Former Gov. Al Quie had a good week last week. He turned 85 ("five years older than when Moses returned to Egypt"), hung out with a passel of grandkids, celebrated the release of a book about him, and said something intriguing about the career of the fellow who now occupies his State Capitol office.
Quie told an audience at the Humphrey Institute on Wednesday that he had talked to both Gov. Tim Pawlenty and First Lady Mary Pawlenty about doing what he did in 1982: deciding and announcing well before the next election that he would not run again.
"I would wish for Tim a time at the end of his governorship when he would not be running again," said the state's 35th governor about the 39th. "That way, you can totally divorce yourself from politics" and focus on the good of the state.
His words had the moderator of the Humphrey program (me) reaching for a notebook. You don't think Pawlenty should run again in 2010?
"I'm not urging him to step aside. That's got to come from within him," Quie said. What's more, if Pawlenty opts for a third term in 2010, Quie emphasized, he intends to support his fellow Republican. "I love the guy," he said.
But the state appears to be heading into a fiscal storm again. Quie knows what that's like. The storm he weathered in 1980-82 was the worst since the Great Depression.
By the start of 1982, state revenues had dropped roughly 15 percent. School, city, county and state agency budgets were in tatters because of repeated cuts.
Quie, a fiscal conservative (though not of the no-new-taxes variety) had already swallowed a sales-tax increase.
The bleeding wouldn't stop. So in January 1982, Quie allowed a temporary income-tax surcharge to become law without his signature. And, on Jan. 25, he announced that he would not run again.
No high-powered political consultant, nor low-powered second-guesser in the Capitol basement, would have recommended that move at that time. The Legislature was in session. More bad news was ahead. Lame ducks become irrelevant ducks awfully fast.
But for Quie -- and for Minnesota -- it was the right thing to do. "It was like the resurrection, I felt so free," he recalled.
Perhaps more importantly, the DFLers who ran the Legislature saw him differently. He was no longer the enemy who would campaign against them in the fall. He could be their partner in finding a way out of a crisis.
Before Quie left office a year later, more spending was cut and the income-tax surcharge grew. The economy improved. ("Don't wait until completely out of recession to increase taxes," Quie advises his successors. "People start thinking you can get along without that money. That's not good. The state has a responsibility to carry out the work society has given it. The longer you delay, the more damage you do to that work.")
By the time Gov. Rudy Perpich closed the books on fiscal 1983, the state was $500 million in the black. The surcharge disappeared, and government was stable until the next recession struck.
Would lame-duck status similarly help Pawlenty deal with the red ink gusher that many forecasters fear in 2009? Quie won't go that far. But the new book about Quie more than implies that he thinks his decision to be a lame duck served the state well. (The book is "Riding Into the Sunrise: Al Quie, a Life of Faith, Service and Civility," by Mitch Pearlstein, a former Quie speechwriter and president of the Center of the American Experiment. It's available at www.pogopress.com.)
Pawlenty, like Quie before him, is likely to have to devise a budget solution that a DFL-controlled Legislature will accept. He'll also have fewer options than he had the last time a big deficit hit, in 2003. Reserve funds are in short supply, and there's no big pot of tobacco money left to drain. To avoid the misery of another government shutdown, he'll need something that Quie acquired in his lame-duck year: the trust of the majority party.
He'll need one other Quie attribute. A few years ago, the former governor told me why he, a tax-averse conservative, ultimately agreed to several tax increases. "When your child is seriously ill, you throw away the family budget, and spend whatever you need to spend to save your child," he said.
That's how much a good governor loves Minnesota.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.