Reaching across the aisle

Sen. Tim Kaine emphasizes the importance of finding common ground


by Jane McConville

Tim Kaine lead image
(L-R): JMU President Jonathan R. Alger and Sen. Tim Kaine in the Festival Ballroom. Photos courtesy of Steve Aderton (’19)

SUMMARY: U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine was the featured speaker at the inaugural Common Good in the Commonwealth event at JMU. Kaine highlighted the importance of open dialogue, and he encouraged citizens to ask questions and find new approaches to solving problems.

James Madison did not initially believe the Constitution needed the Bill of Rights. But he ended up changing his mind because he was open to dialogue, Sen. Tim Kaine said during a stop at JMU on Sept. 22 as part of a new lecture series, Common Good in the Commonwealth.

Sponsored by the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement, the series explores ways in which JMU students and the Harrisonburg community can work together to find similar interests and new approaches to solving problems.

Kaine and JMU President Jonathan R. Alger participated in the inaugural “fireside chat” in the Festival Ballroom.

Kaine, who has served as mayor of Richmond, Virginia, lieutenant governor and governor of Virginia, and a U.S. senator, fielded questions on a wide range of topics, from civic engagement to international affairs.

To begin the Q&A session, Kaine was asked whether mutual understanding is possible in politics.

“There are plenty of areas where we can, and do, find common ground,” he said, citing bipartisan legislation he sponsored in 2013 to fund pediatric cancer research.

“We should always do more than we do,” he said, “but we do live in a world where conflict, frankly, is more interesting than cooperation.”

Kaine stressed the importance of citizens asking questions. “There is something everyone can do that can really help us,” he said. “If you interact with anyone in office, if you develop the habit of asking — no matter your politics — ‘Tell me something you are working on with someone on the other side of the aisle,’ it can be a game-changer. And when you do, it may make us more intentional about understanding what folks want to hear.”

Later in the event, Leia Surovell, a fourth-year Anthropology major and a Democracy Fellow at the Madison Center, joined the hosts on stage to deliver questions from students.

Sen. Tim Kaine on stage in JMU’s Festival Ballroom in September 2023
Kaine and Alger were joined on stage by Leia Surovell (left), a fourth-year Anthropology major and Democracy Fellow.

Surovell asked Kaine about freedom of expression in the classroom and the importance of open dialogue.

“The cool thing about open dialogue is we all have the ability to change our mind,” Kaine said. “I have really strong opinions about virtually everything, but if I am a good listener, it can give me perspective because I didn’t live that life.”

After the event, students asked Kaine what they could do to get involved in the upcoming state elections, which do not receive as much attention as federal elections.

“I would argue that in some ways, for most of us, your state legislature might have more impact on your life than a U.S. senator,” Kaine said. “Your state legislator will decide on equality policies, reproductive rights and climate-change policies. These things might matter the most, or matter more to students than some things that happen at the national level.” 

The next installment of the Common Good in the Commonwealth series will take place Nov. 30 in the Festival Ballroom.

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Published: Friday, September 29, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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