Blue Texan’s latest essay on the place Molly Ivins famously called “The National Laboratory of Bad Government” resonates with me. I’m not a Texan, but for most of the past quarter-century, my home state has, like Texas, been governed by immature and/or greedy Republicans who either had outright House majorities or had enough bodies to block most of the legislation they didn’t like. When Tim Pawlenty was in office, they worked in concert with him to force round after round of budget cuts that somehow never seemed to permanently solve the state’s budget crises — crises that existed in large part because of the tax cuts he helped ram through as House Majority Leader in the 1990s and early 2000s. The propensity of Pawlenty and the Republicans in the legislature for kicking the budget can down the road has manifested itself in his handing incoming governor Mark Dayton a $6-billion-plus deficit.
Now Pawlenty is gone, free to pursue his presidential pipe dream for which he nearly wrecked the state by putting the whims of hard-right GOP presidential primary voters above the welfare of the people he was elected to govern. The nationwide Republican wave succeeded in tipping both state legislative houses back into official GOP control, but even it couldn’t get the virulent teabagger Tom Emmer into the Governor’s Mansion, and for the first time since my early adulthood, Minnesota now has a Democratic governor, Mark Dayton.
In this day and age, it’s a common thing for Democratic executive-branch leaders, be they governors or presidents, to cower at the sight of Republicans — and this is doubly true when the Republicans actually have official control of one or houses of a state or Federal legislature. Which is why it’s so refreshing to see Governor Dayton, politely yet fearlessly, go toe-to-toe with Republicans and their patrons:
Governor Mark Dayton told an audience of business leaders wary of tax hikes that the state needs more money to fix its budget problems. Dayton gave a 30 minute speech to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce at its annual legislative dinner last night. He went through a litany of facts to explain why Minnesota should increase income taxes on top earners – a proposal that makes many business leaders nervous. Dayton said trying to erase the $6.2 billion dollar deficit with spending cuts alone will hurt the state in the long run.
“Eliminating all of the state agencies would save about $3.5 billion of just over half or the projected state deficit. And that is why I say respectfully to anyone who thinks this session is going to be easy and painless, please share your magic potion with the rest of us. Or else get to work reading and understanding the state budget as I have.”
Listen to the audio recording of the speech here. He enters to enthusiastic applause and, through self-depreciating humor and direct acknowledgment of their differences, has the crowd — a group of tax-phobic businessmen — eating out of his hand, and maybe he might have got a few of them to soften their intense opposition to his stance that Minnesota needs to raise taxes, particularly on the rich. With a combination of hardcore, unassailable facts and polite yet direct manner, Governor Dayton made his point with the audience, and likely left his mark on them as well.
When he’s not emulating Daniel in the lions’ den, he’s also resisting pressure to appoint cronies or other unqualified persons to key state government posts. For instance: He was under a great deal of pressure to pick Rod Skoe, a rice farmer with no conservation management experience and someone seen as very friendly to mining interests casting hungry eyes on northern Minnesota, as the next head of the state Department of Natural Resources. Instead, he picked Tom Landwehr, a man who, as Neil Haugerud states over at Renaissance Post, is “long known to Minnesotans for his varied rôles as educator, scientist, wildlife manager, lobbyist and, above all, conservationist. Landwehr holds Master’s degrees in Wildlife and in Business Administration from the Gopher Mound. His outstanding career in public service includes over 15 years in wildlife research and management, Conservation Director responsibilities for Ducks Unlimited in Iowa and Minnesota, and the Assistant Directorship in Minnesota and the Dakotas for The Nature Conservancy.”
I have a feeling that my new governor is going to do just fine. After a long stretch of immature greedheads, it’s nice to see a responsible adult in the big mansion on Summit Avenue.