No matter the crisis through 151 years of statehood, Minnesotans have coped best when they've come together. Can they do so again to get through the worst public-sector financial crisis in modern times?
The answer depends in large part on who replaces GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty next January. A candidate's capacity to forge consensus among people of various backgrounds and partisan persuasions ought to matter much as voters select major-party nominees for governor in the Aug. 10 primary.
Among the leading candidates in the DFL contest, party endorsee Margaret Anderson Kelliher exhibits more ability to unify than do her chief rivals, Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza, or political newcomer Peter Idusogie. She has our endorsement.
Kelliher offers a different style of leadership than Minnesota has seen in the governor's office in many a year. She is a collaborator. She shares the spotlight and allows others to shine. She listens and adapts to what she hears. She's adept at building positive personal relationships both inside and outside the DFL circle.
As speaker of the Minnesota House since 2007, she has put those ties to good use. A prime example: the 2008 override of Pawlenty's veto of a badly needed $6 billion transportation funding bill. It wouldn't have happened had Kelliher not made the issue her own and worked with the Chamber of Commerce and a handful of Republican legislators to accommodate concerns and win trust.
It's telling that the preponderance of DFL legislators -- and a few former Republican legislators -- support Kelliher's candidacy. They know all three of the leading DFL candidates well; many served with both Kelliher and Entenza, who was House minority leader from 2003 to 2006. They're behind her, many have said, because she's a respectful, sensible consensus-builder. Better than either Dayton or Entenza, she has the potential to rally DFLers.
Kelliher has been slow -- too slow, we'd say -- to detail ideas for erasing a $6 billion budget deficit from the state's 2012-13 books. But the outline she has presented is encouraging.
Unlike former U.S. Sen. Dayton, Kelliher does not rely primarily on an income tax increase for high-end earners to close the gap. She favors a blend of fiscal remedies that include a more modest tax increase for upper-income Minnesotans; tax reform to eliminate sweetheart deals, and spending delays and reductions.
Her unwillingness to go as far as Dayton would to "tax the rich" is significant. Kelliher's position acknowledges the easy mobility of investment capital in the evolving 21st-century economy. It better acknowledges the tax concerns of even progressive elements of the business community. Dayton, by comparison, is promoting a tax plan that he would have trouble selling to DFL legislators, let alone employers, despite his belief that an election victory would be a mandate for huge tax increases.
Kelliher's budget plan is similar to Entenza's in many respects. But she signaled a serious commitment to restoring stability to government finances and reforming government operations when she appointed one of the state's best public-finance minds to be her running mate. John Gunyou is a stellar choice. He served GOP Gov. Arne Carlson as finance commissioner in the early 1990s and is currently Minnetonka's city manager. As lieutenant governor, he could help bring more efficiency and accountability to state spending.
Gunyou's name has never been on a ballot before. But no voter need wonder whether he is up to tackling the fiscal challenge or, should it be necessary, to serving as governor.
The same cannot be said about Entenza's running mate, Robyne Robinson. Unlike Gunyou, the former Fox 9 news anchor is a novice at both government and politics. To his credit, Entenza announced last week a leadership team that includes people of proven public-sector ability. It's unfortunate that he did not use that criterion for the most important appointment a gubernatorial candidate makes -- that of the person who would succeed him if his service were to end prematurely.
The three candidates differ on some policy questions, but often it is a subtle matter of emphasis or timing. For example, while Entenza has practically made the windmill his campaign trademark, all three candidates tout the job-producing potential of investments in renewable-source energy production and conservation. Similarly, all three talk about the need to invest in early childhood education and bring the benefits of health insurance to all Minnesotans, though Kelliher is more interested in a dedicated funding source for early education, and Entenza is more resistant to a single-payer health care system.
The more significant distinction among these three is not in philosophy or platform. It's in their approach to leadership. That can be seen in their campaigns' financing. Dayton and Entenza are both men of means able to lavishly fund their own efforts. They've done comparatively little to enlist the financial and personal support of politically active Minnesotans. Kelliher is not as well-financed. But her donor list runs 350 pages long in her most recent report, and she has generated a "ground campaign" of volunteers reminiscent of those built by past DFL masters of grass-roots politics Paul Wellstone and Hubert Humphrey.
In recent years, Pawlenty has shown Minnesotans how powerful a go-it-alone governor can be. Kelliher offers DFL primary voters a chance to send into the general election a candidate much less inclined to perform a solo act. Her governing watchwords would be "Yes, we can" -- words whose electoral appeal DFL voters should know well.