Tim Pawlenty: Governor No
On a freezing day in mid-February, Gov. Tim Pawlenty took the podium at the St. Cloud Civic Center to deliver what everyone assembled knew could be his final State of the State address. Wearing his standard blue suit and tie, suburban-dad hockey haircut, and aw-shucks smile, the governor spent a few minutes talking up Minnesotans' strength, courage, and ingenuity. Then he got down to business.
A scowl replacing his smile, the governor reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a red pen, holding it out for all the audience to see.
"I call it the taxpayer protection pen, otherwise known as the veto pen," Pawlenty said, waving the miniature saber in the direction of the legislators assembled to hear him speak. "As you know, I will not hesitate to use it to stop government from digging into your wallets."
Over the next three months, the governor proved better than his threat. When the dust finally cleared from the 2008 legislative session, Pawlenty had vetoed an astonishing 34 bills. With the flourish of his pen, Pawlenty killed everything from a raise in the minimum wage to state support for stem cell research and even a nonbinding resolution calling for greater openness toward Cuba. It was a tally unparalleled in Minnesota history.
"Governor Pawlenty's vetoes reflect common sense and fiscal restraint," says Brian McClung, the governor's spokesman, who declined further comment.
For perspective, consider former Gov. Arne Carlson. In the 1990s, the two-term Republican overruled the Democratic-controlled Legislature with such frequency that he earned the moniker "Governor Veto." But even Governor Veto never killed more than 29 bills in a single session.
Then again, Carlson wasn't auditioning for a spot as the Republican vice presidential nominee.
"The governor's behavior is consistent with his national ambitions," says political scientist Steven Schier, a professor at Carleton College. "The minimal work got done. The budget hole was fixed. Basic services continued. But he decided to forego compromising with liberal Democrats. By doing so, he in no way damages his prospects as a national Republican leader."
Back in 2002, when Pawlenty was a suburban state representative with gubernatorial ambitions, he signed a pledge to never raise taxes. Wearing it like a Cub Scout's merit badge, he rode its power all the way to the governor's mansion. But times have changed. The prosperity of recent years has given way to abandoned mortgages, vanished jobs, and skyrocketing fuel and food prices. And the state's looming budget shortfalls and crumbling infrastructure, suffering from years of neglect made jarringly apparent by the 35W bridge collapse, cry out for major cash infusions.
As Pawlenty leads our state at this crucial juncture, and as he waits for a call from John McCain, we figured it was time to follow the trail of corpses Pawlenty has left behind. And so, in the pages that follow, we autopsy each of the 34 bills that Pawlenty killed this year. Viewed as a whole, his efforts, like stonewalling on state transportation funds, opposing easier union organizing, and stopping gay spouses from getting health insurance, show him to be an anti-tax, pro-industry, socially moralizing, obedient party hack. To those who have followed his tenure in office, this is not really news.
But these vetoes reveal something more: They shed light on the leadership qualities of a man uninterested in reaching across party lines, unwilling to allow sunshine to permeate his secretive office, unable to accept blame even when deserved, and adept at exacting coldhearted revenge.
There's a model for that kind of leadership. His name is Dick Cheney.
1. The bridge and the damage done
In the aftermath of the 35W bridge collapse last August, Pawlenty at last wavered on his steadfast no-new-taxes pledge.
"Everything is on the table," he announced three days after the collapse. "I will be moving to consider and put on the table a gas tax increase."
Six months later, the Democratic-controlled Legislature opened the new session by overwhelmingly passing a bill replenishing the barren coffers of the transportation department. Helping pay for it: a 20-cent gas tax hike.
But by the time the bill reached his desk, Pawlenty had experienced a change of heart. Whipping out his "taxpayer protection pen," he vetoed the bill.
The story didn't end there, however. In a rare act of defiance, six House Republicans voted with their Democratic colleagues to override the veto. Their votes proved crucial; with them, the transportation funding bill passed.
But Pawlenty and his allies in the statehouse made sure the six paid a steep price for their disloyalty. Their leadership posts were unceremoniously stripped, and the party even endorsed rival candidates to run against them in upcoming primaries.
It is little wonder that Pawlenty reacted so strongly. A veto override is a rare and embarrassing moment for any governor, and particularly one hailing from a major party. Of Arne Carlson's 179 vetoes over eight years in office, not a single one was overridden.
