An epidemic of dysfunctional leadership in Minnesota? First the politicians, next the academics...
Sadly, I note similarities in the situation described below and that at the University of Minnesota. Simply substitute University administrator for politician and the parallels are remarkable. A future post will pursue this idea. But what is below is very relevant to the U of M because the consequences to us are inevitable. Hard decisions will have to be made - of the type that the current residents of Morrill Hall seem to be unable to handle. New priorities, or a return to the old ones, are in order.
I've written before about this and still think that this old post reads well:
Minnesota's dysfunctional politics takes center stage Analysis by Doug Grow | Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009
In fairness to DFLers, Republicans were invited to join what was billed as a leadership summit at the state Capitol. Current GOP leaders -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem and House Minority Leader Kurt Zellars -- said, "No thanks," and met instead with business leaders in Eden Prairie in what was described as a "jobs summit." Pawlenty took along most of his cabinet to the alternate meeting.
[And at the U of M, Pawlenty's former chief-of-staff seems very interested in the business climate in the state. Perhaps he should be more concerned about the educational climate at the U of M?]
Worse than the rejection of the invitation to meet in St. Paul was the assumption by the governor that he knew the outcome of the meeting at the Capitol before it even was held.
"A predictable meeting with a predictable outcome," he said. He went on to say that DFLers were only interested in protecting "the social welfare state."
Brutally candid presentations
In fact, former Republican Govs. Al Quie and Arne Carlson were on hand at the state Capitol event, as was former conservative state Sen. David Jennings. Giving brutally candid presentations (PPT) were two nonpartisan officials, the state's economist, Tom Stinson, and the state's demographer, Tom Gillaspy.
Minnesota's getting older, Gillaspy said, which means Minnesotans will be demanding more services, not fewer.
Minnesota can't cut its way out of its budget problems, (PPT) said Stinson. Neither can it tax its way out. It will take a combination of cuts, revenue increases and other reforms to bring stability to the state budget.
The 2012-13 deficit is estimated at anywhere from $3 billion to $7 billion, and there won't be $2.6 billion in stimulus funds to ease the pain.
The point? This St. Paul summit was not about how to increase the "social welfare state." It was about how the state can increase productivity, cut costs and still provide services to an ever-aging population at a time when revenues will continue to lag.
But that growing deficit problem may be the least of Minnesota's problems. The bigger problem may be how Minnesotans can find leaders who will make the hard decisions that lie ahead.
"Let me be blunt," said Carlson. (There was laughter in the room, since bluntness is a Carlson trademark.) "To some extent, we have been practicing the politics of avoidance."
In Eden Prairie, Pawlenty looked and sounded more and more like a man with his eyes on the White House than on Minnesota. He's off on a campaign trip to Virginia Thursday to campaign on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert McDonnell.
Quie spoke of how, in difficult times, political leaders always face a huge dilemma.
"What's good for the state," he said, "may conflict with what's good for self."
If the big race in Minnesota is between state interest and self-interest, Tuesday's dueling events showed that self-interest is in the lead. Nothing showed that more than Pawlenty's absence from the Capitol, said Jennings, who currently is superintendent of schools in Chaska.
"The Legislature and the governor have the right to disagree, but they have to communicate," said Jennings. "This breakdown of communications is destructive. It's not good for Minnesota. That he's not here today is a very serious problem. If they [the governor and legislative leaders] can't fix that [relationship], we're kidding ourselves about being able to communicate the size of the problem with the public. ... That he's not here is emblematic of where we are. It's sad he wasn't here. I'm not angry, just sad."
Pawlenty, GOP pooh-pooh bleak assessments
Pawlenty pooh-poohs the statistics that Stinson and Gillaspy are using to underscore the breadth of Minnesota's demographic and fiscal challenges.
"These forecasts bounce around," said Pawlenty, brushing off the work of the state's longtime advisers.
Back at the St. Paul meeting, though, the views were broader. The former leaders struggled with current leaders over how to make Minnesotans understand the depth of the state's economic problems and other pressing issues. Everything from achievement gaps in education to the extremely high cost of caring for the elderly in their final months of life was on the table.
Former Gov. Wendell Anderson offered one policy suggestion: raising taxes on cigarettes to the higher levels they have in Wisconsin. On a lighter note, the former DFL governor also cracked that he was among the few who didn't regret that Gov. Pawlenty wasn't on hand. "I played hockey against him. I'm glad he wasn't here.''
Carlson also came up with an idea for getting all parties and all leaders involved. He suggested that all four legislative caucuses and the governor each come up with a proposal and take those plans to the people. Let the next election be based on "substance and not just politics."
"Each plan will inflict pain," Carlson said. "But evasion is not leadership."
But evasion is what we have. At this point, our leaders can't even agree to meet in the same city.