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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

With Little to Offer, Pawlenty Breaks Out Old Rhetoric

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 02/27/07 17:28

By Christopher Truscott

"(O)ur ideas are right for Minnesota," Gov. Tim Pawlenty bragged in a fundraising letter e-mailed to supporters Monday afternoon. "And they are working. Minnesota is on the right track."

And the glass is half full ? or, more appropriately, 1/10th full. Maybe even less than that.

The governor is woefully outgunned at the Capitol after an election that saw many of his allies routed from power and one that Pawlenty himself barely survived in spite of his lackluster first-term record. But with the legislative session nearing what he calls "crunch time," Pawlenty isn't hiding, though he probably should be. Nope, he's gearing up to fight for his self-proclaimed "aggressive" agenda.

Make no mistake about it, there's nothing wrong with a vigorous debate, but before we can have that we need vigorous ideas. The governor's legislative agenda ? his well-received renewable energy initiative notwithstanding ? doesn't meet the price of admission to the serious conversation about the future of our state.

After four years in which property taxes soared, college tuition went through the roof, tens of thousands were cut off public health care and public schools eviscerated staffing and programs because of flat state funding, the governor's 2007 initiatives don't even undo the damage of his first term, let alone serve as a serious starting point for discussion over our direction in the next four years.

Simply put, Pawlenty's ideas aren't working and under his leadership Minnesota has gone dangerously off track. Nevertheless, he would have us continue wandering aimlessly in the wilderness rather than admitting a change in course is in order.

After double-digit property tax increases, the governor has offered a property-tax cap, while doing little to address the root of the problem: his administration's cuts to local government aid, inadequate education funding and cuts to social service programs like MinnesotaCare.

College tuition is up nearly 30 percent since Pawlenty moved from his post as House majority leader to the governor's office. While many are deciding whether they can afford to compete in the new economy, the governor's few remaining allies offer tuition caps for the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems.

After surviving his near-death political experience last fall, Pawlenty pledged to "cover all kids." But his health care proposal leaves tens of thousands of Minnesota's uninsured children with nothing at all.

Rather than putting forward a bold program for school reform, Pawlenty has offered a few general (and half-developed) ideas, gimmicky funding and patronizing sound bytes. When we needed leadership, the governor was busy playing to the minority of Minnesotans who validated the performance of his administration. Meanwhile, school systems across the state are preparing for yet another round of belt-tightening.

Minnesota needs real leadership, perhaps now more than anytime in recent history. What the governor has offered, however, amounts to little more than campaign-style bluster.

We need to adequately fund public schools so local school boards can keep their heads above water without turning to taxpayers for more budget levies. That's good public policy and it's also tax relief.

We need to roll back the epic tuition increases in the U of M and MnSCU systems. That's a strong investment that will pay dividends in terms of economic development in the 21 st century.

We need to fund health care for every uninsured child in this state because, quite frankly, that's what a civilized society does.

And we need a governor who understands that the people of Minnesota cast their ballots for results, not more of the same.

Christopher Truscott can be reached at chris.truscott@gmail.com. He's glad to be on Pawlenty's mailing list. Thanks, governor!
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Tom Vilsack - We Hardly Knew Ye

Category: US Politics
Posted: 02/26/07 22:16, Edited: 02/26/07 22:35

by Dave Mindeman

Tom Vilsack... he was there at the beginning, but also the first to go.... we really didn't even get a chance to know him! It was difficult for him to rise above the noise of the political establishment. Vilsack's withdrawal emphasizes the point that the 2008 Presidential race is already very serious. Candidates have to reach a viable level much more quickly than ever before. By this time next year, we will probably already have the selection process finished. The shifting to early primaries could make everything a done deal by March 2008.

I don't pretend to be any kind of expert, but I have been an observor for a long time. And since I don't have a particular favorite in this race yet.... let me throw out some observations and you tell me where I have it wrong.

Today's Democratic field....

