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Pawlenty: Pup-tent Republican

The legislative session is over. In case you missed the final episode, it turns out the guy we saw all winter behind the governor’s podium acting like the cop trying to arrest the job-killers was actually the perp himself.

Estimates are that between 20,000 and 30,000 mainly private-sector jobs will be lost as a result of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s succeeding in forcing through his all-cuts/no-new-taxes approach.

The job losses will be a surprise to many. Blame that on Stockholm Syndrome. The Capitol press gave the public a daily diet of Pawlenty and Rep. Marty Seifert railing that taxes kill jobs. Unreported went the testimony of State Economist Tom Stinson that state budget cuts would cost more jobs than a similar dollar amount of tax increases.

Pawlenty had it exactly wrong. The public had it right. Pawlenty vetoed the tax increases on high income and alcohol that a Star Tribune poll showed two-thirds of Minnesotans viewed as preferable to his level of budget cuts. The Legislature passed similar taxes Monday night. Those, too, will be vetoed after the session.

$1 billion in additional cuts
After eliminating the possibility of new revenues, 48 hours before the end of session, Pawlenty laid out for the first time a surprise $1 billion in additional budget cuts.

Pawlenty’s office argued the Legislature shouldn’t hold any hearings on the governor’s brand new budget cuts. But hearings were held. Mayors identified the extent of police layoffs that would be required.  The AP reported University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks told the commission the loss in state aid would result in approximately 15 percent tuition increases and layoffs of as many as 750 people — on top of jobs already being eliminated.

“The cuts would be really savage and severe,” Bruininks told a legislative commission.  “I think they would cost the state money, cost the state opportunity and cost the state additional jobs in the private economy, so I think it’s a really bad bargain for the state to make.”

Throwing the University of Minnesota under the bus was apparently worth it for Pawlenty because he got strong praise from local movement conservatives such as Sarah Janacek and Annette Meeks.  In Politics in Minnesota, Janacek wrote a glowing account she called “Pawlenty as Patton,” with Pawlenty as the Decider blocking the Capitol door to the taxers.  Right army, wrong general.  I provided a response: “Pawlenty’s Last Stand.”

Praise from Norquist
Pawlenty then hit the movement jackpot with special praise from K-street gatekeeper Grover Norquist, the guy whose stated view of government is we ought to shrink it until it would fit in a bathtub and drain away.

Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform called Pawlenty a “Hero of the Taxpayer,” commending him for “upholding his Taxpayer Protection Pledge and vowing to balance Minnesota’s budget without any tax increases passed by the legislature.”

Janacek and Meeks say Pawlenty is on his way nationally now.  It may not be a moment too soon for the governor because last week’s KSTP poll said 57 percent of Minnesotans do not want him to run for re-election.

That number will only grow when the Pawlenty layoffs start mounting, and the next wave of Pawlenty property-tax increases hit. The governor was able to hold all the Republican legislators with him on override votes. Unfortunately, he may be too busy elsewhere to share their task of explaining to local voters why their local property-tax increases, hospital job losses, cop layoffs, nursing-home inadequacies, community-college cutbacks and squeezed schools were preferable to asking high-income Minnesotans to begin paying tax levels almost as high as that paid by the middle class.. 

Expect Republican defeats next year
In past years whenever Pawlenty forced Republican legislators to walk the plank with him like this, many were defeated by Democrats the following year. Expect the same next year. When Pawlenty was first elected governor, 60 percent of the seats in the Minnesota House were Republicans. They now hold only slightly more than a third. Republicans used to talk about big tent and small tent. Because of Pawlenty, they have added a special category: pup tent.

This session did cement Pawlenty’s reputation as an intransigent movement conservative. But that gold star may not take him very far. Right now, the Republican Party is a party of the South and dominated by evangelicals. Pawlenty has no juice with evangelicals. Last year, he fought against all the evangelicals’ presidential choices as a campaign co-chair for John McCain.  GOP polls show Sarah Palin, George Romney and Mike Huckabee are the party’s favorites. Pawlenty is nowhere on the radar screen in these polls.

If the GOP goes big tent, Pawlenty is even more an outsider. A movement is already afoot to bring the party back toward the center. The Republican U.S. Senate campaign committee is throwing Pawlenty-style Club for Growth U.S. Senate candidates under the bus in states outside the South, places like Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware. They are backing moderates with good environmental records (whose university presidents probably don’t view them as “savage”).

