Former Minnesota governors generally refrain from head-on clashes with their old office's current occupant. That may be why former Gov. Arne Carlson did not mention his fellow Republican successor, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, by name Tuesday, or explicitly blast the latter's absences from Minnesota as he explores a possible presidential bid.
But Carlson made clear to an audience assembled by the progressive think tank Growth & Justice that he thinks Minnesota's problems need more gubernatorial attention than they've been receiving.
Carlson, governor from 1991 through 1998, argued that state leaders should come together now to devise a plan for shrinking the state budget "tsunami" heading toward Minnesota's public sector in 2011 and beyond. He argued that the governor ought to initiate that work.
"This is a time, like never before in my lifetime, when the governor has to be at the helm of the ship full time, and has to be willing to put on the table every single option available," Carlson said. "The faster we can make some decisions on this, the easier the ultimate pain is going to be to accept. If you waste one year and three months, which would be until the start of the (2011) session, and say we're not going to do anything except point fingers and blame everybody else, you and I as citiziens of this state are the losers."
Carlson is right: Adjusting the current state budget with sustainable new revenues or reductions in spending could do much to ease the problem that's looming in 2011. But Minnesotans familiar with the record of bipartisanship -- or, more accurately, the lack thereof -- during the Pawlenty years will be understandably dubious about whether even a concerted effort by the current Capitol crowd could produce an accord. Pawlenty's courtship of his national party's most conservative elements would likely make a deal with the DFL-controlled Legislature even harder to come by than it has been for the past seven years.
The fact that the House speaker is a prominent DFL candidate for governor, and at least seven other legislators are also in the gubernatorial hunt, complicates matters, too. Carlson proposed a fix: "Don't have any leaders who are running for governor.. . . There's enough politics at the table without adding more."
It may be that the best this crop of state leaders can do in 2010 is assign a panel of bright policy thinkers to recommend options for the next governor and Legislature to consider. Knowing the incumbents, it will probably have to be two panels, each with its own partisan tilt. But two batches of fresh ideas would be better than none.