Wayne Cox: No Pawlenty on ticket

  • Article by: WAYNE COX
  • Updated: February 19, 2008 - 6:25 PM

Gov. Gridlock can't deliver votes for McCain. Despite his "Clintonian" appeal, the state has become less great under his watch.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty approached the podium to deliver his State of the State address last Wednesday in St. Cloud.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty made a surprise visit to Minnesota last week.

He came waving a veto pen, not an olive branch. That is unfortunate. This legislative session could be a good one. The Legislature is moving fast on major bills for jobs and transportation. There are bipartisan proposals that don't cost a lot of money that would provide better health results and better schools and fairer property taxes.

That veto-pen wave may have been for his audition tape for "America's Next Vice President." But the governor will not be Sen. John McCain's running mate. Here are some facts to help him get his mind back on his day job:

• He brings zero promise of electoral votes to the ticket. Minnesota has not voted in favor of a Republican presidential candidate in 36 years.

• Pawlenty has helped turn Minnesota decidedly anti-Republican. When he took office, Republicans held 60 percent of the seats in the Minnesota House. They now hold 36 percent.

• Pawlenty is turning suburban Republican legislators into an endangered species. How many more times can Gov. Gridlock ask the few remaining to vote against jobs and education and transportation solutions?

The longer Pawlenty serves, the fewer Republican legislators serve with him. Prof. Larry Jacobs has described Pawlenty as "Clintonian" in his appeal: "It just drives Democrats crazy." Actually, it just drives Democrats to the bank. Pawlenty is the gift that keeps on giving.

DFLers are now only five votes away from veto-proof majorities in both houses. In 2005, national political analyst Stuart Rothenberg was asked whether Pawlenty was a vice presidential possibility. He said: not after the state's legislative election results.

• But didn't Pawlenty's reelection in 2006 show he knows how to win in a Democratic year?

What he did was not exceptional at all. Thirteen Republican governors ran for reelection. Twelve won. While incumbent governors rarely lose, Pawlenty barely won. A third-party candidate siphoned off enough votes from solidly DFL districts to allow Pawlenty to squeak through. He is the only two-term Minnesota governor in 100 years to never win a majority.

• But isn't Pawlenty popular?

He is, but he can't deliver votes for McCain. In the Minnesota caucuses, Mitt Romney trounced McCain, and the Obama tsunami outpolled McCain 10 to 1. If Pawlenty can't get votes for McCain in Minnesota, where can he?

• Couldn't Pawlenty just say, "Minnesota is a great state and I'm the guy who leads it"?

Minnesota is a great state. But by most measures it has become less great since Pawlenty took office. He is the only Minnesota governor in recent history to see the state's unemployment rate go above the national average.

• McCain needs to shore up support from the right. Wouldn't anti-tax Pawlenty fill the bill?

No. The Huckabee holdouts are evangelicals. If McCain uses the running-mate spot to draw them in, he has to name someone from their camp.

Most speculation points to a Southern governor or senator. The Southern governor who has appeared on TV standing at McCain's shoulder the nights of his recent primary victories, Charlie Crist of Florida, best fits the bill. Crist has already helped McCain win the Florida primary. He is a young, congenial moderate who works well with his Legislature and gets things done. Just this month, his property tax reform referendum was approved by voters by the 60 percent margin needed. He's an achiever who helps his party win. Pawlenty is a roadblock who helps his party lose.

What should Pawlenty do? There's always 2012. He should follow the lead of successful Republican governors like Crist and build a record of results. Start this session by signing into law those solutions that would help put Minnesota on track and help take Minnesota Republican lawmakers off the endangered species list.

Wayne Cox, St. Paul, is director of Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice.

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