Enacting massive funding cuts to Minnesota’s schools and local government. Denying affordable health care access to hundreds of thousands of the state’s working class residents. Refusing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal transportation funding that could have improved Minnesota’s infrastructure. Pitiful economic growth and job creation. Leaving office with a $6.2 billion budget deficit.
As GOP primary voters in our region go to the polls in just over three weeks, they would do well to remember the eight years that gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty already spent in the Governor’s Mansion.
They were among the worst years in Minnesota since the Great Depression.
Pawlenty ran on a pledge of “no new taxes,” but his policies prompted record jumps in property taxes statewide, hitting Main Street businesses and small-town homeowners especially hard. By no new taxes, of course, he meant no new taxes on the wealthy. The rest of us paid through higher health care costs, skyrocketing public college tuition, new and higher fees on just about everything, and those higher property taxes.
Pawlenty argued that his tax and spending cuts would reinvigorate Minnesota’s economy and create thousands of new jobs. That’s always the promise made by proponents of supply-side economics, and time after time, such promises are exposed as hollow. As hollow as a Trojan Horse, in the infamous words of former Reagan budget director David Stockman.
Rather than being remembered for “no new taxes,” Pawlenty should be remembered as the “no new jobs” governor. Pawlenty presided over the worst job growth in Minnesota in more than 70 years. As then-state Rep. Tom Rukavina put it back in 2011 in a letter to the editor of this newspaper, in eight years under Pawlenty, Minnesota generated just 1,201 jobs.
“In the exact same time period that Pawlenty was governor of this state, there were about three million jobs created in the entire United States economy,” Rukavina continued. “Minnesota is about two percent of the population and GDP of the United States. Had Minnesota realized its share of the three million new jobs created in this country during Pawlenty’s eight years in office there would have been 60,000 new jobs for Minnesota. Instead, we got only 1,201. Pawlenty’s no new tax pledge left us not only a massive $6.2 billion budget deficit, but he also is leaving a 59,000-person job deficit. That will very likely be the most painful cost of Pawlenty’s legacy.”
Rukavina had it right.
We will give Mr. Pawlenty credit for supporting the creation of the new state park on Lake Vermilion, but his position on the park was a marked exception to his usual aversion to public investment for the common good.
In most other ways, Mr. Pawlenty governed mostly with an eye towards his eventual presidential bid, as he abandoned some of his more sensible policies, such as support for a renewable energy standard and carbon cap-and-trade, to placate big Republican donors and a climate-change-denying GOP base.
Pawlenty’s about-face on the merits of Donald Trump is just another in a series of examples of the former governor’s willingness to shamelessly pander. While Mr. Pawlenty is personally affable, it remains unclear whether he maintains actual principles or beliefs.
After his 2012 presidential bid foundered, Pawlenty left Minnesota for a job as the chief pitchman for Wall Street’s largest and most powerful banks and financial institutions. From there, among other things, he’s sought to weaken the regulations put in place in 2009 to head off another financial collapse and to undermine consumer protections against the often-predatory practices of large banks.
Most DFLers seem eager for Pawlenty to win the Aug. 14 primary. He certainly would make an inviting target, much more so than Jeff Johnson, a relatively little-known Hennepin County Commissioner. With an abysmal record as governor, followed by five years at the beck and call of the fat cat bankers, Pawlenty would seem to be the GOP’s worst possible pick in a populist state like Minnesota.
GOP voters might want to keep that in mind as they head to the polls on Aug. 14.