My first impressions of Tim Kaine

Julie Stauch, a veteran of many Democratic campaigns and five inaugurals, shares her memories from working with Tim Kaine. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In 2005, after the Virginia statewide elections, I was hired as a consultant to work with the Governor’s Inaugural staff team to help put on a successful Inaugural and launch of the administration of then Governor-elect Tim Kaine. It was my fifth inaugural consulting job, the fourth governor’s inaugural. My role was to help the staff team, largely campaign employees who had a great understanding of the new governor-elect, the state, constituents, supporters, and the candidate’s family and friends, but no idea about how to put this together, as well as no idea about how to deal with the pace of decisions and the planning process. While what I actually did as a consultant varied with each state and the Inaugural staff team, the nature of the events varied only slightly based on the personality and leadership style of the governor-elect and local custom.

Within twenty-four hours of my arrival I was to meet with Tim Kaine, his wife Anne Holton, the head of his transition team, the head of his inaugural team, the press secretary and a few other key staff, to give an overview of the types of decisions needed for the Inaugural, the work priorities, and what they most needed to know from us.

The meeting was to be held in the evening at the private home of Tim and Anne. (This meeting was a surprise to me, as only one other governor-elect ever met with me and that was a day or two before the Inaugural was to begin, my role to be available for questions as the Inaugural Director ran the meeting.) I asked the Inaugural Director for guidelines on what to say and do, and he looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “Tell them what they need to know, what decisions they’ll have to make and when we need the information. Answer their questions. It will be very informal.” And it was.

Our car was stopped by the Governor’s security detail as we pulled up to the house, we parked on the street and went in the back door into the kitchen. Chaos reigned! It was that good kind of chaos with kids running around, people leaving from the meeting before, others arriving, the food delivery arrival and introductions shouted over the noise. It was very much like the home of any of my friends with kids, or even my own home when our son was still in public school.

Both Tim and Anne were out of their work clothes and in comfy worn jeans and t-shirts. They both supervised the BBQ delivery and ushered us all through serving ourselves before heading to the dining room where we were to eat and meet.

Anne sat at the end of the table by the windows, Tim sat at the end near the kitchen. I sat to the left of Tim and across from the press guy. With ten of us at the table, there were quickly multiple conversations going on about a variety of different things. Tim said to me, “I never realized that someone could become specialized at putting Governor’s Inaugurals together.” I laughed and said, “Neither did I, but here I am. It’s one of those things that someone asks, ‘Could you help with this?’ and I say yes and figure it out. If you figure out one, you can figure out two. Now I’m considered an expert, when I’m just doing what needs to be done.” He laughed and nodded his understanding.

Once everyone was done eating we arrived at the serious discussion. I presented my overview and then took questions. Anne and Tim were very concerned about family and close friends who they described as “not very political” and would need help sorting through how things would work. We talked about how to handle invitations – always one of the worst challenges – and how to make sure we didn’t accidentally leave someone out or make it hard for them to get what they needed. We talked about theme and what impression they were seeking for the launch of Governor Kaine’s administration. Tim spoke extensively about the concern that all of Virginia be as much a part of this celebration as possible, particularly finding a way to acknowledge where the state has been and where we need to go. The points he made during this discussion helped me get a sense of how we needed to craft several of the key events, and insights into Tim, the most powerful insight being his focus on others.

One of the challenges faced by the Inaugural committee – both the Governor-elect’s committee and the Virginia General Assembly Inaugural committee – was to identify where would the Inaugural be held, as the traditional site at the State Capitol was not available due to expansive repair of the Capitol building. If they went to Williamsburg, what could be done to ensure that all of the Richmond people had a place at the event, as well as a chance to be fully a part of the celebration?

The Kaine-Holton family were active members at their nearby Catholic Church and wanted to have the choir sing at the Inaugural prayer service. They made a point of making sure I’m aware that most of the church members were poor and black and, to the larger group, that we should make sure if there are costs associated with their participation those costs should be included in the Inaugural budget. Tim mentioned a specific priest, a close family friend, who would work with other religious leaders to organize the prayer service and that the service was not specific to any one religion. I was taking notes and asking for names to be repeated as they rattled off different religious leaders, Christian, Muslim and Jewish to contact for advice and in several cases Tim was sharing phone numbers of several of the religious leaders from his phone.

Anne was stepping down from her role as a juvenile court judge in order to be First Lady of Virginia and made the point specifically to me that she has stayed out of all campaign matters and so it would be important to her to have some additional briefing support as she won’t know any of these people. We talked about the First Lady’s Luncheon, a Virginia tradition that is held the day after the Inaugural, where the new First Lady speaks to the audience about what she intends to do in her new leadership role. The decision was made at that table to appoint a specific Inaugural staff member to work directly with Anne, who would make sure that Anne had the additional support she needed to have a successful launch in her new role and also help provide the support to the family and friends group, as well.

Anne asked at one point, “What problems have you experienced at other Inaugurals? How can we make sure to avoid those problems in Virginia?” Which led to a wide ranging discussion about invitations, ticketing, seating limitations at events, working with donors to the Inaugural, gifts, entertainment, staffing and volunteers.

At one point during the meeting their daughter came into the room and tried to pull Anne away from the meeting. Anne told her she could sit with her and listen, or go play with the sitter who was available to the kids during the meeting. Their daughter ended up staying and listening and asking a few questions herself in a way that emulated her parents.

After two hours and many, many details, the meeting wrapped up and we left to return to the Inaugural offices. The Inaugural director asked me, “What do you think?” That’s when I told him this was the first time I’d ever had this level of up-front feedback from a Governor-elect and their leadership team. Just from observing the people, the interactions, the discussions and the level of engagement, I told him, “I’m a bit jaded and hard to impress and I am amazed by these people. They were fully engaged, caring about the guests, and wanting to make sure that it set the tone they are seeking for Tim’s administration. While I can’t give specifics yet, having this sense of these people will help me make recommendations that should be a better fit for the two of them.”

As with all Inaugurals, it was a grueling seven weeks of work, dealing with a myriad of decisions and actions. We ended up with Tim Kaine being sworn in at the first Capitol of Virginia in Williamsburg where the last governor to be sworn in at that location was Thomas Jefferson. The feel of every event had a genesis in that informal dinner meeting and the care of the guests remained so high priority, that when rain was pending about ten days out, the director of the Inaugural ordered 10,000 rain ponchos to hand out to every guest. The Washington Post described the event as “flawlessly executed.” I can tell you that this is the kind of work Tim Kaine and Anne Holton do, and when you work with them, you meet their standard.

I am thrilled that Tim Kaine has been selected to run with Hillary Clinton. These are two people who care about people and take actions. My experience was small, but powerful, and I can’t wait to see what these two can do working together.

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