Governor-elect Kaine on his historic inaugurationTim Kaine is the first governor to be inaugurated on the site of the colonial Capitol in Williamsburg since Thomas Jefferson. December 26, 2005
Lloyd Dobyns: Hi! Welcome to Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present on history.org. We’re on location today in Richmond, Virginia. As odd as it sounds, we’re here because of the first inauguration in Williamsburg since 1779. I’m Lloyd Dobyns, and today I am talking to Tim Kaine, Virginia’s governor-elect.
Lloyd: The obvious question: You will be the first man since Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to be inaugurated in Williamsburg. Does that give you any special feeling?
Tim Kaine: Oh, it does. When the bill was put in last year to change the inauguration to Williamsburg, you know I was very interested in that, and of course was in the midst of a tough race that I hoped I would win, but I thought about what it would be like to stand at the colonial Capitol reconstruction and be there in Williamsburg, when we haven’t been in Williamsburg since Jefferson’s inauguration, and it is a very, very powerful thing – and it’s going to be an exciting day.
Lloyd: Legally, it doesn’t make any difference. I mean, anybody could give you the oath, and you could be standing in a corn field, and you’re the governor.
Tim: (Laughs) Right, that’s true.
Lloyd: I don’t know, I was trying to think what it would do for me, and I am afraid I would always think of myself as sort of, “Wow, Thomas Jefferson stood here, too.”
Tim: Well, I’ll think that, I told my mom when the election was over, I said, “Well, you know the inauguration is going to be in Williamsburg, and that will mean Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Tim Kaine are the three governors inaugurated there, and who knows when the next one will be? It might be a while.” She thought it was pretty cool.
It’s also kind of nice, because I was the mayor of Richmond, and the reason Richmond is the capital is that Jefferson moved the capital to Richmond, and so, the inaugurations have been here because of a decision that Jefferson made with the legislature. And, to sort of go back to the place from whence Jefferson made that decision, that’s neat. It’s also a great historical moment just because of the coming 400th Jamestown commemoration, and during this term, we’ll talk a lot about what it means to be a Virginian, what are the Virginia values that have been worthy not just of celebration in the past but carrying forward into the future. And, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to go to Williamsburg as we begin to talk about this 400 years of Virginia and what it means.
Lloyd: When you think about Jamestown 400 years ago, what part of it do you remember, or think about, or feel close to, or…?
Tim: A lot of different things – some thoughts: I know that the scholarship on this is…there’s some debate back and forth about the Pocahontas story, but you know it strikes me as an interesting thing that if the conventional story is somewhat accurate, that an original Virginia value has to be hospitality to new Americans.
If Pocahontas hadn’t saved John Smith’s life twice, you know maybe it would be different. There were Spaniards here before there were English here, but they were killed, and so we’re not celebrating the Spanish civilization in this part of North America; we’re celebrating the English civilization. And clearly – at least that conventional story suggests – that the spirit of welcome, even amidst some tense times to John Smith and the English, is an original Virginia value. That’s something that I think is a powerful part of the Jamestown story.
The other thing that is a powerful part of the Jamestown story is ordinary common people doing extraordinary things. You know, a lot of the leaders of the Virginia Company expedition were sort of…I kind of view them as like the lazier second son of noble families, and they didn’t have anything better for them to do so, “hey, go off and be part of this expedition.”
Whereas John Smith was kind of the commoner among them who was often in chains or about to be pushed over the side, but at critical times when a lot of those early settlers really didn’t know what to do, it was the ingenuity of the commoner – in learning the language of the Powhatan, in establishing trading relations with them, in knowing how to defend the settlement, or prepare for a harsh winter – it was the ingenuity of the commoner that saved their skin. So that’s a really powerful lesson from Jamestown about what has become this great democracy we have, that the ingenuity of commoners is something that often is the guarantor of success.
Lloyd: Well, you and I can accept the Pocahontas story, because John Marshall – another Richmond man – in 1804 wrote the history of Pocahontas and John Smith, and if he accepted it, I accept it.
Tim: It’s good enough for both of us. Right.
Lloyd: I’ll take it. It’s also the 225th anniversary – next year – of Yorktown, which is another great Virginia victory that everybody should remember. Any part of that you remember especially well?
Tim: Well, I remember as a kid growing up and reading the stories, and never thinking – when I grew up in the Midwest – never thinking that I would be living in this place and sort of experiencing all this history more on a daily basis, and that cradle, sort of, from settlement to victory – Jamestown to Yorktown – is really a powerful place, and it’s going to be great during this term to celebrate the 400th, to celebrate the 225th anniversary, to go back to Williamsburg for the inauguration. We’re going to be able to do a lot of things that remind us of our history.
I think it was Faulkner who said that history is the attempt to create a usable past, and I think that it has to be used. History, if it is just about the past, you’re not really gaining the virtue out of it. It’s got to be about the future. And so, talking about these 400 years of history, again, hopefully it is a discussion that is less about the museum version, but what are the values that ought to inform us as we tackle the new challenges we have?