If Pawlenty learned any lessons from this defeat, they weren't in the area of prudence. As the session proceeded, he would keep his red pen close at hand.
2. Maintaining a less representative Bloomington School Board
Ann Lenczewski is a believer in representative democracy. And having six of the seven members of Bloomington's school board hail from the wealthier, western side of the city doesn't strike her as particularly fair.
As central Bloomington's representative in the statehouse, Lenczewski introduced a bill designed to shift the board from seven at-large members to three, with the remainder elected by geographic ward. It's nothing personal against the board members, she says, just the simple principle of equality.
Under the DFLer's plan, the board would have two years to transform itself. With a majority of board members opposed—those with power seldom cede it willingly—her bill had a Plan B: a citywide referendum in 2010.
As the bill sailed through both houses with bipartisan support, Lenczewski was ready to celebrate.
But Pawlenty had other ideas. "This bill removes local control and authority from the hands of the Bloomington school district voters," he wrote in the letter explaining his veto.
Lenczewski was flabbergasted. "The voters could have voted it down!" she points out. "It was almost as if [Pawlenty and his staff] hadn't read the bill."
3. Pawlenty to FedEx drivers: No benefits for you
Did you know that FedEx gains competitive advantage on UPS by classifying its drivers as independent contractors, thereby avoiding payment of benefits while also saving millions on taxes? Governor Pawlenty does. That didn't stop him from vetoing a bill that would have outlawed the practice in Minnesota.
"It's a hugely important issue to the workers who are caught in a bind," says Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsored the bill in the House.
In his veto letter, Pawlenty derided the bill as arbitrary, vague, and certain to "create unwarranted confusion in the industry."
4. Tim Pawlenty, tough guy
In mid-March, with the legislative session well underway and Pawlenty crisscrossing the country on behalf of John McCain, House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) told reporters that Minnesotans would be "shocked" to know that the governor and legislative leaders "have not been in the same room since the start of the legislative session."
Shortly thereafter, Sertich got a call from a Pawlenty aide with a message straight from the governor: "Cheap shots are cheap, but they're not free."
Gone were all three projects in Sertich's Iron Range district.
"You try not to take it personally," Sertich says. "But nobody should be subject to any retribution like that."
It didn't end there.
No doubt fueled by lingering bitterness from the transportation bill veto override, Pawlenty eliminated every single project in St. Paul—reducing at least one local legislator to tears. He killed bike and walking trails across the state, and, in one stroke, cut funding for the University Avenue light rail line.
In the end, Pawlenty's light rail shocker proved to be just a bargaining chip. But his underlying message wasn't lost on anyone: Play with fire and get scorched.
5. Pawlenty to obstructionist city councils: Keep on truckin'!
Last year, a resident of rural Greenfield decided to sell his farm to the adjacent Three Rivers Park District. The farm was zoned as parkland in Greenfield's 10-year master plan, but the City Council, protective of its property tax base, voted to block the sale.
Boe Carlson, associate superintendent of the park district, explains the absurdity of the situation: "We had a willing seller. The parcel was already zoned by the city as parkland. And yet the council said no."
After months of legal wrangling, the council caved.
But to prevent such a situation from happening again, the park district sought to remove the need for any city's blessing when it buys private property already zoned in the city's master plan as parkland.
The resulting bill passed both houses overwhelmingly. But Pawlenty was ready with his red pen.
The current rule, he said in his veto letter, "maximizes local input over land issues that directly impact land within the city."
Carlson doesn't buy the governor's logic. "What if a city council suddenly decided to remove freeways or parkland or housing from their comprehensive plan?" he says. "It's why we have regional planning."
6. The Great Cuba Flip-Flop of 2008
During a 2006 reelection campaign debate, Pawlenty had this to say about the United States' Cuba policy: "If I was in a federal position, I would say it's time to reasonably open up our trade relationships with Cuba."
Here's Pawlenty 20 months later: "Providing more economic opportunity for Cuba through trade will enable and empower the current regime."
The second quote, from Pawlenty's letter explaining his veto of a non-binding resolution calling for the embargo to end, brings him in line with the key Cuban-American voting bloc in Miami and with Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
The governor's office denies any political maneuvering.
"That's not the reason he vetoed it," Pawlenty spokesman Alex Carey told City Pages' Matt Snyders last month. "The reason is outlined in the veto letter.