In Florida, 15 minutes after Gov. Charlie Crist announced last week he would run for U.S. Senate, he drew endorsements for the national GOP and its Senate committee.  They endorsed him over a highly regarded movement conservative, even though Crist had just agreed to raise a billion dollars in new cigarette taxes to help solve Florida’s budget crisis.

Crist is the future
Crist is definitely not your Grover Norquist Republican. Crist incurred the wrath of Rush Limbaugh for standing with President Barack Obama in favor of strong federal stimulus recovery legislation.  He put his people over his politics. Crist and Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger are backing strong environmental reforms. For Republicans trying to regain a national footing, a guy like Crist is the future. He knows how to work in a bipartisan way to get things done.  Pawlenty is the George Bush past — obstructionist, Governor Gridlock, Governor Go it Alone. That might appeal to the Republican hard-core anti-taxers, but that hard core can’t win national elections.

Pawlenty does use a faux big-tent argument. In speeches in Washington, he says the party needs to reach out to convert working-class Democrats — by arguing that tax cuts for the rich will bring them jobs. Next time he gives that speech, he may want to add an explanation why in last week’s KSTP poll, 80 percent of Democrats think he should not run for re-election. 

But Pawlenty doubtless will give it a shot nationally. So I’ve decided to help him. Here, Governor, are three questions you will need to prepare yourself for in your first presidential candidate press conference.

Three prep questions
“Governor, back in Minnesota you thought it was better to take away health coverage from 100,000 low-income persons rather than ask those with highest income to give back some of their tax cuts.  How did that all work out?”

“Your state suffered a disastrous bridge collapse. Afterward, you vetoed the legislation that would have provided the finances to repair the bridges next in line to fall. Does that mean keeping your Taxpayer Protection Pledge is more important than saving lives?”

“In 2009, when you added massive job cuts onto massive unemployment, you were described as the state’s job-killingest governor ever. Do you plan to do for the nation what you did for Minnesota?”

Wayne Cox is executive director of Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by David Wollan on 05/19/2009 - 09:07 am.

    It is time that the people in Minnesota to make priorities. The legislature did not proiritze spending this session. They made a wish list, passed the spending bills for those and sent them to the governor. The only solution the legislature had was adding an additional revenue was raise tax rate on highest wage earners. What a shock, the governor vetoed that bill. Higher taxes at this time is not the answer, just ask California and New York.

    I think the governor did the state of Minnesota a service. It clearly shows government checks and balances does work, because we need protection from our legislature.

  2. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 05/19/2009 - 09:40 am.

    Thank you! A voice of sanity.

    The big “However” is, will everyone remember it was Pawlenty who “done them wrong” when people start loosing their jobs a year from now? Or three years from now when their kid wants to go to the U and they can’t afford the tuition.

    Will some of the drastic consequences be seen this year? Or will all of this take place sometime in the future?

    And will our grandkids even know that they’re paying the bills from 2009-10 as they pay down the bonds as part of their taxes?

    Just food for thought. I know, I’ve become way too cynical.

  3. Submitted by myles spicer on 05/19/2009 - 10:58 am.

    In past years I have railed against Pawlenty’s misguided “no tax” policy which has incrementally chipped away at the greatness and progressive history of our previously wonderful state; now that era is done…and he can take a wrecking ball to the task!

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/19/2009 - 11:12 am.

    There is only one way people will remember. You and I, and all those who see reality, must remind them, and remind them, and remind them.

    ALL the local media here in Minnesota, with the exception of a few web outlets are owned and managed by supporters of the MN Tax whiner’s league. Even Minnesota Public Radio tries so hard to be “fair” that it deteriorates into “They said,” “They said,” interviews with no independent expert analysis.

    Without our constant, to the point of offensive reminders that the mess, as it arrives, coming is the result of Gov. Pawlenty’s “no new taxes pledge” and the Republicans in the legislature’s unwillingness to take a more reasonable approach, the media will convince them that what’s happening is the fault of the Democrats (who will, by the time of the most drastic results, almost certainly have veto-proof majorities).


  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/19/2009 - 12:06 pm.

