This is the third in a series of posts spotlighting recently released email from Governor Tim Kaine’s administration. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive but to encourage further exploration in the Kaine administration records (electronic and paper).
Much of the Kaine email deals with public policy, legislation, and governing. Issues such as the state budget, transportation legislation, and the governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address garner wide media attention. But there other messages that focus on less publicized aspects of a governor’s administration: life and death decisions, grief, and remembrance. This week’s post focuses on, for me, some of the most powerful and moving email in the Kaine collection.
Tim Kaine opposes capital punishment. But when he ran for governor in 2005, he promised, if elected, he would uphold the law. Eleven executions took place during Kaine’s administration. The decision to proceed with an execution was not easy for Kaine. John Yancey Schmitt was executed on 9 November 2006. This brief exchange that night between Sherrie Harrington, Kaine’s confidential assistant, and Larry Roberts, Counselor to the Governor, that evening conveys this.
Capital cases also took a toll on Larry Roberts. A few days before the 10 June 2006 scheduled execution of Percy Lavar Walton, Marilyn Tavenner, Secretary of Health and Human Resources, reached out to Roberts. There was some question if Walton was mentally competent to be executed under prevailing United States Supreme Court standards. Tavenner suggested that he talk with James Reinhard, Commissioner of the Department of Behavior Health and Development Services in order to get his input on this issue. Roberts was touched by Tavenner’s thoughtfulness. He wrote her that “this can be a lonely struggle with a great deal of information to consider in a relatively short period of time about a matter literally of life and death.” On 9 June 2006, Kaine commuted Walton’s sentence to life in prison without parole.
One of the most somber responsibilities for the Governor’s Office is contacting the families of police officers killed in the line of duty and attending their funerals. Detective Vicky Anne Own Armel, Fairfax County Police Department, was shot and killed 8 May 2006, when a suspect opened fire on her and other officers in the parking lot of the Sully District Station in Chantilly. In a 17 August 2006 exchange, Bill Leighty, Kaine’s Chief of Staff, explained to Linda Hall, a friend of Armel’s, why the governor did not attend her funeral.
“The Governor talks to every family within hours when an unfortunate even such as this happens, as he did in this case. The Governor does not usually attend the funeral because funerals are deeply private matters. Had the family requested his attendance, he certainly would have considered it. When he calls the surviving spouse and parents he does not offer to attend because it really isn’t something we should inject ourselves into in the first hours of grieving. The mere mention of the Governor attending would be seen as pushing his way into what should be a private family matter that is already complex enough in the first hours of a family crisis such as this. There are some who feel the presence of political figures is considered disruptive to the family and that it takes away from the ability of the families to grieve with their loved ones.”
Hall responded she was persuaded “that the Governor had the best interests of the Armel family in mind when deciding upon Mr. Marshall [Secretary of Public Safety John Marshall] as the person who would attend and speak for the Commonwealth. In fact, I appreciate what appears to be considerable thoughtfulness and compassion in dealing with the grief of the many families” the Governor’s Office deals with.
Deputy Sheriff Robert E. Green, Powhatan County Sheriff’s Office, died in an automobile accident 20 September 2006, while responding to assist deputies and state troopers in a vehicle pursuit. Secretary John Marshall attended Green’s funeral. Charlie Green, Robbie’s father, emailed Marshall a few days after the funeral (Wednesday, 27 September 2006).
“I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to you for having a part in our sons [sic] celebration of life Sunday as we honored Robbie. The words that you said and also the presentation of the state flag at the graveside are memories that I will never forget….Some say that a wealthy man is not judged by his possessions, however he is judge [sic] on his wealth by his friend [sic]. Robbie was truly a wealthy man as shown Sunday by the number of people that supported him as he made his final call. Thank you so much. From the bottom of my heart.”
Marshall replied the next day (Thursday, 28 September 2006).
“Thank you for your message, which truly means so much to me. It was an honor to have the opportunity to say a few words during the service on behalf of Governor Kaine. I just wish that we weren’t brought together for the reason that we were on Sunday….As I mentioned during the service, clearly Robbie had a tremendous impact on his community. Clearly he gave back. While I did not have the opportunity to meet your son, I feel like I have gotten to know him through the many people that I have talked to and what I have read. What I will never forget, though, is the pride I saw in you as his father and the love that you have for Robbie. It was very moving. I have no doubt that Robbie was as proud of you as you are of him.…Your son was a hero. He will not be forgotten.”
Armel and Green were both honored at the 2007 Virginia Law Enforcement Program at the State Capitol South Portico on 30 May 2007.
On 11 September 2008, Governor Kaine attended the dedication of the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. Two days prior, Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer sent Kaine a personal email. “I wanted to share some thoughts because you will be giving voice to and witness for so many others,” Homer wrote. “Two of our friends, Leslie Whittington and Charlie Falkenberg, and their two young children Zoe and Dana, were killed in the crash of Flight 77. Leslie was a colleague of Judy Feder’s at Georgetown and Charlie was a gifted software engineer who was the life of many a party. When we lost that entire good, kind, hard working family, we all lost a better future.” “I am glad you told me about your friends,” Kaine replied. “That will make the day more personal.”
The Library of Virginia’s Kaine Email Project makes the email records from the administration of Governor Timothy M. Kaine, Virginia’s 70th governor (2006–2010), accessible online. Users can search and view email records from the Governor’s Office and his cabinet secretaries; learn about other public records from the Kaine Administration; go behind the scenes to see how the Library of Virginia made the email records available; and read what others are saying about the collection. Previous posts spotlighted transportation, the state budget and the Kaine records officers.
-Roger Christman, LVA Senior State Records Archivist
Original post edited for clarity