7. Toward a state-funded national I.D.
In 2005, Congress passed a law mandating that by 2014 all states issue new driver's licenses requiring proof of birth, social security number, and other key personal information—all of which would then be funneled into a massive government database with the hope that it could help prevent another major terrorist attack on American soil.
This March, Pawlenty sent a letter to President Bush pointing out that the federal government has appropriated only a tiny fraction of the estimated $4 billion that REAL I.D., as the massive undertaking is known, will cost states to implement over the next decade.
A few weeks later, the state Legislature seconded Pawlenty's emotion, including in its transportation policy bill a demand that the feds shell out 95 percent of the cash needed to pay for REAL I.D. upfront and offer proof that the sensitive data will be securely stored before the state begins implementing it.
Mindful not to anger his friends running the national Republican party—Homeland Security honcho Michael Chertoff was a recent guest on his weekly radio show—Pawlenty vetoed the bill. State leaders shouldn't "unduly restrict our ability to at least begin implementing preparations for REAL I.D.," the governor wrote in his veto letter.
Aware that his handiwork faced a likely override, Pawlenty one day later issued an executive order authorizing the Legislature to keep REAL I.D. preparations on the shelf for another year.
8. Pawlenty to cities and charities: Go to your respective corners!
Say a city or county wants to give a $500 grant to a local battered women's shelter or food shelf. There's no law stopping them, but neither is there anything on the books explicitly granting this authority.
"We were hearing reports from different organizations and governments around the state where there wasn't clarity if they had the authority or not," says Jeannie Fox, deputy public policy director for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
Fox's organization championed a three-sentence bill codifying that power. It breezed through both houses with strong bipartisan support. Then came Governor No.
Rather than teaming up with local nonprofits to provide services, Pawlenty wrote in his veto letter, cities and counties "should be focusing on ways to lower property taxes."
9. Civil commitment of sex offenders: a snafu
Waiting patiently for a nice, uncontroversial veto? Here goes: The sponsors of a bill on civil commitment hearings for sex offenders accidentally included a loophole allowing judges to unduly delay these hearings. After recognizing their error, they asked the governor to veto the bill. Pawlenty, it hardly needs saying, didn't take much convincing. A corrected version of the bill was later signed into law.
10. Defending every inch—or cubic foot—on gas taxes
Don't ever let anyone tell you Tim Pawlenty's not petty. Remember the dramatic transportation funding battle? The bill Pawlenty vetoed would have, among many other things, raised the tax on compressed natural gas by 10 percent, to $1.913 per thousand cubic feet. The veto override bill, however, contained a typo: $1.913 became $1.1913.
Instead of a 10 percent hike, as of October 1, the tax on compressed natural gas will drop—by 46 percent.
"It was a technical error," says Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), chair of the Senate Transportation Finance Committee. "We always go back and clean those up. There's never been a problem on those before this guy took over."
11. We don't want your stinking unions!
Under federal law, when the majority of a workforce votes to unionize, an employer can either accept the will of its workers or drag the process out into a second, oftentimes hotly contested, round of voting. Not so under the Employee Free Choice Act, which would grant the unionizing wishes of a majority of workers outright—whether management likes it or not.
"It would completely change nonunion organizing," says Iris Bordayo, political director for SEIU Local 26, which represents area janitors, window cleaners, and security guards. "Now, we have to jump through so many hoops."
The Legislature passed a non-binding resolution urging the bill forward in Congress, where Senate Republicans filibustered it into submission last year.
But Pawlenty has never been one to support workers over their bosses, and he's not about to start now. Parroting a misleading but widely disseminated industry line that the act would deprive workers of a secret ballot, Pawlenty's veto letter went on to decry the act as "one-sided legislation" that could "encourage more employers to transfer jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, overseas."
12. Introducing the medical credit score
A company called Healthcare Analytics is spending tens of millions of dollars to create a medical credit score for patients like you that it plans to sell to health care providers and private insurers. It insists its customers will only use it after care has been rendered, to see how likely it is that a patient will pay her bills.
Attorney General Lori Swanson, fulfilling her role as consumer advocate and watchdog, wrote legislation to bar hospitals and insurers from using a medical credit score to determine whether and how a patient gets treated.
In vetoing the bill, Pawlenty explained that "my deep affection for health care industry leaders precludes me from signing this otherwise excellent piece of legislation."
Not really. In actuality, he vetoed it on the sole grounds that it didn't explicitly define the terms "medically necessary" and "financial information."