    One thing to be said for the left; they may not be able to agree on the best way out of a wet paper bag, but they sure as hell can raise a ruckus about how wet the bag they’re stuck in is.

    I’m going to skip over most of the inchoate sputtering this post offers to offer thoughtful readers my view of what they can do to make sure we are not stuck in that loud, wet bag with our incompetent leadership.

    LGA is slated to take a cut, and you can be sure that the leftist membership of various city councils will be sending out high pitched warnings of how much police and fire services will *have* to be cut. If you receive such a communication, they are actually informing you that they are not capable of actually managing your city’s finances, and it is up to you and your neighbors to send a strong message back; make it short and sweet to ensure it is understood…”Oh, no you don’t”.

    My district councilman in W. St. Paul is having a “town hall meeting tonight”. He’s a new guy that made a lot of promises which I plan to put to the test with a few questions:

    “What steps has the city taken to renegotiate terms with vendors of its services and products?”

    The company I work for has reduced the price of our goods and services drastically in the past few months; vendors are scrambling to keep the customers they have and are willing to do some serious cost cutting to make that happen.

    “Has the city approached the various public employee unions to see what they are willing to do to help their employer (us) continue to offer employment to as many employees as possible?”

    In November, my fellow employees and I agreed to a 3% cut in salary; last month, we agreed to another 7%. And I know we’re not alone.

    Oh sure, there was some grumbling, but everyone agrees that there really wasn’t any other alternative available. We can all see that the work has slowed to a trickle, and we are smart enough to know that the lack of new equipment going out of our doors means there is no money coming in. I’m certianly in favor of allowing public employees the opportunity to show us they’re smart enough to see that same relationship.

    “What non-essential services has the city identified for cuts?”

    This is important. They’re likely to have identified the most critical services the city provides for the most drastic cuts…it’s a scam; don’t allow them to play that game.

    Even a cursory investigation will reveal that there are services being provided that you and your neighbors never knew existed…you won’t miss them when they’re gone either; trust me here.

    The point is this, folks. The failure of the Democrat legislature to grasp the reality of the economic disaster is a blessing in disguise. They’ve essentially put our destiny’s in our hands, now is not the time to sit in a corner and squirt tears; the bags already plenty wet.

  6. Submitted by Doug Seitz on 05/19/2009 - 01:07 pm.

    This state has steadily gone downhill since Pawlenty came on the scene. Much of the current state financial disarray can be laid at his doorstep, what with his irresponsible tax cuts and dollar shifting as one time-majority leader and now governor. He has proposed NO policies or provided NO leadership to actually move the state forward. All so that he could build a national rep.

    And he isn’t going anywhere nationally. He failed to make any discernible national impression in McCain’s ’08 campaign, and that’s largely because he’s charisma- and leadership-minus. He’s never even got the majority of the vote in this state.

    A small correction: It’s MITT Romney, not George. George is long gone.

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/19/2009 - 02:11 pm.

    Of course there are always those who, due to their love of money (the root of many evils), believe the purpose of all government is to protect and ease the path of those who already have the most (if the shoe fits anyone above, let them wear it).

    No doubt they’d by much happier if they moved to one of the third world countries they so love and have so tried, through their shill, Governor Pawlenty, to have Minnesota emulate. I’m sure they’d be outrageously happy in Somalia or some other place where all their most avidly sought policies have already been brought to bear.

    But if they want to continue to benefit from the gifts bequeathed to them by the hard working people, at every level of income, in Minnesota’s past, they need to pay up like those who built and maintained this state did, or shut up and leave, the rest of us have grown tired of your whining that you’re not getting your free lunch (or roads, or airport, or regulated utilities, or education, or law enforcement, etc.) at our expense.

  8. Submitted by Vicki Wright on 05/19/2009 - 02:34 pm.

    I hope someone asks the three questions suggested for the governor to answer when on the national stage. He’d never answer them, but it’s wonderful to imagine how he’d squirm.

    However, try as he might, T-Paw will never have a real national political career. But, he’s going to do his darnedest. He doesn’t dare risk losing the next gubernatorial election, so he’ll start prowling about for a national fund-raising job instead, so he can begin to earn the gratitude (and presumably, support) of some Republican Senate candidates, and such. But, even with that and a continuing string of appearances on Fox and even MSNBC (when will they wake up to the reality that he’s no moderate?) cannot overcome one glaring shortfall: his name.

