Some of the most thoughtful end-of-decade analysis of Minnesota's shared life that crossed this scribe's screen appeared on Facebook. (Then again, doesn't everything?)
Provocative posts about a state that "succumbed to the politics of anger and fear" in the aught years, and as a result produced a "stunning lack of innovation," began appearing about mid-December on the Facebook wall of public-relations pro Tom Horner.
They coincided, not coincidentally, with a story by my former Strib colleague Eric Black at MinnPost.com: "Will Tom Horner be the IP candidate for governor?"
Will he? The prospect sent me on a candidacy assessment mission to the snazzy Bloomington office tower that houses the Himle Horner public-relations firm.
I found the firm's cofounder in full "thinking seriously about running" mode.
Horner is a lifelong Republican, once chief of staff to Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, regularly a GOP-leaning analyst on Minnesota Public Radio, often an adviser to GOP candidates. One might thus think that the defection he's contemplating to the Independence Party would cause consternation in GOP ranks.
But that thought overlooks the fact that Tim Pawlenty proved twice that Republicans know how to win three-way gubernatorial elections. Horner's musings may be a source of more dyspepsia among DFLers. Not a few DFLers still grouse that Tim Penny and Peter Hutchinson, both DFL-cum-IP candidates, spoiled their party's gubernatorial bids in 2002 and 2006, respectively.
Horner argues that 2010 could be different, and not just because he would be GOP-cum-IP. This time, the IP candidate could be more than a spoiler, he says. He makes that claim with as cogent a critique of the way Republicans and Democrats function as the IP has produced since it emerged on Minnesota's political scene in the mid-1990s.
"The biggest challenge isn't the lack of bipartisanship as we typically think about it. It's that Republicans and Democrats can't get past their own friends. They can't break out of their own parties to even start the conversation on reasonable terms with the other party," he said.
Both nationally and in Minnesota, the price exacted within political parties for compromise with the other side has escalated in recent years.
Last week's headlines from Florida illustrate the point. Devotees of the conservative Tea Party movement forced out that state's GOP chairman, an ally of moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. The founder of TeaParty.org vowed that the Florida purge would not be the last. "We are turning our guns on anyone who doesn't support constitutional conservative candidates," Dale Robertson said.
In Minnesota, fear of intraparty reprisal for interparty compromise has led to policy paralysis, Horner argued. That can be deadly for a state.
For example: In 2009, a Pawlenty-appointed task force concluded that the way Minnesota taxes business is outmoded and anticompetitive, and it recommended an overhaul. It said the resulting state revenue loss could be erased by expanding the sales tax to clothing and more services.
Notably, some of the Legislature's leading DFL tax experts agreed that business taxes need reform. But they said they would prefer to cover the state's losses by increasing income taxes paid by high-end earners.
So what happened? Nothing. And that's a shame, Horner said, because with the right business-tax structure, "Minnesota could be the Silicon Valley of bioscience industries."
Minnesota does not lack plausible solutions to its problems, he said. But the way the Rs and Ds punish those who stray from party dogma, "solutions have no place where they can take root. We need a governor who can provide a nurturing ground for great ideas, from all sides."
But how much idea-growing ground can a governor provide if he's standing in political isolation, without a party alongside him?
The Gov. Jesse Ventura story bears invoking. The state's first and only IP governor, elected in 1998, got half a loaf of tax reform accomplished in 2001 while doing very little to make his tiny political party grow. By 2002, when the economy had turned and the need for the rest of that tax loaf was acute, he could not produce it. Both big parties turned on Ventura, who could not counter them with a political machine of his own in their districts. Minnesota is still smarting from some of the bad choices the big parties jointly made in 2002.
Horner understands government and governing. He's also equipped with communication ability acquired during a 35-year career in journalism, politics and public relations. But the political club he's proposing to join has dwindled to near-obscurity since Hutchinson's puny 7 percent finish in 2006.
Or has it? It seems that the GOP candidate in the state Senate District 26 special election, Mike Parry, has suffered a self-inflicted political injury, via injudicious tweeting on Twitter. That means, I'm advised, that the IP's entrant in the Jan. 26 contest, Waseca Mayor Roy Srp, may have a real chance. His victory would be a sign of life that might spur Horner to take his candidacy thoughts to the next level.
Meanwhile, a word to social-networking politicians: Be like Tom on Facebook, not Mike on Twitter.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.