For what it's worth, the bill—a paragon of clarity to most eyes—was quite explicit in cataloguing which parties health care providers would still have been able to supply financial information to. These would have included the patient, her lawyer, and debt manager; debt collectors; auditors or accountants working for the provider; and, as required by law, the government.
13. Who says our kids don't make great guinea pigs?
Lobbyist Kathleen Schuler's job this spring boiled down to one objective: A statewide ban on a pair of chemical groups linked to deformities in lab animals.
First, the bill Schuler championed would have banned so-called phthalates in children's products. Phthalates are added to plastics to increase flexibility, but studies have linked them to feminization—a shorter distance between scrotum and anus, to be specific—in young male lab rats. Long banned from children's products in Europe, the chemicals face a similar prohibition in California beginning next year.
Also in Schuler's bill: outlawing a flame retardant known as DECA, which has been linked to brain damage in lab mice. DECA is used in TVs, computers, and textiles, though many companies, seeing the cancerous writing on the wall, have already begun phasing it out.
Even after her bill sailed through the Legislature with strong bipartisan support, Schuler, co-director of the nonprofit Healthy Legacy, knew it faced an uphill battle. "It's easy for industry to muddy up the science and misinform people," she says.
She was right. Pawlenty's veto letter sounded an awful lot like industry talking points. The science on these contaminants is inconclusive, he wrote, and viable alternatives are lacking.
Actually, Pawlenty went a bit off-message, incorrectly stating that DECA is used in children's clothing.
A day after vetoing the bill, he issued a clarification. Notably, while his veto letters are all written in the first-person singular—"I have vetoed" is a favorite formulation—the correction made use of a different pronoun: "We apologize for the error."
14. Leave no veto behind
The night before sending the education policy bill to the governor's office, a couple of key legislators met for a strategy session. On the agenda: What to do with the hot-button portion of the bill dealing with sex education?
"The governor was going to veto the bill no matter what," says Rep. Neva Walker (DFL-Minneapolis). DFLers "figured his veto message could be about sex ed., or he could say why he was really vetoing it."
At the last minute, DFLers took out the provision to eliminate abstinence-only programs in Minnesota's public schools.
But the bill contained something else: A new school-by-school competitive yardstick acting as an alternative to the federally mandated No Child Left Behind benchmarks, which for many schools amount to unachievable targets tied to the looming threat of forced closure.
Such an implicit challenge to George W. Bush's signature domestic policy was beyond Pawlenty's pale. He vetoed the bill.
"I support the use of a 'growth model' for measuring student achievement," he wrote by way of explanation.
At least he couldn't hide behind his hatred of condoms.
15. I was for improving health care before I was against it!
Last year, Pawlenty appointed a blue-ribbon commission to advise him on making health care coverage at once cheaper and better.
"The level of expansion in public subsidies for health care in this bill, without evidence of achieving cost containment, is excessive and irresponsible," he wrote.
While the Legislature later passed, and Pawlenty signed into law, a revised bill, it was a pale shadow of the original, leaving thousands of Minnesotans out in the cold.
"It's really problematic," says Mary Jo George, a lobbyist for the state's nurses. "The governor relies too much on a private market approach to health care."
16. Pawlenty to ex-cons: And stay out of state social work jobs!
In 2005, Pawlenty pushed for and ultimately signed into law a tough-on-crime bill barring the state from hiring anyone with a serious felony conviction for a wide range of social work jobs.
As a result, many reformed criminals, some at their jobs for decades without incident, were summarily dismissed after changing positions within the bureaucracy.
Rep. Neva Walker introduced legislation that would have allowed these people the same opportunity they had before the 2005 law took effect: to make their best case and leave it up to the state agency's top brass.
Walker's bill would only have affected workers who'd been at their jobs before the law took effect.
Seizing the opportunity to look tough on crime, Pawlenty brandished his pen. Relaxing the standards he'd championed and bringing up to 400 ex-cons back into the fold would be "unacceptable," he wrote.
"People can change," says Walker. "It was the triumph of politics over good policy."
Most government workers in Minnesota are allowed to use sick leave to care for their ill children, but not to look after an unwell spouse, parent, or grandparent. With many private employers now offering their workers more flexible "personal" days, a bill arrived at Pawlenty's desk to grant everyone else a similar courtesy.
