Political breezes begin to stir

  • Article by: DANE SMITH and CONRAD DEFIEBRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 1, 2006 - 12:10 AM

The coming election is seen as the most important of the decade.

Politicking broke out across Minnesota Wednesday with a flurry of campaign kickoffs, announcements and pronouncements, and partisan pre-spin over the opening of the Republican Party's state convention in Minneapolis today.

The hyperactivity provided a preview of a five-month campaign that is regarded as the state's most important election of the decade. On tap are battles for practically every statewide office, for control of the Legislature and for U.S. Senate and House seats.

The busy day opened with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty finally launching his reelection campaign, His campaign organization actually has been operating for months, but incumbents typically have the luxury of delaying public takeoff.

At a park near his Eagan home, with birds chirping and a hazy sun shining off Holland Lake as a backdrop, Pawlenty took credit for resolving a deep budget crisis in his first term while retaining the state's long-celebrated quality of life.

"We stand on the shoulders of a lot of great leaders and decision-makers who helped build Minnesota, and now it's our responsibility to take it to the next level," Pawlenty said. "Minnesota is nation-leading, at or near the top in just about everything that matters. ... And we want to keep it that way."

He ticked off a list of objectives that included some goals sought by social conservatives: a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, reinstatement of the death penalty and a crackdown on illegal immigrants. And he promised to work on initiatives such as a complete overhaul of high school education with a focus on academic "rigor" and higher expectations.

A 'two-gear' state?

DFL Party leaders dispatched squads of elected officials, including two top gubernatorial contenders, to news conferences in St. Paul, St. Cloud and Duluth to rebut Pawlenty's claims.

In St. Paul, state Sen. Steve Kelley, one of Pawlenty's would-be opponents, criticized the governor for cutting education and health-care programs and for overseeing big increases in property taxes and fees for government services.

Under Pawlenty, Minnesota has become "a car that has two gears -- park and reverse," Kelley said.

Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson, a consultant and former state finance commissioner, chided leaders of both of the larger parties for "flying around the state, patting themselves and their parties on the back. Up in the thin air, they can't see that politics is broken."

Pawlenty, a skilled politician who has impressed national GOP leaders and even set off chatter about future presidential politics, promised to serve all four years if he's reelected.

He also announced that he will discontinue his weekly radio show on WCCO-AM as of June 30. DFLers have been complaining that it provided an unfair advantage as the campaign season got underway.

Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau embarked on separate campaign jaunts across the state, with the governor flying to Rochester, St. Cloud, Moorhead and Duluth, and Molnau driving to Mankato and Luverne.

Others on a DFL "Campaign for Change" fly-around were state Sen. Becky Lourey, another gubernatorial candidate; Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-endorsed candidate for an open 5th District congressional seat; Secretary of State candidates Mark Ritchie and Christian Sande, and four legislators from the St. Cloud and Duluth areas.

Lourey chooses Baylor

On another front in the gubernatorial race, Lourey became the first of three remaining DFL candidates to choose a lieutenant governor running mate.

She picked Tim Baylor, a Minneapolis businessman and former Minnesota Viking with no experience running for public office.

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