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Is Norm Coleman a no new taxer?

Norm Coleman speaking during last year's Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Norm Coleman speaking during last year’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

Two weeks ago on KTCA’s “Almanac,” Norm Coleman didn’t answer the question of his political plans (he makes no secret that he’s thinking about jumping into the guv race, and his general demeanor in the interview convinced a lot of people that he will get in) but I was struck by one of his answers. The question by Eric Eskola was what Coleman would do to grow jobs in Minnesota. I’ll give you the full answer below, which is full of intriguing hints and maybe some contradictions. But the part that got my attention was this:

“We got a lot of smart people in Minnesota. If the Dems can come out of their corner, and stop talking about raising taxes, and our side sits in our corner, talking about not raising taxes. We could figure this out. Minnesotans are pretty smart.”

If you study it close enough, the statement has no precise meaning, except the non-controversial observations that Minnesotans are smart. But it certainly sounds like he is suggesting that Dems and Repubs have to come out of their corners and find common ground. In fact, reaching across the aisle to get things done has been has been a recurring theme in Coleman’s rhetoric over many years.

But when I first heard the statement, I wondered whether it would possible for a Republican to be nominated for governor who starts from the premise that Republicans have to come out of the no-new-taxes posture that has characterized at least the Pawlenty years.

Now, just to be precise, if you review the statement carefully, Coleman said only that the DEMS should come out of their corner. He described his own party as simply sitting in its corner without stating clearly that they need to come into the middle of the ring, where he’s already invited DFLers to come, and figure things out. But if he meant that Dems should come out of their corner while Repubs can stay in their corner, the statement makes little sense.

In my years covering him, I’ve noticed that Coleman is gifted at making statements that communicate flexibility without committing himself to particular policies. Perhaps because of that history, I thought I could see Coleman consciously avoiding stating what the statement in its entirely clearly implied: that both parties will have to compromise some of their preferences, including the Republican preference for no new taxes.

Over the last few days, I have left a couple of calls for Coleman and a message that I wanted to clarify what he said on “Almanac” about taxes. So far, I haven’t heard back. If he does, I’ll pass along his reply. If not, and if (as seems increasingly likely) he gets into the race, he will have to say more about where he stands on the Republican anti-tax gospel.

I did talk to former state Rep. Phil Krinkie, now leader of the Taxpayers League and a major preacher of that gospel. In a long conversation, he seemed to acknowledge that the looming state deficit is so large that everything will have to be on the table, but when I asked him to specify whether he thought the next budget could and should be balanced without any tax increases, he said yes, it could and should.

I called because I wondered how Krinkie reacted to Coleman’s statement (Krinkie, by coincidence, was a guest on the same episode of “Almanac,” on a different segment). Krinkie wasn’t troubled by the statement. He said Coleman had a strong record from his days as St. Paul mayor of promoting economic growth without taxes and he thought Republicans would judge Coleman more on that record than on something he might say one night on “Almanac.”

It could be that even the strongest anti-taxers know that tax hikes are coming, or it could be that Krinkie is part of what I take to be a growing group of Republicans who believe that they need Norm Coleman as the nominee.

For what it’s worth, the leading Repub candidates for guv are either calling for more tax cuts or possibly for trading some income and corporate tax cuts for an increase or a broadening of the state sales tax, which they prefer to term a tax on consumption. Marty Seifert’s website says he wants “to be about more than no new taxes.” Tom Emmer’s website says that “the answer to deficits is not more taxes, but less.” Pat Anderson favors “tax reform” before additional tax cuts can be considered. I take “reform” to be a switch from income taxes to sales taxes, which Anderson believes (and Krinkie made the same case) would create a more “stable” tax structure.

All of the DFL candidates candidates are proposing new taxes. Mark Dayton says his slogan is “Read my lips; tax the rich.” And all of the Dems have ideas for new spending and for Pawlenty unallotments that they would like to restore. Most of them don’t bring up the idea of additional spending cuts, but when you get in serious discussions with them, they know that new taxes will not be enough to balance the budget.

Lastly, I mentioned above that I would give you the full Coleman answer that got me started on this. You’ll note that in the first paragraph, before he told everyone to come out of their corners, he said that the first keys to job creation included no new taxes, at least not on small businesses. OK, the full exchange:

Eskola: What is your jobs program?

Coleman: First of all, do no harm is the first rule. Whether it’s more mandates on health, whether it’s new taxes, in other words those thing things that make it more difficult for small business, which is the jobs driver, to compete. You don’t do those things.

In addition I would say I don’t have all the answers, I’d sit down with Bob Bruininks, president of the University of Minnesota. I’d sit down with Don Gerhardt, who runs the Life Sciences Alley. I’d sit down with guys like Dick Anfang of organized labor [recently retired head of Minnesota State Building and Counstruction Trades Council].

We got a lot of smart people in Minnesota. If the Dems can come out of their corner, and stop talking about raising taxes, and our side sits in our corner, talking about not raising taxes. We could figure this out. Minnesotans are pretty smart.

What think?

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Paul Scott on 12/18/2009 - 09:56 am.

    I think if Norm runs for governor and drops the no new taxes position the job is his to lose.

  2. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/18/2009 - 10:00 am.

    Coleman = Nixon? What DOES Coleman actually believe? This is a particularly slimy way of practicing coded politics: What you believe he said actually depends on what *you* believe about issues.

