With Sen. Jim Webb and Sen. Mark Warner unable to attend the DPVA Central Committee meeting because the US Senate was busy working on health care reform (good excuse, and they did send video statements), the highlight of the meeting for many people in attendance was the speech that Gov. Tim Kaine gave. Although he’s obviously going to remain very active since he’s the DNC Chair, this weekend’s event was the last quarterly DPVA meeting that would be held while he’s the governor of Virginia. People were therefore very interested in hearing he thoughts on the last few years and how we can move forward after a devastating election last month.
Kaine’s speech had three different major themes which I will touch on (I’ve also divided it up with the youtube segments to match the three themes). The first segment is Kaine’s reflection on how he moved to Virginia in order marry his wife and became a civil rights lawyer, but eventually became involved in politics. He then highlighted some of his personal electoral victories, but focused on how the Democratic Party as a whole has strengthened significantly here in Virginia during the last few years. Kaine mentioned how this can be seen by the fact that we now have a majority in the state Senate, two Democratic US Senators, and a Democratic majority in our delegation to the House of Representatives.
The second portion of the speech focused on the big elephant in the room – the election last November where we lost all three statewide races and lost a net total of six seats in the House of Delegates. For many of the people who I spoke to while in Staunton, this was the portion of the speech people were anxious to hear. While a lot of people were expecting a version of “everything is going to be okay,” there was a real sentiment that it would be nice to hear Kaine or someone else come out and admit that Democrats performed poorly in 2009 and that we needed to take away some concrete lessons from the election.
What we got from Gov. Kaine was something in the middle. He stressed that one of the main reasons we lost was that there was an enthusiasm gap, which he argued was as a result of Republicans being really energized after having lost for several years in a row here in Virginia. While this certainly is true, I think his speech failed to take into consideration the plain and simple fact that part of the enthusiasm gap was a result of candidates running away from Democratic values. Fortunately, there were a lot of people in the crowd who seemed to understand this concept. In casual conversations throughout the weekend, for instance, a lot of people spoke about how we learned that we cannot run as Republican Lite (a frequent phrase during the event) and still expect to rally the base and win elections.
The final portion of Kaine’s speech was very good as he spoke about being Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and what it means to be a Democrat. To help illustrate the point that we need to create policy that looks out for working class families, Kaine spoke about the health care clinic that’s held in Wise County each year. He even pointed out how the event reminded him of the missionary work that he did in Honduras – but this in the United States of America and not one of the poorest countries in the world like Honduras.
Kaine continued by pointing out that with the majority in Congress and the White House, we need to get things done that help to solve problems like the lack of health care that sends so many people to the free clinic in Wise County. It’s his job as DNC job to help the president pass legislation that creates those solutions. This portion was Kaine at his highest and represents what we should be focusing on as Democrats. Although I think he could have been more specific here about how these values need to be actively promoted by our candidates, I sincerely hope that we remember this portion of the speech as we move forward to 2010.