MN Top Ten for 2005
I thought I’d give this blog a break from talk about the Middle East and immigration issues by reminding MN conservatives to focus on what of significance has been going on in their state and communities as they decide who to campaign for or even vote for in this election cycle.
Here’s my list for the ten most significant developments in Minnesota politics in 2005. Readers are invited to make suggestions for my soon-to-be-unveiled list for the first half of 2006. As for 2005, in ascending order of significance:
10) Chris Coleman trounced Randy Kelly to become mayor of Saint Paul, reassuring politically correct statists traumatized by past leaders’ ties to the nefarious G.W. Bush that their home city was still a hospitable place for nanny-state New Leftism. The election also proved that without Norm’s yuppie charisma, the average St. Paulite resists anyone or anything tied to Republicans. The reason this development ranked as low as it did is that Randy Kelly, in his own words and actions, is a traditional liberal “Democrat for economic-justice reasons,” who believes in “good unemployment compensation, workers’ comp, and prevailing wage” who boasted that he “carried minimum-wage [hike] bills for almost 20 years in the legislature.” Norm Coleman proved a that a charismatic liberal Republican could get re-elected in St. Paul, but there is no indication that he made it easier for a conservative to ever get elected there.
9) Years after Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, Minnesota finally was forced to abandon the gag rule that has historically made a sham of its judicial elections. But, ironically, the support from top Republican politicians with ties to the discredited old system may not be there now to capitalize on the opportunities freer judicial elections could create for conservatism.
8) Due in no small part to Gov. Pawlenty and Republican legislative leaders’ willingness to approve the dessert of bonding projects long before the meat-and potatoes budget work was done, Minnesota experienced the first partial government shutdown in its history. Not surprisingly, life went on without any major catastrophes. Just in case, judges proved willing to overstep their traditional bounds by authorizing dubious “emergency” spending.
7) Following Brian Melendez’ election to replace Mike Erlandson as DFL state chairman, Ron Carey was able to supplant establishment favorite Ron Eibensteiner to become the state Republican party chairman. Other than deservedly tossing out someone who had been unappealing as a spokesman and ineffective at electioneering, it remains to be seen as to what else the Republican change of party chairman will accomplish. One less-than-encouraging sign is that most of the establishment operatives weren’t tossed out along with the figurehead.
6) The Minnesota Personal Protection Act was re-introduced and re-passed on its own merits—a sign that politicians still feel compelled on occasion to acknowledge reality and admit that doomsday scenarios (in this case, about concealed weapons) yield a lot more barking than biting.
5) Gov. Pawlenty signaled his willingness to support hiking the state’s mandatory minimum wage, thereby becoming chiefly responsible (just as Arne Carlson was in 1997) for giving Democrats the gift of signing an increase into law without any allowance of a credit for tipped employees (a credit that exists in most of the neighboring states).
4) Sen. Paul Koering publicly revealed his homosexual inclinations, becoming a poster boy for Log Cabin types and for Republican politicos falling over themselves in a rush to tell the media how little difference Koering’s sexual inclinations mattered to them. Of course, everyone refrained from asking or answering the tough questions (such as, “If Koering could tell his friends and Senate colleagues he was gay, why couldn’t he—or his friends or colleagues--tell the people whose endorsement and votes he sought to get elected?” or “How indiscreet was he that his sexuality was no secret to his colleagues or many political operatives?” or “Is defending someone who calls himself ‘a good Catholic boy’ openly living a homosexual lifestyle inviting a backlash from orthodox Catholics?” or even something this basic: “Does being a ‘nice guy’ explain why Republicans should remain loyal to you, even as your voting record has gotten more liberal each year you’ve been in office?” Koering’s announcement and his colleagues’ reaction to it demonstrates how for so many of them social conservatism is a cloak to put on or take off, depending on the political circumstances at any given place or time.
3) You’ve heard of “bracket creep” or “mission creep”. 2005 marked a year when “special session creep” grew to ridiculous levels. It actually started in the waning days of 2004, when the governor’s spokesman suggested it could be beneficial to do a session with lame-duck legislators so that we could help fund Medtronic’s expansion plans. It continued right through October of 2005, this time so we could get a new football stadium for the Gophers and a Hennepin County stadium for the Twins before it was “too late”. House Speaker Sviggum said special sessions should be limited to items for which there was enough “common ground to move forward”. Not so long ago, that standard would have been used to justify passing a new law in a regular session. Lawmakers who served in the 1950s and 60s experienced only a couple special sessions for the entire time they served as legislators; conversely, we have witnessed 11 special sessions in the past 13 years. From a cynical standpoint, the governor can criticize legislators for “not getting their work done” in a timely manner, yet wield more power in special sessions, where most legislators are reduced to rubber-stamping pre-arranged agreements negotiated between the governor and the legislative leaders.
2) An unholy alliance of special interests got a huge gas tax increase passed by both chambers of the Minnesota legislature. Thankfully, it was vetoed by Governor Pawlenty.
1) Gov. Pawlenty atoned for one of his rare good decisions since 2003—vetoing a gas tax hike—by making a very bad one when he proposed and instituted the disingenuously-named “health impact fee”. This type of slick doublespeak is what made Bill Clinton so reviled by conservatives. Pawlenty’s decision to extort revenue from a socially unfashionable group in order to balance the budget without reining in spending exposed the governor and those allied with him to widespread ridicule. The other unavoidable consequence of the “fee” was that it ensured a libertarian challenge would start with more credibility and momentum than ever before in the history of our state. Instead of a fringe candidate pushing legalization of drugs or prohibition of religious expression in the public square, you got a smart, independent businesswoman personally harmed by the Governor’s actions on smoking and the minimum wage. Pawlenty has no one but himself to blame for that development.