Horner presents voters with an opportunity they cannot afford to pass up. He possesses not only the understanding and communication skills that governing requires, but, unlike either DFLer Mark Dayton or Republican Tom Emmer, he also has the temperament to bridge the partisan divide that has long stymied the search for lasting solutions to chronic problems, both in Minnesota and the nation. For us, this choice is not a close call.
All elections are important, but this one occurs at a moment when continued stalemate and drift could prove not merely disappointing but disastrous. The next governor will have to do more than repair a broken budget -- he must set a course for the state's 21st-century future that builds on the successes of previous generations and redefines the social contract. Horner offers the kind of leadership that can unite Minnesota, while the policies of his opponents on the political extremes threaten to tear the state further apart.
Not since Elmer L. Andersen in 1960 has a successful business owner and CEO left a prominent Minnesota firm to seek the governorship. Like Andersen, Horner, the cofounder of the Himle Horner public-relations firm, is doing so for the best of reasons: He loves Minnesota; he's a serious student of government and economics, and he feels called to service. At age 60, Horner seeks to apply the lessons of a lifetime spent working in and around public policy to the restoration of this state's vitality.
Affable but serious-minded, Horner has run a professional, positive campaign that reveals solid preparation for the office he seeks. He's attracted an impressive list of bipartisan endorsements from thoughtful Minnesotans, buttressing his claim to be a uniter and a problem-solver.
Horner's plan for erasing the big budget deficit that's been forecast for 2012-13 is sound -- and while not as complete as it will need to be next January, it compares favorably with the ideas advanced by both Dayton and Emmer.
Horner recognizes that it's past time to ease the "no new taxes" inflexibility that has paralyzed efforts to restore fiscal stability to government since it was lost in the big tax cuts of 1999-2001. Emmer, by comparison, seems willing to tear big holes in the safety net for the poor, disinvest in higher education and widen regional disparities around the state in order to avoid raising any state tax.
But Horner also sees that there are less destructive ways to stabilize state finances than to give Minnesota one of the nation's highest top-bracket personal income tax rates, as Dayton aims to do.
Horner's blend of an expanded sales tax base, higher cigarette taxes and a cap on income tax deductions that advantage upper-income earners would not punish the middle class. He's proposing $350 million in measures to lighten the burden of the sales tax increase on Minnesotans of modest means. But his plan wouldn't try to exempt the middle class, either, as Dayton's claims to do.
In other words, Horner intends to invoke something fundamental to Minnesota's 152-year success story, something that has been eroding in recent years -- a sense that Minnesotans are all in this together. He stands for neither "soak the rich" nor "sink the poor" (which is what "no new taxes" increasingly means). He wants wide participation, both in the costs of solving the budget problem and in the benefits from investing strategically in the public goods -- education, research, infrastructure, health care reform -- that will form a foundation for widely shared prosperity in years to come.
All three major-party candidates say they want to reform government services, especially education, to ease the sting of the spending cuts each proposes. But Horner seems best-suited to deliver on those promises. He makes a convincing case that he's committed to making public systems work better, neither coddling nor disrespecting public servants, and he has in running mate Jim Mulder, former executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, an expert on state/local government relations. "Redesign" would be more than a slogan in a Horner-Mulder administration.
That a candidate of Horner's caliber is running on the Independence Party ticket, rather than in the Republican Party in which he planted his political roots, is but the latest indication that the Minnesota GOP left a sizable cadre of its best and brightest behind as it shifted to the right in the last two decades.
Emmer's nomination says much about today's Minnesota Republican Party. He was a bombastic, ultraconservative legislator for six years, seldom close to major decisionmaking. Though he has toned down his rhetoric as this campaign has progressed, he does not demonstrate executive-level knowledge of the enterprise he aspires to lead.
By contrast, DFL primary voters chose a veteran public servant who sits on the left side of his party's ideological spectrum. No one can question the sincerity or depth of Dayton's commitment to public service, or his compassion for those in need. But his capacity to rally support for his ideas outside DFL ranks is in doubt.
Many Minnesotans have told us this year that they long for a sea change in both state and national politics. In the entire nation, there is no better chance for such a freshening breeze to stir than in this state, and in this race. The choice lies with those who believe that the tides of partisan polarization and mistrust have gone too far and need to be reversed. It lies with those who want to do their parts to make government work again, and to encourage bipartisan compromise in policymaking. It is with those who would be proud if Minnesota could show the nation how to use the ballot box to achieve those ends.
Still, some say they're worried about supporting a third-party candidate who's trailing in the polls. They fear contributing to the election of the candidate they favor least.
This editorial appears one week earlier than this page traditionally announces its preference in a gubernatorial election year in order to speak directly to Minnesotans who feel caught in that voting dilemma. Our advice: Talk to your fellow Minnesotans in the next two weeks. Think about the obligation citizens bear to vote their consciences. And don't let fear cause you to vote for a candidate you consider to be the second-best choice.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.