  3. Submitted by John E Iacono on 12/18/2009 - 10:59 am.

    If he wants to drop the “no new taxes” policies of the past few years, Norm had better enter the gov race as a democrat: Pawlenty knows where the ordinary Joe Taxpayer stands.

    He’s been there before.

  4. Submitted by Paul Scott on 12/18/2009 - 11:34 am.

    “Joe Taxpayer”! Hilarious. More like Bill Cooper. This sort of comment makes you sense the GOP is fully preoccupied with a narrative about nonexistent people — let’s just call them Joe! — it purports to represent.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 12/18/2009 - 11:38 am.

    From what I can see, no, you cannot win the Republican nomination for Governor without promising to not raise taxes. Even if the party leadership decides to step back from such a pledge, there are still enough no-new-taxes idealogues in the grassroots to win a GOP primary.

  6. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 12/18/2009 - 12:11 pm.

    I’m a lib and think that some taxes should be raised but is Mark Dayton really saying “Read My Lips, Tax the Rich?” If he is, he’s weirder than I thought.

  7. Submitted by Mike Wyatt on 12/18/2009 - 01:11 pm.

    Most telling in Norm’s response is his admission that hey really has no plan! Looking to align himself with the Life Sciences Alley (big pharma, medical device makers) and the U of M sounds great, as they provide many well-paying jobs. However, without commitment from lawmakers to insuring our Universities are churning out qualified, desirable graduates, that plan would be YEARS in the making. Pawlenty had this in his lap for 8 years and has done NOTHING except to raise “fees” which have of course harmed college students and families. Norm is sounding like more of the same. However, an all Dem (read: socialist) representation in this state is equally scary to think about as Norm Coleman becoming governor.

    Norm talks out of both sides of his mouth through those wacky over-sized veneers. Say nothing and promise the world. Typical politician. His promises are as fake as his upper teeth.

  8. Submitted by Mike Vanderscheuren on 12/18/2009 - 02:38 pm.

    Eric Black Writes: In my years covering him, I’ve noticed that Coleman is gifted at making statements that communicate flexibility without committing himself to particular policies — Ahh, the famous Coleman political wind-sock tack. I think I just threw up in my mouth.

    I vote for this guy to leave the public trough and spotlight for good. A highly leveraged guy like Coleman, with his paltry net worth for a 50 something, ought to check his ginormous ego at the door and wind out his remaining career the private sector. Long ago he stopped serving his constituents and his ugly behavior during the last senate race only confirms that electing Norm Coleman to anything, let alone the governorship of Minnesota, is a bad idea.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/18/2009 - 03:24 pm.

    On May 15, 2008, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform issued this list of Minnesota’s members of the U.S. Congress who had signed the no-new taxes pledge:

    John Kline, Jim Ramstad, Michelle Bachmann, and NORM COLEMAN.

    A list of elected members of state government was printed, I believe, a little earlier than the May 2008 list. They include:

    Tim Pawlenty, Carol Molnau, Dick Day, David Hann, Geoff Michel, Julianne Ortman, Pat Pariseau (among 15 Senate members)

    Jim Abeler, Mark Buesgens, Mary Liz Holberg, Mark Olson, Erik Paulson (now in the U.S. Congress), Marty Seifert and Steve Sviggum (among 28 members of the House).

    Signers are considered bound by the pledge until such time as they leave public office.

  10. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 12/19/2009 - 06:48 am.

    Clearly;most repubs and their “moderate dem” compatriates know and appreciate regressive taxes i.e. real estate tax, sales taxes and “fees”. They will go along with some increased revenue enhancers(fees and regressive taxes, especially for stadiums), this is all about class warfare and protect the rich and powerful while punishing the poor(while of course, professing to have the belief in Christianity)!

    WWJD……….What would Jesus do?…protect the rich and crush the poor under grinding poverty….doubt that!Maybe he’d support the lottery and expanded gambling? hohoho…

    name should include “Jr.”

  11. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/19/2009 - 07:42 am.

    I say we bring back the practice of ostracism.

  12. Submitted by William Pappas on 12/20/2009 - 08:23 am.

    Gee, you think Norm speaks with forked tongue. He always campaigns on his intention to “change the tone” of political debate in Wasington or Minnesota. Recently he has tried to convince America it is a “center right” nation and as such should embrace those policies. After all the bipartisan crap we heard in his first Senate campaign he immediatley became Bush’s point man to discredit the United Nations, one of the prerequisites for gathering allies in the Iraq invasion. In addition, with Bush flying high, his rhetoric turned caustic toward all “liberals” and he in fact became one of the most passionately partisan Senators. He is incapable of repudiating his NNT pledge. That reasonably sounding voice of his is not accompanied by a corresponding reasonable mind. It is driven by a devotion to ideas that benefit hs election chances and has not a shred of compassion toward the average “Joe Taxpayer”.

  13. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/21/2009 - 02:11 pm.

    It seems the Republicans’ precondition for fixing anything is swearing off tax increases. How do you work with people who insist you adopt their position, and then they’ll talk?

  14. Submitted by Ambrose Charpentier on 12/22/2009 - 01:37 pm.

    If Norm’s going to get into the race, I’d like an enterprising reporter to ask the question about what actual work his wife did for that insurance company to earn her pay. Did she actually do some work or was it just a pass-through of money from Norm’s supporters to him? Nobody seems willing to ask this question. Seems simple enough. Let’s take a close look at the character issue if we’re going to be given the choice of Norm Coleman for office again.

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