Posted: 05/22/07 23:17
by Dave Mindeman
During a Fox baseball telecast last week, Joe Morgan and Jon Miller were discussing how difficult it is for a rookie to pitch his first game in the majors. The adrenaline is flowing.... he doen't know the hitters and the tendency is to try to do too much. He will overthrow and the ball will tend to stay high in the strike zone and ....well....high pitches tend to get hit high and deep. Big mistake.
The recently completed and very disappointing legislative session had that analogy. Pawlenty, the veteran, pitched his usual stingy type ball game.. but the DFL Leadership "rookies" got caught going too deep in the count and had to "groove it down the middle".....and high in the zone. They got clobbered.
Maybe they were overly optimistic about what they could accomplish. Maybe they used a weak strategy. Maybe they got caught in that end of session "squeeze play" without a plan b. Whatever happened, it is hard to look at the end product and be overly happy.
First of all, the long negotiations may not have been productive...but ending them abruptly with the Governor getting the arbitrary final say was not a logical strategic move. I understand that they had a general idea of how far the governor would go and laid out the bills accordingly....but the session is now over; the Governor is the only one who can call them back; and his pen has complete control over the final details. Not good. And his announcement that he will probably veto the Tax Bill is the first result. And what can we say about the Transportation Bill..... the override was there; pressure could have worked. Timing was horrible!
The Main Budget Bills
Looking at the final products is a little disappointing. Most of the early initiatives fell victim to a weak negotiating position.... and the end product looks more like legislation crafted by Pawlenty than a strong DFL majority.
Higher Education....the Governor's ACHIEVE program made it through and university performance standards tied to funding made it also. But a Republican tuition freeze did not happen.....and additional funding to hold increases to around 4% did make it. Baby steps in the right direction, but pretty tame none the less.
E-12 Education...Most of the new money that made it through got here; but Pawlenty's Q-Comp had to be funded. Some additional special education money got authorized but still not enough. That is the main theme for the Education bill....some, but not enough. Still, the education lobby was happy to get that after the past few sessions.
Health and Human Services.... Incremental help. Always just incremental help. Nursing homes get something... a few more people will be insured. But no reforms and no major intitiative toward the promised Universal Coverage. And Single Payer? Way down on the back burner.
State Government Bill.... got through, but had major modifications. Again the Governor dictated the terms. Almost all the original provisions had cuts of some kind..... more baby steps.
Transportation..... fugetaboutit; What a disaster. Pawlenty and Molnau gutted this again... they were content with a "my way or the highway" (appropiate) strategy. How long can they get away with this stuff before it hurts them politically? The main bill was ripe for a veto override and the Senate would have done it, but the horrible timing, by the House, of the attempted override, doomed it immediately. Kelliher gave the Republicans an out and they took it. Of all the major bills, this is the one that the DFL really blew it on.
We have to hope that there were lessons learned here. It was not pretty to watch. I had thought that Pogemiller would be a negotiating obstacle....instead he was putty in the Governor's hands. The Governor's use of the media was masterful.... a carefully placed dig at Pogemiller's tactics and the Senate Majority Leader completely backed off. He became a non-issue right to the end. Speaker Kelliher seemed overwhelmed at the constant adjustments.... the final hours were pretty chaotic and gave the Republican minority ample opportunity to complain. She didn't seem to have any lines in the sand; everything kept moving... and not in the right direction.
Playing Like He Had a Mandate
Even with only a 1% plurality win, Governor Pawlenty acted as though he had been given the mandate. He simply laid down the parameters and the DFL couldn't seem to make any major moves outside of them. Pawlenty seemed to know how far he could go, while his DFL counterparts seemed to have no idea. The veto strategy isn't a new one (the national example is certainly there), but the DFL leadership never found the answer. With numbers so close to veto overrides, why did they seem so powerless? It is a mystery they need to solve by the 2008 session, or they might as well just rubber stamp the Governor's opening salvo.