Thursday, October 08, 2009

Governor’s race draws too few moderates

An opinion piece in the Grand Forks Herald

Stalemate in Minnesota hasn’t solved the state’s problems.

That’s the key fact of Minnesota political life in 2009. It ought to be a centerpiece conclusion not only of governing but also of campaigning for the governor’s office in 2010.

Sadly, it’s neither. Elected Democratic and Republican leaders alike talk past each other, never admitting that the other side has an intelligent thought.

And given the statements of most of the candidates for governor, the forecast seems to be “more of the same.” Granted, winning a party nomination means appealing to your party’s ideological base. But that’s the problem: This need to win the base draws candidates who are true believers and reluctant to compromise, even in a political environment that demands it.

Here’s a question that ought to be asked of the candidates: On what issue is the other party — not your own — more right than wrong?

The candidate who could answer that question honestly, even at the cost of angering one or more powerful interest groups — that would be the candidate to watch.

Minnesota’s ideological split has ground governing to a halt. On one side is Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose approach can be summed up as, “No new taxes.” On the other side are Democratic leaders in the state Senate and House, who remain blind to the reason Pawlenty won two terms: the fact that many Minnesotans no longer believe in the government their high taxes support.

Thanks to a deft bit of political judo, Pawlenty blocked the Democrats’ proposed tax hikes and so emerged the “winner” of this year’s budget standoff. But the budget itself remains in scary shape: Estimates of the 2012-2014 deficit range from $4 billion to $7 billion, meaning the state made no progress at all in cutting the structural deficit it faced this year.

Pawlenty, of course, is not running for re-election. His would-be successors are lining up on both sides of the aisle; but one listens in vain for candidates who’d be willing to cross that aisle now and then, even if only to shake hands with the Minnesotans on the other side.

Consider the GOP candidates. Here’s one recent take by Lori Sturdevant, state government columnist for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis:

“Eight Republican candidates for governor sang in near unison throughout a two-hour forum Friday, at the state GOP’s off-year convention in St. Paul. They offered slightly varied verses, but the chorus was the same: no new taxes; make government smaller; reduce business taxes and regulations.”

As for the Dem candidates, here’s Minnesota Public Radio’s view:

“DFL candidates for governor offered similar views on taxes, job creation, education and other issues during a forum Thursday in Bloomington. Eleven gubernatorial hopefuls made a case for their campaigns and emphasized their support for organized labor during the AFL-CIO sponsored event.”

Candidate Mark Dayton, for example, made his views clear: “Read my lips: Tax the rich. They can afford it.”

How he hopes to win office — let alone govern — with that philosophy in a state that has elected Republican governors for the past 19 years, Dayton didn’t say.

One exception to the above might be Tom Bakk, a DFL state senator from Cook, Minn., on the Iron Range. Bakk describes himself as a “pro-business Democrat.” That’s not everything. But it’s a start, especially in its willingness to recognize that in American politics, the other side often has a point.

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