State of the State: The speech Pawlenty needs to give

The state of the state is not good.  But Minnesota isn’t unique. When Gov. Tim Pawlenty gives his State of the State speech tomorrow, he will have a significant opportunity to change the tone of our politics and offer a different level of hope for the state and its citizens.  The question is: Will Gov. Pawlenty take the chance?

Last week, when addressing the annual Session Priorities dinner hosted by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Pawlenty missed an opportunity to truly connect with the audience. (And it was an audience that historically favors his policies.) Instead, he stuck to his tried and true style of talking fast and showing little emotion. It’s not that it was a bad speech. But there needs to be something more, something deeper. 

During trying times, the human soul and spirit needs to begin to show itself. In this case, we need to see Pawlenty’s soul. During the last budget crisis, Pawlenty was hopeful and optimistic; now he seems irritated and impatient.

Minnesotans are patient and determined, and we are used to leaders being hearty and hard working. If Pawlenty can convey the depth of the hard work that’s needed and build a non-partisan vision for leading the state out of its economic funk, he could change the session and his political career.

Recall, for instance, the criticism President-elect Barack Obama received for only being a good orator. The truth is that there was a depth to his feeling that clearly resonated with people.  This was most evident on the long trail of Democratic primaries when his authenticity and depth of connection ultimately defeated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Pawlenty could do the same and build momentum for what will be a difficult re-election to a third term (if he chooses to seek it) and to further prove himself as a real player on the national GOP stage.

Connecting with people
Pawlenty has the ability to connect on a personal level with small groups and one on one with people, but for some reason he hasn’t been able to do that through speeches to large audiences. It may be that Pawlenty hasn’t had to give a great speech. Now is his time to shift his style and tone. 

If Pawlenty would have been Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential pick, he wouldn’t have had to give a speech like the one he should give tomorrow.  Instead, he would have been relegated to being the attack pit bull, much like the role played by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.  It’s not that Pawlenty has to shift his ideology in this year’s State of the State. He needs to shift his style. He needs to get personal and be human. 

Remember candidate Tim with his 34-inch waist and middle-class car?  That was personal. The “Sam’s Club Republican” speech at the National Press Club this summer was an audition for the national GOP, but it was also authentic and real. Think Pawlenty un-plugged.

To date no one has really dug into the deep challenges for our state and communicated a vision for Minnesotans on how to face the enormous task of building a better state. Instead, the first couple weeks of the legislative session have proven to be mostly posturing between DFL leaders and the governor. For instance, the Senate DFL leadership has suggested it is waiting for the governor’s budget, saying “he is the leader.”  

That’s the governor’s opening to dig deep into his soul for the speech and into his brain trust for ideas that he can bring forward, execute and follow-through on.

Great leaders rise to the occasion during challenging times. They also put aside partisan rhetoric and compromise on ideology to make progress.  Minnesota needs progress. Pawlenty has the opportunity. Channel Obama, governor, and find us some hope.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Susan Musial on 01/14/2009 - 11:35 am.

    I’m sorry, but if Pawlenty’s going to stand up before the people of Minnesota and say “I’m sorry, my fellow Minnesotans. I know that you are in desperate need of extended unemployment benefits, affordable health care and day care, job retraining, reliable infrastructure, and a sound basic education; unfortunately, I promised my rich friends that I wouldn’t raise their taxes and I want to run for president in 2012, so you’re out of luck,” there’s no amount of channeling Obama that’s going to provide Minnesotans with any hope whatsoever.

  2. Submitted by Rod Loper on 01/14/2009 - 12:09 pm.

    The other day I was troubled by his facial expression at the bipartisan press conference
    on joint purchasing by school districts and
    his Departmrnt of Education. With the democrats
    at the podium his smirking was deplorable and
    frankly ominous. He is not to be trusted as a leader.

  3. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/14/2009 - 02:29 pm.

    Mr. Pawlenty,

    Please do not take the easy route and spend more and more of the people’s money to satisfy the liberal special interest groups.

    It is not courageous to keep on spending other people’s money.

    Please give the people of MN real change and hope by cutting governmnet and the special interests that will never have enough money.

    Please do not cave to the liberals who say that raising taxes, growing government, and ever increasing the size of the tax burden is courageous.

  4. Submitted by Susan Musial on 01/14/2009 - 04:25 pm.

    Are roads a liberal special interest group? Are the thousands of people left unemployed by a tanking economy a liberal special interest group? Are the thousands of children dropped from state insurance rolls a liberal special interest group? Tax money is not “other people’s” money; it is my money, along with that of my fellow Minnesotans, and it is to be spent to benefit my fellow Minnesotans. And some of it, obviously, is going to be spent on things I don’t personally use. I accept that, because the state as a whole benefits. Those who receive the benefits of tax expenditures aren’t “liberal special interest groups” simply because they aren’t me and I don’t derive a direct personal benefit from the expenditures. There are circumstances in which raising taxes is courageous, and sticking to a showboating “no new taxes” pledge in the face of looking economic disaster is cowardice of the first water.

