The race to succeed retiring Gov. Mark Dayton got some star power Thursday. Tim Pawlenty — a Minnesota household name after serving two terms as governor, 2003-2011 — made his comeback bid official in a manner befitting the new-age theme he has sounded in recent months. He posted a video at TimPawlenty.com.
Pawlenty’s bid ratchets up the visibility of a gubernatorial contest that a few months ago was at risk of being obscured by the clutter of two U.S. Senate races, at least four competitive U.S. House races and a full-bore battle for control of the Minnesota House this year. The former Republican governor’s candidacy ensures that until state party conventions in early June and perhaps through the Aug. 14 primary, both major parties will feature lively contests for their respective gubernatorial nominations.
For that added attention, count us grateful. The impending end of the eight-year Dayton administration and the 2016 GOP takeover of both chambers of the Legislature have put state government at a potentially pivotal juncture. Minnesota has not experienced all-Republican control of state government since the 1969 legislative session. With the Republican-controlled state Senate not on the ballot this year and state House Republicans enjoying a 20-seat majority, voters have an opportunity to bring all-Republican rule back in 2019.
The stakes in the governor’s race go well beyond partisan advantage, of course. State government is a major contributor to Minnesota’s most important 21st-century economic asset, its well-educated workforce. The next governor should be one who can help this state maintain that edge during years that are forecast to bring rapid demographic change — a more diverse young population, a larger elderly cohort, more urbanization — and increasing competitive pressure from around the globe.
Every contender for governor should feel obliged to lay out substantive and plausible plans for meeting that challenge. But voters should look for more. They should also compare the track records of the candidates, seeking evidence of the humane values, sound judgment and relationship- and consensus-building abilities that a successful governor must possess.
It shouldn’t be sufficient to talk about “a better way forward,” as Pawlenty’s Thursday announcement video was titled. Candidates should also expect to talk about their accomplishments, and voters should give those records considerable weight. In governance, the converse of the investment fund warning applies: Past performance is an indicator of future results.
For that reason, we welcome the attention that Pawlenty’s opponents, both in his own party and the DFL, are sure to bring to his record in coming weeks. They should make Minnesotans familiar with both his gubernatorial record and his more recent work as the chief Washington lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, which includes the nation’s largest banks.
At the same time, voters should pay close attention to the leadership records of the other leading contenders for governor — Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, former state party chair Keith Downey and Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens in the Republican race; U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and state Rep. Erin Murphy in the DFL. We hope each of them sees the presence of a potent new entrant in the gubernatorial race as reason to work harder to make that race stand out this year.