Hillary Clinton: I suppose she is still the odds on favorite yet. She has some vulnerabilties (almost everyone considers her controversial in one way or another) but she has been through some pretty ferocious campaigns and that kind of experience is hard to duplicate. She also has Bill....probably the smartest and most adept politician to ever play the game. Her tactics on her own war vote are very calculated. She knows the left in her party is angry about that vote, yet she clings to the "I take responsibility for my vote" line. It hangs over her like a Damocles sword. But it could also be a gamble to make her seem more centrist and thus give her a better send off into the general election. Its a strong, win-it-all strategy, but it requires weaker party opposition. Barak Obama upset that apple cart. I expect that if Obama gains more traction, her rhetoric on her war vote will begin to change. She has a complicated campaign strategy, but the money and experience make her pretty tough to bet against.

Barak Obama
: Obama has been riding a wave. He is a charismatic speaker and could be a true groundbreaker by being the first major party black nominee. He has convinced people that he believes in a new type of politics... one of inclusion and away from the old style political wars. However, last week, Obama was baited by the Clinton campaign and he bit...hook, line and sinker. That blast against David Geffen (as an Obama surrogate), by the Clinton camp, was a calculated tactic....blast the opposition by using the words of a supporter and see how they respond. Obama's staff (if not Obama himself) took the bait and responded in the old style way....blast back in kind. It will be hard for Obama to maintain his aura of being above the fray when he, or his staff, react in that manner. The Clinton camp plans to bring Obama's campaign down to earth with hardball politics....and, in this instance, the Obama campaign's inexperience was very evident. Frankly, it will be necessary for Obama to be in a tough primary battle... his previous electoral experience hardly extolls serious challenges. He needs to be battle tested if he is have a chance in the general election wars.... the Democratic field should provide that. It is also interesting to note that Obama has not made great inroads into the African-American electorate. That only proves that the African-American vote is not monolithic.... even though they vote strongly Democratic, they are much more discerning about which Democratic candidate they will support. Obama needs to make some inroads here.

John Edwards: For some time now, Edwards has been working hard preparing for the Iowa caucuses, and his strength there clearly makes him a top tier candidate. He has a complicated position on his war authorization vote... saying that his vote was wrong, but taking full responsibility for his "mistake". He uses that explanation to contrast himself with Senator Clinton..... who voted the same way, but won't admit to a mistake. This is a difficult position for Edwards to fully explain because it is not just the war vote itself that has to be justified.... he defended that vote throughout the entire 2004 campaign. Here is a quote from a transcript of an Edwards interview on Meet the Press for October 10th, 2004:

MR. RUSSERT: If you knew today, and you do know, there is?there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would you still vote to go to war with Iraq?
SEN. EDWARDS: I would have voted for the resolution, knowing what I know today, because it was the right thing to do to give the president the authority to confront Saddam Hussein. I think Saddam Hussein was a very serious threat. I stand by that, and that's why we stand behind our vote on the resolution.


Only after the Kerry-Edwards ticket lost the 2004 election did his rhetoric about being "wrong" emerge. He finally went public with an Op-Ed piece in November, 2005. Maybe prior to that he had no choice....maybe he couldn't talk about it during the heat of the 2004 campaign..... but the timing seems a little too safe. However, given all that, it still took some political courage to publicly say he was wrong. More importantly, Edwards' biggest strength comes from bringing longstanding, and sorely neglected, progressive issues to the forefront of his campaign. Not since, Wellstone and Bobby Kennedy, has a candidate made the plight of the poor such a prominent part of a candidate's vision. That is where his basis for support will derive from. But, can he raise the money to keep up with Clinton and Obama?....that's a legitimate question.

The rest of the field are long shots right now, but political winds can quickly change. The other candidates will need a growing deadlock among the top three for someone else to gain traction. They are worth a mention for now:

Bill Richardson: It's hard to believe that Richardson really believes he can be the nominee... more likely, he is positioning himself as a VP candidate. A presidential campaign gives him the exposure and a forum to make his positions clear. He could be of enormous help with the Hispanic community for any Democratic ticket....once his credentials are established, I expect him to drop out and wait for the VP call.

