Is Pawlenty really a conservative all-star?

Gov. Tim Pawlenty opens nearly every speech with a joke.  He even opened his news conference announcing that he wasn’t running again with a joke: Twins star catcher Joe Mauer was going to have to play for the Vikings to end the Brett Favre drama.  After all, everyone is being asked to do more.

It wasn’t very funny. 

Over the past four weeks, DFLers have grumbled and GOPers have gloated that Pawlenty was about to hit a political home run: No special session, no government shutdown.  It was his greatest political opportunity, handed to him on a silver platter by the miscues of the DFL-led Legislature.

Now, as national and local pundits watch Pawlenty’s 2012 moves, the question about his greatest political opportunity will be this: Did he make the most of it?

Think of it this way: Is Pawlenty the Mauer of Minnesota politics? (Local boy makes good, national all-star, seems to pull out the big hit when he needs it.) Or is he another Chris Weineke?  (Local boy, lots of hype, never lives up to the hype, has a moderately successful pro-football career.)

If Pawlenty were Mauer he would have swung for the fences, he would have taken the opportunity to re-shape Minnesota’s state government in the manner that he and conservatives have talked about for years. He could have done that by:

• Making deep cuts in state agencies and eliminating thousands of jobs, which would have been a major blow to unions.

• Cutting hot-button state-funded amenities such as cable TV in prisons.

• Eliminating local government aid to cities and counties, giving the governor and opportunity to espouse “local control.”

• Cutting transit funding to a level that would have forced prices to rise or possibly shut down some operations completely.

• Unallotting to a level that would result in a surplus by February, making Pawlenty look like a hero, locally and nationally.

Pawlenty is acting less like a rising star and more like a status-quo go-along-to-get-along governor, not someone who will take the steps that would prove his conservative credentials once and for all.

Pawlenty is starting to feel like Chris Weineke.

After all, the governor postponed or procrastinated 63 percent of the state budget shortfall to future years.  (The $1.7 billion education shift is 63 percent of his solution.) And he delegated the tough decisions to the state higher education systems, cities and counties rather than taking the lead himself. 

If Pawlenty was a Joe Mauer-like player, he would have taken his “Sam’s Club, Aw Shucks” conservatism and hit it out of the park.  Instead, pundits will continue to wonder if he’s got the right stuff to play in Iowa in 2012 or if he’ll wear out his welcome like Favre in June 2009.

The day of reckoning has come and gone. The real-life impact of Pawlenty’s unallotment cuts will linger for the months and years, but the politics of the move are relatively short-term.   That’s not good for Pawlenty’s national ambition. 

Always politically minded, Pawlenty has probably weighed the risks of the media reporting heart-wrenching stories about people hurt by his cuts. But with every risk comes an opportunity. 

An analysis of Pawlenty’s cuts presents a picture of either a moderate Republican, facing few choices and trying to delay as much pain as possible, or a wanna-be conservative whose bark is louder than his bite.

Politically, Pawlenty has missed his chance to be the national star that he pines to be.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 06/17/2009 - 10:21 am.

    Weak! The 1.7B is cash management. How does no blogger on minnpost understand this. How can a tax increase can be called revenue but you call cash management a gimmick or shift. Maybe we as a state should take all the costs of the state in 2020 front load them into next week.

  2. Submitted by Gera Rosy on 06/17/2009 - 10:40 am.

    Pawlenty is not a conservative all-star. He is simply another Republican opportunist, not far removed from the myriad of Democrat opportunists.
    The only true conservative on the national scene is Ron Paul. Strange as it might seem, Paul’s fundamental beliefs are not much unlike those of Dennis Kucinich, the only true liberal in Washington.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 06/17/2009 - 10:57 am.

    The real issue with shifting $1.7 billion of school funding into the next biennium, is that there will be no money available to actually make good on the promise to pay that money.

    In all likelihood, this will turn out to be a $1.7 billion cut in state aid (unless there are substantial increases in the state’s ability to collect revenue).

    But TIM doesn’t have to worry about that. He’ll be gone by then, just like the college senior who holds a massive end-of-year party and trashes the rented house, leaving his housemates to pay for the damages. He doesn’t care because he doesn’t have to care. He’s be off to a great new job in a different city and state, and his housemates were just a bunch of chumps, anyway.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 06/17/2009 - 12:06 pm.

    Blois — Suggested legislation:

    1) Make it illegal to spend dedicated funds like MnCare provider taxes and the tobacco fund meant to help teens avoid taking up smoking for any other purpose. (Impeachable because illegal.)

    2) Revise the Constitution to set term limits on the office of governor – two max.

    3) Revise the Constitution to let the legislature call a special session when they see the need no matter what the governor thinks.

