Tim Kaine has been serving as the junior United States senator from Virginia since 2013. Prior to this position, he was Virginia's 38th lieutenant governor from 2002 to 2006 and 70th governor from 2006 to 2010. Kaine was the nominee of the Democratic Party for vice president of the United States in the 2016 election.
Kaine will be facing Corey Stewart, who won the Republican nomination on June 12 after defeating Delegate Nick Freitas and Christian minister E.W. Jackson, in the upcoming United States Senate election in November 2018.
The Collegiate Times and Virginia Tech Television had the opportunity to speak with Kaine about the upcoming election, gun violence, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, civil rights issues in Virginia and the Affordable Care Act.
Q: You were governor of Virginia when Virginia Tech had that shooting back in April 2007. Since then — Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, Santa Fe … This doesn't seem to be a problem that's going away, so what do you believe the answer is to gun violence, but more specifically on school campuses?
Tim Kaine: Well, there are a lot of answers and, yeah, I was the governor in April of 2007, and that was probably the most memorable day of my life for that reason. I was on an economic trade mission and flew back to Virginia Tech and then it has been years. First working with family members, the Tech community and others to study everything that happened. What went wrong? What can be improved? Then to implement positive changes and putting some changes in gun laws in Virginia, and now at the national level where I serve on the committee dealing with both health and education trying to tackle this as a public health matter of significance.
What can be done? First, in the aftermath of the shooting at Virginia Tech we did a study and basically said tell us everything that went wrong. My lawyers at the time, some of them said don't do that, you'll just give people the ability to sue the state. I said I don't care about the law suits. I owe to the families, those who've been injured and the Tech community answers and improvements.
One of the things we learned from that horrible shooting is if your background record check system isn't comprehensive, bad things are gonna happen. Seung-Hui Cho, who was the disturbed young man who committed this mass killing, was barred from having a weapon. He had been adjudicated. Under federal law, he couldn't have a weapon, but he was able to get one because of weaknesses in the background check system.
The first thing we should be doing, some states have done this, we tried it in Congress in 2013 and came close, but frankly we could not get enough Republican votes, we need to have a universal background check system. That is the single thing we can do that will have the most impact on this.
Second, I also support limitations on some kinds of weapons of carnage that were used to commit the crimes. For example, I am a co-sponsor of a bill that would limit the size of magazines that go into weapons.
Often in a shooting, it stopped when a shooter was changing out a magazine. Law enforcement can stop the shooting in Parkland, Florida, when the student who was shooting tried to change the magazine and the gun jammed. That's what stopped that horrible tragedy. I do support meaningful limitations.
It's not just about guns. I think campus and community mental health is really important. Safety protocols, understanding how to give the public notice of situation so that they can protect themselves, that's really important. The right funding for law enforcement is important. We usually are willing to address those things and where Congress has been unable to act.
So far, it has been tough making these meaningful changes to gun laws like universal background check, but I'm gonna keep promoting. I think we are within a very few votes in the House to get into a place where we can do universal background checks, and that will keep us safer.
Q: Another change that almost happened was with the Tax Cuts and Job Act, graduate students almost found themselves paying taxes under greater amount than what they actually receive as a paycheck. It also moved to repeal other higher education benefits. Although it died, there is a potential it could come back in the future. Where do you stand on that?
TK: I voted against the tax bill because I thought it has its priorities wrong. We needed to tax reform, but the bill that the White House and Republican majority pushed was deep permanent tax cuts for corporations, but tiny, temporary expiring tax cuts for people, and I thought the priorities were backwards. The tax reform should be focused on individuals more than corporations.
You are right, the initial proposal would've taxed grad students on what they called tuition waiver. If you are a teaching assistant, there is a tuition at grad school but they tend to waive the tuition because you teach. That was a very foolish proposal and I advocated with Republican colleagues saying, "Look, I know you are gonna vote for this bill, you've cooked it up without Democratic input, but you should take that out." One senator in particular, Susan Collins of Maine, I talked to her a lot about it, and I think she helped convince colleagues to pull that out, but there is certainly an effort on the Republican side to try to bring that back, and I will vigorously oppose trying to tax graduate students on these tuition waivers.
Q: Reflecting back on last year, the violent protest in Charlottesville, and D.C. actually hosted the Unite the Right rally, too. What do you think has changed in that year's span, but also what could be done to avoid violent protests like that from happening in the future?
TK: The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville was a very dark day for this country because, like the horrible tragedy at Tech that led to the loss of life, a paralegal, Heather Heyer, was murdered by a white supremacist and two state troopers who I knew very well who wouldn't been on that day, but they had to be there because these violent people came to Charlottesville had to be there patrolling and their helicopter went down and they were both killed.
We have to stand up against hate. Bottom line is people of good will need to stand up against hate and we need to really practice the values that we teach — Virginia is for lovers or so we say. We are not for haters. Virginia is about equality, that pivotal, North Star value that Jefferson put into the Deceleration of Independence. We have to stand for equality.
We say we are a commonwealth. That means community. We have to act like a community. The first thing we have to do is leaders, everyday citizens have to stand up against hate and division and instead embrace what I called the for-all value. The last two words of the Pledge of Allegiance. We say we are for all and we have to act like it.
Q: You've been fighting to protect the Affordable Care Act. Why should we support it?
TK: When the Affordable Care Act passed, the uninsured rate in this country has gone down to one of the lowest that it's ever been. Women can't get discriminated against in the premiums they are charged. Children can stay on family policies until they are 26. Nobody can be discriminated against based on a pre-existing health condition.
We have to preserve it, and that's a huge difference in the race. I want to preserve it and my opponent wants to repeal it. A repeal effort almost passed in the Senate a year ago, and it would've taken health insurance away from 20 to 30 million Americans. Instead, by saving the Affordable Care Act, we gave the Virginia legislature the ability this year to pass a medical expansion that was part of the Affordable Care Act and 400,000 Virginians, many in southwest Virginia, will get health insurance for the first time in their lives.
We need to maintain it, but we also need to improve health care, and I have a number of ideas, whether it's dealing opioid addiction or moving even further to provide more coverage and bring down cost. We need to continue to improve.
Q: Why should college students, including freshmen who are just 18 years old, go out and vote? We don't really pay attention to tax cuts and tax rates, and sometimes our lives don't even exist outside the Blacksburg campus. So why should we vote?
TK: When I talk to 18-year-olds, I have three 20-somethings. My kids are a little bit older than the 18-year-old, but when I talk to my kids and their friends, they care deeply about equality.
If you care about equality to all, elections matter and the two sides are different. If you care about the cost of education, you want affordable college, you want to have Stafford Loan, votes in elections really matter to you. If you believe in science and worry about climate change, for example, elections really matter to you.
The first reason to participate is because there is a huge difference between the candidates. There is a huge difference between the parties on issues that matter to young people.
The second reason to participate is there is not just a difference between the candidates; you make a difference. Elections in Virginia are close. They are close. We've had two statewide races in the last 10 years that had been decided by less than 500 votes. We have one legislative race that was decided essentially by a coin flip because it was tied.
Young people when they participate can be the difference maker in any election. I think sometimes young people know that on issues there are differences but they sort of think, “but do we make a difference?” In a state like Virginia where the elections are so close, I can tell you young voters make a difference.
If you care about education cost, if you care about equality, if you care about science, if you care about health care, you actually have the ability to make a difference in the policies that we put in place, and that's where I think engagement is so important. That's why I'm so happy to see last year in Virginia, and this year too, so many young candidates, first-time candidates, active voting, volunteering, canvassing by college students. That's really important.