Pawlenty gave it a quick death. Labeling it "an unfunded mandate" on local government, he said it would be a drain on the state's already-tapped resources.
18. Smother the earth
Earlier this year, the nation's leading paint manufacturers teamed with local governments from across the country to unveil a bold new initiative half a decade in the making: a fee tacked on to each and every can of paint to offset recycling costs.
"It was an incredible opportunity," says Leslie Wilson, coordinator of the Minnesota Paint Stewardship Demonstration Project. "Everybody was on board."
As Pawlenty saw it, the initiative would have created a second tax on paint-buying consumers, who already pay for paint recycling through state and local taxes.
"That's not accurate," responds Wilson, who doubles as an environmental specialist for Carver County. "We would never as government have worked on a project like that. In a perfect world, he would have understood that our intent was to relieve our taxpayers and not to tax them twice."
19. Pawlenty is a cheap tipper
According to a recent study, the living wage for a Minnesota family of four is $12.24 an hour per parent. The state's minimum wage, meanwhile, is a paltry $6.15 an hour. This spring, the legislature approved raising it to $7.75 by the middle of next year.
Pawlenty wasn't having it. His main sticking point? Tips.
Quoting his veto letter: "The tip credit"—a euphemism for restaurants paying servers below minimum wage—"is essential for the continued viability of many employers."
Alexandra Fitzsimmons, policy director for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, has a different take.
"A tip penalty isn't fair," she says. "The minimum wage is meant to be a floor, not a ceiling."
20. REAL I.D., take two
After Pawlenty vetoed the transportation policy bill over the REAL I.D. revolt, the Legislature sent him back a second, standalone REAL I.D. bill. He vetoed it again. A national database of Americans' key identifying information will be essential in "enhancing homeland security, combating illegal immigration, and reducing identity fraud," he reasoned.
To understand just how empty this rhetoric is, we humbly hand the mic to Bruce Schneier, chief of security technology for BT, and one of the world's leading thinkers on security issues ("Everything We Know About Security Is Wrong," CP 8/22/07). Take it away, Bruce:
"First, as you centralize these systems, they become bigger, more attractive, and more profitable targets. You think it's no fun when someone impersonates you using your credit card? Wait until someone impersonates you with the TSA. It'll make identity theft now look like piker stuff.
"Second, it does nothing to stop terrorism or illegal immigration. The 9/11 terrorists had I.D.s they got by bribing a DMV clerk in New Jersey. REAL I.D. wouldn't have affected that. Proponents also never actually explain the magicness by which REAL I.D. will make illegal immigrants return to their native countries."
21. Defending the rights of guest fetuses
Each year, there are an estimated 100 surrogate births in Minnesota. Seeking to establish basic ground rules for surrogacy, the Legislature passed an American Bar Association-sponsored bill that would have, as City Pages' Beth Walton explains, "forced gestational carriers and intended parents to go through a more formal and binding contract process, requiring them to think through and agree on what would happen in almost every possible outcome, including if one or more of the parties had a change of heart." ("Pregnant Pause," 6/18/08)
In vetoing the bill, Pawlenty alluded to the fetus-sized elephant in the room: The bill "fails in any manner to recognize or protect the life and rights of the unborn child," he wrote in his veto letter.
22. Minding his P's and Q's on education
Like any politician worth his salt, Pawlenty has his pet projects. High on the governor's list is Q Comp, a program that pays cash bonuses to good teachers. Only one problem: a mere 39 of 241 school districts were signed up as of last year, leaving tens of millions in Q Comp cash unspent.
In closed-door, end-of-session negotiations, the two sides reached a compromise: Per-pupil spending would go up by a paltry 1 percent, Q Comp would stay solvent—and the state's airport fund, of all things, would take a $15 million hit to balance the ledger.
"The governor wanted to stand pat on education this year," says Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) chair of the K-12 finance division. "The fact we ended up with even the 1 percent increase was a major victory."
23. Old adoptions shall stay shrouded in secrecy!
For those adopted in Minnesota before the closed adoption era ended in 1977, trying to find a birth parent can prove costly, time-consuming, and often futile. A bill that came to the governor's desk would have opened old adoption records to these now-adult adoptees.
Emotions on both sides of the issue run high, with opponents insisting that the proposed advertising campaign attached to the bill, designed to make birth parents aware that they'd need to contact the state to remain anonymous, wouldn't do enough to protect privacy.
Pawlenty sided with the privacy seekers and vetoed the bill.
