James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Piece 1: Pawlenty; pretty but poisonous

Beware America.

As bizarre as it seems to a reasonably informed citizen of the state, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty still is being considered as a running mate for John McCain. Should he be chosen, there's a very good chance he'll be in the hunt for the presidency in 2012.

Minnesota has only 10 electoral votes, and no candidate from the state can be counted on to win in neighboring states. Our neighbors don't have much electoral clout anyway.

Far more importantly, Pawlenty has been a stunningly negative force in the life of my home state. He has done more serious damage to the state and its people than any politician, probably any five politicians, in living memory. Even Jesse Ventura, the dummy rassler, didn't do a tenth the harm to our economy, our environment, our educational system, our jobs production, our infrastructure or our health as Pawlenty has done in less than six years.

The man has been a walking disaster for what was until a decade ago a state that stood out among the rest for quality of life, a state that used to be featured on magazine covers as the “state of success” and praised by envious columnists and editorial writers all over the country.

Our average income was higher than those of most other states and the cost of living lower than many. Unemployment rates were substantially lower than elsewhere even during recessions. Our educational levels were so high that industry flowed into the state despite the corporate elite's whining about tax levels. The percentage of citizens who owned their homes was much higher than the national average and the mortgage foreclosure rate was miniscule. Our state budget often was balanced, and there were frequent surpluses even as the quality of our roads and bridges and other infrastructure was kept at a level considered unreachable in much of the rest of the country.

Now, Garrison Keillor to the contrary notwithstanding, we are below average by almost every pertinent measure, and Tim Pawlenty bears much of the responsibility for that fact.

And, oh yes, under Bush admirer Pawlenty our state government has become secretive at times, and signs of corruption in high places are beginning to seep under the Capitol doors, although Smooth Tim remains untouched.

We're becoming a small Texas with bad winters, albeit so far without the horrendous gerrymandering of congressional districts. That probably would have happened had not Democrats regained a small majority in the Legislature 2006.

However, despite all that, and though I hate to say it, Pawlenty would be a great vice presidential candidate for the Republicans.

The awful truth is that although his effect on the state has been wholly negative, even disastrous, Tim Pawlenty continues to have approval ratings of better than 50 percent, sometimes reaching near 70 percent, among Minnesota citizens. Goes to show you how far we fallen in terms of have an informed electorate.

He is the most successful con artist the Republicans have.

Tim serves only one constituency – a very small group of the very rich – but the suburban middle class, though rapidly sinking into the mire, believes in him. Well-off farmers think he is their advocate and friend. Hardscrabble farmers from the northern part of the state, and the many who are scratching out meager livings working two and three part time jobs -- the people who still have “support our troops” bumper stickers on their pickups -- seem to believe that he is a good and kind father to the state.

Ronald Reagan didn't know what Teflon was.

It truly is all in the coating, all in the surface. The Minnesota public, for many years among the best-educated and best informed people in the country, doesn't seem to have the least understanding of the reality beneath the pretty facade.

Here is the real Tim Pawlenty, but don't expect him to stand up:

He is extraordinarily handsome and in fine, slender shape. He wears clothes like a model – perfectly turned out at all times (if he's in jeans, they're new), yet seems so comfortable that his perfect dress appears effortless. His voice is good, but not too good. His manner is sincere and warm. When he talks you want to believe him, and many do without really listening and certainly without checking the truth of what he says.

The substance, such as it is, is something else entirely. I wrote some of it in a piece published July 18, 2007. The facts below include some of that, plus some newer information:

* While a state legislator, Pawlenty became ambitious. As the far right was taking over the state Republican Party machinery, he suddenly and obviously threw over his previously moderate stance and wholly adopted the positions of the extremists on social and economic issues. That earned him the majority leadership in the state House of Representatives.

