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Emmer’s amazing performance on cutting the budget

Rep. Tom Emmer
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Rep. Tom Emmer: “We need to eliminate the duplications, the redundancies, the excess that we have in our state government right now.”

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.”

The Clydesdales
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.”

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Brian Simon on 06/11/2010 - 10:06 am.

    “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.'”

    Sounds like the wrong candidate is on the top of the ticket. If Rep Emmer doesn’t have any ideas about how to restructure the state, but his sidekick does, why not promote the sidekick? That would eliminate some redundancy in government.

  2. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 06/11/2010 - 10:36 am.

    I had the same impression and was struck by the clydesdales story too. The problem is clydedales want to ride in the wagon? I think he was trying out a talking point that isn’t ready for prime time.

    It seemed he started out reframing every question, even when he was just re-wording a bit, and then challenging Miller like she’s trying to deliberately misstate things. One time he made this stupid accusation “you’re against redesigning government”. At one point he asked her not to interrupt him when she WASN’T saying anything. I thought he was trying to create a situation where he could pretend it was confrontational and then play to conservative paranoia that the press is out to get them.

  3. Submitted by myles spicer on 06/11/2010 - 11:22 am.

    The usual caca from the conservatives — lots of smoke and mirrors. The Republican party in Nevada totally revamped the website of Sharron Angle (their suprise candidate for Senate) after she won the nomination. Her ideas were so severe and out of the box, they knew they would not fly in an election. So much for conservative specficity.

    Ask the Tea Party folks if they will cut Social Security, Medicare, or the Military (which combined total over 70% of our Federal budget)
    and they will run away from that idea like it is the plague. Hopefully, citizens of our state will see through this nonesense — our experience with the Pawlenty experiment has been quite enough.

  4. Submitted by Eric Schubert on 06/11/2010 - 11:23 am.

    Clearly the Minnesota Republican Party is nervous at the chunk of their shrinking base that Tom Horner appears to be peeling off. (And it’s only early June). As the Republican candidate continues to wallow in generalities, Tom will be speaking in specifics as he already has on Facebook, on the campaign trail, elsewhere.

    Unlike the other candidates, his whole career has been built on communication – how to make ideas make sense and sell. There has never been a better time for that type of skill to engage people.

    As the campaign narrows to the point people in the undecided swath are actually listening, Horner will paint an even greater contrast with Emmer and likely the DFL candidate through his ideas and ability to convey them.

    Post-August will be a blast measuring these candidates and their plans for Minnesota. There will be significant and real differences. Avoiding the issues – on everything from health care to stadiums – isn’t going to work. Minnesotans will see through that shallowness.

  5. Submitted by John E Iacono on 06/11/2010 - 12:18 pm.

    Hmmm – MPR

    Talk about going into the hornets’ nest.

    I have to admire his courage in appearing there, knowing that the interviewer would just be looking for a “gotcha” moment.

    And I am delighted that his dyed-in-the-wool opponents, including EB, apparently did not succeed.

    Nice try, folks.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/11/2010 - 12:42 pm.

    It’s easy to avoid ‘gotchas’ — just don’t say anything.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/11/2010 - 01:07 pm.

    I have no doubt that Mr. Emmer and Mr. Horner and the yet to be announced DFL candidate, will all have to visit a proverbial “hornet’s nest” at some point during this campaign. That’s what campaigning is all about. Mr. Emmer will need to appeal to far more voters than those in the GOP base if his goal is to win in November.

    As far as “gotcha” moments, I believe that Mike Hatch had his and some claim that it cost him an election. Will Mr. Emmer be able to keep his folksy demeanor for an entire campaign?

    The comments that Mr. Schubert makes in #4 are spot on. As both the summer and the State Fair wind up, folks will should know where each of the candidates stand on all the issues.

    This is an unprecedented election in as much as we have rivers of red ink left flowing from the current admin. All these candidates should be held accountable for articulating their policies and how this deficit both near term and structural will be dealt with.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/11/2010 - 01:15 pm.

    Ya gotta love it; not enough details for the people that were buying and selling “hope and change” as the silver bullet two years ago.

  9. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 06/11/2010 - 01:47 pm.

    The “cleansing” of Tom Emmer has already begun. His Uncle Drew’s website, Wright County Republican, has been taken down as have his other websites. Could it be because of Uncle Drew’s regular promotion of Bradlee Dean’s You Can Run But You Cannot Hide cult, which Tom Emmer has donated to and praised, or Uncle Drew’s other extreme positions that might draw attention to Nephew Tom’s own extreme positions?

  10. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 06/11/2010 - 03:10 pm.

    I agree, it was not Mr. Emmers best performance. Specifics will come later in the campaign.

    The MPR host was tough. It was “like” grilling Amy K about her campaign promises. I’m sorry; MPR does not question Amy K about her promises.

