In an interview with Northern Virginia Magazine, Sen. Tim Kaine shares details about his favorite ways to spend time in Northern Virginia, reflects on the work he’s done as a senator and as a governor, and looks forward to the work that still needs to be done in the region.
A shorter version of Northern Virginia Magazine’s interview with Sen. Tim Kaine ran in the magazine’s July issue.
What do you love about Northern Virginia?
Well, the people are No. 1. … Anytime you’re in a room with people in Northern Virginia, you’re in a room filled with experts who know about any topic more than you do. … In Northern Virginia, there will always be somebody, on whatever topic, who was really the expert on that topic. As an elected official, I consider myself a very smart, well-informed person, but I always have an expert in the room, on whatever the topic, in Northern Virginia and I actually really liked that.
Is there anything in particular you like to do in NoVA?
I’m a big cyclist. I love Four Mile Run, Mount Vernon trail, and the W&OD Trail out to Purcellville. I try to ride my bike in DC a lot. That’s one of the ways I love to get exercise, and I think Northern Virginia is great for cyclists, especially because those trails get you off roads where you’re not fighting with traffic, so I really like that.
What about food? Any favorites?
I love ethnic cuisine of all kinds. In Northern Virginia, you could not have a better place if you like to try new foods. I would say particular favorites might be getting Vietnamese food at the Eden Center, eating a variety of different Latino specialties. … Anywhere you go, the variety of options in terms of restaurants is just staggering.
What’s the most challenging project you’ve worked on?
[As] an elected official, I like seeing [the things that I have worked on for a long time] come to fruition. And the biggest thing I’ve worked on in Northern Virginia was getting Metro out to Dulles.
When I was lieutenant governor, I saw a mockup of what it might be like to run Metro through Tysons, and it was in somebody’s office, and it had dust all over it. It’s a little scale model, and people would use it to put their coats on, so it was just a dream that had sort of died. And I really made an effort, especially when I became governor. I told my Secretary of Transportation, who was from Northern Virginia, ‘We’re going to have this under construction by the time I leave at the end of four years. I don’t know exactly how we are going to do this.’ And to have worked on it from the dream stage, to — it was under construction by the time I left for governor — to the opening of phase one to Whiele Avenue, and then I was at the opening in Dulles.
That was the single most challenging project I’ve ever worked on, and working on that over a long period of time is enormously satisfying. And then watching what’s happening in the Dulles Corridor, how development has sprung up around the different Metro stops, it’s going to be so good for Dulles Airport. Seeing my fingerprint on some important assets in Northern Virginia is also something that makes me feel really good.
What do you see for the region’s future? What are the most pressing issues?
I think the region’s future is really great. If you see who was relocating into Northern Virginia. It’s both individuals, but also the companies that are choosing to move their headquarters: Boeing from Chicago, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, CSC from California, Volkswagen from Michigan, Hilton from California. So many big companies have decided ‘Hey, we want to be headquartered in Northern Virginia.’ Amazon HQ2. That’s all positive. I just see a very positive future.
The challenges are challenges that kind of go along with that, which is, how about workforce as people move in? One of the reasons they do move in is [that] Virginia has such a good workforce. George Mason, Northern Virginia Community College — they have fantastic programs — Marymount, other universities — but then you see the Virginia Techs and the UVAs, [which] have significant Northern Virginia smaller campuses or operations.
But to continue to stay strong, we’ve got to continue to attract and train great workers, and I think immigration reform is going to have to be a part of that. I would say, challenge one, is we’re succeeding, but that success requires [the] reliability of a highly trained workforce. So we always have to be creative on that.
And then, second thing is, I think, housing costs. Housing costs are tough in Northern Virginia. And they’re tough for the teachers and the community college instructors, and they’re tough for the public safety workers, so trying to be creative around housing.
At the federal level, we can help with that [with] programs like the Low-Income [Housing] Tax Credit Program. If we can expand that, it can be used to be helpful in Northern Virginia. There’s already a lot of low- and moderate-income housing funded through that program in Northern Virginia, but we know we need much more. If I were [a] Northern Virginia chair of a board of supervisors or a mayor, I’d be thinking an awful lot about workforce and about housing. And there are there are ways that both state and federal officials can help in both of those important priorities.
And then third, would you say transportation?
Yeah, I would. Obviously, I feel good about the Silver Line to Dulles. I feel good about the investments we made. I played a major role when I was governor in some of the HOT lanes to expand transportation options. The nice thing about the HOT lanes, on the Beltway and on I-95, is every person that decides ‘I’ll pay for the HOT lane’ — it’s one less car on the lane that everybody else is traveling on, not paying the toll. It really benefits everybody. But I think there’s more need.
I do feel a degree of confidence in Northern Virginia officials on that, and I feel a sense of satisfaction, because in the bipartisan infrastructure bill we did in Congress, we have devoted dramatically more resources to transportation than in any time since the 1950s. And it’s an investment that will play out over the course of about eight years. We’re, like, two years into it now, but more money’s going to be coming for the next number of years and those dollars will help Northern Virginia.
What can we expect with your political future?
I’m very excited to run again. I just feel like I have loved representing Virginians. I’m in a really good position in the committees that I’m on. I’m on Armed Services, where I’m the chairman of the Seapower [and Projection Forces] committee — all Navy and Marine operations, Quantico (where all Marines train, the biggest Navy base in the world down in Hampton Roads), shipbuilding/ship repair.
On the Foreign Relations Committee, I’m the chair of the Americas subcommittee. Virginia’s growing Latino population, they have all kinds of ties back to their nations, where their families came from, and that offers us opportunities in trade [and] cultural exchanges.
And then I’m on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. I work hard on the workforce issues I was talking about — skills training, career and technical education — but then also health issues: mental health, affordability of prescription drugs, and health care generally.
I’ve gotten myself, after 10 years in the Senate, into positions of leadership on three of the most important committees that really impact Northern Virginia and all of Virginia. I’m excited to just keep delivering results, projects like the Silver Line. Not easy, but I’ve stayed at them, and I’ve seen them come to pass, and I have a lot more still on my to-do list.
Any final thoughts?
Again, I love Northern Virginia folks. When I was running for lieutenant governor in 2001, I was this mayor from Richmond and nobody knew me in NoVA, but people have always treated me very, very well. And I just count on some amazing friends and inspirations.
Politics is challenging, but I often say, if I’m having a bad day or wondering about it, I think, ‘You know what, it’s tough. But A., you have a capacity to do good, like the Silver Line, that really matters. And B., who are the people that I have met and become friends with that I never would have met had I not been in politics?’
I can [see] faces of people in Northern Virginia just passing before me as I’m talking to you about these people in Northern Virginia. They might be entrepreneurs. They might be educational leaders. They might run innovative, nonprofit organizations. I’ve just come to know and be inspired by so many cool people that I never would have met had I not been in politics, and that more than makes up for any of the challenges of the job.
Feature image courtesy Tim Kaine