James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Monday, October 30, 2006

Take gnarly Hatch over pretty Pawlenty

It makes sense that someone deeply concerned about this country and its government would refuse to vote for any candidate who holds strongly opposing views, regardless of what party label the candidate chooses to wear.

If I lived in Connecticut, I'd be urging on the horses pulling the anti-Leiberman bandwagon.

But it makes no sense to me to vote against a candidate who shares your political views but who has an image – created by sulking reporters, for the most part – of being “unpleasant” or “too tough” or some such equally vague criticism.

Yet that is what is happening in some circles in Minnesota, and it may well cost us four more years of seeing what is good about the state dismantled under a very pretty, slick, beautifully mannered but ruthless right wing governor.

It appears that similar false issues are affecting campaigns in other places.

Here's the situation in my home state:

The Republican incumbent, Tim Pawlenty, is one of those handsome hardshells the party regularly puts before us these days. (See the piece below this one.) He is deeply committed to furthering the interests of the very rich and the big corporations and to deeply cutting, preferably eliminating, government services to the rest of the population.

The Democrats are running the state's attorney general, Mike Hatch, for governor. Hatch is one of those rarities these days, a genuine populist.

He has fought, usually successfully, against insurance company and HMO ripoffs of the public, and hammered at health care executives who have drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the system for their personal treasuries while slashing services and raising the costs of health care for individuals and families. He took the lead in the national campaign to make tobacco giants pay for at least some of the damage they have done to society and to individuals.

He's also fought, usually successfully, to make the state's big polluters clean up their acts and the ground and water they have despoiled, and to make corporations follow the law in protecting workers' health and safety.

If you believe the public needs protection against the rich, powerful and conscienceless, he's your guy. And, in fact, it's hard to find anyone whose personal holdings are less than a few million bucks who would deny he's done good things for the citizens of Minnesota.

Yet a considerable number of people with liberal leanings and quite a few of the left-over decent Republicans and real conservatives, say they will vote for the Independence Party candidate, Peter Hutchinson, who has no chance of winning and who very probably would be a poor governor if he could be elected.

The reason for such intentions, as I've heard from a dismaying number of people, is Hatch's reputation for being hot-tempered, angry and just “not nice” in a state where “niceness” -- primarily meaning bland – is regarded by many as the highest virtue.

Hutchinson, as mentioned, has no chance of winning. His poll numbers remain in single digits with a week to go to the election. Those who like him seem to be those who believe endless negotiation and being sweet to your opponents will produce workable policy. (I believe in negotiating, too, until it becomes obvious that it won't work, at which point I want someone with a progressive outlook to make the decisions.)

In fact, Hutchinson does seem to be a decent human being, as far as one can tell from his press. He also was largely ineffective in previous appointed or for-hire government jobs. He was the outsource contract superintendent of the Minneapolis school district for a few years and did no great harm, but also no great good. He was basically an uninspiring leader who could get nothing important going.

But some folks prefer him to Hatch, whom they know only through the rough-guy image created by the press. And those people, though almost surely less than 10 percent of the electorate, may be enough to throw the election to Pawlenty.

Here's a bit of the governor's history and public record. These points, typical of his performance in office, demonstrate why we need to get rid of him even if the only real alternative, Mike Hatch, isn't someone we want to cuddle:

*In 2002, Pawlenty intended to run for the U.S. Senate, but Dick Cheney telephoned and told him to step aside for Norm Coleman and he did. (Both Coleman and Pawlenty jump to orders from the White House as quickly and unquestioningly as a West Point cadet for a general.) Pawlenty then chose to run for governor. There always has been a strong implication that Bush/Cheney will provide something better for him at some point.

*Pawlenty ran against a Democrat who had been too long in the Legislature, and a former right-leaning Democratic congressman ran as an independent, helping to push Pawlenty into the winner's circle.

Pawlenty's campaign was telling in ways much of the public didn't grasp. He called for an imposed waiting period before abortions could be performed. He pushed for a law permitting carrying of concealed guns, and promoted a couple of anti-immigrant measures. Those things and George Bush's then popularity helped him with the passionate right.

Most importantly, Pawlenty pledged himself to dance to the tune of the Minnesota Taxpayers League, a small group of very rich people, and to refuse to allow any new taxes or raises in taxes of any sort under any circumstances. He actually signed such a pledge. The rich tax dodgers pumped money into his campaign.

*The media have failed to remind people this time around that the first Pawlenty gubernatorial campaign was hit with several ethics complaints, some fully substantiated. (Sources: old newspaper clippings.)

*After that first election, but before he was sworn in, Pawlenty went to the headquarters of Northwest Airlines and pledged, openly, that he would do whatever the airline bosses wanted. Supposedly his goal was to preserve airline jobs as well as the (customarily over-priced and poor) service to the Twin Cities.

Northwest since has taken thousands of jobs from Minnesota employees, replaced many with lower-wage scabs and reneged on a deal that brought it millions of dollars in state aid and loans. Taxpayers forked over, Northwest has declined to honor any part of its side of the bargain. Service from the Twin Cities, which Northwest dominates, is terribly ovepriced, and even worse than it was a few years ago. Pawlenty hasn't complained. (Sources: Twin Cities newspapers, Minnesota Public Radio.)

