Endorsement: Hutchinson for governor

UNSIGNED EDITORIAL

St. Paul Pioneer Press © October 29, 2006

In an era of partisan vitriol and mind-numbing personal attack, we find Minnesotans actually agree on quite a few big things: The central importance of education, transportation, healthcare and the environment to the state’s wellbeing. We expect government to be a player in those areas. We want to get something done, even if we can’t agree upon what that something is, or how to do it. It’s a credit to Tim Pawlenty, the incumbent Republican governor, that we’re now talking about getting something done.

When Pawlenty came into office, Minnesota faced a $4.5 billion deficit, with no easy answers in sight. Pawlenty pledged to balance the books without raising state taxes and, for better and worse, he did that. Minnesota now has a surplus going into the next biennium, and that’s made talk of actually doing something in the next biennium on the big issues far more pragmatic now than it was in 2002. Of course, many argue Pawlenty’s policies have directly led to the calls of crises in education, healthcare and the like.

He is Minnesota’s first truly conservative Republican governor since the Reagan revolution – this newspaper endorsed his run for the capital in 2002 – and, in his understated and likeable way, he has inched this blue state rightward. Some progress was made on the big stuff – anti-crime, budget and capital projects bills were passed. But in his campaign for re-election, Pawlenty seems as if he’s playing defense. He apologizes for a “steamrolling” agenda early on that alienated Democrats and, in turn, for contributing to the first partial government shutdown in the state’s history.

Pawlenty envisions becoming a “transcendent” politician in the mold of Arizona Sen. John McCain. We like the “transcendent” idea so much we might take credit for it. The question is – what in this governor’s past suggests he has the stuff to transcend? We don’t have confidence he can build the kind of consensus it will take to get things done on the big issues.

Mike Hatch, the Attorney General, sits across the hall from the governor’s office. Where Pawlenty is cool and restrained, Hatch burns with populist fervor. He has used his sharp elbows not only in fighting for consumers as the people’s lawyer, but also in jousting with fellow DFLers. We like his hard-nosed focus on the economic meat-and- potatoes main course.

Hatch’s passion, it seems to us, is to return Minnesota to its roots as a welcoming meritocracy, where anyone willing to work hard can get a good, affordable education. His commitment to health-care coverage rivals his belief in higher education. He admits to being a tough adversary but points to specific instances of getting two sides together to work out problems. He watched former Gov. Rudy Perpich rush into the boardroom to try to promote jobs and believes he can do the same.

But to forge this new consensus, Hatch would need to show characteristics that have not been in the forefront in his recent past: working with business leaders, bringing warring factions together and showing patience with those who disagree with him. Where Pawlenty’s policies have proven divisive, Hatch’s personality and style show potential to have the same effect.

That leads us to the wonky, non-office-holding Peter Hutchinson of the Independence Party of Minnesota. Been there, done that, you say? The election of third-party candidate Jesse Ventura as governor in 1998 did “shock the world,” in Ventura’s famous phrase, but Ventura didn’t close the deal. Frustrated by partisan enemies, unable to stomach criticism or build long-term political support, he departed after one noisy term.

But the quiet consensus Ventura represented, we submit, still exists. We believe Hutchinson has the smarts, style and plan to achieve it, and we endorse him as Minnesota’s next governor.

Hutchinson’s political slate, while not blank, is less filled in than those of his opponents. He has been a government consultant, business leader, state finance commissioner and Minneapolis school superintendent. He hasn’t faced as many hard political choices as have Hatch and Pawlenty. That raises questions about his experience, but also leaves him freer to operate.

In crafting this run for the capital, Hutchinson hand-picked a “team” of candidates for state office to run alongside him, to present the Independence Party of Minnesota as a formidable unit driven by ideas and principles that defy party partisanship. That says something about how he would approach the governorship – like Ventura, he would likely assemble a crack team of experts on a variety of fronts who can work behind the scenes with both parties, without rancor, to put together the nuts and bolts of sensible legislation.

Hutchinson adopts a “no new laws” approach to hot-button social issues and, if he sticks to that, it will force the legislature to focus on the issues we believe truly impact people’s lives. Everything, he says, starts with healthcare – “If we can’t reform healthcare, we can’t do anything else,” he says. We believe him, but we’re skeptical of his plan, which relies upon closing tax loopholes and ratcheting up collections of various moneys owed to the state. Still, at least he has a detailed plan – something we didn’t see in his opponents – and the determined conviction to find consensus for it.

We like his ideas and vision. We recognize that he will face the same one-against-everyone mathematics that worked against Ventura, but we think Hutchinson has put his finger on a set of values both sides accept. We trust that he, unlike Ventura, will have the personality, patience and persistence to see it through.

If finding a new consensus is a pipedream, at least it’s a worthy one. We endorse the dream, and Peter Hutchinson as the man to make it a reality.

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