Feeling Minnesota

Is it possible to understand our state's politics? You betcha.

The election and re-election of Tim Pawlenty as governor of Minnesota are signs of the state's changing political landscape. Though five of Minnesota's last 11 chief executives have been Republican, most have been centrists. Pawlenty is of a different stripe, reflecting a gradual shift among voters from blue to purple. Earlier this year, Robert Novak in the Washington Post dubbed Pawlenty "the most conservative Minnesota governor since Theodore 'Tightwad Ted' Christianson in the 1920s." "Tightwad Tim" wouldn't be a bad nickname for Pawlenty, who has kept a stranglehold on taxes during his term. Cynics have suggested that his ideological purity on taxes and other conservative issues was due in part to having his eye on the vice presidency. Whether or not he is picked for the VP spot, Pawlenty's national exposure will no doubt make it hard to keep him down on the farm, though he is eligible for re-election in 2010.

2007: I-35W bridge collapses

At 6:05 p.m. on Wednesday, August 1, 2007, a busy bridge of interstate highway 35W in Minneapolis spontaneously collapsed during rush hour, sending dozens of cars plunging to the Mississippi River and its banks below. Thirteen people were killed and nearly 150 injured in a horrific scene that was broadcast around the world. In Minnesota and nationwide, the tragedy led to calls to reinvest in the country's aging infrastructure. The political repercussions in Minnesota were minimal in the immediate aftermath, though many questioned the transportation funding policies of both the Pawlenty and Bush administrations. Ultimately, the disaster contributed to the ouster early this year of Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau from her role as transportation commissioner. Though the cause remains under investigation, preliminary findings point to a design error: gusset plates that were too thin to support the load on the steel truss arch bridge. Little more than a year later, a new bridge is set to open this fall.

2008: St. Paul hosts the Republican National Convention

Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty and outgiong Governor Jesse Ventura in 2002
Associated Press
Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty and outgiong Governor Jesse Ventura in 2002

Republicans had such a good time at their convention in 1892 that they've decided to return. This time, however, St. Paul will be in the eye of a media hurricane that Minnesotans a hundred years ago could never have imagined. The state is shaping up to play a major role in this year's campaign, and not just because it's hosting a convention. For the first time in months, Minnesota is living up to its hype as a battleground state. Several polls have shown John McCain narrowing the gap in Minnesota to within 2 to 4 percentage points of Barack Obama—a statistical dead heat. But visiting Republicans are advised not to get too excited—it's a dead giveaway that you're not from around here. 

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