Politicians just can't seemed to get past being, well, politicians.
The State of Minnesota is embroiled in, perhaps, its worst financial crisis in decades. Everyone knew that even before this year's session of the Legislature began, and promises seemed to be coming from all corners that a problem of this magnitude would require new-found bipartisanship and cooperation.
We all know how that ended up this spring.
Now, with even greater economic problems predicted to be on the horizon, the tenor of all the bickering and partisan babbling seems to be swelling.
Since Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has announced he will not seek a third term in 2010, he can safely train his barbs on his DFL nemeses and squeeze the trigger with political impunity.
He did it on Tuesday. A couple of weeks ago, DFL legislative leaders proposed the "Minnesota Leadership Summit." The idea was to bring together the state's current leaders, former governors, former Senate and House leaders and nonpartisan economic experts and financial staffers in a forum that would ostensibly allow frank discussions about how to best address Minnesota's budget mess.
Seems like a decent idea, even if the only tangible outcome is the appearance that the state's leaders are doing something. The state's already in a fiscal pinch in 2009, and that is expected to become a full-blown sock in the arm in 2010. By 2011, we could be getting the economic version of the atomic wedgie, with a shortfall some predict at $7 billion.
So what's wrong with getting some pretty smart, politically savvy people to sit down and bounce around some ideas about how to deal with it?
Plenty, according to Pawlenty.
In a Tuesday letter to event organizers, Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Pawlenty stated that he was declining the invitation, saying that the DFL leaders and their cohorts in the majority "have done a thorough job of admiring our state's budget difficulties, but have refused or been unable to take action to address them.
"The state already has an annual "Minnesota Leadership Summit." It's called the legislative session and it lasts approximately five months."
Pawlenty said the DFL wasted time in the first months of the session and then tried to pass a last-minute budget, which Pawlenty vetoed. He then unilaterally called back millions of dollars in aid and shifted other payments to balance the books.
Pawlenty wrote that instead of rehashing "already established concerns," lawmakers should get to work when they're supposed to.
Which, to an extent, is true. The Legislature owns a heaping helping of the blame for the political and philosophical gridlock. What Pawlenty forgets is that he was equally entrenched and inflexible in budget negotiations. And why does any of that preclude getting a fresh set of eyes on the problem at a time when legislators aren't in session and their attentions can be more narrowly focused?
Pawlenty is digging in deep with regards to the Leadership Summit, and it seems odd that a guy who wants to look presidential is instead looking petulant. For a man who may explore a presidential campaign for 2012, this snotty political snit isn't likely going to sit well with Americans who are seeking statesmen rather than same-old.
When he was in the running to become John McCain's vice presidential candidate, Pawlenty earned points as a potential new face of a Republican Party in need of a make-over. A tough-talking loyalist who nonetheless understood the need to broaden the party's appeal.
His sarcastic recalcitrance at a critical time in this state's history should appeal to no one.