He’s better known these days in Virginia, but Hillary Clinton’s running mate hails from Kansas City.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine graduated from Rockhurst High School in 1976, the University of Missouri in ’79 and still visits on occasion.
“It’s fun to see someone locally succeed,” says Steve Miller, a Kansas City lawyer who’s kept in touch with Kaine since their Rockhurst days, “particularly when you think about Tim. He’s not a native of Virginia. He went there because his wife was there. It’s tough to go into any state, but a state with as deep roots and tradition as Virginia?”
But if anyone could do it, Kaine could. Miller says his high school classmate took an unusual route into politics.
“He originally was a civil rights lawyer coming out of Harvard and was frustrated by the housing, particularly for minorities, that was available,” Miller says.
Someone encouraged Kaine to run for city council, Kaine did and won. He was elected mayor of Richmond in ’98 and ran for lieutenant governor four years later when there was an unexpected opening on the Democratic ticket after former Virginia Sen. Emily Couric died of cancer. Kaine went on to serve one-term as governor (all that’s allowed under Virginia law) before he endorsed a young Barack Obama and was tapped to head up the Democratic National Committee.
“Here he is again, being tapped for something he probably never sought or dreamed of himself,” says Miller, who visited Kaine in Virginia and spent a week at the governor’s mansion. He says he still sees Kaine a couple of times a year when his work takes him to Washington, D.C.
Kaine comes back to Kansas City, too. He and his wife are generous in their support of Rockhurst High School, says Chief Advancement Officer Larry Freeman.
Another former classmate, Commerce Bank Vice Chairman Jay Reardon, says he remembers Kaine participating in school-sponsored mission trips.
“Our Jesuit priests would go down to British Honduras and work to build housing in a very poverty-stricken country,” Reardon says. “That piqued his interest in the Spanish language.”
Miller says Kaine was so moved by his experiences that he’d later take a year off from Harvard to return to Honduras. Kaine made headlines in 2013 when he delivered a speech on immigration entirely in Spanish on the Senate floor.
Obama also considered Kaine to be his running mate, but at the time, he was seen as lacking in foreign policy experience. When Reardon learned Kaine was on Clinton’s shortlist from another friend, he emailed Kaine.
Within an hour, Reardon received a response.
“In Tim’s typical way, he’s so humble and polite, he just said, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of great names out there. They’re looking at a lot of people. I’m just going to keep doing my job. Don’t get excited for me."
Clinton announced Kaine would be her running mate Friday.
Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.