  11. Submitted by John Clawson on 06/11/2010 - 04:00 pm.

    I was living in California when Arnold Schwartzenegger got the idea to thrown poor old gray Grey Davis out of office. Outraged by the waste, fraud, redundancy, stupid programs, biases toward low income people and a dozen other grievances, he assured us he would bring in an army and go through the books of the world’s seventh largest economy with a fine tooth comb and set everything right. I’ll give him credit: he did go through the books but didn’t find anything worth spitting at to get rid of. And in the end Grey Davis was trashed for no real reason, Schwartzenegger was found not only not to be a savior, but to be no better at administering than Davis–and maybe not so good because he had a wrong idea about government coming in the door.)He was able to find money for HIS own special interest, though: a tent set up in the Capitol plaza for him to be able to smoke cigars with his capitol cronies when he chose to do so.) And he did nothing to prevent California’s inexorable slide into financial catastrophe. Emmer is the worst of the candidate here in this regard: promising a fix they cannot deliver. Camping trips (if they really exist in this Republican administration!) Owl migration studies? Less than pocket lint! Not even pocket change. The deficit is in the hundreds of millions and he volunteered Kerri a few thousand dollars of stuff that doesn’t affect his life. Like all people like Emmer, he’s happy to cut OTHER people’s programs but never volunteers hgis own for the choppinbg block. He is not the only gubernatorial candidate declining to tell us what the November budget-fix surprise will be if they are elected. Like Schwarzenegger did. But he is the worst of them for he is either ignorant (the greatest part of the state budget is locked into place, and the smnaller part by far is what keeps the place running) or he is disingenuous. There is apparently no limit to the appetite for some people to be fooled into buying snake oil and eye of newt. Tom Petters? Denny Hecker? Tom Emmer?

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 06/11/2010 - 04:34 pm.

    Mr. Clawson (#11) — You’re quite right about the kind of governor Schwartzenegger turned out to be but, as I recall, Gray Davis was forced from office when the Republicans and Enron successfully stuck the blame to him for the artificial energy shortages (created by Enron) that led to unbelievably high energy prices (also courtesy of Enron) that damaged the state.

    I believe Ahnold was the Republican’s chosen candidate because of his celebrity status and his name recognition as The Terminator.

    If Emmer gets his chance to “perform” as governor, I’m sure we can expect Pawlenty Junior, with predictable dire results for the poor and middle classes, education and health care, and continued breaks for the wealthy — many of whom beg to be taxed at rates that would transfer some of the burden to them.

  13. Submitted by Steve Marchese on 06/11/2010 - 05:10 pm.

    Call me crazy, but I think platitudes will get you only so far. People know that these are perilous times and I think (hope) they will demand that candidates give them something more than “trust me”.

    I heard Emmer speak for part of yesterday’s broadcast. When Miller pressed him to name one state program that he believed didn’t work as designed, he fumbled around incoherently and then mentioned the GAMC program. When Miller asked him what he would fix, he again hemmed and hawed before coming up with the “idea” that perhaps we could just give practicing doctors a tax break to encourage them to take some of the low income clients the program serves. That was it — and his actual answer wasn’t even that fleshed out.

    I came away with the impression that Emmer has no real idea how to handle government beyond his platitudes. He sounded like Sara Palin in a trouser role. Maybe some people will be fooled by this nonsense. Just how many remains to be seen.

  14. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 06/11/2010 - 06:36 pm.

    OMG..it is frightening to think he could be Governor..the man doesn’t have any solutions at all..
    I don’t think he even understands what the problems are..
    Any of the other candidates would be preferable.
    I am going to be lighting an awful lot of candles over the next couple months..

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/11/2010 - 10:48 pm.

    This shouldn’t surprise anyone. They’ve been winning elections for almost 40 years with this crap. Of course there’s no “details”, it’s magic, just cut taxes and then the magic happens. Cut government and the magic happens. The problem is the Democrats never bother to point out obvious facts like there is simply no way you’re going to find 7 billion dollars worth of cost savings because the government isn’t that redundant and inefficient in the first place. We’ll see if Minnesotan’s fall for it again.

  16. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 06/12/2010 - 08:06 am.

    I think he plans to solve the budget problem by not allowing gays to marry.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/12/2010 - 10:07 am.

    One way to do this would simply be ask what Pawlanty’s dollar total of discovered and eliminated redundancies and inefficiencies has been after 8 years? Not budget balancing cuts mind you, any moron can to less with less. I want to see the dollar amount on actual efficiency and waste control. I remember seeing a report once that estimated something like $90,000 dollars in cost savings. $90,000 dollars? And you think your going to balance the budget this way?