* He wanted to run for the U.S. Senate in 2002, but the Bush administration already had chosen Norm Coleman for the job. Dick Cheney telephoned Pawlenty and told him not to run for the Senate. Pawlenty clicked his heels and saluted. He ran for governor instead, and won with 44 percent of the vote in a three-way race. He was barely reelected in 2006 despite the fact that his Democratic opponent was a widely disliked individual who was absolutely and openly despised by reporters for the state's biggest newspapers, who did everything they could to cut him down and help Pawlenty. He shows popular in polls, but hasn't run too well, in other words.

* In 2002, even before taking office, Pawlenty went to the executive offices of Northwest Airlines, which has been screwing over its employees and the Minnesota public for generations and which essentially controls air travel to and from the Twin Cities. Tim pledged his support to Northwest's bosses for whatever they wanted at any time. He has delivered.

* Before he was elected governor, Pawlenty, along with many Republican legislators, signed a pledge written by a shadowy organization called the Minnesota Taxpayers League. He swore not to raise or allow the raising of any taxes under any circumstances.

The Taxpayers League, accurately called by some the Taxdodgers League, is a very small organization of very rich people. Most of it's members remain anonymous. The group once claimed a membership of something like 2,000 or 3,000, although it offered no proof of its claim. Some of the members live in Minnesota, but it's not clear that all of them do. (Despite its secrecy, Twin Cities newspapers frequently seek out its full-time mouthpiece for quotes on state policies, and treat it as a legitimate policy organization. They don't even know who funds the outfit or calls the shots.)

* Before his reelection, Pawlenty declined to sign the pledge again. It had drawn considerable unfavorable comment. But he has adhered to the promise and has opposed almost all tax increases, though he allowed a couple of bumps in things he decided to call “user fees,” things that hurt mostly lower-income citizens.

* Like George Bush, he pushed for and got substantial tax cuts for the rich. The cuts included some very small breaks for some of the middle class (just like Bush's) and that made them popular with the uninformed (just like Bush's). The claim was that high Minnesota income taxes were driving business out of the state. In fact, several studies showed that industry continued to move into the state because of the high quality of the work force. Since the tax cuts went into effect, severely damaging education and infrastructure, both business and population growth have slowed substantially.

* The state's unemployment rate has risen dramatically; in May of last year it was worse than the national average for the first time in 30 years, and that doesn't make note of the fact of a substantial shift from high-paying manufacturing and technical jobs to low-paying service and retail jobs.

Minnesota's unemployment rate at the end of 2007 was 4.9 percent, up from 4.4 percent in November. The state lost 2,300 jobs in December, 23,000 in the last six months of 2007, although the country as a whole showed a job gain of 500,000 in the last six months of the year. The state lost jobs in eight of its 11 major industrial sectors, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

* Minnesota's roads had for decades been among the best in the country, despite our harsh winters. Since Pawlenty became governor, Minnesota ranks only slightly behind California in number and severity of traffic jams, and the roads are deteriorating before our eyes and under our wheels.

* Manufacturing in Minnesota has gone into a severe decline. The Minneapolis StarTribune reported March 3, 2008, that manufacturing activity worsened for the third straight month in February and job losses increased.

* Home foreclosures in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area doubled in 2006 (before the subprime meltdown) and almost doubled again in 2007, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. Last year, 13,050 homes were repossessed – a record. In January and February of this year, new foreclosure records were sent in Hennepin County (Minneapolis and suburbs) and Ramsey County (St. Paul and suburbs).

Yes, the entire country is suffering from a massive wave of home foreclosures, but remember that until the Pawlenty years, Minnesota always – always – did better than the rest of the country in such circumstances.

* Defaults on other kinds of loans have skyrocketed, the Star Tribune reported in February. In Hennepin County, alone, the newpaper said, default filings jumped 71 percent, to 9,237, in 2007. That's by a substantial number the highest number of defaults since record keeping began in the 1980s. In one suburban/rural county, default judgments jumped 102 percent last year.

* Personal bankruptcy filings rose 53 percent in Minnesota last year, the Star Tribune reported in January, despite Bush-backed legislation that makes it much more difficult for individuals to file bankruptcy.

