Sunday, July 17, 2005

Thoughts on "Pawlenty Stumbles"

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:12 AM |  

Doug at Bogus Gold posts on “Pawlenty Stumbles,” which triggered this thought -- conservatives might be spending a little too much time lamenting Pawlenty actions during this legislative session as a betrayal of his base.

Right or wrong, “Pawlenty’s base” is perceived as being rich, white suburbanites. To those suffering from over-exposure to the Democrat messages of class warfare, the “Pawlenty Stumbles” message isn’t all that bad. Already Democrats are spinning the disingenuous, but sweet-sounding song that Pawlenty broke his no new taxes pledge -- which they didn’t support anyway. Their message is, not only did Pawlenty break his pledge, but the tax on cigarettes he implemented falls primarily on the poor (but that didn‘t stop Democrats from supporting it). At least the DFL would have taxed the evil rich.

A letter to the editor in today’s Pioneer Press (commenting on a Soucheray education column) brings that point home. Attempting to be objective, the writer notes --
It is true the DFL sometimes goes too far to help the less fortunate, while Republicans sometimes go too far to defend the interests of the extremely fortunate. Both views are necessary for a balanced state government reflective of a diverse constituency.
That’s a bad position for conservatives to face, but fortunately one they don’t have to -- if they move away from the base-betrayal message exclusively. There’s plenty of constituency betrayal on the DFL side, which Pawlenty did little or nothing to take advantage of but which conservatives who opposed the cigarette tax can still grab.

First and foremost is the fact that in exchange for the 75-cent cigarette tax, Pawlenty got exactly zero of the four demands he made when he first offered the tax. At that time, Pawlenty listed as DFL options a provision calling for no strikes by teachers during the school year and "meaningful school choice." Both these issues, but especially the latter, are important issues to low-income and minority peoples. Both Pawlenty and Democrats turned their backs on these groups to curry favor with the teacher’s union and the education status quo.

The best education reform bill of the session, the Hann/Buesgens legislation that would have provided grants to low-income families that could have been used to pay tuition at private schools was introduced by Republicans David Hann (Senate) and Mark Buesgens (House) and opposed by Democrats -- specifically Sen. Steve Kelley (also a candidate for Pawlenty's job). The bill had strong support from low-income families and families of color. Many people that testified in favor of the bill were shocked and offended by the treatment they received from Kelley. This creates an opportunity for Republicans to capitalize on.

Let’s face it. Despite the GOP web site spin, there is not a lot of positive accomplishments to campaign on if one is a conservative Republican. Conservatives shouldn’t let Pawlenty off the hook for that, but that doesn‘t mean there are not visionary and reform issues to campaign on. The school choice issue is a great opportunity. [A caution -- if one campaigns on it, one ought to have the integrity to fight for it if elected, regardless of consequences.]

Democrats are too beholden to the education system to grab the school-choice issue. Conservatives have the opportunity to distance themselves from a governor unpopular with the base and make the case that Democrats also abandoned their constituency -- both of which are true. Plus, aside from politics, it gives Republicans a chance to push a policy that is really education reform, benefits all of Minnesota in general and specifically targets a non-traditional GOP constituency -- low-income families and families of color.

If there is a silver lining to the “Republican” meltdown on principle, it is the Democrat abandonment of its traditional constituency. The door is open for conservatives that can demonstrate the value of conservative policy to betrayed Democrat constituencies. School choice is the no-brainer place to start.

UPDATE: Margaret Martin scores and struts her stuff dancing in the end zone with this comment at Bogus Gold --
Conservatives shouldn't be just be angry about all the bad things he [Pawlenty] did do (gambling, transit, the "fee", canadian drugs) but because of all the reform opportunities missed: controlling spending for the future and reforming education. He punted in the first biennium and got sacked behind the line of scrimage in the second. The ball still isn't moving forward.