  18. Submitted by Jeffrey Bland on 06/12/2010 - 11:41 am.

    The juxtaposition of Emmer on Midmorning and Pawlenty on The Daily Show, and what each said, is interesting.

    Query whether Emmer’s about-face (from decrying government to abstaining on the campaign trail from providing any program-specific cuts; “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.”) has something to do with, perhaps, his taking a page out of Pawlenty’s campaign playbook for president.

    The quote of Emmer that was provided seems to be a less-polished version of Pawlenty’s approach, which is seemingly to appear as thoughtful, smart, and experienced (since he doesn’t have an ability to project fire-and-brimstone, have vast sums of money, or have a big shtick, as he put it to Stewart’s chagrin and which resulted in a priceless, comedic moment).

    What’s interesting in what Pawlenty said right-off-the-bat (in response to Stewart’s first question at 2:00 into the tape), that he is for “limited, effective government” and that folks need to be given the truth about the disconnect between revenues and expenses, is that this is what Emmer now seems to be saying. Pawlenty stood by the premise that government should play a role in certain areas (citing the National Guard, for instance), but it needs to do the things it should be doing better; that not all programs should garner the same level of priority; and that thinking differently about the delivery of services may allow us to decrease the cost/price of government (not sure if he’s calling for the elimination of university buildings).

    Emmer’s inartful statement seems to adopt this approach:

    “… 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.”

    Is Emmer’s claim that he is on a listening tour legit? Hillary Clinton did this with much success when she first ran for U.S. Senate. Or, is his reluctance to cite a litany of policy pronouncements a strategic ploy in order to avoid the wrath of voters who may not like his programmatic cuts. Seems odd, at least to me, to have a policy wonk in Annette Meeks on the ticket only to refrain from engaging in a serious discussion of policy.

  19. Submitted by Tom Miller on 06/12/2010 - 06:10 pm.

    This article got me to listen to the program on the MPR website.

    Rep. Emmer’s performance was pitiful. Anyone who has been in the legislature for six years should have a solid basic understanding about how state government works. It didn’t come out in the interview. There should be no need to dodge mild questions (Kerry Miller asked good, serious questions, but was nowhere near tough on Emmer). Anyone who proposes to LEAD the state and its citizens, and is already an endorsed major-party candidate, should have, at a minimum, a going-in outline of proposals to move the state forward. Judging solely from the MPR performance, an Emmer incumbancy would simply be four years of an evasive governor.

    The tea party movement is, at its essence, anger and hatred. It’s adherents are uncomfortable with the current state of societal affairs, and ready to vent upon any thing or any one that they can conveniently target and blame. The TPers have no proposals whatever to solve their perceived problem other than throw the bums out. Unfortunately, that attitude is the same message presented by Rep. Emmer in the MPR interview. I sincerely hope, for the sake of all Minnesotans, that he will present tangible policy proposals SOON.

  20. Submitted by Colin Dunn on 06/12/2010 - 07:45 pm.

    Okay, metaphor deconstruction time: I get that the wagon in Emmer’s soundbyte refers to Minnesota’s government (right?). What are the horses? The taxpayers? Political leaders? Bureaucrats?

    Anyhoo, no wonder the Clydesdales wanna climb into their wagon — that’s where the beer is.

  21. Submitted by Michael Zalar on 06/13/2010 - 01:55 am.

    Okay, so in the face of the mine disaster in West Virgina, and the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Emmer wants to reduce regulation.

  22. Submitted by William Pappas on 06/13/2010 - 09:58 pm.

    You’re joking right? Kerri Miller’s show a hornet’s nest. Week after week she let’s conservative fantasies pass for fact. All she did was ask for one specific idea of how Emmer was going to reinvent government. He, of course, has never been known for his deep thinking which he hasn’t been required to do as a republican in favor of limited government. Pawlenty’s cuts supported by Emmer for eight years have shown us the magic of “no new taxes” producing a steady decline in economic progress for our state along with decreasing outcomes in education and healthcare. Nice. Emmer is a radical conservative and former mainstream republicans are peeling off from the party in droves. As scrutiny draws out the real Tom Emmer, one who is factually and intellectually challenged, the republican party will simply be overwhelmed by the emptiness of his and their ideas.

  23. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 06/14/2010 - 06:02 pm.

    I am not a horse expert, but I’ve never seen a Clydesdale run. They are made to plod along powerfully, not run. Shouldn’t a guy from Delano know that? Even if he’s a bit slow and hasn’t noticed them in the pastures around town, you’d think he would have noticed them oin the 4th of July parade there.

  24. Submitted by John E Iacono on 06/16/2010 - 04:36 pm.

    It seems to me that Kerri’s clear intent was to find a “gotcha” moment from within her own paradigm, and steadfastly and absolutely refused to hear the reasonable insistence by Emmer to stick to HIS approach instead.

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