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April 26, 2006

Looking at Mark Warner for 2008

Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner was in town a couple of days ago and I attended a fund-raiser for him for Washington Women for Choice.  I was glad to get to see him up close and came away very appreciative that he is a Democrat candidate for president in 2008 and that he has been asked to actively stump for Democrats running in the red states this year.   

Warner brings a freshness to the Party.  He is less an idealogue and more a pragmatist than many of our Democratic dinosaurs.  He clearly believes in good government.  In fact, in many ways, what he did in Virginia during his tenure as governor would make him right at home in Washington State where we have a governor and legislators who are just moving forward to get the right things done, not making a big deal out of good governing. 

The two ideas of his that jumped out at me were 1) his take on addressing the difficult budgetary issues that all states have to face and 2) his focus on assisting small towns to catch up and thrive and provide the jobs that will enable them to remain where they grew up if they'd like.

Warner talked about the red-ink financial situation he'd had to deal with in his four years in Virginia.  (Virginia allows for only one term for governor so Warner could not run again but instead paved the way for Tim Kaine, also a Democrat, to win last fall.)  Warner said that he had to make hard choices in the budget and had to make choices he did not wish to make.  He raised tobacco taxes in Virginia, a place where the old downtown of Richmond still smells like tobacco from decades worth of tobacco storage long ago. 

The situation forced him and the Republican Assembly in Virginia, which he was able to work with, to think dramatically differently about what should be funded and how they could streamline the services they provided.  Warner had come from the private sector, having co-founded a telecom company that became part of Nextel.  He knew how to work with agency heads and knew how to ask the questions that forced them to think differently about the role of government.  By the time he left office, Virginia was considered the best managed state in the country by Governing magazine.

For me, getting Democrats to do this is like Nixon going to China.  It's critical and, if we could do it, would be near-revolutionary for our Party and for the nation. And clearly, the Republicans aren't doing it. 

The governor talked a lot about the importance of education and his willingness to put money into education before everything else.  Again, he talked about rethinking the way we do education, for example, paying teachers who work in the more difficult schools more money to get the best teachers into the schools that need them the most.  He talked about a special program he inititated to train principles in business techniques.  He talked about making a contract with High School students who are not going on to college: "You graduate and we will make sure that you get an industry-level certificate at a community college so you can raise your annual salary by $6,000 - 10,000 immediately."  The focus and the innovation worked in Virginia.  Numbers of High School graduates climbed significantly during his time in office as did test scores for students.

Warner focused on education both because it is the right thing to do but also because of his passion for making rural Virginia and rural America a place where people can earn good money.  He brought wireless technology to 700,000 Virginians, largely in rural areas, in his four years.  He spent a great deal of energy working with high-tech companies to bring new jobs to the state and as a result, in 2004, Virginia led the nation in tech job creation.  He goes to India and China to find out how to get U.S. companies to outsource to rural America.  He's sharp and he's right.  Without that focus on rebuilding our rural areas, we will wind up like China with an enormous urban/rural economic divide.

It's also good politics.  He believes that the Democratic Party can bring rural Americans back into the fold and provide a new home for moderate Republicans, starting in the rural areas.  So he goes to small towns and listens to what people need. 

Warner's tag line, something he both said and has on his website is: "The real issues we face are no longer right vs. left or conservative vs. liberal. They're about past vs. future. Our challenge, as Democrats, is to reclaim our role as the party of the future."

Much as I liked Warner's stump speech and what I read of his positions and accomplishments on his  PAC website, Forward Together, he has some work to do to connect with his audience.  He doesn't have the less formal time down well.  He was not particularly good during Q&A time, wandering around on answers to the two sets of questions that were on people's minds: the Iraq War and his stance on abortion. Oddly enough, his stances seemed fine, given the red state/blue state territory he has staked out but he wasn't particularly articulate or sharp in how he communicated that.  But it's early and this was the third of five events for the day and every day is about that busy.  So, all and all, I was very glad to get to know where he is and hear his truly great record of accomplishment and innovative focus.

Joel Connelly interviewed Warner for 45 minutes that same day and has a nice piece up today in the PI.      

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 26, 2006 at 12:51 PM in Candidate Races | Permalink

Comments

I want to like this guy, but I'm just not connecting with him. Enjoyed Joel's piece, but really found the NYT Magazine's piece on him to be the most educational. And their knife cut both ways. We'll see...

Posted by: DJ Wilson | Apr 27, 2006 7:00:20 AM

He was in Seattle and no one thought to send an email to all of his Washington supporters? I would think that those of us who have been supporting him from the beginning and are on the email list would get an invite so we know when he is in town. Not everyone reads the blog on a daily or even weekly basis so hopefully going forward there will be some way to keep informed?

Cassie

Posted by: Cascadia | Apr 29, 2006 10:59:33 PM

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