Pawlenty’s ‘flat’ speech draws equally tepid reaction

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Gov. Tim Pawlenty today used his final State of the State address to tout the importance of making job creation the state’s top priority.

There was pomp. There was ceremony. There were soldiers and patrol officers and Boy Scouts.

The Senate came into the House chamber to applause.

The constitutional officers came in to applause.

The Supreme Court justices came in to applause.

And even the seldom-seen Lt. Gov, Carol Molnau, drew a little applause when she was introduced.

But, as often has been the case, after Gov. Tim Pawlenty was introduced — to applause, of course — he ended up delivering a flat State of the State address.

Only Sen. Dave Senjem, the Senate minority leader, seemed impressed. And the Minnesota Republican Party, which issued a statement praising the governor’s “bold and innovative proposals.”

Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem
Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem

“Exciting speech,” Senjem said. “These are challenging times. He offered challenging solutions. If we do the same old things in the same old ways, we’ll end up with the same old results.”

Same-old same-old?
But, in fact, the governor was offering the same old things in the same old ways, and the end result — heavy partisan bickering and a budget mess — are almost assured.

Even most Republicans seemed somewhat surprised by the lack of passion in Pawlenty’s speech, which was read from teleprompters.

“I saw him look up to his wife,” said Rep. Tom Emmer, one of many candidates hoping to succeed the governor. “Maybe, you know, it [the flatness] was something to do with that farewell tour business.”

State Rep. Tom Emmer
State Rep. Tom Emmer

There was one new element to this cut-taxes, cut-government speech.

After spending a few minutes attacking the ability of government to accomplish anything, the governor suggested that public schools in each city be turned over to the respective mayors Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“I support giving mayors the accountability and full control,” Pawlenty said, “and I mean full control, of the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts. Short of that, however, I’ve directed the Department of Education to use existing authority to create an Office of Turnaround Schools …”

This idea had everyone in the chamber scratching their heads: Where’d that come from?

DFLers suspect nothing will come of this effort, which seemingly would politicize education issues even more than they are.

Typically, the governor tosses out ideas in his State of the State speech and then they’re never heard from again, said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich. “He’s not emotionally invested, I think, in his own ideas.,” he said.

Certainly, the governor didn’t seem emotionally invested in his final State of the State speech.

“A rehash of his first speech,” said Sertich.

Hockey humor and exchanges
Oh, there was some humor.

Pawlenty had a little advice for whoever will replace him: “Schedule a monthly haircut to manage your mullet,” he said, to chuckles.

And this: “Before you take the microphone at a Minnesota Wild game, carefully practice pronouncing the word ‘puck,’ ” Pawlenty said. (He muffed that one once, to hilarious results.)

Afterward, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, also a gubernatorial candidate, noted that as a hockey mom, she has “no trouble pronouncing ‘puck.’ ”

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, too, used the hockey reference to get in a nifty little dig at the hockey-loving governor, noting that Pawlenty had played “on the junior varsity”while growing up in South St. Paul.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller

But other than these little asides, there was little in the speech for anybody to talk about. The serious conversation is expected to come Monday, when Pawlenty presents his proposal for dealing with the $1.2 billion budget deficit in the current biennium.

The governor did make it clear that he wants the Legislature to support his unallotments from the end of last session. (That’s not going to happen.) He also made it clear that he plans to balance the budget through cuts.

“On Monday, you’ll see my plan to solve the additional budget deficit identified in the November budget forecast,” the governor said. “It will include very dramatic and painful spending reductions. While programs for the military, veterans, core public safety functions and K-12 classrooms will be protected, nearly all other areas will be proposed for reductions.”

Oh, and by the way, despite the deficit, Pawlenty wants to cut a variety of business and investment taxes.

It should be noted that many DFLers, including Sen. Tom Bakk, yet another candidate for governor and head of the Senate Tax Committee, supports many of those business tax cuts as a way of spurring job growth.

State Sen. Tom Bakk
State Sen. Tom Bakk

“The governor and I talked about that last year,” said Bakk. “We’ll continue to talk. But what he never says is how he’ll pay for those cuts? He never talks about a way to bring in new revenue.”

There was none of that talk in today’s speech, either.

Rather, there were lines he now uses in his stump speeches in his travels across the country, particularly that government needs to get out of the way so private enterprise can create jobs.

But, like everything else in his speech, he didn’t even summon up passion for those thoughts.

The biggest thing missing on this day of pomp and ceremony, it turned out, was emotion.

Pogemiller’s summary: “Boilerplate Tim Pawlenty.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 02/11/2010 - 02:59 pm.

    Typical, boilerplate, tax and spend, DFL response.

  2. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 02/11/2010 - 03:57 pm.

    Typical, boilerplate, Minnpost reporting. But this year we all Matt Entenza ads. I wonder what percentage of Minnpost is Matt Entenza sponsored?

  3. Submitted by Charles Turpin on 02/11/2010 - 04:26 pm.

    Interesting address. More for what was not said than what was said. If Mr. Pawlenty really had some good ideas on how to solve Minnesota’s problems, this was the time and place to express them. But he essentially said nothing. This suggests he has no answers, just more platitudes.
    I’m looking forward to his next stump speach.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 02/11/2010 - 05:15 pm.

    It was a serious speech. One that seemed to be addressed to a national audience and not necessarily to the folks here in Minnesota. It had the all touchstones of a campaign speech.

    His legacy tells a different story. Six of the last eight years have been deficits for the governor. We have lots of red ink here in Minnesota. The governor has not made a lot of headway by leading Minnesota back into the black. Now that he is in his last year in office, the governor is ready to make the politically difficult budget cuts that are required? Monday will tell us whether the governor will stand behind his rhetoric.

    As for tax cuts for business’s that hire or create jobs. It is obvious now that while big business has stopped large scale layoffs, they are just plain not hiring. They have also probably figured out that starving, bankrupt consumers don’t buy much. Perversely, this means that productivity will keep soaring, as will corporate profits. Absent consumer demand why would any business add to their payroll?

  5. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 02/11/2010 - 05:15 pm.

    Typical useless speech by a smug, clueless Republican. Cut taxes and everything will be fine. That was wrong 30 years ago when President Ronald Reagan introduced and I defy Republicans to find any state in the union that has adopted that philosophy and succeeded.

  6. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 02/11/2010 - 07:57 pm.

    Jeremy – I think ND and SD have a successful track record. How is CA doing now days are they totally insolvent yet? Maybe MN can spend their way to the success and end up like CA.

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/11/2010 - 08:02 pm.

    So… after eight years of pursuing the same ideologically-based agenda, one which has clearly done tremendous damage to the general well being of the citizens of the state of Minnesota, even Timmy can’t work up any enthusiasm for his intellectually, fiscally, and psychologically bankrupt ideology.

    Still we have the opinion expressed that if we just go faster and farther down this same path everything will get better? Even Timmy doesn’t seem to believe that anymore, but then, I guess among the most current cosmological theories is one that posits that, if you just go forward in a straight line for enough billions of light years, you’ll eventually curve back around to where you started. Of course such a journey would take a few billion years.

    It seems to me that the likelihood of the Reb. approach to politics and economics taking us back to the better days we all remember is about as great as any of us being able to make and survive such a journey through the universe using current technology.

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