Wednesday, July 13, 2005

COLUMN -- Krinkie stays true to principle

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:32 AM |  

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Loyalty," wrote 18th-century hobby columnist Thomas Gordon, is a very good word that is often corrupted from its original meaning. Is it "loyalty" to support one's political leader by assisting him in wild acts contrary to principle? Or is it to principle that one must ultimately remain loyal?

Welcome to the world of Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes.

In a letter to House Speaker Steve Sviggum dated July 7, Krinkie resigned as chairman of the House Working Group on Taxes. In a simplistic world, Krinkie resigned in disagreement with Gov. Tim Pawlenty over a racino and a cigarette tax. Really, is loyalty to a no new taxes pledge more important than supporting the governor of one's party? Again, in a simplistic world, the answer is illusorily easy.

Krinkie, however, is neither simplistic nor a man who suffers from illusion.

"I know my action will be used by some to say that I'm not a team player," Krinkie said. "But you have to keep your promises even at the possible expense of an election or endorsement." (Krinkie is a candidate for the Republican endorsement for Congress from the 6th District.)

Krinkie is not among those for whom it is easier to compromise principle than deal with difficult situations Whereas principle provides personal integrity, sound bites are a fragile facsimile of character.

"Minnesota doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem," the governor declared at an April 15 rally at the Capitol, spinning a repeated administration theme. When precisely the spending problem of which he spoke became a spending imperative and revenue became the problem is unclear, which lies at the heart of Krinkie's resignation.

In the course of recent events, Krinkie's resignation was a necessary dissolution of his ties to the administration not taken for light and transient causes. In many ways, dutifully supporting policies with which he did not totally agree, Krinkie personified the Jeffersonian principle that people are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to arbitrarily leap to change things.

But when a long train of actions by a leader invariably progresses to an obvious end that is disloyal to all stated principle, action becomes an individual's duty, especially for one with Krinkie's influence among fiscal conservatives and his position in the administration.

And act is what Krinkie did.

As he alludes to in his resignation letter to Sviggum, the administration's sudden need for revenue was not a product of necessity, but required only "to satisfy the spending desires of the legislature." It was a contradiction of the governor's position of no new taxes, a contradiction of the Republican position on spending, and a point of policy on which Krinkie's integrity would not bend.

"It's one thing to change policy when dictated by circumstances," Krinkie said. "but the governor has not explained to the people of Minnesota — he certainly hasn't explained to me — how circumstances have changed."

Here are the facts that Krinkie submits:

From the governor's surprise announcement of his willingness to consider a 75-cent "health impact fee" on cigarettes through the final budget being crafted at this writing, the governor ran parallel negotiations to that of the House and Senate Tax Working Group. By sending contradicting messages, he undercut House negotiators. He caused both Democrats and Republicans in the working group to question whether the committee was relevant or a charade. On several occasions, requesting counsel, Krinkie was told to take no action.

By July 7, it was clear to Krinkie that the administration's objective, regardless of its public statements or messages to the committee, was securing new revenue, not controlling spending. At that point, Krinkie made the sobering decision to resign as chairman of the tax working group.

Although secure that his decision is the right one, across a table over beers, Krinkie is far from smug. He considers Pawlenty "a good friend," but one in whom he is deeply disappointed. It nags him that he might have let down his colleagues. And of course, there is the inevitable passage of a not-very-good bill.

"It's very humbling to be complimented for taking a principled stance," Krinkie said. "But after the vote on Wednesday, who cares? Few will remember. The consolation is that I will remember. I will be accountable. I will have kept my promises."

How much more loyalty can one have?