Politics Unions Virginia

Rachel Levy: A Bernie Voter in Virginia Sizes Up Tim Kaine

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I invited teacher-blogger Rachel Levy, a Virginia resident, to give her appraisal of Tim Kaine.

Rachel Levy grew up in Washington, DC, about a mile from the Vice President’s residence, but has lived in Virginia for 14 of the past 16 years, and in the Richmond area for the past 7. In that time, she has been a public school teacher, an education writer and blogger at All Things Education, a private preschool teacher, a public school parent, and is currently a PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education (go Rams!) studying educational leadership and policy.

She writes:

In light of Hillary Clinton’s recent choice for Vice President, Diane asked me to write something about Tim Kaine and Anne Holton. If you want to read about Senator Kaine’s education policy views and actions, and about his experiences sending his children to public schools, you can go here and here. If you want to read about Secretary Holton’s life and career, you can go here and here. If you want to see what Diane had to say about the pair, go here. Although, all of those things are important to me as a parent, as a public education advocate, and as an apprentice policy scholar, I am going to talk about general insights and impressions here.

I don’t know Tim Kaine or Anne Holton personally. I voted for Tim Kaine when he ran for Governor and I voted for him again when he ran for the U.S. Senate. The way he discussed how he navigated holding the personal views he does versus the requirements of his job as a political leader resonated with me, particularly vis a vis women’s reproductive rights. But otherwise, I didn’t know that much about him. Then, a few years ago, I went to hear him speak at Randolph-Macon College (go Yellow Jackets!) where my husband is a professor of psychology. I went because I am politically active, because I wanted to hear what one of the political leaders in my state had to say, and well, because I live walking distance from RMC. I wasn’t prepared at all to be impressed or inspired. I was prepared to be hear spin and to be marketed to. But afterwards, I was deeply impressed. I had never heard a politician speak so earnestly and so frankly. He told his story. What stood out the most was his emphasis on local politics. He didn’t seem to see local political work as grunt work you have to do to get to next level; he saw it as the most important type of work you can do, serving the public and serving your community. Many liberals have ceded the local political arena, the place where decisions happen that most impact your day-to-day life, to conservatives. Say what you will about the Tea Party but they show up to Board of Supervisors and School Board meetings, they use the democratic process. Too many liberals brush off local politics, as well as the decision-makers themselves, as too boring, too provincial, not glamorous enough. In doing so, they ignore the perspectives of local decision makers, and they fail to assert influence and fail to participate meaningfully in the civic life of their communities. Tim Kaine talked about the importance of local politics, about the importance of understanding the perspectives of constituents and of fellow decision-makers who might have different opinions, and of working with them. He spoke directly to the students, urging them to go into local politics. That was the only thing he was selling. I left his speaking engagement feeling good for once about a politician, proud, even, to have a political leader like him in charge and in my state. I felt hopeful.

As someone who also kept her name when she got married, I would like to point out that Anne Holton kept her name when she got married and that Tim Kaine married a woman who kept her name. I know that seems like a small detail, but it’s symbolic and says something about both of them. Even so, I was skeptical when Tim Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton was appointed Secretary of Education. Oh great, I said, another well-intentioned but clueless non-educator coming in and telling educators what to do. However, the more I read about how she was brought up and about her as a person and a professional, the more impressed I grew with her. And then as I heard her policy ideas, my wariness wore off and I became reassured. Subsequently, this past semester, I was lucky enough to complete an externship with the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS). I met Secretary Holton once or twice very briefly and certainly she was warm and friendly. But what really impressed me was hearing her address education stakeholders, which I had the pleasure of doing on a number of occasions. It wasn’t her speaking style that impressed me, it was her command of the policies and their implications. She is thoughtful about educational practice and genuinely cares about the success of all children and wants them to have a rich and meaningful learning experience. She listens to stakeholders. One occasion in particular has stayed with me. During the legislative session at the Virginia General Assembly, she and a very conservative state senator were both giving public comment in support of the same bill, and it was a good bill. However, while he referred to “failing schools,” she referred to “challenged schools.” She did not use deficit discourse or make it sound as if the issues were inherent to the people in the schools with lower test scores or the schools themselves. She did not take on the legislator’s language to try to get the bill passed, but she didn’t throw out her office’s support of the bill, either. Also just the fact that she was there was notable. She wasn’t phoning it in. She took her work and her role seriously.

By the way, Anne Holton stepped down after her husband’s selection as Clinton’s running mate, so she can help him.

The biggest criticisms I have heard about Tim Kaine is that he’s “anti-union,” too “pro-Wall Street,” and not enough of an advocate for climate change. If he said he supported Virginia’s Right to Work laws, I don’t know if that makes him “anti-union” or if it means he was supporting existing laws in the state he was elected to govern because it would be political suicide otherwise (and I don’t hear the VEA complaining about his candidacy.) Also, it is worth noting that he has a 96% positive rating from the AFL-CIO.

But maybe he is anti-union, not wary enough of Wall Street, and not concerned enough about climate change. Maybe you don’t agree with him on many things, but if his history as a local and state politician are any indication, he will listen, he will learn, he will roll his sleeves up, and he will try to do right by the public. If he has done it in the case of public education, which he has, I believe he can do it in the case of other public democratic institutions and matters. You can look at Kaine’s candidacy through the lens of the national media and national political organizations or you can look at it through the lens of the Virginians he served, like me, and public servants he served with, all of whom have overwhelming positive things to say. His record on higher education is strong.

Look, I am unabashedly pro-union and pro-labor. I am deeply apprehensive about Wall Street’s power. I am profoundly concerned about climate change (which I see as the defining issue of our time). I voted for Bernie. But Bernie didn’t win. Hillary did and she picked a genuine, smart, hard-working VP. Both Tim Kaine and Anne Holton are thoughtful, caring people—thoughtful about their positions they hold, about the policies they enact or implement, about how those intersect with their personal views. They are not climbers or elitists. They have unapologetically and unwaveringly dedicated their lives to being public servants, to serving their country, state, and local communities. Isn’t that at least in part what Bernie Sanders campaign was all about? We rarely see someone like Tim Kaine in politics and now we have the chance to have him serve as Vice President of our country. It’s time to stop working against him and start envisioning what can be done when he starts working with us.

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