  5. Submitted by david granneman on 01/14/2009 - 05:30 pm.

    hello all
    i have ray of hope for the “i want higher taxes ” group. why wait for the government to raise taxes.
    if you think the government needs more money to operate, the good news is,you can get out your checkbook and write a big check,possibly 75% of your income and send it to the government – they will be glad to spend your money for you.
    PLEASE SEND AS MUCH AS YOU CAN AFFORD.

    i suspect the higher tax crowd does not want to personally pay more taxes – they want other people to pay higher taxes

    the best action the govenor could take would be to cut taxes and regulations that stifle business – we need to make minnesota a pro-business state. what would you rather have a job or a government handout.
    unforturnately the later is becoming the choice of many minnesotans.

  6. Submitted by Susan Musial on 01/15/2009 - 12:43 am.

    What the “low tax” crowd “really wants” is for THEMSELVES not to pay more taxes. Not to be “forced” (by their own elected representatives) to “subsidize” people who have the gall and the bad morals to be poor, when all it takes is a good attitude and sterling morals to be rich. I am a member of the “higher tax crowd” — no, I’m not rich, I’m a working stiff two paychecks away from foreclosure, and certainly in no position to give 75 percent of my paycheck to anyone other than my family, which includes my special needs child — and I am, believe it or not, perfectly happy to pay higher taxes. Which, although insufficient alone to make a tangible difference in the quality of life of Minnesota, may, if asked of me by a responsible legislature (don’t forget, we live in a representative democracy and “our government” is WE THE PEOPLE) and spent wisely by those with a larger perspective than my own, improve the quality of life for all Minnesotans. Even the ones who would sooner amputate their own extremities with rusty butter knives than see one thin screaming tortured dime of their own money go to anyone they deem less deserving than themselves.

  7. Submitted by david granneman on 01/15/2009 - 10:28 am.

    hello susan
    you said you would happy to pay higher taxes. as i said previously – you dont need to wait for the state to raise taxes. you can simply mail a check to the govenment now. GO AHEAD AND BE HAPPY AND SEND TO STATE ALL THE MONEY YOU CAN AFFORD.
    please remember the state knows better where to spend your money than you do.
    you say you would be happy to help the poor – unfortunatly susan, most of your tax money goes to fat cat politicians and their contributors and only crumbs get to the people who realy need the help. what would be better for the poor – handing them a welfare check – or cutting taxs to allow business to grow and provide good jobs for the poor. no country has ever taxed itself into prosperity.

  8. Submitted by Susan Musial on 01/15/2009 - 02:10 pm.

    No single individual can possibly write the state a check for enough money to do what the state needs to do in order to satisfy its obligations to its citizens, whether those obligations are imposed by the state constitution or by statute. I would think that that would be obvious. Actually, I’m sure that it is obvious, and that what you’re really saying is that I should write that check so you don’t have to. Cutting taxes to allow businesses to grow and provide good jobs for the poor has proved to be a dismal failure (I’ll just assume that you’ve been vacationing on the Moon for the last eight years and missed that memo); all it has accomplished is the creation of the widest income disparity between the rich and the poor since the period immediately prior to the Great Depression (coincidence?) What would be better for the poor, handing them a check to pay the rent today or letting a billionaire write off capital gains in the hopes that once he pays off his fourth yacht and his fifth mistress, he’ll think about hiring a part-time zero-benefits undereducated stock clerk for one of his MegaMart outlets? I’d vote for the welfare check, myself.

  9. Submitted by Paul Mielke on 01/15/2009 - 02:34 pm.

    To conserva-libertarian mouthpieces David Granneman, Ron Gotzman, and Craig Westover: your philosophy has been tried since Reagan and been found wanting…

    People are in debt up to their eyeballs since they haven’t been receiving the fruits of increased productivity (business has taken it as PROFIT). They don’t have money to spend to buy business’ output. Businesses then cutback due to lower sales to maintain their profits. This lowers demand further as the only sales that will be made are when things are to be had ‘cheap’, which leads to deflationary momentum… UNLESS someone (in this case, the government) starts spending.

    Deflationary state = stagnant Japan of the 1990s or even a Depression. So, slow day of reckoning thru gov’t spending.

    But no, you’d rather administer a SHOCK therapy of rampant deflation. Soup lines, bread, blocks of cheese if you’re lucky…

    No thanks, no thanks…. 15% unemployment way too painful.

  10. Submitted by Ted Snyder on 01/15/2009 - 02:58 pm.

    The voodoo economics (with apologies to voodoo) of tax breaks for the rich promoted by the right is based on the formula of shrinking government to a small enough size, then drowning it in the bathtub. Pawlenty’s SOS speech folowed that premise. Taxes, efficiently spent, are meant to buy protection, education, infrastructure and a livable environment. They deliver something, they do not just disappear w/o a trace. Pawlenty has never understood that, and we experience a MN in decline as result.

  11. Submitted by david granneman on 01/20/2009 - 02:56 pm.

    hello susan
    the reason minnesota is having problems is that we are not taxed enough, it is that we spend too much. we have too many people, like you, who would prefer a welfare check to a paycheck. remember, the state, must take the
    money from someone earning a paycheck to give you a welfare check.
    do you feel you deserve their eanrnings more than the person who owned it.

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