* Funding for education has been brutally cut under Pawlenty's direction, and the educational system has suffered greatly as a result. In 2001 the state legislature adopted a plan under which the state would pay almost all K-12 education costs, thus allowing local school districts to lay off property taxes. Pawlenty took office and immediately reneged on the promise. Under his direction, state aid for school districts has been severely reduced, forcing the districts to go back to property taxes. No new taxes? Property taxes have risen greatly in school districts throughout the state, and schools have suffered cuts in teaching staff and types of classes offered. Buildings are literally falling apart in some districts. Class sizes have increased substantially. Rich districts are OK, poorer ones are in deep trouble, the quality of education in some parts of the state is heading toward the level of Mississippi.

* Costs of higher education have risen to the point that many middle classes students, let alone poorer students, have been priced out of school, and the problem grows substantially worse year by year. Pawlenty continues to push for deep cuts in state support for higher education.

* Remember the I35W bridge collapse? Of course you do. Pawlenty stood on the site two or three days after all those people went down and pledged that he'd approve gasoline tax increases and whatever else it would take to assure the integrity of roads and bridges in the state.

He lied.

Almost immediately, back at the Capitol, he began working to see to it that we got “no new taxes” just because a bridge collapsed, others are crumbling, as are key roadways, and, oh yes, people died and were maimed.

In February, Democrats in the Legislature, with the help of six Republicans in the House, overrode a Pawlenty veto of a transportation bill that would increase spending on road and bridge maintenance and building, as well as on mass transit.

House Republicans, with Pawlenty's express support, punished the six rebels by stripping them of key committee positions and some of them, at least, have lost party support for re-election. The party has chosen more loyal right wingers to run against them. Pawlenty said he will work to produce a “tax revolt” against all who voted to override the veto.

* A number of Pawlenty's appointments have been every bit as bad as those of George Bush. His secretary of health was forced out by the Legislature after it was revealed that for a year, until caught by outsiders, she had covered up what amounts to an epidemic of a rare form of cancer among employees of an iron-ore processing plant in northern Minnesota.

Carol Molnau is Minnesota's elected secretary of state. She also was until recently secretary of transportation, appointed by Pawlenty. She took a lot of heat over the years, but especially since the collapse of the I35W bridge, for disorganization and incompetence and a refusal to do anything about deteriorating bridges and roads. This year, with a new Democratic majority, the Legislature fired her from the appointed job.

It has since been learned that in 2000, Molnau, then a state legislator, was the author of a bill that ended a long delay of plans to build a new Hwy. 212 in her area of the state. She was, at the time, chairwoman of the very powerful House Transportation Finance Committee. She did not mention that she owned some land in the little city of Chaska in close proximity to the Hwy. 212 route, nor that she was negotiating to sell the property to a large land developer. She and her husband sold the property eight days after the bill approving the highway construction was signed by then Gov. Jesse Ventura. She says she didn't benefit from the road building because the highway didn't immediately abut the property she and hubby sold. The timing was “happenstance,” she claims.

* Pawlenty, while standing firmly against any increases in taxes that might hit his rich sponsors, has needed to do some things to keep the state from caving in. So, in Bush fashion, he and his right wing legislative supporters borrowed. And borrowed. And borrowed. They even tried to borrow from the bidders for a state highway construction contract, but the contractors didn't bite.

The state budget forecast issued in February says that the deficit for the 2008-09 biennium will hit almost $1 billion.

As in 2003, when the state also had a very big deficit, Pawlenty sternly stated that rather than any tax increases (or reduction of the big tax breaks he gave the very wealthy), there will be more drastic cuts in state spending for things like health care, education, programs such as day care and child-care subsidies for the working poor and all those other things the right sees as frivolous.

There's much more, but this already is long, so just one more point: It's as close as you can come to a sure thing that Tim Pawlenty never will be found messing around with whores, or in any other kind of sex scandal.

Maybe that makes everything else all right in the eyes of the faithful of twilight America.