Editorial: A centrist approach is best for state

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 28, 2002

Looking past the controversy that came with Gov. Jesse Ventura’s personality and the sad way his term has sputtered toward its end, it’s valuable to remember two things: One, that most Minnesotans at one time were pleased with his fresh, nonpartisan perspective, and two, that the experience showed that an independent governor has value when taking the middle way between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic Senate.

Parties struggle and spend millions to try to gain control of two or all of the state’s three policy-making branches, but the fact is that the system works best when no one side gets everything it wants. That’s why our government is set up as it is, with checks and balances keeping one group from having too much power.

In a tight four-way race for governor, the effectiveness of an Indepedence Party governor in mediating between the two legislative houses and proposing solutions that use the best ideas from everywhere on the political spectrum are enough to sway the balance toward Tim Penny, the former first district congressman.

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Penny has plenty of other assets, as well. He is not indebted to special interests because he doesn’t take their money. He has a history of centrist, common-sense leadership, which puts him in the same ideological category as most Minnesotans. And especially for residents of this area, he was incredibly popular as a member of the state legislature and as a congressman, when he was a Democrat.

Of course, much has been made of Penny’s changing stance on some of the issues since his days in Congress. It’s true that some of his inconsistency sets off alarms. However, it’s probably a testament to the fact that Penny has an open mind and doesn’t feel he must stick to any party’s standard set of positions.

In a time of state budget crisis, Penny is fiscally conservative enough to trust with the duty of balancing the budget, but unlike Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty, realizes everything must be on the table, including possible tax increases, to erase the deficit.

Pawlenty is a strong candidate, as well. His promise to make government more efficient to make up the budget deficit is certainly attractive, and he has proven experience in the House that shows he can get the job done. His biggest failing is the no-tax pledge he signed. We don’t need a governor who has painted himself into a corner with a $3.2 billion budget deficit looming.

Democrat Roger Moe, one of the state’s elder lawmakers, would be a strong advocate of rural interests. He says he would oppose cuts in local-government aid, which keeps local property taxes low, and as a representative of northern Minnesota, he has worked for rural Minnesota in the past. But as leader of the Democratic Senate, he has helped foster education funding that is skewed toward some regions over others, and while he’s right when he says taxes might have to go up to balance the budget, he isn’t likely to be as enthusiastic about ways to save money, as an alternative to raising taxes, as Penny would be.

Ken Pentel, the Green Party candidate, has the most complete and consistent platform of all; the problem is that most Minnesotans aren’t ready for the radical changes he proposes to make the state more sustainable. He has run a strong campaign and gotten the Greens’ message out to many voters. Pentel won’t be an electable candidate in the near future, but is getting his issues talked about because of his status as a major-party candidate in the state.