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Kaine vows to keep an eye on local economy
Education, gun safety discussed at roundtable
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Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks Monday during a roundtable discussion on economic development at RTI International Metals in Martinsville. The panel included members of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce and other local leaders. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine on Monday vowed that as Virginia’s newest lawmaker in Washington, he will visit Southside frequently and work with business leaders and government officials to improve the region’s economy.

“Those of us in (federal) office should spend a little extra time” in the region and put forth “a little extra creativity” to recruit industries that will bring new jobs and investments, Kaine, a Democrat, told about 30 area leaders during a roundtable discussion at RTI International Metals.

However, “economic development is an all-hands-on-deck type of thing” in which both the public and private sectors must be involved, he emphasized, adding that “one person cannot do it alone.”

The discussion was organized by the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce.

Kaine, who was governor from 2006 to 2010, was elected in November as the state’s junior senator. He took office earlier this month, filling the seat formerly held by Jim Webb, who did not seek a second six-year term.

The senator asked what he can do “to be an effective representative of Martinsville and Henry County” on Capitol Hill.

Yet the first person to respond was Michael Duncan, deputy director of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville. He said the most important thing that Kaine could do as a senator right now is to help reduce confusion about the direction in which the nation’s economy is headed.

“There is a lot of uncertainty,” Kaine said, over tax issues and effects that proposed spending cuts would have on the nation.

But “this utter disarray has got to end,” Duncan said bluntly about recent heated discussions among lawmakers about budget and spending issues.

“Make a decision and get on with it,” he told Kaine.

The Rev. Thurman Echols, pastor of Moral Hill Baptist Church in Axton, said “we’ve got to do something in this country to curtail violence ... to be sure our children and grandchildren are safe.”

Referring to mass shootings that happened at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and other schools in recent years, Kaine wondered if such incidents will be “an endless list.”

He said he is a gun owner, but he favors background checks on people who want to buy guns and he thinks most people do, too.

In determining whether a person should be able to buy a gun, Kaine said he supports using common sense. For example, he said that people do not need to buy machine guns to protect themselves.

Kaine said studies indicate two-thirds of Virginians do not support teachers having guns to protect students. But a worthwhile option may be for other school personnel to carry guns “if we’re willing to fund it,” he said.

Pam Heath, superintendent of the Martinsville schools, indicated she favors having more student resource officers — ones employed by law enforcement agencies — in schools. She said she does not support any school employees being armed.

On another issue, Heath said the public schools are being “hamstrung” by student testing requirements.

Among employers today, she said, “no one cares about test scores.”

“Testing has its place” in schools, but the right things need to be tested, Kaine said.

Those things, he and Heath said, include students’ abilities to think critically and work as a team, as well as their technology and communication skills.

Success is “not just about college attendance” now, but rather about giving students skills they need to succeed in the modern workforce, Kaine said.

He added that he would like to hold discussions with teachers and school superintendents to hear their ideas.

Joe Keiper, executive director of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, asked Kaine to help find ways to promote local tourism.

Promoting “hidden assets” that localities have and which improve quality of life for workers could help attract companies, Keiper said.

Kaine mentioned he thinks the federal government needs to make it easier for foreigners to get tourist visas to travel in the United States.

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, “we made it difficult for people to come to this country” on vacations, he said.

Before the discussion, Kaine and other participants briefly toured RTI, which makes titanium used in manufacturing passenger jets.

The company’s forging, grinding and hot rolling plant in the Patriot Centre industrial park has been in operation for a year.

As of October, the plant employed 25 people, and company officials have said they expect that number will grow as part of future expansions.

“We’ve got a lot of space to grow here, and we intend to do that,” said Chad Whalen, RTI’s general counsel.

Whalen said Kaine, as governor, was influential in the company’s decision to locate in Henry County.

After the discussion, Kaine told the Martinsville Bulletin he hopes to be in Congress for many years, and he currently does not aspire to hold a higher federal office such as president or vice president.

“You’re able to do a lot more (to benefit the state and nation) the longer you’re in” Congress, he said.

He said former Republican Sen. John Warner is his role model. Warner was a senator for 30 years before leaving Congress in 2009.


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