interest in trade, however, comes from being a Virginian.


Virginia, with its international airports and one of the nation's largest ports, is a much more global state than most, he said. Those ties mean that the world economy is particularly important to the state and local economy.

But it's not just the entry points -- it's also the people.

“When I was born in Virginia, one in 100 people you would meet had been born in another country,” he said. “Today, one in nine Virginians were born in another country.”

That multinational population is a major boost to the state's international trade market, Kaine said, because so many Virginians have strong personal ties to people in other countries.

Being a supporter of trade deals makes Kaine out of step with many of his fellow Democrats, the senator said, noting that during the recent State of the Union address, he sometimes found himself standing to clap with the Republicans while most Democrats remained seated.

“Traditionally, more Democrats tend to oppose trade deals and more Republicans are in favor of them so I'm a little out of kilter,” he said, noting that being from Virginia makes a difference in one's support of international trade.

Kaine's backing of global trade is particularly true of Cuba. In response to a question from the audience, the senator said he supports normalizing relations with the island nation.

“We normalized relationships with Vietnam and we lost 65,000 lives in the Vietnam War,” he said, adding that the U.S. also has normal relationships with Saudi Arabia, China and many other countries accused of human rights violations.

Virginia already has its own trade relationship with Cuba, Kaine said, noting that local apples are especially popular there.

“While Americans like to eat apples from Washington State, Cubans like to eat apples from Virginia. Maybe because they're Red on the inside,” he quipped.


Kaine was also asked about infrastructure and he said he believes the chances are good that federal funding for the maintenance of roads, bridges and tunnels will be forthcoming in the next couple of years.

With both the House and Senate under Republican control, more bills will find their way to Pres. Obama's desk than did when the chambers were split, Kaine said. Bipartisan issues, like trade and infrastructure funding, will then likely be signed into law by the Democratic president.

Aside from the political picture, everyone understands that the time is right economically, he said.

“Infrastructure rates are still low. If you're going to spend money on infrastructure, do it while interest rates are low,” he said.
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