The Collegian
Monday, March 27, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Kaine hopes to bring leadership from classroom to White House

<p>Tim Kaine speaks at VMI's commencement&nbsp;in May 2016.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Photo courtesy of Flickr</em></p>

Tim Kaine speaks at VMI's commencement in May 2016. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Three years ago, Sen. Tim Kaine was teaching Leadership Studies to University of Richmond seniors in Jepson room 101. Tomorrow, he hopes to be elected Vice President of the United States of America, and the framework of his class at Richmond will become the foundation for his goals in the White House. In an exclusive interview with The Collegian, Kaine laid out his and Hillary Clinton's hopes for the American people.

Kaine, whom Clinton chose as her running mate on July 23, lives in Richmond, Virginia, where he served as mayor from 1998–2001 and governor of Virginia from 2006–2010. A former Richmond law-school professor, Kaine returned to University of Richmond to teach undergraduates after his governorship ended. He found that the university had become dramatically more competitive.

“When I first taught at UR, from 1987 to 1993, I was teaching at the law school,” Kaine said. “The university was two-thirds Virginian and one-third out-of-state students, and when I came back to the school from 2010 to 2013, it was two-thirds out-of state and one-third Virginian. So really it’s a wonderful institution and things like the Jepson school and the undergraduate business program have attracted students from all over the country. It’s a great school.”

Kaine taught a course called “Leadership Breakthroughs,” which chronicled and analyzed advances in American history throughout the 20th century, including the Manhattan project and the NAACP’s role in ending segregation.

“Leadership is most often needed to push organizations and causes toward steady improvement and incremental change,” Kaine wrote in his syllabus for the course. “But, there are moments when leadership is needed to produce big leaps forward, dramatically changing what came before. This course will explore the personal traits, organizational circumstances, social conditions, accidents of fate and timing that can lead to monumental change.”

Kaine, who over time taught the course as sitting Democratic National Committee Chairman and a sitting U.S. Senator, made a point to connect with students. He always arrived 30 minutes before class began and stayed 30 minutes after class ended to make up for his lack of office hours.

“He’s one of those guys who just as a person can connect with you,” said a former student of Kaine’s at Richmond, who asked not to be identified because of his employer. “That was always one of the most amazing things I found about him, just how easy he was to talk to, how relatable he was. He seemed to care what was going on, whether we were chatting about what us students did on the weekend or bigger issues, he really seemed to care about everything we talked about.”

Kaine is now on the verge of the opportunity to rewrite the history books he used to assign in class, and his course on leadership breakthroughs offers an excellent window into how he and Clinton will solve the challenges facing the nation if elected. The Clinton-Kaine ticket first plans to break through the glass ceiling.

“(Hillary’s) election would be a breakthrough, because we haven’t had a woman president, and more broadly, we’ve made it very difficult in this country for women to be elected to federal office,” Kaine said. “Congress right now is 19 percent women, and that ranks 75th in the world in the percentage of women in our national legislative body, far below the global average. Iraq is 26 percent. Afghanistan is 28 percent. Rwanda is nearly 65 percent.”

That campaign rhetoric has contrasted strongly with Donald Trump’s misogyny this election season, creating an electoral map in which women overwhelmingly favor Clinton. But Kaine said he believed that after 44 male presidencies, the first female president in American history would have an impact for generations.

“The election of Hillary Clinton, in the same way that happened when President Obama was elected, it will immediately create a group of successors who never had been able to see themselves as president of the United States and now they can,” Kaine said. “And if you can see yourself as president of the United States, you can see yourself doing anything. So that’s the breakthrough that if we win Tuesday night will be immediate.”

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Of the series of challenges confronting the nation, Clinton and Kaine hope to achieve two other breakthroughs in their first 100 days in office.

“First, putting a really significant jobs-and-economy bill on the table to make sure we have an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” Kaine said. “The GDP’s growing again, 15.5 million new private sector jobs under President Obama, 3.5 million people moved upward out of poverty between 2014 and 2015, but there’s still too many people who don’t see the ladder for success for themselves for a whole variety of reasons.”

The second breakthrough Kaine hopes to achieve is in immigration, he said.

“After 30 years, we need to have comprehensive immigration reform,” Kaine said. “President Reagan did it in a bipartisan way in 1986, and Hillary and I have pledged that we’re gonna put that on the table within the first 100 days....there’s so many other issues, from climate change to affordable college to a community of respect where we don’t insult and divide against one another but we work around the table to solve our problems."

Kaine was raised in Kansas City and attended Missouri University before graduating from Harvard Law in 1983, but it was his time as a 22-year-old Catholic missionary in Honduras helping deeply impoverished people that cemented his worldview.

In Richmond, like Honduras, Kaine’s reputation was built on defending the defenseless. He won critical lawsuits defending African-Americans from discriminatory housing practices in the 1990s. In 2013, Kaine argued for immigration reform in a speech on the Senate floor entirely in Spanish, the first time in American history that a Senate speech had been given in a language other than english.

On Thursday, Kaine made another first when he delivered the first speech entirely in Spanish during a U.S. presidential campaign in Phoenix, Arizona. His speech took direct aim at Trump’s divisive rhetoric toward hispanics.

"(Kaine) believes that there is good in every person and that satisfaction in life comes from what you do for others rather than what you do for yourself," said a former Kaine intern, who asked not to be identified because of political affiliations. "And it's that deep belief in others, all others, that drives his personal optimism and message of hope for the future."

If Clinton and Kaine win the election — “Si Dios quiere” as Kaine quickly interjects, which means “God Willing” in Spanish — their goal will be unifying the country. Kaine said he believed the American electorate was the most divided it has been since 1976, when the country was gripped by the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon’s impeachment and the end of the Vietnam War.

“All of our energy is going to be focused on the real task, which is how to bring the nation together,” Kaine said. “This is always what a winning presidential ticket must do, because there’s always division.”

In a country as markedly divided as the U.S. in 2016, bridging the chasm that is American politics is perhaps the most ambitious of any breakthroughs Kaine hopes to achieve.

“The words we say and the team we put together and the policies we promote, we have to show that we want to be an administration for everybody,” Kaine said. “That is going to be the job when we wake up Wednesday morning if we are successful."

Contact reporter Danny Heifetz at

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