    Suggested fact to publicize: Pawlenty says raising taxes on the top few percent of Minnesota earners would be a “job killer.” I, for one, would like to know how many jobs will be lost from his cuts: health care, home health and nursing home workers; teachers, librarians and public safety personnel; government employees at all levels; et cetera.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 06/17/2009 - 12:12 pm.

    “Politically, Pawlenty has missed his chance to be the national star that he pines to be.”

    I think the governor realizes that the people actually do want the services we’re getting. He just doesn’t have the guts to tell us what we don’t want to hear: that gov’t services cost money. Its the same problem Washington has: cutting taxes is easy, cutting spending is hard. Apparently Gov Pawlenty is not cut out to do the hard work.

  6. Submitted by Tad Bornhoft on 06/17/2009 - 12:29 pm.

    Pawlenty has often said this state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. I’ve been anticipating a Pawlenty budget proposal primarily relying on elimination of all this wasteful spending. Instead he’s relied heavily on one-time use of tobacco money and federal stimulus money, accounting shifts, and “fee” increases. Call it “cash management” or “accounting tools” if you like, it’s not a solution.

  7. Submitted by myles spicer on 06/17/2009 - 12:41 pm.

    I find it hard to believe Pawlenty’s strategy and legacy are winning formulas for future political success.

    His whole premise as Governor has been built almost exclusively on a “No New Taxes” theme. That theme might play well with a narrow conservative base; but is less relevant to mainstream voters.

    First, among all the issues and problems facing our country now, taxes a well down the list. Ask folks about unemployment, foreclosures, job insecurity, mideast wars, and other challenges facing America, and taxes would not be prominently among them.

    Secondly, to a large percentage of Americans, taxes are very low, and not intrusive; and conversely, most Americans would not object much to seeing taxes raised on the very rich.

    In the end, placing you bet on “no new taxes” as a winning strategy does not get good odds.

  8. Submitted by Chip Drewry on 06/17/2009 - 12:48 pm.

    Well said.

  9. Submitted by Howard Miller on 06/17/2009 - 01:47 pm.

    If Governor Unallotment is not conservative enough for some commentators, their expectations need rescaling.

    Our governor has chosen to model his approach on Herbert Hoover’s approach to governing – cut spending in the face of recession – which, of course, made things worse back in Hoover’s day.

    Even conservative economists don’t recommend cutting government spending when the economy is contracting. But such rational advice is lost on the politically pure anti-tax-all-the-time crowd.
    Mr. Pawlenty is governing as disasterous conservatives have before him … and we’ll suffer similar consequences. Pathetic

  10. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 06/17/2009 - 02:58 pm.


    I agree with you whole-heartedly. However, TPaw’s base is neither rational nor able to deal with “facts”.

    Take Pat Kessler’s “Reality Check” last night on ‘CCO. Income and sales taxes for the average Minnesotan have come down or stayed the same for a number of years now. But our property taxes have soared! Up 60% over the last 10 years.

    Does his base even count property taxes as taxes? Or are they all dreaming of the day when they win the lottery and end up in the upper 2% income bracket and that’s why they so staunchly don’t want income taxes raised?

    Apparently a sizeable chunk of Minnesotans don’t understand, (or want to understand) the connection between what TPaw does, especially with this unallotment, and the results of rising property taxes, health insurance premiums, fewer teachers in our schools, and fewer workers to take care of our parents and grandparents.

    It’s not like this is the first time we’ve heard this story – cuts to the budget = increased property taxes. News stories have been done on this, real numbers laid out for individual cities and counties for the entire time of the TPaw’s rein. It’s like property taxes aren’t “real” taxes.

    Those who are old enough, do they even remember the results of delayed payments to the schools back in the late ’80s & ’90s?? Schools were paying out interest hand over fist, then going “bankrupt”. The result? Consolidation of many small school districts across the state.

    The other thing I don’t get is that TPaw is supposedly a “Christian” Governor, but instead of “doing FOR the least of these” he continues to “do it TO the least of these”.

    Where’s the unallotting of part of his salary and those of his commissioners? If the unions are supposed to take cuts, why aren’t they???

    Do his money people even calculate what it’s going to cost the state in increased health insurance premiums when the former GMAC patients show up with no insurance at all?

    These are just a small portion of the myriad of questions that keep me up nights, praying.

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/17/2009 - 10:03 pm.

    I agree with Joe in as much that the governor is only trying to manage the cash that he has on hand. He is doing the best he can with the choices and the positions that he has left himself with.

    For many years now we’ve heard the governor both as a majority leader in the legislature and now as governor. Say that the problem is not a revenue problem but one of wasteful spending.

    Yet when given a free hand to unallot, he chooses to defer payments and ask local goverment to make cuts etc..

    Why did he not show leadership and show us where all that wasteful spending really is? Or is this an actual recognition of the fact that the billions and billions in wasteful spending may not be there as easily as he has been claiming?

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