It was hardly an unexpected development at midnight on Friday, as the lack of a budget agreement plunged the state of Minnesota into a historical partial government shutdown. The politicians that run this state were unable to reach agreement before the Senate inexplicably adjourned at 9:30pm on Thursday evening, 150 minutes before the deadline to avoid a shutdown.
For those who don't live in Minnesota, I apologize for putting you through this rant. For those that do, feel free to leave your comments and discuss the situation, but please try to do so in a more civilized tone than what we've heard from our "leadership" so far, both in the days leading to this shutdown and in the hours since the shutdown took effect.
I'm going to start by throwing out a few thoughts from the "leadership". We'll start with the head clown:
Governor Tim Pawlenty (Republican) - "I am stunned by the naked cynicism of the Democrat strategy. When it came to crunch time, they left. When the services Minnesotans rely on to meet their needs and help them, when the jobs of the state employees were on the line, the Democrats turned and left tonight, when the people needed them the most.''
Pawlenty's henchmen, House Speaker Steve Sviggum and Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, to their credit, have been more silent than the governor. On his weekly radio show, Pawlenty made the Democratic "leadership" in Minnesota sound like they were only worried about bouncing Pawlenty from office in 2006, when he is expected to run for re-election.
It's sure nice to know that the governor is worried about present-day issues and not something as trivial as a potential re-election campaign. Don't worry, Timmy. If you decide to run for re-election, Karl Rove and his Beltway buddies will do everything in their power to get you re-elected so you can run for Vice President in 2008 or 2012. They like you. They really like you. In the meantime, though, it might help those valued re-election chances if you worried about the thousands of state workers who are sitting at home drinking iced tea and catching up on their favorite soaps (or golfing, or mowing the lawn, or whatever else comes to mind).
Maybe they're getting ready to file for unemployment in case the "leadership" doesn't get a deal done in the next couple weeks.
On his radio show Friday, Pawlenty blamed the Democrats, uttering more phrases like those quoted above, and saying whatever it took to absolve his Republican friends of responsibility for this embarrassing situation. It's all the fault of those evil Democrats. Our party is the party of good. Our party would never put this great state in a situation like this.
As a popular Twin Cities radio personality is prone to saying, that's a bunch of "B as in B, S as in S".
The reality is that not nearly enough work was done on the budget until it was too late. Not nearly enough substantive talk happened before it was too late to get a deal done. Not enough reasonable compromise was offered before it was too late. Pawlenty thinks he has the power here, but he's wrong. He's the centerpiece. He's the leader. He's the one most affected by this shutdown, because it ultimately falls on his shoulders that a deal didn't get done.
Even with that in mind, though, it's far from being all Governor Pawlenty's fault, no matter what Donkey Dean or his henchmen try to make you believe.
Donkey Dean (Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson) and the Senate "leadership" adjourned almost three hours too early on Thursday. While one could argue that those three hours wouldn't have mattered in the end, we'll never know, because the Senate apparently decided it was no longer worth the effort. Donkey Dean, who has been quite outspoken in his distaste for Pawlenty's politics, was joined by House Minority Leader Matt Entenza in speaking out against Pawlenty's agenda and his offers for compromise.
Johnson and Entenza, it seems, are too busy trying to make Pawlenty look like the one at fault. I haven't heard either one of them take any of the blame for what's happened. In fact, that's quite the common thread among the "leadership" in this state. None of them seem to think it's their fault, even though it is. I expect some disagreement among legislators of rival political parties. They have different views on how things should be done, but in the end, they all have to work together. These guys haven't done that.
It's doubly frustrating for Minnesotans, because the legislature went into special session for the ninth time in eleven years. Perhaps it's time for the state to remove the per diem that the politicians get during special session. Make them work for free, and get rid of the (albeit quite small) incentive they have to let their work lag past the late May deadline for the regular session. Perhaps it's time to fall back on an idea first made public by Pawlenty's predecessor in the governor's mansion, Jesse Ventura. Maybe it's time to cut the fat and remove the headaches by going to a unicameral legislature.
With both sides bickering and thousands out of work and wondering when they'll be allowed to go back, and thousands of travelers looking for places to stop and stretch their legs/get a quick snack/check a map/use the bathroom because the rest stops are all closed, the unicameral legislature idea, once written off as ridiculous by many, is starting to look pretty reasonable.
For the time being, here's a way to solve the budget crisis in about a half-hour:
1. Put Pawlenty, Sviggum, Day, Donkey Dean, and Entenza in a room. Allow them to bring whatever written materials they deem necessary, along with their laptops and plenty of paper and pens.
2. Duct tape their mouths shut.
3. Make it clear that none of them will eat, drink, sleep, use the bathroom, or be able to talk until a budget deal is done.
4. Leave the room, lock the door, and wait about 25 minutes. The deal will be done and everyone will suddenly be getting along a lot better.
Hey...nothing they've tried has worked so far. Might as well think outside the box.