By Harry Welty
Liar, Pants on Fire
liar, pants on fire. Your nose is longer than a telephone wire.”
luck Governor Pawlenty! When I broke a promise not to raise taxes back in 1998 a
former school board member sent me a heated email with those lyrics in the
had promised not to raise taxes if the voters approved an excess levy
referendum. The voters did approve the levy but I only kept my promise for one
year. The following year, with my promise still in effect, we came within five
minutes of a teacher’s strike and severe budget cuts. I chose to maintain our
schools rather than honor my pledge
got some criticism for my vote when I ran for reelection but still won pretty
handily. My vote to raise the levy wasn’t even an issue. Why wasn’t I
crucified for violating the public’s trust?
because I didn’t violate it. I think the public recognizes a distinction
between campaign promises and the moral authority of a promise made to a friend
or colleague. Our democratic system was designed to force compromise and I think
most voters can forgive an honest effort that falls short. Winning half a loaf
isn’t the same as breaking a trust which is so important that it happens to be
the first of twelve virtues listed in the Boy Scout Law. It begins, “A boy scout is
Pawlenty made a promise not to raise taxes when it seemed imminently doable,
back when the state was raking in surpluses. Had he not painted himself into the
“no new taxes” corner he could never have won the Republican Party’s
endorsement. While some of us were unhappy with the rigidity of the delegates,
the state GOP convention did take place before the two billion dollar deficit
was projected. Making his promise then didn’t seem so unreasonable and, since
I live in a city with an extra high school, I had no doubt that there were other
safe cuts to be made across the state.
that was then. Since his election an insuperable $4.5 billion deficit has been
forecast. Closing a few schools will not solve the problem especially with
another popular pledge to preserve K-12 spending. Even Houdini’s arms would
have been severed had the ropes binding them been pulled tight enough.
a Republican who voted for Pawlenty despite
his promise I’ve been trying to think of graceful arguments to free him from
this bind. Here’s an easy one. If politicians are expected to obey the
majority then Tim could defer to the sixty percent majority that voted for his
two opponents. Both Roger Moe and Tim Penny refused to rule out tax hikes.
that’s too slick an argument then there’s this. Fighting waste is one thing
but eviscerating state services is quite another. Even the great Republican
Abraham Lincoln abandoned his platform once events made it necessary to do so.
1988 when the first President Bush campaigned he told his audiences to “Read
my lips.” No matter what, he assured voters, he would not raise taxes.
Fortunately, Bush was too responsible a President to launch the National Deficit
into orbit. But violating his promise prompted the scabrous Pat Buchanan to
attack Bush and cost him the election.
don’t think Pawlenty needs to worry about this happening to him. Many
Republican legislators, including House Speaker Steve Sviggum, ignored the no
new tax pledge in anticipation of an economic downturn. Republican legislators
won’t have much interest in embarrassing one of their own while he’s
Governor. In fact, draconian cuts would risk Minnesotans wrath and the labeling
of Republican’s as skin flints.
have been politicians who would rather be right than be elected. We admire them
for their integrity and honesty but we rarely elect them and, on the rare occasions when we do elect them, we generally regret it.
my part, I hope Governor Pawlenty’s lips read like George Bush’s. If
they do he can count on my vote again in four years.
is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com