Looking forward with new energy
There were times during Gov. Tim Pawlenty's first term when it appeared that Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders in the Legislature didn't mind if the session crashed and burned and the Republican governor took the blame (some of which he earned.
But on Tuesday, as he looked forward to the first session with DFLers in firm control of both the House and the Senate, Pawlenty saw reason for hope.
"They don't want to come in here and take control and have everything stink,'' the governor said. "It's not in their interest to throw sand in the gearbox.''
The governor and four new legislative leaders spoke to a gathering of journalists Tuesday about the budget-setting session that will begin Jan. 3. Energy was on the governor's mind, and he and the new legislative leaders were on their best behavior for a session preview at the Capitol.
During his first term, Pawlenty and the Legislature had a 50 percent breakdown ratio — two out of four sessions ended badly. Pawlenty was narrowly re-elected to a second term in November. DFLers, who controlled the Senate during Pawlenty's first term, won control of the House in November and increased their margin in the Senate.
INFLUENCE IN RENEWABLE FUELS MARKET
Pawlenty took the opportunity Tuesday to talk energy, which he called "a national economy imperative and a national security imperative.'' His focus, which involves a significant government influence in the renewable-fuel market, may put off ideologues on both sides.
But government is part of the energy market, and every other market. Anybody who thinks otherwise is out of touch with reality. The question is where that role should start and end.
Pawlenty sees a future that relies on cleaner fuels that don't require us to give succor to our enemies. He would position Minnesota to profit from that future. His "Next Generation Energy Initiative" would stimulate the effort by requiring more use of renewable fuels, more conservation and less pollution.
He'll find considerable common ground with Democrats there. He's also likely to catch criticism from both the right and left. The right imagines the market in oil to be more virtuous and free-standing than it actually is, and the left imagines government to be more virtuous and effective than it actually is.
Good for the governor. He's talking sense.
And maybe the new faces around the negotiating table will help move the people's business along.
In the House, Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, is in line to become House Speaker. House Republicans will be led by their new Minority Leader, Marty Seifert, R-Marshall.
In the Senate, Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, is the new Senate Majority Leader, and Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, the new Senate Minority Leader.
GAS TAX INCREASE VS. BORROWING
From them, we heard echoes of old debates about transportation — whether a gas tax increase (which Democrats tend to favor) is needed to pump money into roads and transit, or whether borrowing for highway construction (which Pawlenty and Republicans tend to support) is a better option.
Seifert is a plain-spoken fellow who sees a need for a longer school day — something parents will cheer for. Pogemiller, the most experienced of the lot (he was first elected to the Minnesota House in 1980), spoke of decentralizing the process so committee chairs have more power to reach agreements over contentious issues.
He said the focus will be on "bread and butter, meat and potatoes.'' Kelliher said it will be important for the Legislature to be "fiscally moderate.''
Translation: Gay marriage, abortion and other hot buttons may not get such a pounding this session.
We applaud the new energy, the new faces and the governor's plans to have Big Corn (or Big Switchgrass) go after Big Oil. There's a lot to do. We wish them well.