Yesterday, on MPR’s interview program “Midmorning,” host Kerri Miller had Republican Guv. Endorsee Tom Emmer on for the first hour.
Emmer, who came to the fore as a fire-breathing anti-tax, smaller government, pro-freedom crusader, has adopted a very different tone since he won the endorsement. He still thinks taxes are too high and government is too big, but only in a general sense. He doesn’t want to say what he would cut to balance the budget if he became governor. A couple of weeks ago, Emmer announced that rather than specifying how he will tackle the projected $5 billion-$9 billion deficit, he wants to spend a couple of months listening to Minnesotans’ ideas.
As a matter of political strategy, this seems quite obvious and a tad cynical. Specifying painful spending cuts will not help him broaden his appeal beyond the base and will make it easier for DFLers to portray him as a Grinch who wants to steal Christmas. On the other hand, “listening” is such a likeable, humble thing to do. (In fact, there are many poll results indicating that many Americans are tired of an arrogant government telling them what it will do instead of asking them what they want done.)
Miller seemed to feel that Emmer really needs to tell us what programs he will cut, but she was limited by the norms of objectivity and of the tone of her show from raising her voice or grabbing him by the shoulders and actually shaking the specific cuts in government spending out of him. Emmer wouldn’t specify any. Literally, not one, although he was willing to muse out loud about whether certain things the government does are really necessary.
In fact, Emmer doesn’t accept the word “cut” at all. He just wants to reinvent government, not so much downsize as right-size it, to keep taxes down, create a better business environment, do the things that government really should do but not the other things and, well something to do with Clydesdales pulling a wagon that you’ll see spelled out below at the bottom of this post.
You might think it would be hard to stay on the air for an hour refusing to answer the main question that the host wants to ask, or that things would get testy. But Emmer seemed up for it. He was friendly and affable throughout, even as he basically rejected every demand for specifics on what he would do as governor, and pretty much admitted that he was doing so, and seemed to sort of apologize, but that’s just the way it will have to be.
He has said that he will get specific later, after he’s done listening.
You should really listen to the interview, or a bit of it. The whole thing is available here. It’s kind of an amazing performance. But it’s an hour long. So, at great personal sacrifice, I transcribed one long Emmer answer and one shorter one, and now that I read what I transcribed, it almost seems like a dirty trick to put it up. But how can it possibly be mean or unfair to quote a candidate, verbatim. So here goes.
After Emmer had pretty much established that he was going to filibuster Miller’s questions, she went to the phone lines and Mike from Pequot Lakes said, bluntly and explicitly, that he wouldn’t vote for Emmer unless Emmer put out more specifics about what he would do. Mike also (I have to mention this to make the transcript work) said that when other candidates do say more specifically how they would address the deficit, Emmer “ostracizes” them. It isn’t the word Mike really wanted, but Emmer adopted it.
Emmer’s answer starts around the 17:20 mark of the tape, if you want to check my transcription or experience the answer aurally.
Mike: “I need to know your specifics to vote for you…”
Emmer: “Hey Mike thank you very much. Two things. Number one, the other people that are running for governor are not being ostracized by us at all. In fact, I haven’t even made any comment about those folks.
“I believe — and Kerri, you and I were talking about this off the air before we started — I think Minnesota is sick and tired of politics as usual. I think they’re sick and tired of people who think the way you sell yourself when you’re seeking elective office is by smearing the other guy. That’s not what you do. You go out and you sell yourself.
“Mike, I would also suggest that aside from a proposal that I’ve heard to tax the rich, when it comes to detail, perhaps we should sit down and talk a little bit more about line items. That’s not what we’re talking about right now.
“In fact, a governor doesn’t even put out a line item budget until they get to a January of a session.
“That being said, I absolutely respect your reference to the fact that — Tom, you’re out on a listening tour, I want to know what your plan is.
“I’ll tell you right now I have very strong opinions about what we need to do. We need to eliminate the duplications, the redundancies, the excess that we have in our state government right now.
“I gave you a couple of examples right off the bat. You’ve got agencies that, frankly, we question now, what is the mission of the agency? What is the mission, for instance, of the DNR?
“I’ve been told recently that our Department of Natural Resources , which should have a very important function when it comes to overseeing our — and creating uniform application of rules and regulations to — our wonderful recreational and other outdoor resources in this state. Our open spaces, I’ve been told recently — and I haven’t been corrected yet, nobody’s come forward and said no that’s not true — that we’re now spending tax dollars to take metro women on bus trips for camping vacations. Not vacations, but camping trips.
“And we’re also spending money to study the migration patterns of owls in our state forest.
“Those might be important functions, Mike, but when you start to look at those line items, you gotta ask the question: Is that something that our government should be delivering with our tax dollars? Or is that something that maybe one of our wonderful universities should be involved in? Or maybe one of our civic groups should be involved, when it comes to the camping trips.
“We do have some very strong feelings about the future of this state. People should look — Annette Meeks is our lieutenant governor candidate. You want to know who’s got the most detail when it comes to plans? Take a look at the book that Annette published back in 1998 or 1999 called ‘The blueprint for the redesign of government.’
“And Kerri, you had asked me, when we started, about the last eight years in this state. And I told you about the environment. People may not have been ready for the restructuring of government, this complete overhaul and looking at every item that government is doing right now and re-identifying what our priorities are and making sure that we design a delivery system, called government, that will not only serve us today, in this century, but will prepare us for years to come.”
(Miller tried to interrupt him here, perhaps sensing that the hour was going by too quicly, but Emmer interrupted her interruption and insisted on finishing his thought.)
Emmer: That book, Kerri, is an outline for the redesign of government. It’s more detail that anything anybody else has put out since then or even now. But again I think it’s important before we just imprint our beliefs on everybody in the state of Minnesota, Mike it behooves us as we go to campaign over the next couple of months to listen to the great ideas that you and others also would offer as we put out ours later this summer.”
Later in the interview, Emmer told Miller that if Minnesota is not going to be able to do that re-identify and reinvent thing, the state will be “done.”
If that’s happens, “We might as well pack it up and allow the government to take over our businesses and everything else.” Then he went for this metaphor:
“Because I’ll tell ya, the design that we’re working under right now — people should imagine a couple of Clydesdales that get together one day to pull a wagon. That wagon is the state of Minnesota. And over time, you keep adding more and more Clydesdales until that wagon is just humming down the road. And then the day comes, Kerri, when the first two Clydesdales want to ride in the wagon. And then the next two and the next two. The wagon and the state of Minnesota is two-fold.
“We’ve still got the horses but they’re not able to run the way they once did. We need to start emptying out some of these burdens, whether it’s excessive regulations that frustrates a mine from opening up in northern Minnesota. Or it’s taxes that drive businesses away from Minnesota.
“We need to start looking at those issues very seriously. We need to not only address the structure of government but we need to address the business environment so we can get those horses running again and attract new horses to the state.”