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MN2020 - Minnesota 2020 Journal: Pawlenty/Stewart was no Frost/Nixon
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Minnesota 2020 Journal: Pawlenty/Stewart was no Frost/Nixon

June 11, 2010 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow
Last night, Governor Tim Pawlenty, hoping to raise his national political prospects, appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Pawlenty genially yukked it up with Stewart, entertaining the audience while triumphing for simply not stumbling badly.

His interview could have gone very differently. In my mind's eye, I can visualize an alternative conversation, revealing a Pawlenty road-to-Damascus conversion, live on national cable broadcast.

"Jon," Pawlenty would've said. "I have to confess; I was wrong. I've spent the last eight years running Minnesota into the ground, servicing a failed conservative public policy vision."

"Really?", Stewart responds, caught off guard.

"Yes," Pawlenty asserts, holding Stewart's gaze. "Really."

"'No new taxes' is a sham?"

"Yes and I'm sorry for what I've done. In fact, starting today, I'm devoting the rest of my gubernatorial term and the next eight years to undoing conservative damage."

"Aren't you feeling a little foolish?," Stewart asks. "Isn't this out of character?"

"Jon," Pawlenty continues, "it's what I owe Minnesota. Undoing damage takes more time than it took me to cause damage. I'll start by authorizing the medical assistance deal with the federal government, the one I recently refused to support. Also, I'm going back to the mullet haircut."

Of course, it didn't happen that way but a Minnesotan can always dream.

I'm not alone in my conservative public policy failures frustration. Several days ago, we asked Minnesota 2020 readers, what questions should The Daily Show host Jon Stewart ask Governor Pawlenty? We got an earful.

Most responses were thoughtful and well written, grounded in public policy challenges. Minnesotans want Minnesota to be successful, understanding that we prosper when we focus on what really matters: education, health care, transportation and economic development.

Fiscal policy drew a fair amount of attention as potential subject matter. "Ask Pawlenty what part of 'no new taxes' relates to the fact that property taxes have risen 68 percent during his tenure as governor." Also, "Ask how he can trumpet his "No New Tax" policy while he raised state fees and forced local municipalities to raise property tax which now exceeds most people's MN state income tax. How can he be proud of a "no new tax" policy that is essentially a self serving shell game?"

Governor Pawlenty's regular attacks on affordable health care also drew reader ire. Cuts to the state's General Assistance Medical Care program, resulting in eliminating supplemental care for 89,000 vulnerable Minnesotans, was repeatedly suggested as a Stewart question topic. My favorite question, candidly, subtly blends humor and policy. This is important because "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" is, by its own admission, entertainment not news. "Who wins in a race to the bottom," reader Bob MacNeal writes, "Minnesota or Mississippi?"

Oooo. Good one.

Mississippi has a head start in under performance -schools, roads, health care, median household income- so I'm inclined to bet that Mississippi arrives at the bottom first. However, Minnesota is sliding faster. If we don't reverse Minnesota's decline in our relative state ranking, we will eventually supplant Mississippi at the bottom.

Remember, Pawlenty's Daily Show appearance served Tim Pawlenty, candidate. It was never going to highlight Minnesota's slide during Pawlenty's two gubernatorial terms. That's our job as concerned progressive activists because here, in Minnesota, we know that Pawlenty will leave our state in worse, not better, shape than he found it.

We're grappling with a very different challenge, working to grow Minnesota and realize prosperity. Governor Pawlenty created and perpetuated problems that the rest of us must solve. It's not funny or entertaining but it is the truth.

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