Many Minnesotans have concluded that their third-party-candidate vote in the previous two gubernatorial elections “gave those elections” to their third choice. In short, a wasted vote with bad consequences. I feel certain that this election will be very different. Many Minnesotans are ready to get on with fixing their government for now and for the future. They don’t care about ideology or hearing about why you should be afraid of somebody or something. They want practical, fair and innovative leadership that is all about solutions. The numbers and the issues are different this time and they are daunting.
The next governor of Minnesota will confront a critical short-term financial crisis that can’t be solved by just raising taxes on the upper- to middle-income earners of this state; nor will it go away by extending the current governor’s policy of “no new taxes.” After wrestling with this “short-term crisis,” policymakers will need to aggressively address our long-term state government financial security — one that will be severely challenged by the incredible demand for services the next 20 years of retiring baby boomers will require. This does not even take into account the need for many other long-delayed investments like our crumbling infrastructures (i.e. roads, bridges, sewer and water systems), 21st century education support and growing environmental concerns.
A recent Star Tribune editorial summed up our situation with real clarity: “The most important election for governor in decades … comes at a time of rapid economic, demographic and social change in Minnesota. A wrong move now in state policy could erode the prosperity that several generations sacrificed to achieve.”
During 25 years of service at the Minnesota Department of Health, where I served two Republican governors, two Democratic governors and one from the Independence Party, and 10 years at the University of Minnesota, I never publicly expressed any partisan political opinions. I never attended a political caucus or provided support for any candidate. In fact, as a senior science adviser to the governors of our state I have been responsible for providing the most comprehensive factual information I can to these leaders, without partisan implications. During that time, I came to admire and appreciate the leadership of individuals from both parties. I had the good fortune to work closely with Rudy Perpich and Arne Carlson, two governors who were quite different in their political approaches to governing but similar in their clear vision about leading Minnesota into tomorrow. Al Quie was a leader I came to deeply admire for an unwavering sense of integrity and nonpartisan fiscal responsibility.
Election has unique financial and policy implications
That’s why in August, when I publicly announced my support for Tom Horner for governor, it was a scary proposition — to leave the world of science-based facts. But it was something I felt compelled to do on behalf of my children’s and grandchildren’s future. I believe that this election has financial and policy implications for the future of our state unlike any other that I have known as a voter. I have no agenda for personal gain with this endorsement. While Horner has declared his support for more resources for the University of Minnesota, less than 1 percent of our center’s support comes from the university. That would not change under a Horner administration.
I respect all three candidates for governor; anyone willing to get into the public leadership arena and the scathing personal and political criticism that goes with that territory deserves our appreciation. However, the Democratic and Republican parties have given us two candidates that can best be described as being on the outer edges of political ideology; an unprecedented event in my lifetime. Their approaches to our many and unavoidable financial problems focus on seemingly easy solutions that are really not practical and avoid most of the hard decisions our citizens are going to have to make in deciding what services and government benefits are essential to the Minnesota we want for our children.
Additional taxes on the rich or middle class as a primary budget approach will not solve the short-term crisis, let alone our long-term fiscal solvency. And somehow it seems to excuse those making less than the magic tax income number from any of the responsibility of limiting run-away state government budgets. Similarly, the no-new-state-tax approach will guarantee that Minnesota will continue to transfer the actual and unavoidable tax burden to local and county governments for essential services, where regressive property taxes will skyrocket. Also, this tax strategy does not provide any hope of a meaningful response to the future challenges of the baby boomers, infrastructure and education demands. We will become the northern extension of the state of Mississippi.
An honest, practical plan
The Horner/Mulder ticket brings an honest plan for addressing both short-term and long-term crisis issues. The two men owe no one for their positions on the Independence Party ticket. Horner’s practical plan to address our future, along with a temperament that is all about accountability and fairness, will make it more difficult for obstructionists to tie up the Legislature in “failure-based” strategies for political gain. He will hand-pick his cabinet from the best minds and committed citizens this state can offer; it will not be related to party affiliation or a political IOU. Given that Minnesota local and county governments need to be critical partners in any fiscal and policy solutions to our state’s problems, it gives me great comfort that Jim Mulder, a former executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties and a recognized expert in creative and accountable local government, will be at the table as the lieutenant governor.
Since my endorsement, I have heard from many Minnesotans in all walks of life who want desperately to support the Horner/Mulder ticket for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Many are life-long and active members of either the Democratic or Republican parties and previously have not experienced a similar “difficult choice.” But they are afraid of having their vote result in their third and absolutely unacceptable choice winning the election.
Their vote, if other than for Horner/Mulder, will be in a sense a vote of fear. I believe with certainty that if all of us who feel this way instead cast a vote for the Horner/Mulder ticket, a vote for the future and our children and grandchildren, we will have a chance to find that wise and moderate approach to Minnesota state government that has made us such a great state for so many decades.
Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., MPH, is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School, University of Minnesota. He is a former Minnesota state epidemiologist.