It's been almost a week since this curmudgeonly JAS groundhog peeked out from under his daily surroundings and viewed enough wild proposals to predict at least two more years of growing government and shrinking freedom for Minnesotans. Fortunately, I still have some charitable spirit left, and it is that spirit that propels me to review for you how we got to this point, so that none of you are tempted in the throes of despair to subordinate your own judgment to anyone trying to replace the current governing majority.
So, one last time, for your benefit, I share with you the ten most significant recent developments in MN politics (in this case, for the second half of 2006):
10) With Larry Pogemiller ascending to the position of Senate Majority Leader following the involuntary exit of Dean “the truth-sander” Johnson from DFL Senate leadership, the DFL leadership in the legislature became almost exclusively the province of big-city liberals and Iron Range careerist politicians from uncompetitive districts. The likely result will be an even more leftist agenda that strays further from the preferences of the average Minnesota voter.
9) The heavy-handed intervention and politically correct posturing on behalf of Paul Koering, a leftward-drifting incumbent who recently announced he was a homosexual, enabled Koering to keep his State Senate seat. The price paid was a deep alienation of the conservative base that caused Republicans to lose their other legislative incumbents in the region.
8) The Congressional race that six-term incumbent Gil Gutknecht lost was a microcosm of what happened to Republicans in Congress nationally. His false sense of job security and exaggerated sense of self-importance caused him to think he could get away with reneging on a pledge to limit his own tenure in office, and ducking high-profile debates against a little-known, poorly funded challenger. By the time he realized his campaign strategy was not helping his efforts to be re-elected, his late decision to distance himself from President Bush’s policy in Iraq seemed panicked, not genuine, and not very statesmanlike. Meanwhile, he did little to publicly distance himself from the weak Republican Congressional leadership. The net result: he fell prey to a deficit in voter intensity among his base of previous supporters.
7) A silver lining from Republicans’ losses of state legislative seats in the 2006 elections was that both legislative caucuses finally were able to make changes to their underperforming leadership. The bad news is that the Senate Republican Caucus picked another moderate, Dave Senjem, to be their leader, although he may not be as vocally hostile toward conservative activists as Dick Day was. The good news is that the House Republican Caucus turned the reins over to a younger, more conservative member, Marty Seifert, who also has much better rhetorical skills.
6) The Swift plant raids, and the hysterical urban liberal response to them, greatly increased the possibility that illegal immigration, and the fraudulent activities that facilitate it, will now be of greater concern for most Minnesota citizens when they go to the polls.
5) Though voting for as many liberals as they ever have, Minnesota voters were at least willing this past election to punish candidates who went back on their word. As referred to earlier, this clearly was a factor in Congressman Gutknecht losing his seat. Patty Wetterling’s late decision to run a second time for Congress after publicly giving reasons for why she would not do so was a self-inflicted wound to her election chances. Most encouraging was that voters tossed out Dean Johnson, a military chaplain who had become the most powerful member of the state legislature after over two decades in the legislature. Dean Johnson’s too-slick explanation of why he misled fellow ministers that he had been personally assured by the Supreme Court that a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman would not be necessary, since the Court was not willing to risk voters’ wrath that could result from allowing anything else, brought the voters’ wrath down upon him instead. Gov. Pawlenty’s slick denial that the tax increase he supported at the end of the 2005 session was not a tax but merely a “health impact fee”, and therefore not a violation of the pledge he made before becoming governor not to support any new taxes, certainly damaged his re-election prospects. He survived, however, because his main opponent, Mike Hatch, stumbled badly down the stretch.
4) Though there were other contenders, Patty Wetterling did just enough to win the Courier’s booby prize for being the most inept major-party candidate on the ballot this election cycle. First, her second run for Congress was preceded by a specific denial that she would run for Congress again. Then she tried to paint Michele Bachmann as being for more taxes, in clear contrast to her voting record. The booby prize for ineptitude was sealed when Wetterling clumsily lumped Bachmann in with those covering up the Mark Foley scandal, even though Bachmann wasn’t in a position to know or conceal anything about it. I doubt any party will be masochistic enough to nominate Wetterling to run for any public office again.
3) Tim Pawlenty’s message this campaign (which could be paraphrased as follows: I was too conservative my first year as governor, but I learned more about what was necessary for governing and grew into the role enough to get better results out of government, and to put the state in a better position than it was when I became governor) left conservatives at a loss for what good things he would do if re-elected. The message also did nothing to boost the prospects of any other Republicans on the ballot. Even more astoundingly, in contrast to the maxim that politicians typically drift toward the center just prior to the general election, Gov. Pawlenty made proposals that tacked further to the left immediately after winning a second term.
2) Notwithstanding the anomalous victories of Bachmann and Pawlenty, MN Republicans received in this election what most Republicans received across the nation: a thumping. They decisively lost a U.S. Senate seat, all the lesser statewide constitutional offices, control of the MN House, influence in the MN Senate, and even lost control of a Congressional seat to someone who had no public profile outside his local community when the campaign started. It is important to note that ideological leanings mattered little in the races of legislative members swept out by a surge in anti-Republican sentiment. Yes, some vocal conservatives (such as Phil Krinkie, Tim Wilkin, Brian LeClair, and Mady Reiter) lost; however, for every one of them, there were careerist, big-spending moderates (such as Bill Belanger and Greg Davids) that went down to defeat as well. Fortunately, the most liberal Republican in the legislature, Ray Cox, also was swept out by the anti-Republican sentiment.
1) Mike Hatch and Judi Dutcher gave away the governor’s race in the final two weeks of the campaign. Dutcher made them vulnerable with her airheaded response to a question about ethanol that stumped her. Then, Hatch’s overreaction to questions about it—berating Republicans for going after a woman, and accusing aggressive reporters of being Republican whores—completed the self-destruction. Their meltdown has to rank as the biggest choke in a statewide contest here since 1990, which still probably ranks as Minnesota’s most chaotic election year ever.