It’s a safe bet that the two dozen cabinet officials trailing Tim Kaine throughout the Charlottesville area on Monday for his Community Cabinet Day underwent plenty of interviews and negotiations before earning the Governor’s appointment. So it was with disbelieving laughter that they listened to a tape of the telephone conversation between President John F. Kennedy and Willard Wirtz when he was offering Wirtz the job of labor secretary. Kennedy called, he said, "to see if you’ll come along on this secretary of labor thing." "Why, yes sir," came the reply. To which Virginia’s various secretaries of transportation and education and administration and even a few deputy secretaries responded with chuckles.
Tim Kaine heard a sample of some of the then-secret presidential tapings at the Miller Center, but it was the governor who sounded prerecorded.
The setting was lunch at UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, and David Coleman, who heads up the Presidential Recordings Program there, was playing a mix tape he’d put together for the occasion out of the hundreds of thousands of hours of White House secret tapings kept on file and transcribed at the Center. The recordings program is but one of many policy- and history-related projects at the Miller Center and another governor, this one former office-holder Gerald L. Baliles, explained much of what goes on at the Miller Center for Kaine, his roving cabinet and a few other University and Center-affiliated guests. Kaine would like the work at the Miller Center, Baliles offered, because the job is "policy without the politics."
Baliles prefaced his description of the work at the Center he has headed since 2006 with a favorite quote from H.L. Mencken: "For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong."
Affable and highly scripted in what passes for improvisation among politicians, the banter returned to glimpses of the executive branch inner sanctum when it was Kaine’s turn to speak. "I’m compelled to say I don’t tape conversations in my office," he said immediately, looking dapper and well-pressed in a dark suit, crisp white shirt and claret-and-blue patterned tie. He talked about his relationship with Baliles, whom he especially admired, he said, for his work on state transportation and seeking "accountability in funding." He seeks Baliles’ advice from time to time, Kaine said, with Baliles usually accommodating the request at a prearranged time after he’s been able to give the question some considered judgment.
Once, Kaine, as a new lieutenant governor, wanted to know how to fashion a smooth relationship with the governor—the also newly elected Mark Warner. He called Baliles, fed him the question and then met with him at the appointed time. "I’ve decided there is no recent history to draw on to give you any answer" to this question, Baliles told him in somber good humor. And at that, the secretaries once again laughed at their boss’ joke.
The Community Cabinet Day bore all the marks of a self-conscious glance at the state’s leaders glancing at the state’s good works. Earlier in the day, Kaine & Co. had been to an official event at the ecoMOD3 house on Fourth Street—a collaboration between UVA and the Piedmont Housing Alliance. So after the cameras stopped clicking and as he was walking to his vehicle to head to Hydraulic Road for the grand opening of the "one-stop career center," I asked Kaine if state government could take a part in alleviating the affordable housing crunch hitting Charlottesville.
"The slow housing market is our friend in this regard," he said, adding that it’s a question of finding reliable funding. Sure, it might come from tax rolls, but "this year’s a hard one," he said. In some sense, Kaine too, was playing a tape.
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