Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Which job “suits” Pawlenty best ?

Before I answer the question, “Which job “suits” Pawlenty best ?”, a quick trivia question.

In the classic television show, The Brady Bunch, there was an episode entitled "Adios, Johnny Bravo". After a musical audition during which he is picked to become a rock star, Greg gets a big head and is ready to skip college.
Question : Why did the producers pick Greg to be Johnny Bravo ?
Answer : He was only chosen because he "fit the suit."

Hence it is with so many politicians, they are selected because they fit the “suit” (or image) that can easily be sold to the voting public. Look at George W. Bush … failed in a run for Congress in 1978, used family connections to achieve some personal business success (-- err, make that personal financial success as these businesses were not successful) then a stint as Governor of Texas. Resume and qualifications were not his strong suit, but his image was presented as a Compassionate Conservative who promised straight talk and high moral standards, opposed nation building and advocated tax cuts. Bush fit the suit of what could be sold to the social and religious conservative voters who in the end only got tax cuts (deficits don’t matter). In virtually one year, the Iowa caucus will be held and voters will notice how the candidates are morphing into a “suit” that can be sold to their perceived base.

Now we come to Tim Pawlenty … a man who wears many suits. He has a radio program that is broadcast throughout the state via WCCO. He is currently Vice Chair of the National Governors Association (NGA) and Chair of the NGA Center for Best Practices and next fall, he assumes chairmanship of the NGA. Monday, John McCain’s presidential exploratory committee announced that Pawlenty will serve as National Co-Chair of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign should he decide to run. Oh, and he’s also our current Governor and according to his campaign manager, he may run for a third term if he is not selected to run for Vice President.

Remember when Governor Ventura was criticized for various personal appearances and private business endeavors. In fact, then Representative Carol Molnau (current Lt. Governor) requested a ruling by the Office of the Legislative Auditor whether it was appropriate for the state’s taxpayers to be obligated to pay for security costs for state troopers and support staff expenses during book tours.

What I find concerning is that when Pawlenty was asked during the 2002 campaign whether he would pursue other endeavors, he stated that he would only be the Governor. Now, as McCain’s National Co-Chair, will he be actively sounding out donors and rounding up supporters at dinners in key primary states during the all-important financial primary? How many trips to Iowa ? How many TV appearances ?

Pawlenty was elected for a reason – to be Minnesota’s Governor. Tim Penny and Kevin Featherly penned a great Op-Ed in The Pioneer Press assessing Pawlenty’s talents and encouraging him to take some BOLD steps at leadership.

Listening to Pawlenty’s State of the State Address, he opted to address the easy issues that everyone can agree upon – better government, energy, education and health care. These issues were actively debated issues in the past election, and based on the legislative race results he has a pretty easy idea how the legislators feel. Hence, we heard revamping of his prior proposals using the term “compromise” and updating the version -- i.e. “Achieve II”. But there were other issues that the Governor did not mention – transportation and illegal immigration. These issues may not “suit” the image that he wants to project. He is adamant that he will veto a gas tax to address the state’s transporation needs. He knows that the illegal immigration issue is an exploitive wedge issue but the solution is politically very dicey. One comment that I can agree with him on – the need to stop paying for good intentions. To me that means the legislature should look at the subsidies that are on the books. He may be right that Minnesota is not overtaxed, but that does not mean that there is not inequity in the tax system. Subsidies transfers the tax burdens to ordinary citizens.

Although he addressed the issues, the solutions he offered were minmalistic yet somehow seemed to be adequately “suited” to resolve problems. He advocated additional opportunities to allow private business to obtain state spending (i.e. establish $4,000 scholarships for at risk students that may be used for private pre-schools.) In some cases he promotes rewarding the performers instead of elevating the underperformers (i.e. 2% increased additional funding if standards are achieved without consideration that some districts that based on Pawlenty’s own comments can be categorized as affluently educated communities which may easily achieve the targets.)

I believe that we can all agree with Pawlenty when he said "The state of our state is great, but we can make Minnesota even better," but to do that we need a BOLD Governor 100% committed to being the Governor.

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