Chris Dodd: Dodd doesn't have a defined position different enough to make him stand out. One analyst had a cynical take on why he's running... as chair of the Senate Banking committee, he has access to the deep pockets of the banking lobby. Maybe true, but it doesn't seem likely he will be able to mount much of a serious campaign.

Joe Biden: Biden has a strong understanding of foreign policy and has been a vocal critic of administration policy for quite some time. But his position on getting the troops home is a little mirky. And his ideas, in general, don't seem to satisfy advocates on the right or the left. He is prone to verbal gaffes, especially under pressure. Again, his candidacy is probably a long shot....and ditto on being a VP.

Dennis Kucinich: Kucinich has the only real credentials of a true anti-war candidate. He is the only one of the current candidates, who has an actual vote against the war authorization and has been a consistent critic since then. However, he has never been able to be a competitive fund raiser.... which has always been a problem for a candidate coming out of the House.... especially one who doesn't have a leadership position. He walks the walk and talks the talk.... is that enough in these days of mega buck campaigns? Probably not... although you have to admire his principles.

Wild Card: I still have a gut feeling that Al Gore is in this mix. He continues to say he is not a candidate, but he doesn't have to make that commitment. His name continues to pop up.... last night at the Oscars was an example. Solid, positive press without spending a dime. He still has his nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize coming up as well. He won't be a player as things stand now, but if the top 3 candidates beat each other up and no one emerges quickly as the leader of the pack, Gore has the credentials to step in quickly and clean up the mess. He could maybe wait till this fall....but after that he wouldn't have the time to mount a full scale campaign, at least one that can win without a deadlocked convention. Still, up to that point, he would still have to be considered at least a piece of the puzzle.

Stay tuned.
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Oberstar vs Pawlenty: Who Would You Trust For Your Commute?

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 02/24/07 12:54, Edited: 02/24/07 12:54

by Dave Mindeman

This week Congressman Jim Oberstar and Governor Tim Pawlenty seemed to be playing a little game of one-ups-man-ship over transportation issues.

Oberstar, who now chairs the Congressional Transportation committee has a "little" bit of influence on Fed Transportation dollars. Of course, Oberstar can't give Minnesota any kind of edge over other states in this regard, but it would be prudent for the legislature to take heed when he gives advice.

On the other hand, Governor Pawlenty is making sure the House and Senate are aware of his ever ready transportation funding veto pen. His public statement directly contrasted Oberstar's.

So who has more credibility?

With a chairmanship to back it up, Congressman Oberstar gave the legislature a blueprint of how to make sure they get their fair share of federal dollars... and the simple phrasing was G-A-S T-A-X! Since it has been almost 2 decades since we raised revenue in this way, it would seem an obvious first step. Infrastructure continues to decline and projects continue to be delayed. Financing any transportation solution, by year after year of bonding, is simply irresponsible.

Governor Pawlenty, on the other hand, talks a big game. However, as he says with educational issues...results matter. And results in the tranportation area have been...well, awful would be the kindest word to use. I keep coming back to the Crosstown project because it is one of our most critical traffic venues. The constant construction delays on this project, that this administration has subjected us to, have not only caused enormous commuter headaches, but the longer we put this project off, the more it is going to cost. I realize this administration shrugs off inflationary numbers, but the real world still factors inflation into its budgets. And inflation has not stopped.. at least that's the last I heard. Counties are desperate for road dollars and local taxes have begun to appear. Yea.. the Governor has a lot of "taxes are bad" talk but unfortunately, fixing roads takes some of the real green stuff.

Credibility? Oberstar has the real world credentials... Pawlenty has simply failed any transportation test.

A gas tax is needed and even though the Governor will more than likely veto it, it still needs to move forward. This legislature has to show the voters of Minnesota that they have sought a solution.

If the Governor wishes to be the party responsible for the current state of Minnesota commutes, then so be it.
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