January 13th, 2009
05:10 PM ET

New DNC chair – not the reformer you think

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/04/dnc.tim.kaine/art.tim.kaine.gi.jpg caption="Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine claps during an August campaign event for Barack Obama in Virginia."]

Leslie Sanchez
CNN Political Contributor
Republican Strategist | BIO

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and President-elect Barack Obama are friends and allies.

Kaine was probably the first prominent national political figure to endorse Obama’s presidential bid. And at a time when most people were still at the "Oh, won't he make a nice running mate for Hillary," stage.

Obama owed Kaine something, something tangible, something important. He gave it to him when he named him his choice to replace Howard Dean as Democratic National Committee chairman.

On paper, Kaine is a moderate southerner, a DLC-type comporting to the centrist image Obama is trying to project. Kaine is very much the anti- Dean, but he knows how the game is played even if his selection puts him at odds with the liberals who comprise the Obama-nation.

Conventional wisdom has that Kaine, a fluent Spanish speaker, represents "the party of tomorrow", as E.J. Dionne, Jr., put it recently in The Washington Post, citing a top Obama adviser’s description of Kaine as "a pragmatic progressive, less concerned about orthodoxies than about getting things done."

Maybe, maybe not.

In a move little noticed outside of his home state, Kaine’s proposed biennial budget cuts funding for public education by 7 percent. N. Va. School Systems Bracing for State Aid Cuts the Post's Metro section headlined on December 30, on page B1, inside the paper.

"Local officials are still sifting through Maine's proposed $425 million cut," the article said, advising the cuts would amount to "substantial losses for schools to absorb as they prepare fiscal 2010 budgets."

Almost half a billion in education cuts? He has some explaining to do. Kaine campaigned on being an education governor; now he’s blaming the bad economy as the reason for the cuts. But according to the way Democrats talk about taxes and spending, the tough times shouldn’t be a problem.

Kaine’s predecessor as governor, Mark Warner, campaigned against raising taxes. When he got into office he claimed things were worse off than he thought so, with the help of some Republicans in the State Senate, he pushed through taxes increases that were supposed to provide more money for, yes, you guessed it, roads and education.

So, where education is concerned, between the Warner tax hike and the state lottery, which also goes to education, Virginia should have plenty of education money – except - according to Kaine – it doesn’t.

A national party chairman who starts off by cutting education spending in his home state by almost 10 percent is probably not part of the image of "getting things done" the Obama Democrats want to project to the nation.

Had this been a Republican nominee for chairman, the push back would be swift and toxic. But don't expect howls of outrage from the education establishment in Virginia or nationally. The Virginia Education Association responded, but only meekly, in a manner reminiscent of Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.

"We thank the Governor for cutting education less than any other program," the VEA said. "Thank the Governor?" So much for the barred fangs that appear anytime a Republican suggests a reduction in the increase of spending, let alone proposes real and permanent cuts.

But what Kaine wants, even though he’s using the image of tough economic times to sell it, include changes to the underlying formula for education funding that would reduce funding permanently.

This is no small issue. Recall the Democrat's repeated attacks on George W. Bush and the Republican majority in Congress in 2004 and 2006 over their failure to "fully fund" Bush's "No Child Left Behind." “Fully” funding translates, by the way, into “Yes, you are spending more but it’s not as much as we want so we’re going to attack you.”

Led by Senators John F. Kerry and Ted Kennedy, the Democrats and their allies were ruthless, portraying Bush and the GOP as enemies of education and, by extension, children.

It's enough to make your head spin. Bush does things to improve and increase federal funding for education and yet is relentlessly attacked. Kaine hacks education spending and is faintly praised by his own state's teachers' union.

And just what, by the way, is the Bush education record. Well, according to a fact sheet issued recently by the White House, "No Child Left Behind" has led to African-American and Hispanic students posting "all-time highs" in a number of areas. Because of “NCLB”, all 50 states have accountability plans in place for the first time. And the achievement gap has narrowed since Bush came into office.

But you don't hear very much about these accomplishments. And when you don't hear much about the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee proposing more than $400 million in state education funding cuts, it shouldn't be a surprise that the good news doesn't travel very far.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Democrats • Education • Leslie Sanchez • Raw Politics
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. xtina, chicago IL

    “No Child Left Behind” has led to African-American and Hispanic students posting “all-time highs” in a number of areas. Because of “NCLB”, all 50 states have accountability plans in place for the first time. And the achievement gap has narrowed since Bush came into office.

    and the media isn't making this a top story?

    January 13, 2009 at 7:39 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    So he's a champion of education? Good thing he's for education and not against it – otherwise just think how large the cut would have been. I'm so glad he didn't get the VEEP nod with Obama.

    January 13, 2009 at 6:52 pm |
  3. JC- Los Angeles

    Let's see: all Kaine has to do to ingratiate himself to normal, hard working Americans, is refuse, unlike Terry McCauliffe, to accept $13 million in Global Crossing stock options for giving a few lousy speeches.

    The media may portray these types as voices of the people, however, as Terry McCauliffe will attest, the job pays real well.

    January 13, 2009 at 6:50 pm |