Thursday, February 28, 2008

State Politics: Not a Week for Moderation

This week at the capitol has had its share of drama and suspense. Earlier in the week, the legislature overrode Pawlenty's veto of the transportation bill with a narrow vote. Today, the Senate voted to reject Molnau's appointment as MNDOT head (yes, she had been on the job for five years).

If this week is any indication, political moderation is not a virtue in St. Paul at the moment. The veto override passed largely because of the "six defecters", the six Republicans who voted with the Democrats. They were promptly punished by being stripped of committeeship appointments and have been slammed left and right by partisan talk show hosts and some fellow legislators. Today's Molnau vote appears to have been along party lines, with Democrats getting the public "firing" that they've been drooling after for months.

One of my favorite books is "A Man's Reach" by late Governor Elmer Andersen and Lori Sturdevant. In it, Andersen talks about how politics didn't get so personal in his day. A shared interest in moving Minnesota ahead transcended the winner-take-all mentality that we see more of today. Sure, politics weren't squeaky clean back then -- Andersen's failure to get re-elected as Governor wreaked of his opponent sharing questionable information and effectively manipulating what was a long news cycle back then -- but you have to think it was more collaborative than it has been in the past decade. Moderates were viewed as the powerful bridge between the two parties, not a weakness within partisan caucus.

The irony of this week's situation is that Tim Pawlenty, a Governor viewed as some in the state as ultra-conservative and unbecoming of a Minnesotan on spending issues, was shot down with a thud at his National Governor's Association meeting in DC. His ideas for controlling greenhouse emissions were apparently much too radical for some of his more conservative peers. A Governor who is being labeled as too conservative here at home is being labeled as too moderate on the national scene.

While this week has been one of the more partisan-charged ones St. Paul has seen in a while, we can hope for a few more moderate developments during the remainder of this session:

1. Governor Pawlenty not being deterred by the poor response to his moderation in DC. That type of approach will certainly fall on a more receptive audience at home.
2. The "six defecting" Republicans continuing to be the difference on key votes during the session, continuing to vote for their district on every issue, and not being further punished by the Republicans if they vote to the left or being bashed by the DFL if they vote with the right.
3. A debate on how to treat the looming $1 billion deficit which is not simply a call to raise taxes again (from the DFL) versus a call to cut state investment to the bone (from Republicans).
4. A bonding bill which displays comprimise from both parties.

Here's to moderation.

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