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Forget narrowing the field, DFL still needs transformational leader

by Chris on November 30, 2009 · 2 comments

By Christopher Truscott
Cross-posted at my personal blog

The other night a good friend asked me which of the 11 DFL candidates should drop out of the race for governor.

Of course, I immediately began rattling off the names of people who aren’t likely to be the party’s nominee, let alone the next governor. Ole Savior. Tom Bakk. Tom Rukavina. Steve Kelley.

Then I stopped and reconsidered. With a little more than two months to go until the precinct caucuses, it’s not time to start voting people off the island. Sure, it’s a fun game for political people, but it’s the wrong game at the wrong time. If anything, the current field may still be short by one candidate.

The next governor is going to inherit a state in crisis. Under Tim Pawlenty’s “leadership” we’ve moved backwards each year. By 2011 we’ll have a deficit of somewhere between $4 billion and $7 billion. All the quick fixes are exhausted. We need a governor who recognizes the need for an all-of-the-above solution-tax hikes and deep budget cuts-and that’s a tall order given the sway the anti-tax crowd and labor unions have at the Capitol.

Doing what needs doing is going to require transformational leadership. Standing up to the interest groups who helped elect you is tough and I’m not sure there’s a person in the talented DFL field who’s willing to push back against those needed to help him/her break the party’s two-decade losing streak in gubernatorial races. And even if there is, the next question is whether there’s somebody who can lead the public to support the unpopular measures needed to get our state back on the right track.

To a certain extent, Gov. Pawlenty is a transformational leader. That’s not a typo. He routinely polls well and people generally trust him even though they’re usually rejecting his policies. When he was elected in 2003, Republicans held an 81-53 majority in the House and were a respectable minority in the Senate. Today, three election cycles later, the DFL has a dominating 87-47 edge in the House and is veto-proof in the Senate. Pawlenty-ism has been rejected from International Falls to Albert Lea, but the governor was re-elected and maintains a decent level of support even as he checks out on his job in favor of a 2012 presidential campaign. We’ll need that kind of strength again.

There’s no leader-Pawlenty-esque or otherwise-in the Republican field. The GOP’s candidates are simply playing the “who’s the craziest?” game and it looks like House Minority Leader Marty Seifert is going to emerge as the winner. Meanwhile, with each passing day, it appears less likely the Independence Party will field a candidate who can wage a legitimate campaign. The door is still open for the DFL, but after watching a couple debates it’s quite clear nobody has broken through yet.

The same tired liberal mantras of tax the rich, close loopholes, green energy and spend more money might help someone win the party’s endorsement or primary, but to win the election and then actually govern we’re going to need much more. If the current field of DFL candidates can’t provide a glimpse of it soon, then it’s time to start looking for someone else rather than debating who needs to step aside.

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