Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published June 29, 2002

Pitching Penny

I've only met one of the many candidates hoping to replace Governor Ventura, Tim Penny, who happens to be Jesse's own choice for succession. Although I stayed up until 3 in the morning two weeks ago to secure the Republican gubernatorial nomination for Tim Pawlenty, I can honestly say that Tim Penny would be a great candidate.

I met Penny when I was a student at Mankato State in the early 1970s. Tim attended Winona State and we both lobbied the State College Board on behalf of students from our respective colleges. Just as now, Tim was quiet and thoughtful. The two of us followed parallel careers after school but only Tim was a success at it. He stayed in the Republican stronghold of southern Minnesota and got elected as a Democrat to the legislature and then went on to Congress. As a Republican I moved to the Democrat stronghold of northeastern Minnesota. I couldn't get elected dog catcher.

In an odd way we both ended up banging our heads for the next two decades. I banged my head trying to gain a political toehold. Tim banged his head trying to do something useful with his toehold.

Tim became a Democrat in large part because he watched government programs help his sick, little brother. He associated that helping hand with the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, he went to Congress a fiscal conservative in a party that never saw a spending program it didn't like. Shortly after moving to Washington, DC, in the Reagan Era, Tim fixed on cutting down the Federal Debt. It didn't make him popular with his fellow Democrats. Tim also became a critic of Congress with its obscenely expensive 2 billion dollar budget, its 27,000 staffers, and its 1500 committees each Hell bent on spending money.

In 1992, two years before Tim retired; I ran a quixotic, independent campaign for Congress. I challenged both the Republican and Democrat candidates in Minnesota's Eighth District. Tim's crusades were mine and I was briefly allied with Ross Perot until Ross began raving that the Federal government had sent helicopters to spy on his daughter's wedding.

Although Perot's campaign imploded one good thing came out of it - a general recognition that America was mortgaging its' children's future.  Following his campaign the bipartisan Concord Coalition formed to fight the Federal Debt. I joined immediately and asked Tim, who had become one of the Coalition's Directors, to address the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. Within the year Tim completed writing "Common Cents" a how-to book on reforming Congress. The following year Republicans gained control of the US House of Representatives for the first time in fifty years. They enacted some of Tim's reforms.

Since stepping down from Congress Tim has become a Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Humphrey Institute Policy Forum with another college acquaintance of mine, former Congressman Vin Weber. The two of them are now public policy gurus.

So how might Penny win a gubernatorial campaign? It will be tough. He has no effective political organization. Jesse Ventura was never willing to spend his political capital building the Independence Party or promoting its candidates. God forbid, he coulda gotten some kook elected to the legislature - maybe a guy in spandex with a feather boa! It would have soiled Jesse's reputation or, worse yet, interfered with his moonlighting at Fox Television.

Of course, nothing has changed for the people who were turned off by politics four years ago. If anything partisanship has grown more shrill than ever. I suspect that Jesse's fans would be willing to support a more grown up version of Jesse, someone like Tim Penny. Tim's a candidate with all of the Governor's candor but without Jesse's testosterone, self absorption, or bombast.

As a Democrat Penny routinely won his Republican dominated Congressional District with 70% majorities. It may be true that you need money to get your message to the voters but money isn't everything. Ventura got elected with very little money. I think the media will focus on a Penny campaign, thus giving him plenty of free publicity. They'll do it because Jesse endorsed him, because Tim already has 75% name recognition, and because Penny might win. It wouldn't be the first time an Independent candidate got elected Governor. By the way, Penny's name recognition is amazing considering that he's has been out of office for eight years.

What's more, there is an issue right up the fiscally conservative Penny's alley - the state's 3 billion dollar debt. No one has more credibility than Tim Penny where deficit fighting is concerned. In four years Jesse and the legislature have taken Minnesota from a 2 billion dollar surplus to a 3 billion dollar debt.  Both the big spending DFLers and the Republicans, who signed a silly Taxpayer's League pledge not to raise taxes, will be vulnerable. They've left a mighty big issue for a fiscally prudent Penny to pitch.

Curses! Even when I turn my columns into the editors at the very last minute breaking news can turn them into hash. Christine Jax, Jesse's CFL (Children Families and Learning) Commissioner, has thrown her hat into the ring as an Independence Party candidate. Will she scare Penny out of the race or will a primary battle with her give Tim (or Christine) the media attention necessary to make up for under funding? Darned if I know. Ain't Minnesota politics fun?

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.co