I just finished interviewing Governor Tim Pawlenty and will update this post later when I get a chance. He had many interesting things to say about his race and the state of the state which Minnesota readers might find interesting. At daughter #1's insistence I did convince the governor to sign an autograph for her and he was very gracious in doing so. It reads:
(Name withheld at the request of My Dearly Befuddled)
You are wonderful!
Dream Big, eat your vegetables and always listen to your dad!!
Although he did not make any promises, Pawlenty did lead me to believe that there might be an opening for me in the Governor's Game one of these days. In fact, I am pretty sure he would have been content to spend the entire 40 minutes talking about hockey. All in all, a great guy in general.
UPDATE: Okay, where were we? Ah yes, the Governor.
Interesting to note that when I metioned that the RCP average of polls watching his race had him down 2.3 points, his response was "what's RCP?" I explained and opined that the average was probably thrown off by the astounding 9 point advantage given Mike Hatch by the Star Tribune poll. In what would be the only negative comment he would make during the interview, he acknowledged that the Star Tribune poll track record was highly suspect at best. He is certainly not alone in that assessment.
Some of the other topics I broached were education reform, Local Goverment Aid (LGA), the budget, and the Minnesota business climate, which I will take one by one.
Education Reform: Pawlenty - who has incredibly white teeth by the way, almost mesmorizing - recognized that the public school system in Minnesota is antiquated and in fact is based essentially on the same model created in the 1940s. He is a strong proponent of results-based pay and thinks we need to get away from seniority-based pay.
Although he acknowledged his personal support for a voucher system (especially in a limited way that would allow the underpriviledged to escape failing schools), he has no plans to bring it to the legislature because he doesn't feel it has any support there. That conclusion seems to fit his emerging attitude that he would rather spend his time working on things he can get done, rather than wasting time on pipe dreams.
LGA: Although he acknowledged that he is responsible for a percentage of increases in property taxes due to efforts to eliminate the state defecit, he rightly pointed out that the percentage of increases to property taxes, on average, are far higher than the percentage lost due to LGA cuts. There is no doubt that local units of government have been more than willing to scapegoat Pawlenty on this issue, while at the same time raising residents property taxes far more than needed to make up the difference.
For critics of LGA cuts, which helped turn a $4.5 billion defecit into an estimated $1 billion surplus next year, Pawlenty noted that he would consider a plan to cap property taxes. That idea is sure to be met with derision by tax and spend liberals, but serves to call their bluff none the less.
LGA is currently being re-tooled to once again serve its designed purpose; assisting smaller cities with higher poverty and smaller commercial and industrial tax bases. Over its lifetime, LGA has lost that goal and was more often than not being used extensively in wealthier communities that did not really need it. He estimates that 20 percent of LGA dollars will be shifted back to those communities. He also notes that LGA payments are back on the rise with the state in the black.
Business climate: I cited a recent study that puts Minnesota at 41st nationally for business climate. Not only was he aware of the study but pointed out that under his administration it has risen from an even more dismal 48th. He pointed to taxes, regulation, and insurance and energy costs for hampering the state business climate. He added that he wanted to "find the right mix" for improving in all of those areas and making Minnesota more attractive to business.
On the plus side, he pointed out that the state is sitting at 3.8 percent unemployement, which is astounding. He also noted that we have had fast paced job growth, 70 percent faster than the national average in fact. All in all, he felt that the state was "doing well" economically.
Taxes: Whether one agrees with how it was done or not, there can be no doubt that Pawlenty has been effective in reversing the deficit trend. As mentioned, the state is looking at a $1 billion surplus next year as opposed to the $4.5 billion defecit he inherited. At the same time, he noted rather proudly that he has accomplished what every governnor since Rudy Perpich has been trying to do, reduce the overall tax burden on Minnesotans. After being traditionally a top-five taxed state in the country for decades, just this year the state has dropped out of the top ten.
That is an almost miraculous feat when one considers he erased a massive budget defecit at the same time.
The race: Although it is pretty common knowledge there is no love loss between Pawlenty and Mike Hatch, the governor never once said anything negative about Hatch, prefering instead to focus on his plans for the future. Although the race is a dead heat now (Star Tribune hackery notwithstanding), I fully expect it to open up in favor of Pawlenty as election day draws near. Pawlenty comes off as genuine and down to earth while Hatch is running a negative campaign and comes off as a climber in pursuit of the culmination of a 20-year dream of the governor's chair. His plans to raise taxes are sure to hamper that effort as well.
One sidenote: When I asked if he would autograph a piece of paper for my daughter I told him that she had "this cock-a-ma-me idea that he would run for president someday." Of course, I did not expect that he would confirm that suspicion to a journalist for a rural weekly in the middle of a governors race, and he did not.
But he didn't deny it either.
Thank you for stopping by Fraters Libertas readers. You are by far the most erudite readers in all of the blogosphere. I mean that sincerely and noting it in print should in no way be construed as a desperate ploy for readership. I am actually quite happy with my average of 17 hits per day.