MINNEAPOLIS - After years of vetoing gas tax increases, Minnesota's Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty now says he will sign one. His conservative, "no new taxes" base is too embarrassed to protest for the time being. It appears likely that the state legislature will hold a special session to provide him with an opportunity to do so shortly after Labor Day.
The 35 W bridge buckled. Now Pawlenty has, too.
He had been a rising star among Republicans. Only a week ago, he assumed the chair of the National Governor's Conference. He would have looked magnificent at the podium at next year's Republican National Convention in Saint Paul. All that appears to be gone now.
Here in Minnesota, Pawlenty's once glib attitude toward vetoing taxes to pay for infrastructure, healthcare and education is an appropriate and tragically convenient target for public outrage. For many angry and, frankly, embarrassed voters, the bridge was a symptom. Pawlenty's conservative, "no new taxes," stance is the disease.
Pawlenty's political career took him from the city council in Eagan (an affluent sprawl of a suburb southeast of Saint Paul) to Republican Majority Leader in the state legislature, to a short-lived run for the Republican senate nomination to run against Paul Wellstone in 2002.
He bowed out of that race when Dick Cheney called and told him the fix was in. Like Terry Molloy in On The Waterfront, it wasn't going to be his night. The Bush administration had chosen Norm Coleman. Pawlenty turned his attention to the governorship, and won the job twice, both times by narrow margins, both times with third party candidates siphoning more than enough votes to swing things the other way from Pawlenty's Democratic opponent.
Winning the governorship without ever winning a majority never kindled a sense of humility or a spirit of cooperation in Pawlenty. He resolutely refrained from working across the aisle to shape funding legislation. He exhibited a cavalier, "Tra-la-la" attitude toward all things bipartisan.
He has exhibited a two-toned persona. Talking to important people and Republicans, he exhibits and earnest, Boy Scout-like intelligence. Talking to those who would question the wisdom of his "no new taxes" stance, he struggles to veil something. A careful observer might think it is scorn.
Vetoing a gas tax hike in 2005, he remarked about Democrats, "How dumb can they get?" How's that for bipartisanship? "How dumb can they get?"
Now a large, ugly chicken appears to have come home to roost. And all the new taxes in the world won't save Governor Pawlenty from the angry voters.
Tim Pawlenty did not cause the 35 W Bridge to collapse. He does, however, embody the conservative approach to government that did. Like Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Norquist, he is skilled at bullying, not at compromise. Now here he is, looking out over the Mississippi at a compromised bridge -- quite probably at the end of his political road.