    There is no way on God’s green earth that a president of the United States can be elected with a wussy name like “Tim Pawlenty.” If his first name were Jack, or Steve or even Tom, it would be different. Or, if his last name were Peterson or McGuire, Tim would be no problem.

    Pundits characterized him frequently on TV last year as an unexciting, uninspiring possibility for VP. Why? They didn’t say – maybe they didn’t know the reason themselves. In this age of “branding,” little things like a person’s name have greater significance than ever. Make no mistake about it. No one with a wussy-sounding name will ever be prez. (Yeah, I know. Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon Johnson and Woodrow Wilson had wussy names, too. But, do you know ANYBODY with those names now? If you did, could you visualize them as powerful leaders?)

    Sorry, Timmy, it’s time to start looking for another job altogether. And, maybe another state to live in while you’re at it. But, the White House and Washington, DC, are beyond your reach, little buddy.

    P.S. “Barack Obama” is a strong-sounding name – especially when so many renowned athletes have African and/or Arabic-based names. It was never a liability, but an asset.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/19/2009 - 05:50 pm.

    Are Meeks and Janacek not beneficiaries of Minnesota’s K-12 and higher ed institutions? Have they not reveled in our beautiful parks and golf courses, walking paths around lakes and along the river, formerly-free historical society sites and events, streets without potholes, snowplows that came as soon as a storm stopped, and a thousand other amenities and social goods that are going bye-bye under THEIR governor?

    How is it that apparently intelligent people are taken in by the Grover Norquist message of meanness and selfishness and an utter lack of concern for those less fortunate than themselves?

  10. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/19/2009 - 05:57 pm.

    It’s common to hear people compare state budget problems to those of a family. Fair enough, but it is only an analogy and it only goes so far. When my family has fewer resources than needed to do what we want to do, we either earn more money or spend less.

    When we get down to the essentials, however, we look for ways to earn more money rather than quit taking our kid to the doctor or dentist, skipping meals, or turning off the heat in December. The state’s equivalent of getting a second job is to find more revenue, be it in fees or taxes. Pawlenty, apparently, will opt to skip the medical and dental visits, reduce the number of meals we will eat and tell the cold to put on sweaters.

    Sure, there’s money in the budget that’s not necessary. There hasn’t been a fat-free budget anywhere at any time. But there’s not $2.7 billion in fat, much less non-essential services.

    In the past, we’ve sometimes dealt with budget shortfalls with surtaxes. A 5% surtax was suggested as one means of addressing the problem, but never went anywhere. Why not? It’s a short term measure, which can be terminated quickly and easily when the economy comes around. It avoids structural changes that can’t be undone. It brings in money immediately, with no real transaction costs (e.g., reprogramming every retailer’s computers to reflect an expanded sales tax base). It’s not like it’s going to gouge anyone. A family with a taxable income of $50,000 dollars would pay perhaps $200 per year or $4 per week. Double that for a family with a taxable income of $100,000.

    I believe that Pawlenty’s goal is and always has been to roll back the clock to the 19th century. The current ecnonomic downturn has given him the excuse to do that, all by his lonesome. Let’s hope he’s good at it. Some people’s lives are at stake.

  11. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/19/2009 - 07:36 pm.

    Great piece, Wayne. I think you mean Mittens not George Romney.

  12. Submitted by William Pappas on 05/20/2009 - 06:03 am.

    Right on, Wayne. This is the best piece yet on the reality of this session’s fallout. One thing the Strib and MPR have emphasized is that DFL legislators will be taking the blame and Tiny
    Tim will be seen as taking charge. As you easily point out that has not been the case. Most Minnesotans don’t want to loose their essential services and would like to see the wealthy give back some of their tax cuts. The trend is massively toward democratic sympathy and when the cuts start showing gaping holes in community law enforcement, hospitals, LGA, etc. and huge increases in tuition and property taxes there will be an immediate backlash.
    For some reason the DFL has been incompetant in taking their case to the public. MPR and the Strib assist this liability by taking a conservative economic stance on just about everything from neoliberal trade policies to no income tax increases on the rich to advocating for no corporate income tax.
    AS for Tiny Tim’s national ambitions, imagine him for a moment debating President Obama. Another obvious question might be, “Governor Pawlenty, list some of your accomplishments as governor for the last eight years.” What would he say. His actual accomplishments, when the rehtoric is stripped away, are nil. Now, ask the same question of Obama and Tiny Tim might simply disappear with a “poof” right on the stage.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/20/2009 - 11:53 am.

