Tom Horner: A bipartisan army of one ready to engage public and tackle tough issues

Tom Horner
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen

When Tom Horner met with reporters on Aug. 23 to unveil his budget proposal, he didn’t stand at a podium, didn’t play to the cameras. Indeed, the TV mini-cam holders had to stake out clear angles to focus on Horner.

No, the Independence Party candidate rented a conference room at the somewhat frayed-at-the-edges St. Paul Best Western Kelly Inn near the State Capitol, sat at the end of a long table — as if at a business meeting of his former public affairs agency — and explained, even taught, the journalists about his finance plan.

This professorial policy presentation, this version of a middle-of-the-road community organizer, is the sort of modus operandi Horner would bring to the governor’s office, say friends and former co-workers.

Of course, recent polls show that Horner’s chances of exercising this style seem slim. But he has won some battles as a public affairs strategist that no one thought he would — banning smoking in bars, for instance — and he’s done it by tweaking the community conversation and finding a sweet spot in a public debate.

As the Independence Party candidate, if he becomes governor, he would seemingly be alone in the political world in the Capitol. But former business partner John Himle said Horner would form an experienced bipartisan cabinet. His love for policy already brought him Jim Mulder as his running mate; as the former executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, Mulder is about as wonkish as you can get.

Twin Cities communications executive Eric Schubert, who once worked with Horner and who is supporting his former colleague, said Horner as governor won’t simply be playing to the DFLers and Republicans in the House and the Senate. He will actively engage the public, use the bully pulpit of the chief executive to listen to what the citizenry is saying, and then, via external coalitions, triangulate the legislators.

His comfort with the news media likely also would make Horner accessible to the journalistic hordes.

As much as Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer have been handled by campaign managers and spokesmen, Horner has picked up his own cell phone to answer reporters’ questions or chat on talk-radio programs. He has commented on stories at MinnPost and written on Facebook walls as if he’s your teenage daughter. Social media would be a Gov. Horner channel.

Horner’s genuinely congenial nature can’t belie his corporate-leaning policies or his penchant for tackling tough, unpopular issues head-on. Horner alone this campaign has staked a claim on trying to solve the daunting and heated Vikings stadium issue, and he even paired it with another hot-button matter: gambling. In some ways, he’s a risk-taker.

He may have positioned himself as an independent, but, make no doubt he is a Republican, old-school version. Indeed, his candidacy seems to have been a struggle for the heart-and-soul of the GOP, with Horner standing for the traditional Republican wing of the Republican Party, and Emmer for the extreme right-wing that now controls the state party. There was no room for Horner in the Minnesota GOP, what with his 2008 vote for Barack Obama, his abortion stance and his pro-gay-rights positions.

Still, he has been adamant about not raising income taxes on the wealthy even as he wants to broaden the sales tax on all Minnesotans. His finance plan includes cutting off state funding to counties, which are already suffering from years of state cutbacks. At the same time, he has proposed 10 “redesign” teams for government, a list that reads like a page out of a McKinsey & Co. efficiency expert’s play book.

In meetings, he is known as a listener, and then a quick decision-maker, but, said Schubert, Horner presents a firm poker face. “He’s not going to let you see him sweat.”

He’s not going to be personally calculating either, said Himle. “If he’s a one-term governor,” Himle said, “he’s OK with that.”

If he’s a one-term governor, there’s going to be a lot of stunned people Tuesday night.

Mark Dayton: A serious man taking serious work seriously

Tom Emmer: A salesman with gusto, and a bit of a hockey brawler

Tom Horner: A bipartisan army of one ready to engage public and tackle tough issues

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Peter Tharaldson on 10/29/2010 - 10:44 am.

    Jay, this is a respectful opinion piece, with some analysis mixed in.

    Is it in the wrong section? Would what qualifies as opinion push it into an opinion label even if you add some analysis.

    I think so…I think most would.

  2. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 10/29/2010 - 11:56 am.

    I think it’s a great summary and analysis of the 3 candidates. If I knew nothing else about each of them, I would be clear who I would vote for after reading this: Mark Dayton.

  3. Submitted by larry boss on 10/29/2010 - 02:57 pm.

    Jay did you read this in the Pioneer Press last Wednesday?

    Could be why Tom Horner is falling in all the polls because people finally realize he is a wasted vote.

  4. Submitted by Allison Sandve on 10/29/2010 - 06:18 pm.

    All three of these articles are thoughtful.

    This article touches on many of the reasons I’m supporting Tom Horner. Two points: Tom Horner is the kind of leader we need to more realistically position Minnesota for the future. He has placed an emphasis on bringing consumption-based revenue into the picture because the era of relying solely on income tax applies more to generations gone by, not today. The population is growing grayer — rapidly — and that’s one of the reasons we need to inject consumption into the picture. I know that doesn’t fit neatly into bumpersticker-sized sound bites but it’s more pragmatic.

    Additionally, he has the results-focused nature needed to govern in tough times. (And for those who haven’t yet had the chance to meet them, the Horners and the Mulders are some of the nicest people you could ever meet.) I actually think there will be plenty of folks on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature for whom his collegial style will be a welcome relief compared to the otherwise-real prospect of four years of stalemates, for which lawmakers will bear a lot of accountability, too.

    Last evening, I was at Women for Horner get-together where a lot of smart, witty, issues-focused women were on hand. Terrific women — education moms, young professionals, reproductive rights advocates, you name it. We were united by a desire to see the state move forward with moderation and common sense and our candidate is the one to get the job done.

  5. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 10/29/2010 - 11:17 pm.

    The best way to gauge what kind of a governor each candidate would be is to look at the work they did before becoming governor. That is difficult with Tom Horner because he has refused to be forthright about the work has done. Having recently become aware of some of Horner’s work, though, it is clear why Horner wants to keep it a secret because it exposes Horner’s entire campaign as a fraud.

    The work I am talking about is Horner’s work in the dispute between Twin Cities Hospitals and their nurses. I’ll let the nurses union explain what Horner did:

    “Tom Horner says he’d run a cost-conscious government, but he apparently didn’t have any problem leading his largest healthcare client down the road of fiscal irresponsibility,” Shogren said. “First, these nonprofit hospitals followed Horner’s advice and spent hundreds of thousands – maybe even millions – of dollars on a PR and advertising blitz that did nothing to settle our contract and instead sewed divisiveness and discord between the employer and nurses. Horner followed that up with advising the Twin Cities Hospitals to waste nearly $24 million in operating expenses on a one-day strike, along with millions more in lost revenue. Is that Tom Horner’s idea of being cost-conscious?”

    Forget about whether the nurses or the hospital were right and wrong and think about how nasty that dispute was. Well, a lot of that nastiness originated with Tom Horner. During the campaign Horner has portrayed himself as a reasonable moderate who will work with others to find solutions, but his past work in this dispute suggests just the opposite. The last thing Minnesota needs is a governor who will tackle a difficult situation by sowing divisiveness and discord. Fortunately, the good citizens of Minnesota are overwhelmingly rejecting Tom Horner.

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/30/2010 - 08:17 am.

    I can appreciate that Tom Horner would not regard himself to be the King of Minnesota, the way Timmy Pawlenty has and Tommy Emmer would, but…

    His attempts to balance a state budget $6 billion dollars in the hole (by King Timmy’s careful designs) without asking any sacrifices from his wealthy or corporate friends means the economic trends in the state, trends so carefully arranged by King Timmy, continue on the same trajectory.

    The poor and middle class will continue to be stripped of their income, their assets and any hope they ever had of a comfortable retirement while the fabulously wealthy get even more fabulously wealthy.

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