24. An apple a day is enough to keep teachers healthy
Statewide, there are at least six school districts—mostly rural and mostly small—that don't offer health insurance to their employees.
To fix this, a bill that made its way to the governor's desk would have pooled health insurance for all K-12 school workers statewide.
Pawlenty, who vetoed a similar bill last year, didn't like it much better the second time. In his veto letter, he asserted that the new program could pile on costs of "as much as $110 million per year."
Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, says Pawlenty's figure is inflated, and that the bill would have made school districts stronger when negotiating health plans. "It's a social and moral imperative that everyone be covered," he says.
25. Let there be no doubt: I still hate the gays
Believe it or not, it's illegal for Minnesota cities and counties to provide health insurance to their employees' domestic partners.
A bill passed in the Legislature would have removed the restriction.
"It's about fairness and equality for all families in the state," says Monica Meyer, public policy director for OutFront Minnesota, a gay rights group.
It's also about attracting job candidates while competing with companies that offer such benefits, which is why both the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Association of Small Cities supported the bill.
All of this was lost on Pawlenty, a staunch foe of equal rights for gays and lesbians. Explained the governor: "I vetoed nearly identical language last year, and my position has not changed."
26. It's his Met Council, we just live with it
For much of its 34-year history, the Metropolitan Council has been a hands-on regional planning body stocked with policy wonks willing to stare down outer-ring suburbanites averse to dense development and low-income housing.
Under Pawlenty, it's more of a way station for the governor's laissez-faire political cronies.
A bill that easily passed both houses would have meant that the 17 Met Council members, each appointed by the governor to serve four years at a time, would have their terms staggered by two years.
"You wouldn't lose all that institutional knowledge," says Patricia Nauman, a lobbyist for Metropolitan Cities. "It would also help soften the blow from a shift in philosophical or political differences."
Citing the need for "accountability"—and no doubt uninterested in altering a system that gives him maximum authority—Pawlenty vetoed the bill.
27. Don't we already save enough babies from disease?
Whenever a baby is born in Minnesota, a small sample of blood is taken to screen for 54 diseases. The remainder of the baby's blood sample is kept on file with the state's health department.
Currently, these leftover blood samples exist in a legal purgatory: They can't be destroyed, but neither can researchers have access to them to conduct potentially life-saving studies.
A bill sponsored by the health department would have made the samples available for research. Supported by the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, and the March of Dimes, it passed through both houses with bipartisan support before arriving at the governor's desk.
Unfortunately for the cause of science, but to the delight of anti-government conspiracy theorists, Pawlenty nixed the bill.
"It's a real shame," says Dr. Susan Berry, who directs pediatric genetic research at the University of Minnesota. "Privacy advocates had a stronger voice than those of us who were trying to get information to help all the babies."
28. Placating the Religious Right by snubbing stem cell research
The University of Minnesota does all forms of stem cell research. As such, the bill that sailed through the Legislature to affirm the U's right to conduct such research using state funds was pure symbolism.
But Pawlenty's subsequent veto, on "ethical and moral" grounds mirroring those of his socially conservative base, was nonetheless an embarrassing milestone. With it, Minnesota became the only state to have pro-stem cell legislation vetoed by its governor.
"The bill didn't do anything for us operationally," says Sarah Youngerman, spokeswoman for the U's Academic Health Center. "But it's disappointing that he vetoed it."
29. Rest assured, health care conglomerates: Pawlenty's got your back
When it comes to health care, Pawlenty is a fierce advocate for profit-hungry insurers and an avowed foe of universal coverage.
But even by his standards, the deathblow he delivered to an ambitious five-county plan to administer state-funded health care to the poor was brazen.
Two years in the making, the Stedfast program was set to start serving more than 2,000 Medical Assistance patients in southern Minnesota in October. The idea was to offer better care with lower overhead than the private insurers already contracted by the government for the same purpose.
The bill to get the program off the ground breezed through the Legislature, passing 115-12 in the House and 52-7 in the Senate. It would have automatically enrolled the roughly 30 percent of eligible patients not yet on a plan.
But it's bad for business when a superior, less-expensive product enters the marketplace. Fortunately for Blue Cross and UCare, the two private insurers threatened by Stedfast, Pawlenty was there for them when it counted.
He vetoed the bill, which he said "decreases competition among managed care plans."