    I wonder.

    How many whining leftists will volunteer their time and money to help the elderly in nursing homes?

    How many? Any one?

    I’d love to see one money grubbing, power hungry Democrat spend half the time they dedicate to spreading their message of averice, instead organize a call for people to volunteer their help.

    See, *thats* the message that someone who really cares about others spreads, folks. If you care, like you *say* you do, prove it.

    Screaming at the top of your lungs at other people to empty their pockets is not charity, it’s not caring, it’s disgusting.

    At last nights town hall meeting, after I listened to his whiny little screed, I suggested to my (Democrat) city councilman that he spearhead a call to volunteer. His response was a pathetic dance that revolved around the “civic duty” to *pay* for services, how we can’t count on people to volunteer and how much liability the city would be incurring.

    He didn’t even want to talk about it….I felt like puking.

  14. Submitted by Kris Jacobs on 05/20/2009 - 10:58 pm.

    Thankfully the majority of the Majority held together and stayed true to the adage:

    Never interrupt the enemy while he is making a mistake.

    They were the very picture of generosity with the rope used by knuckle-dragging Republicans to demonstrate just how very Un-Minnesota they are– -what comedian Chris Rock calls” Low-Expectation-Havin’ @#^!*&-~@%#X!*+.”

  15. Submitted by William Pappas on 05/21/2009 - 05:46 am.

    Mr. Swift, you should know watching this republican recession, that volunteerism and charity contributions decrease durring a struggling economy. This is precisely the time when they are needed most which is why your idea of volunteerism just doesn’t work on a nation wide basis. Volunteerism can’t fill all the safety net gaps that government can.

  16. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/21/2009 - 12:49 pm.

    “Volunteerism can’t fill all the safety net gaps that government can.”

    So, if volunteering your time doesn’t completely solve every problem, a liberal’s time is better spent spewing spiteful, avaricious rants while pointing a hypocritical finger at his neighbors.

    Got it.

  17. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/22/2009 - 09:10 pm.

    Mr. Swift, as one who actually has a parent in a nursing home, I find your suggestion that volunteers could make up for the lack of employees in nursing homes and other care settings to be ludicrous.

    Sure, you might find people to read to the blind or lead an arts and crafts class or take nursing home residents on outings. Those things already happen in the high-priced nursing home where my mother lives.

    But are you going to find volunteers to change the diapers of the incontinent, hand-feed the Alzheimer’s patients, transfer the non-ambulatory to and from wheelchairs, administer medications, clean the rooms and public areas, and stay on duty all night?

    People wear themselves out to the breaking point doing such things for beloved family members. Are you seriously suggesting that you could find volunteers to do that for strangers?

    Another Libertarian fantasy…

  18. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/22/2009 - 10:19 pm.

    “Leftists and Socialists” really now….
    Where does one come up with this nonsensical demagoguery?
    Are you trying to channel the late Joseph McCarthy?

    But I digress…………

    Perhaps this is simply an opportunity for
    the Governor to prove his point. The point being, that cities, counties and the state are capable of trimming their respective budgets to simply “live within their means”.

    The state over the past number of years has experienced double digit growth. The result of an economy fueled by low interest rates and homeowners using their homes as ATM machines. I believe the governor has described this past eight year growth cycle as a “house of cards” and thus not a sustainable model.

    As such, our state economy will reset and do so at a lower rate of growth with lower revenues.

    Combine the fact of reduced revenues and the fact that during the next biennium there will not be a multibillion dollar stimulus from the Feds to the state. I would dare say that the next biennium is when all of this will get real interesting.

    We should allow the governor to see how this plays out. To allow local government to make the “hard choices”. To see if in fact local property taxes do go up.

    Bottom line: When all is said and done the voters will speak. Hopefully they will communicate that at what level of service the state should be providing for and at what price are they willing to pay for it.

    Either we can raise taxes and pay for the current level services or some level of reduced services. Or we cut what we can and borrow the rest as the governor has done with this budget.

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