Well, the veepstakes are heating up, and everyone with an electoral college map and a congressional directory is making predictions. (Mine, from November, are comically wrong, but I’ll save the laughs for those willing to put in the effort to find that post.) The buzz this week on the Democratic vice-presidential nominee seems to be focused on Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, just as it was centered on Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh last week, and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine the week before that.
As a native of Virginia, I took a little interest in the Kaine boomlet. I think there are decent arguments on his behalf, and decent arguments against him. And, ultimately, I don’t think he’ll be the choice. But I did want to comment on one argument against Kaine that I think shouldn’t be a major consideration: the fact that picking him will turn the Virginia governorship over to a Republican.
Virginia does not elect a ticket; its Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General all run separately. In 2005, when Kaine was elected, the GOP took the other two spots. Bill Bolling was elected Lt. Gov., and Bob McDonnell won the A.G. spot. So, if Kaine did leave office, Bolling would indeed take over. But there are a couple of noteworthy quirks to all this.
First, Virginia’s governors cannot run for re-election. They are limited to one (consecutive) term. So Kaine’s tenure would be up in 2009 anyway. The other offices are not term-limited. The consensus seems to be that the GOP will coalesce around McDonnell as the 2009 gubernatorial nominee, with Bolling running for another term as Lt. Gov. (and probably setting himself up for nomination in 2013).
The other big quirk is that Virginia attorneys general have, for decades, followed a tradition of resigning when they run for another office, to minimize claims of partisanship in the AG’s office. I don’t think that’s usually necessary (or, if it is necessary, probably not sufficient), but that’s neither here nor there. It is what it is.
But what this could mean is that, if Kaine leaves office, Virginians could see the strange circumstance of the incumbent Governor (Bolling) running for the lesser office of Lt. Governor, and the Lt. Gov. and AG spots vacant, one because of elevation and the other because of resignation. (Technically, some placeholder would be named AG, but that person is usually an unknown without a statewide constituency. I think the Lt. Gov. position stays open, or is effectively filled by a Senate President Pro Tem or something, but I’m not sure. The point is, the officeholders won’t look anything like the ones voters elected in 2005.)
It might be amusing to see Barack Obama pick Kaine, just to see how all this would effect Virginia politics. Plus, Kaine may decide the ship is sinking and it’s time to bail out. But given Kaine’s closeness to Obama, and the fact that he won’t have another job come November 2009, I fully expect to see Kaine take some kind of position in an Obama administration, should Obama win this fall.
The natural fit for Kaine, a former urban mayor and housing lawyer, would be H.U.D. Secretary. Assuming Kaine has higher political aspirations, though, he might want some foreign policy experience. (This is the biggest knock against Kaine as a vice-presidential hopeful.) So, I’ll throw out another suggestion: Ambassador to Mexico. Kaine is fluent in Spanish and once served as a Catholic missionary in Central America. Kaine could take a role in formulating and implementing Obama’s immigration policies. Maybe a few years in Mexico City, then a move to a U.N. post or something. Something like a Bill Richardson path. Or, stick with the domestic experience at H.U.D. and be a Jack Kemp to a future presidential candidate with more foreign policy expertise.
Anyway, the point of all this is that I don’t think Virginia’s gubernatorial succession provisions should prevent Obama from choosing Kaine, although, as I said, I think there are other arguments against Kaine (or, to put it another way, stronger arguments in favor of other candidates). In any event, I still have a feeling that if Obama wins, he’ll end up picking Kaine for another post at some point, so they’ll probably have to go through those succession procedures before the scheduled transition anyway.