Monday, December 7, 2009

Tim Pawlenty's Minnesota Wrecking Crew

I'm just finishing up reading Thomas Frank's excellent book The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. It's an interesting book because it accurately places responsibility for the Republicans' destruction of our country within the conservative ideology itself.

Conservatives hate government like DNR agents hate Asian Carp or Eurasian Watermilfoil. Since they hate government from the outside, when they get inside they eviscerate it through policization of bureaucracy, economic starvation, corruption as a policy, inattention and outright destruction. They make government fail as an inevitable outcome - goal, even - of their ideology.

As but one example George W. Bush destroyed FEMA as a professional organization by replacing professionals with unqualified political hacks, then privatized and outsourced some of its most important functions. He watched idly by as Katrina swamped the Gulf Coast. The aftermath was a horrendous comedy of errors. Later, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said that the mis-handling of Katrina proved that government was inept, and could not be trusted to reform health care. So - they destroy a piece of government, then use that piece's ineptitude to discredit all government.

Up until Barry Goldwater campaigned on radical right wing conservatism in 1964, ideology was not a dominating factor in American politics. Indeed, the postwar period up until about 1970 is seen by historians as a time of unprecedented consensus. The period ended when radical conservatives, who had demonized government as inept and illegitimate, made inroads to take over the Republican party. Since then conservatives and Republicans have moved in tandem to the right, dressing up plutocratic policies as somehow populist. The result has been the destruction of public trust and assets in historic proportions.

Here in Minnesota Tim Pawlenty is actually a good state analog to the Republican Party's destructive ways. First and foremost he is nothing if not a conservative ideologist. With a smiling face and affable personality he has delivered harsh blows, many to the state's least powerful and most vulnerable, with a velvet fist, using curious words like "unallotment." For eight years Pawlenty has mis-managed the state's budget, producing huge deficits nearly every year. Since he refused to raise taxes (as opposed to the billions raised through "fees"), and had enough Republican control of the legislature, each budget balancing meant reducing state spending, usually on the constituency least likely to be able to complain.

An Interstate bridge over the Mississippi fell on Pawlenty's watch - in part the result of his policies of starving the state of needed funds for transportation, which resulted in delayed repairs and replacements, costing the state at least $60 million in economic impact, not including the cost of the new bridge. In one case he tried to get construction contractors to finance their own first year of work, a tactic which ended up costing the state millions and delaying the reconstruction of a large traffic interchange for a year or more. Each day, it seems we hear of new degradations. The City of Minneapolis is so financially strapped it is reducing the number of police officers. The state's largest public hospital is so hard hit by the governor's budgeting that it will no longer treat people from outside the county.

At the University of Minnesota, tuition has nearly doubled in the seven years of the Pawlenty administration.

Pawlenty is no piker on the corruption front, either. As but one example, he chose an environmental "manager" from the state's biggest polluter, 3M, as the head of the state pollution control agency (MPCA). She later had to quietly slink away amid a growing scandal over slow-walked research by the MPCA looking into 3M groundwater pollution. Predictably, she then went on to a cushy job at the nation's worst environmental criminal, Koch Refining. And just last week a $50 million scandal erupted over the state's "out of control" Charter schools.

This is what would await the nation - a practiced government wrecker in charge - if by some twist of fate Pawlenty should become president. The biggest obstacle to a Pawlenty win in a general election might be his record of destruction here in Minnesota. In that case the contest could hinge on whether or not the traditional media understands what has happened here in the past eight years. Like his national counterparts, the governance of Tim Pawlenty was designed for failure. When government fails Republicans know they have succeeded.

UPDATE: Certainly there are other degradations: 18,000 kicked off the health insurance program Minnesota Care by his budget cut; another 35,000 lost medical services because of Pawlenty killing General Assistance Medical Care in his unallotment. Remember that when BridgeFAIL touts his health care cred on the campaign trail.

UPDATE II: Add air quality fail to governor Gutshot's record.

Remember, also, that Pawlenty was first elected Governor through illegal campaign contributions that resulted in a $600,000 fine.

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