A week after Pawlenty's veto, county leaders—worried that Stedfast wouldn't find its sea legs without the push provided by the bill—killed the program. Says Sen. Ann Lynch (DFL-Rochester), who sponsored the bill in the Senate: "The voice of the big insurance plans prevailed."
30. A proper use of the Taxpayer Protection Pen
Last Summer, when the state's human services department announced it was closing a program for troubled youth in Brainerd, Sen. Paul Koering (R-Fort Ripley) was blindsided by the news.
"There was no notification to the local legislators of any kind, and we're the ones that are answerable to the people," he says.
The program in question was run by the state but responsible for earning its keep without tax money.
Koering sponsored a bill in the Senate that would have kept the human services department from closing or moving any such "enterprise activity" program without first getting permission from the Legislature.
In vetoing the bill, Pawlenty noted—4with good reason—that the change could cost the state north of $3 million next year alone, thereby placing "unnecessary financial risk" on other state programs at risk of being crowded out.
31. Keep your sunshine out of my office!
Remember that sick leave bill that Pawlenty vetoed? When a similar bill died in committee last year, a major rationale was its projected cost, estimated by the state's Employee Relations Department to be $10 million.
If you think that figure sounds absurdly high, you're not alone. Rep. Neva Walker suspects the number may have been inflated to block sick leave reform from becoming law.
Problem is, there's no way to prove it. Fiscal notes prepared by state agencies—which serve the governor—aren't open to review by the Legislature.
Under a bill that quietly made its way to Pawlenty's desk, the executive branch would have been required to account for how such calculations are prepared, as well as be more open about funding requests from agencies.
Accusing its authors of "creating more process," Pawlenty encouraged them to get back to work balancing the budget.
32. Your mistakes are growing tiresome
When perusing the multimillion-dollar supplemental budget bill, Pawlenty came across $134,000 set aside for establishing vehicle emission standards. He hadn't been consulted about this expenditure, and he wasn't pleased to find out about it this way.
Breaking out his pen, Pawlenty line-itemed the cash.
Legislators had "inadvertently" included the money in the final bill, Pawlenty wrote in his veto letter, adding that they'd "acknowledged this oversight, and they do not object to this line-item veto."
The Senate bill's author, Sen. Dick Cohen (DFL-St. Paul), confirms that the governor wasn't consulted before the money was added during an 11th-hour conference committee meeting. But he denies its inclusion was an error.
"When doing a bill like that, there's a thousand moving pieces," he says. "We thought the appropriation was fine."
33. My head shall remain in the sand
Sometime in the next few decades—and perhaps sooner rather than later—the world will reach its maximum level of oil production, after which the wells will begin to run dry.
It doesn't take an expert to identify Peak Oil, as this phenomenon is known, as an epochal problem.
This spring, Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan) introduced a bill that offered the beginnings, however humble, of a solution. His resolution, which passed 89-5 in the Senate, mandated that the governor set up a statewide energy study with an eye toward creating a full-bore "plan of action and response" to Peak Oil.
Pawlenty's response: Nothing doing.
"Using a legislative resolution to direct state executive branch action is an inappropriate use of the legislative resolution process," he responded.
While Carlson wasn't expecting the governor to transform overnight into a responsible steward of the environment, he was still disappointed. "He has the responsibility to take action," Carlson insists. "This problem isn't going away."
34. Rewarding banks for illegal and immoral lending
Minnesota, like the rest of the country, is reeling from a housing crisis brought about by unscrupulous mortgage lending. A bill that made it to the governor's desk would have given a one-year grace period to thousands of foreclosed homeowners stuck with either a subprime or a "negative amortization" loan, in which the interest exceeds the monthly payment.
In vetoing it, Pawlenty insisted that a law stopping banks from evicting victims of their predatory lending practices would poison the credit market, thereby "increasing interest rates for Minnesotans who are trying to refinance or purchase a new home."
Responds Prentiss Cox, the U of M law professor who wrote the bill: "It's the worst sort of divisive politics, pitting those in need against the majority who are doing fine."
It's also a complete fiction: You can't raise the price of credit that doesn't exist. Negative amortization loans are now illegal, and just try finding a lender willing to issue a subprime loan.
"The banks didn't want it," Cox summarizes. "Pawlenty came up with a line, it sounded good, and everyone let him get away with it."
And several thousand homeowners now face certain eviction, thanks to Pawlenty's veto pen.
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