It's been a busy day and my scattered political brain is even more scattered now with Governor Pawlenty's announcement that he won't seek a 3rd term in office. My initial thought was "Oh no!" The idea that we wouldn't have our goaltender at the net in St. Paul with the crazy DFL here scares the daylights out of me. But then I thought about the weak field of candidates on the Dem side and the vibe that I've been getting lately that the tide could be turning.
The national mood in 17 months will be the most important factor, but my gut read on Minnesota politics is that people (not just conservative Republicans like myself) have had it with 1. Ridiculous levels of Government spending 2. Government picking winners and losers and and 3. Power-hungry politicians who stay in office forever
I always thought Pawlenty would stay Governor, if indeed his aspirations are to be a Presidential candidate- it only made sense. But this is really a smarter move because he's coming off some very good press from his "Unallotment move" (he's single-handedly cutting almost $3 Billion off our state budget without raising taxes- in response to a showdown with our DFL-led Minnesota legislature). Quit while you're ahead, why take the chance of residing over a 3rd 4-year term when many things could go wrong? Pawlenty is a career politician and although his speech today (wisely) made reference to term limits, make no mistake, he's going to be in the public-sector for many years to come. (Perhaps he'll take something in the private sector to fill out his resume, but he'll be back).
I attended a local Townhall meeting last Saturday with our local legislators, State Senator David Hann, Representative Jenifer Loon (42B- Eden Prairie) and Representative Maria Ruud (42A Eden Prairie, S. Minnetonka). I only knew perhaps 10 of the 40 (or so) people there. Some local Republicans, some of the leaders of the local DFL (Including Eden Prairie School Board Chair Carol Bomben and Progressive-Majority School Board Member Kim Ross). I have no scientific evidence to support this- but the questions were mainly from the conservative standpoint. One woman questioned Ruud on taxes and why the DFL always insisted on raising taxes as an answer- Ruud explained "we're only raising taxes on those making over $250,000" -- the woman shot right back "we'll we're not rich and we're seeing our taxes continually increase" she also added (as I recall) that those "rich" are the job creators.
Another woman asked a simple question: "How do states without income taxes survive?" One guy questioned the "rancor" in St. Paul and the lack-of-ability to get a budget done and another said "there should be no special sessions" and got a round of applause. Another guy asked why the DFL chose to ignore the Governor when he said that the budget proposals shouldn't include new taxes. There was a gentleman there who said he represented the Fair Tax organization in Minnesota who asked why the state would be unwilling to spend $30,000 to have a study done to see if it's feasible in Minnesota (he mentioned 11 other states have the model in place and aren't in the red like we are)-- Ruud shot back that he would have been better off finding private funding for the study. I laughed out loud at that remembering that the state's Climate Change Advisory Group cost taxpayers $40,000 and I'm sure if I looked at voting records Ruud approved that cost... The Fair Tax guy shot right back at Ruud that he talked to the Tom Baak- Chair of the Tax Committee- who told him specifically that such a study needed to have some government money to pay for it so there were no conflicts. Ruud looked pretty bad with that exchange.
Another senior gentleman provided a little Minnesota tax history when all taxes were derived from property owned- saying that "if someone owned a typewriter, they hid it when the tax man came".
The event ended with some rambling lib offering up ideas of how the U.S. could run more like Ireland and then babbled about other DFL platform planks in his non-question-speech. I also heard there was some crazy DFL'er that kept walking out of the room saying loudly "I can't take this" anytime a conservative viewpoint was expressed- loudly slamming the City Council Chamber doors- if anybody can tip me off on who this is- shoot me an email!
Bottom line- that room went our way- big time.
Hann and Loon were fact-based calm and reasoned. They were all congenial. Ruud was anecdotal- sharing that her nephew who is graduating with an MD from Johns Hopkins doesn't want to move to Minnesota because he's "worried" about the brain drain and our health care system. Poor little Johns Hopkins grad! She contradicted herself too when she hinted that a special session was needed to "negotiate" and then said "I agree" when an attendee stated "there should be no special sessions" and got a round of applause. She also told a story of how she "stood up" in front of her caucus to deliver a "no tax" message -- that she wasn't hearing from people in her district that they wanted tax increases even adding "there were witnesses!"-- but then said she later was told by constituents that they wanted new taxes, that "everyone should share the pain". Say, what? Maria- some free political advice-stand up like the liberal you are and OWN those tax hikes. Don't try to play both side of the fence it will bite you.
She talked about cuts to welfare throughout the event and said "her heart" was in the General Medical Assistance Care program- she got applause when she said that cuts to the program reflected a "change in Minnesota values"....although the applause was fewer people doing it louder, as it came after the other round of applause- sort of a "we've got spirit, yes we do, how bout you" move.
Ruud may be a nice-enough person, but she's very weak on facts and surprisingly not strategic at these types of public events. She's all-over-the-place. I only hope she holds more of these meetings.
So, I'm rambling- back to the Governor. There are many good candidates on the GOP side- State Senator David Hann and Representative Marty Siefert would be my favorites. Night and Day in their delivery of the GOP message- the former is cerebral, highly articulate and always calm in his persuasion- the latter is just downright funny and entertaining. I really like Representatives Paul Kohl and Laura Brod too- big fans of both, but I think they're both pretty young. Of course if Hann decides to run it will open up all sorts of fun in our local political landscape.
As I've said- I think we have people on the side of smaller government- at least on the side of questioning the judgement of big-government liberals. I also see activists chomping-at-the-bit to work for principled candidates and try to steer the ship off the course of mealy-mouthed mediocrity- if only the party can figure out how to harness that energy....the time clock is ticking.