*Pawlenty claimed in August that thanks to him and a Republican Legislature, Minnesota had added a record number of jobs in the previous year. The press gave that plenty of coverage. Shortly thereafter, to much less coverage, the state's top labor market analyst pointed out that five times during the 1970s and '80s and three times during the '90s the state had higher annual job increases. (Twin Cities newspapers.)

More telling: Minnesota lost 12,700 jobs in September, making it the third worst month for job losses since 1950. Biggest losses were in government and education sectors, according to the state Department of E mployment and Economic Development. That can be traced directly to Pawlenty/Republican cuts in the state budget. The department said "furloughs" at the Ford Motor plant in St. Paul also were a factor.

Won't have to worry about layoffs at Ford much longer. The company has announced it intends to close the plant.

*From 1998 to 2002, Minnesota state and local taxes dropped. Since Pawlenty took office, and Republicans gained control of the Legislature, income and sales taxes of the middle class have increased substantially and are continuing to rise, but taxes paid by very high-income individuals have continued to decline. The rich have been given breaks on both income and property taxes and pay considerably smaller percentages of their income in taxes than do middle class taxpayers. (StarTribune and other sources.) Middle class suburanites, the core of Pawlenty's support, haven't figured this out.

*The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which has gone very far right over the past couple of decades, of course supports Pawlenty. Now several corporations, including Minneapolis-based Target Stores and 3M, are leaning on their employees to vote for Pawlenty and Republican legislators. It's akin to the influence the military has on its enlisted personnel. Information provided is highly colored and one-sided.

*The governor largely kept his pledge to the rich guys on new taxes, although he called a couple of tax boosts imposed on lower-income citizens “fees,” but as a result of cuts in state funding for cities and education to accomplish that goal, property taxes throughout the state have soared. Police and fire departments and school districts throughout the state have cut services and programs, class sizes have grown to unteachable levels in many school districts. Libraries in some cities, notably Minneapolis, have had to cut hours and services. (Reported by virtually every daily newspaper and television station in the state.)

*Pawlenty was the first Minnesota governor ever to cut education funding. During his first three years in office he slashed $50 million from higher education and $27 million from K-12 funding. (Wikipedia, from several sources.)

*Higher education, one of Minnesota's great claims to fame and a source of it's traditionally much better than average economy, has been priced out of the reach of thousands of would-be students. Average total annual cost of a state college or university (tuition and other expenses) has jumped 40 percent since Pawlenty took office, and the trend is still upward at a double-digit annual rate. (Information from Star Tribune.) Costs now are higher than the national average.

*The number of Minnesotans living in poverty (by the very inadequate official standards for poverty) has grown from 5.7 percent in 2000 to 8.1 percent in 2005. (Numbers from Alliance for a Better Minnesota.)

*In 2000, the real median household income in Minnesota was $61,497. At the end of 2005, at an inflation-adjusted rate, the real median household income in the state was $54,215. (Alliance for a Better Minnesota.)

*Pawlenty has made much of his attempts to get lower prescription drug costs for some Minnesotans through a state program that purchases the drugs from Canada. He's made some other gestures toward lowering drug costs. But out-of-pocket health care costs for Minnesotans have increased almost 8 percent in just the past year and total cost of family health coverage in the state has risen an appalling 87 percent since 2000. That's way over the general rate of inflation and much higher than rises in worker income. (Alliance for a Better Minnesota.)

*Last year, Pawlenty, with the aid of Republican legislators, tried to cut 27,000 people from MinnesotaCare, a program that provides basic health insurance for the working poor. Republican legislators wanted bigger cuts. Democrats fought back and Minnesota had its first-ever partial shutdown of state government because a budget bill wasn't passed in time to prevent that. A deal finally was worked out and fewer people were cut from the program. (Minnesota Public Radio and other sources.)

*MinnesotaCare or not, more than 383,000 Minnesotans, including at least 66,000 children, have no health insurance. That is 7.4 percent of the population, up from 5.4 percent in 2001, and the trend continues. (StarTribune.)

*Since 2003, Pawlenty and his Republican allies in the Legislature have cut $200 million from the state's Child Care Assistance Program. As a result, 11,000 Minnesota kids have lost access to licensed child care facilities and 1,127 licensed child care providers in the state have gone out of business. (Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network.)

*As with Republicans in our federal government, cronyism and favoritism are out of control under Pawlenty. Just one of several possible examples: A long-time state safety inspector in northern Minnesota has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging supervisors in the Department of Labor and Industry's Occupational Safety and Health Division ignored and destroyed his reports of investigations to protect offending corporations. Some of the investigations involved serious injuries and fatalities of employees. (Star Tribune.)

The newspaper report made no mention of Pawlenty nor his administration, though he is responsible for the department's operations. Like the Bush crowd, political considerations govern the way most of the states' departments operate. That generally was not the case before Pawlenty became governor.

I could add many more facts, but that should be sufficient to show what Pawlenty in the governor's office has meant for Minnesota.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has more than once, including quite recently, fondly referred to Pawlenty's “boyish charm.” It's reporters, indeed most reporters who come in contact with him, are smitten. I think they, male and female, must giggle when he chucks them under the chin.

With a couple of exceptions – people who often are hobbled in what they can cover --they seldom write about what he has done to Minnesota, and that's worrying to anyone of good sense who cares about the state and nation.