Lloyd: You have obviously run for office, you talk to people all the time, you try and get them to vote… One of the concerns that I have at the moment – and other people at Colonial Williamsburg have – is that people have forgotten how to be citizens.
Lloyd: Have you found that?
Tim: Yes, I have. I think I’m a natural optimist, but there are a few things that make me somewhat pessimistic and one of the things I worry a great deal about is the decline in voting turnout. You know, I lived in a country in Central America for a year where you were not allowed to vote. It was a military government, and nobody could vote for anything. And to talk to people there about how they prayed for the day when they could pick their own leaders, and then eventually that happened after I had left, and people waited in line, you know, and came the day before so they could pick their own leaders… You see what a powerful thing representative democracy is, and yet we have too many people here who take it for granted.
The governor’s election that I just won in…about 45 percent, maybe 46 percent of the registered voters voted in that race. There are people who are eligible to vote who don’t even register, so maybe it was 40 percent of the eligible voters, and that means about 21 percent of eligible voters, or 22 percent, voted for me. That’s down 25 percent from when my father-in-law, Linwood Holton, was elected. If it drops 25 percent in the next 30 years, then we’re ending up with elections for governor where [we’ll have] 30 percent or 25 percent [turnout]…you know, we’ll have turnout less than in the days of Williamsburg when you had to be a free white man of property to vote, and yet we’ve made it available to everyone!
So, I’m perplexed by that, and I don’t know exactly what to do to turn it around, but I’m strongly a believer that we’ve got to turn it around, or we’ll have to think of a different name for the form of government we have, because “democracy” won’t really apply.
Lloyd: Hmmm…I hadn’t taken it quite that far, but I guess you’re right, if people don’t take part, we’re finished.
Lloyd: Jefferson – the last man before you to be sworn in as governor there – until the day he died was very proud of his accomplishments in transportation and education. 200 or more years later, you are still worried about transportation and education, which sort of makes you wonder, is it ever going to get totally solved?
Tim: Well, no, I mean it would be easier to at some point say you solved some transportation challenges than education. You know, education is never going to be solved. Jefferson’s great thought that the way to inspire progress was to diffuse knowledge broadly among the general population…you know that is an endless quest. I mean, he never would have imagined the day where with a computer and a search engine and Internet access you could download every bit of digitized knowledge at your desk.
And yet that is sort of what he was talking about, but he was eerily prescient in kind of describing what [became] the driver of progress. But the quest to diffuse knowledge and opportunity among the general population is an endless quest, because there is always more knowledge and opportunity that’s found and how to get that out into every corner of the state and every corner of the world, we’ll always be doing that. And so, we’re doing in Virginia a great job in education in a lot of ways, but the world competition is tougher. We’ve got to do better.
On the transportation side, Jefferson did do a lot – projects along rivers, defined river access to move commerce and people…and we have huge challenges in Virginia, and they are very different challenges. I think maybe it’s in the nature of all of our lives that we’re always trying to catch up. We grow and we expand, and more people come to Virginia because we’re doing a lot of things well, and we’re always trying to catch up with that, and that will make transportation a tough issue, too, but I believe that in this next term we are going to do some meaningful things in transportation that will provide a basic fix for our system for the next generation or so.
Lloyd: I am wondering about transportation and education. The part I wonder about education, we now have the Internet, we have all this knowledge – have we gotten to the point that we have too much knowledge? Do we know too much?
Tim: (Pauses) Well…you could…I’ve wondered…one of my favorite writers is Gabriel García Márques, and he and some other of the Latin American novelists have written kind of poignantly at a time in the 70s or 80s about what it is to be a writer in a culture where a lot of people don’t read and are illiterate. We’re in a different situation – what it is to be a writer or a thinker, to put out words in a culture where there’s such an avalanche of words that the value of any particular word can just be drowned out – and whether it is a word on a page or a word on a TV screen or one of 500 satellite channels…and now the computer.
Education is about knowledge, in Jefferson’s words, the diffusion of knowledge, but knowledge isn’t just about facts, knowledge is also about the critical ability to discriminate between things that are worth knowing and things that aren’t very important. That’s an endless challenge. I’m not sure humankind will ever be at the point where that isn’t a huge challenge that we all face. So, no matter what ways we get knowledge, the training to discriminate in your mind between those things that are important and those things we don’t need to worry about, that’s the kind of task we’ve had ever since Eve ate the apple, I think.
Lloyd: I was just thinking if we could get people to discriminate between the value of voting and the value of not voting…
Tim: Right, I tell people on the not voting, when I meet with youngsters, what I say is look, you wouldn’t let somebody pick your boyfriend or girlfriend for you; you wouldn’t let somebody pick how you spend the money that you earn at your job and tell you that you’ve got to do this, so why let somebody pick your own leaders for you? Because if you don’t participate, it’s not like you’re just not participating, no, you’re letting the people who do participate choose who is going to be your leader – why would you do that? That’s what I try to tell youngsters who are getting ready to maybe register to vote, but yeah, again, it’s a huge challenge.
Lloyd: The inauguration in Williamsburg is January 14. That’s Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present on history.org. Check back often. We’ll post more for you to download and hear.