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A Content Analysis of Governor Pawlenty's 2010 State of the State Address

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Governor's focus on jobs in speech up more than threefold from 2009 Address despite yearly drop in unemployment

Even though the Gopher State's unemployment rate is slightly lower than the last time Tim Pawlenty delivered his State of the State Address in mid-January 2009, the Governor honed in on jobs as the top issue in his 2010 Address on Thursday morning.

A Smart Politics content analysis of Pawlenty's 2008, 2009, and 2010 Addresses finds that Pawlenty has increasingly focused on jobs in his most high profile speech over the last three years - from speaking on the subject for just 6 sentences in 2008 (2.8 percent of his speech), to 15 lines in 2009 (6.1 percent), to 48 sentences in 2010 (21.3 percent).

When Pawlenty delivered his Address in February 2008, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Minnesota was 5.0 percent - marginally higher than the 4.8 percent rate nationwide. Even though the jobless rate was up 19 percent that year from when he was reelected in November 2006, Pawlenty was more focused in his 2008 speech on several other policy issues, including K-12 education (51 lines), taxes (19 lines), health care (17 lines), energy (13 lines), veterans (12 lines), and agriculture (11 lines).

For his next Address, in January of 2009, the jobless rate had soared to 7.5 percent in Minnesota and 7.6 percent nationwide, and Pawlenty devoted more than twice as much time to jobs. Still, at just 15 lines, employment was only the seventh most discussed policy issue in his speech that year behind K-12 education (50 lines), taxes (26 lines), veterans (25 lines), higher education (19 lines), intergovernmental relations (17 lines), and the budget and spending (16 lines).

On Thursday, jobs were the #1 policy issue discussed by the Governor - even though the unemployment rate has actually dropped slightly from a year ago (to 7.4 percent in the most recent numbers from December; with January's national numbers falling to 9.7 percent, Gopher State residents are hopeful Minnesota's unemployment rate has fallen even further).

While no political opponent in St. Paul could begrudge the Governor for aiming to lower the unemployment rate in Minnesota back to pre-recession levels (Pawlenty did lay out specific tenets of his Jobs Creation Bill in his speech), speculation has run rampant among his detractors for the better part of a year that his words and policy decisions are carefully geared towards a national audience, not simply to his constituents in the Gopher State.

As a result, one wonders why Pawlenty devoted 33 more lines to jobs this year as compared to last year's speech, when unemployment has dropped statewide. Jobless claims nationwide, however, are up 2.1 points at a hefty 9.7 percent with economic concerns very palpable among an anxious American public.

Pawlenty also focused a good portion of his Address Thursday on state spending and the budget crisis that faces Minnesota this legislative session (43 lines, 19.1 percent). Pawlenty not only took pride in how his administration has "dramatically slowed down state government spending," but he criticized both Democrats and Republicans who have adopted the big government, big spending posture now and in the past.

The Governor devoted only 16 lines to spending and budget issues in last year's speech and just 4 lines back in 2008.

Pawlenty, a life-long Minnesotan, is also known for peppering his Addresses with several passages, often humorous, about the uniqueness and grandeur of the Gopher State, and this year was no exception. The Governor spent 31 lines discussing Minnesota culture and history (13.8 percent), from quips about the heartbreaking Minnesota Vikings, to the "goodness" of its people, to the "natural splendor" of the state. Pawlenty similarly devoted 30 lines to "Minnesota life" in his 2009 Address and 34 lines in 2008.

Other top issues raised by the Governor Thursday were veterans (20 lines, 8.9 percent), health care (19 lines, 8.4 percent), and K-12 education (17 lines, 7.6 percent).

Interestingly, Pawlenty only delivered 14 lines (6.2 percent) explicitly on his pet issue of keeping taxes low - down from 26 lines in 2009 and 19 lines in 2008.

Governor Tim Pawlenty's State of the State Addresses by Issue, 2008-2010

Issue
2008
%
2009
%
2010
%
Jobs
6
2.8
15
6.1
48
21.3
Budget / deficit / spending
4
1.9
16
6.6
43
19.1
Minnesota life / history
34
16.0
30
12.3
31
13.8
Military / veterans
12
5.7
25
10.2
20
8.9
Health
17
8.0
6
2.5
19
8.4
K-12 Education
51
24.1
50
20.5
17
7.6
Taxes
19
9.0
26
10.7
14
6.2
Economy (general)
4
1.9
12
4.9
6
2.7
Business / regulations
1
0.5
5
2.0
3
1.3
Challenges (general)
7
3.3
13
5.3
3
1.3
Crime
0
0.0
1
0.4
3
1.3
Religion
1
0.5
3
1.2
3
1.3
Unallotment
0
0.0
0
0.0
3
1.3
Environment
9
4.2
0
0.0
1
0.4
Voting
1
0.5
0
0.0
1
0.4
Agriculture
11
5.2
0
0.0
0
0.0
Disasters
6
2.8
0
0.0
0
0.0
Energy
13
6.1
6
2.5
0
0.0
Higher Education
0
0.0
19
7.8
0
0.0
Intergovernmental relations
0
0.0
17
7.0
0
0.0
Mining
8
3.8
0
0.0
0
0.0
Technology
1
0.5
0
0.0
0
0.0
Transportation
7
3.3
0
0.0
0
0.0
Other
0
0.0
0
0.0
10
4.4
Total
204
100.0
244
100.0
225
100.0
Note: Measured by number of sentences devoted to each topic / policy issue. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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