For a professor and his pupil, politics align
In the fall of 1989, Mark Herring was up early on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The University of Richmond law student punched the alarm and made his way to a class often referenced as one of the most drab courses forced upon those ambitious, soon-to-be lawyers: legal ethics.
“Historically, law students find that class pretty dull,” Herring said. “It’s a necessary class, we have to learn it … but it can get a little tedious and a little dry, compared to classes like Constitutional Law.”
Herring, however, wasn’t one of the students who strolled in still half-asleep, his professor recalls.
“It was an early class. So you had the students that you could tell weren’t awake just yet,” the professor says. “I don’t remember that being Mark. He was pretty active in the class.”
That adjunct professor, a young attorney named Tim Kaine, was born just a few years before many of his pupils. Still, he made an attempt to enlighten his students on the importance of public service. While in the early 1990s Kaine had yet to hold an elected office, he held high regard for civic service. He also married into a political bloodline; his wife, Anne Holton, who he wed in 1984, is the daughter of Linwood Holton, the 61st governor of Virginia.
As for Kaine the instructor, Herring remembers a great deal from legal ethics. The professor wasn’t exactly by-the-book. Being a two-day-a-week, one hour, 15-minute course, Kaine split the class into two sessions, said Herring. There was the textbook, technical minutiae for block one, followed by an open dialogue, during which students would discuss what it meant to be a lawyer, what constitutes ethical behavior and what it takes to navigate the high road of the law.
“Of course, the perfect scenario was when you could refer your discussion back to what was in the text,” Herring says. “But it was really just set up to be a discussion on what it meant to be a lawyer.”
The Tennessee-born, Virginia-raised Herring went on to graduate cum laude from Richmond. He wouldn’t cross paths with Kaine again for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, the capital city would serve as the essential birthplace for Kaine’s rise to political prominence. He won a seat on city council in 1994 and, four years later, was selected by his colleagues to be mayor. Indeed, those are highly political positions, but Kaine says he views it more as a call to public service. And that’s something he pushed to instill in the minds of his students.
Herring took note. Following law school graduation in 1990, he returned to Loudoun County and made Leesburg home, both to build a family and a political career of his own.
Herring got a small dose of civic life as the town attorney for Lovettsville from 1992-1999. In 2000, he took a larger leap, winning the Leesburg district seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
Still growing his name among Democrats in Loudoun and Northern Virginia, Herring was at a fundraiser in Leesburg for U.S. Sen. Chuck Robb in 2000 when he saw a face he recognized, but couldn’t immediately place. It was that of his former professor.
“I remember seeing somebody and thinking, ‘I know you, what are you doing here?’” Herring recalls. “He looked at me and thought, ‘what are you doing here?’”
The two glad-handed, reconnected, and Kaine revealed to his former student he was considering a run for lieutenant governor.
Soon after the event for Robb, Kaine called Herring to ask if he would help the statewide candidate garner support and make inroads in Loudoun.
“My response was, ‘you’re very smart, and your heart is in the right place,’” Herring said. “And I will absolutely support you and work as hard as I can for you in Loudoun.”
When Kaine won the lieutenant governor’s race in 2001, Herring and his wife Laura went to Richmond a couple months later for the inauguration. But by the time the Leesburg couple made their way to the capital grounds, the crowd was already overflowing. The Herrings were unable to secure a space from which they could clearly see the ceremonial swearing-ins.
Then a car pulled up, Herring remembers. Out stepped Kaine, who somehow spotted Herring through a stream of of people.
Herring recalls, “He yelled out to us, ‘Hey, Mark. Hey, Laura.”
“And that’s the kind of guy Tim Kaine is. He was so busy and that was such a big day for him. Yet he saw us and recognized us and was sure to say hey.”
Kaine and Herring persisted on a path to higher office. Kaine climbed the commonwealth ladder and in 2005 won the election to become the 70th governor of Virginia. During his final year in office, Kaine served as the chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association. He’s currently in a tight 2012 race for a U.S. Senate seat against George Allen, another former Virginia governor.
After losing his first bid for the Virginia State Senate in 2003, Herring won a 2006 special election to replace Republican Bill Mims in the 33rd district. The seat came open after Mims accepted a position in then-attorney general Bob McDonnell’s office. As with Kaine, Herring holds familial political ties; his stepfather, Charles Waddell, formerly held the 33rd district seat.
In July, following months of rumors, Herring announced a 2013 bid for the state’s attorney general post, a position with a history of leading to higher statewide office.
While Herring still has a ways to go before his name is as known statewide as Kaine’s, his political stock continues to grow. In the Virginia senate, he’s become a go-to voice to contest Republican proposals.
On a Northern Virginia-heavy issue, Phase Two of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, both Kaine and Herring lobbied vehemently to see that Metro made its way to the Dulles airport and into Loudoun County.
As governor, Kaine signed off on the bipartisan deal that handed control of the Dulles rail project to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). While Kaine has taken criticism for transferring the project to MWAA, he maintains that Metro to Dulles had to “get off the drawing board,” and giving the authority management power was the best way to do that.
For his part, Herring was a major advocate for more Virginia state funding to the massive transportation and infrastructure Metro project.
Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, labeled both Herring and Kaine “moderate Democrats, leaning progressive.”
“They are believers in good government and not prone to populist-style attacks on government institutions,” Rozell, an author of nine books about U.S. politics and government, said. “They both are steeped in policy and governing details more than the usual politicians. Either could do a really fine job leading a graduate policy seminar at my academic unit.”
Herring’s outcome in the 2013 race for attorney general could go far in determining his future in statewide Virginia politics.
“So much, as usual, will depend on what happens at the top of the ticket,” Rozell said. “In these off-year state elections, the public pays attention to the gubernatorial race, but little focus is placed on the lieutenant governor and attorney general races.”
As for Kaine, Rozell says it took some “real arm-twisting” to get him in this year’s Senate race.
“I don’t think [Kaine] was at all hungry for it,” Rozell notes. “Whether for the good of his own party, or his view of the public good, he decided to run against George Allen and try to save that seat for the Democrats.”
Whatever it was that nudged him into the race, Kaine’s chances look strong. Less than a month before the election, he’s polling slightly ahead of Allen. And in one of Virginia’s most critical swing counties, Loudoun, Kaine may have the right surrogate to push him over the top—a student he taught more than two decades ago.
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