Monday, March 21, 2011

Another Republican Loyalty Test

Last month, Minnesota GOP chair, Tony Sutton, wrote a very public letter to Republican lawmakers warning them not to violate what he terms are the “principles of the Republican Party” with a sharp focus on any form of “revenue enhancement” including “raising taxes, raising fees, expanding gambling, expanding the sales tax, or any such schemes that not only violate our principles but are also bad politics and bad public policy.”

This represents a remarkable turn from his sturdy defense of these very same practices when Governor Tim Pawlenty was leading Minnesota. Come to think of it, he branded anyone who challenged Pawlenty’s financial management as “traitors” and banished them to non-Republican exile.

Just look at the record that Tony Sutton so vigorously defended:

$1 billion – tobacco settlement fund
$2.3 billion – federal stimulus funds
$1.4 billion – K-12 education           

Taxes raised:               
Sales tax in Hennepin County for new Twins Stadium                                                    
$400 million - Health impact fee (75 cents/pack cigarettes)

In addition, a variety of significant fee and tuition increases occurred along with shifts to local governments.  The Star Tribune estimated that property taxes during this period rose by 75 percent.  Further, Pawlenty “borrowed” hundreds of millions of dollars from the Health Care Access Fund.

But what is most disturbing about Tony Sutton’s vigorous defense of poor financial management was his ignoring the repeated warnings of Moody’s which go back to 2003, long before the recession of 2007.  From 2003 through 2010, Moody’s warned of “non-recurring fixes” which were the hallmark of Minnesota’s budgets from 2003-2010.  Even Moody’s lowering of our credit rating did not disturb the GOP party chair.

There is no way for anyone with an IQ approaching room temperature to maintain that Tony Sutton’s turnabout is anything short of 180 degrees.  The question then becomes, why now?

I think the answer lies just east of Minnesota and the rapidly rising star of Governor Scott Walker as a very possible GOP standard bearer. In his budget speech, he drew the same rigid lines as Tony Sutton and criticized past governors – Republican and Democrat – of “one-time fixes, accounting gimmicks and tax increases” and proceeded to take aim at the various borrowing practices similar to those utilized in Minnesota.

The simple fact is that this latest loyalty test of Sutton and Walker is an extension of what has been developing in New Jersey, Indiana, Florida, Ohio and other states where Republican governors are drawing a very hard line on debt and “revenue enhancement”.  These governors, who include likely Presidential contenders such as Christie of New Jersey, Daniels of Indiana, and now Walker of Wisconsin,  are increasingly separating themselves from the financial management practices of the older set of governors who also aspire for the prize including Huckabee, Romney and Pawlenty.

As a matter of fact, while writing this blog, a Reuter’s poll came out listing Walker as having a greater favorable rating than Huckabee and Romney as potential GOP Presidential nominees.

Again, why the sudden reversal by Tony Sutton?  Perhaps, he recognizes changing wind patterns and, like so many leaders, is trying to catch-up with his followers.

But this is precisely what is wrong about today’s politics.  It is more about personal gain than good public service and more about ambition than substance.    Sadly, this damage to democracy is cloaked under the guise of higher virtue such as loyalty and divine power.

Political parties in a two-party system should be wide and broad reflecting and respecting the positive role of diverse and dissenting opinion.   Now we are witnessing the irony of  an older set of leaders who were so quick to impose loyalty when they reigned becoming victims of a new and more demanding standard.  Apparently, the Republican Party has not learned a fundamental lesson of the French Revolution of 1848 and, that is, leaders who impose loyalty tests will soon find themselves branded disloyal and their necks in the guillotine.


  1. Excellent analysis. Personally, as a former Republican and now a Democratic Party activist, this is the reason why I left the Republican Party. The loyalty tests of the Republican Party just leads to a small tent party instead of a welcoming big tent party to variety of ideas and people. I left the Republican party when Tim Pawlenty at the Republican convention made the no tax increase pledge at the convention to the Minnesota Tax Payers League (aka Minnesota Rich Payer League).

  2. I am a democrat who voted for you twice. Your latest posting reinforces my view that you are a man of reason and integrity, virtues that are rare in the ambitious politicians of both major parties.

  3. an excellent analysis.

    I doubt that most of the "anti-revenue enhancement" people that you refer to have ever heard of the French Revolution, let alone have any idea what led to it, but let's not forget the extreme disparity between rich and poor and the "let them eat cake" attitude that made the guillotine such an attractive option.

  4. "Sadly, this damage to democracy is cloaked under the guise of higher virtue such as loyalty and divine power."


  5. Thank you Governor. Please continue your insightful posts.


Gopher Football - Reason for Optimism?

          With the advent of Fall, our attention turns to football and the joy of speculating. The media is all over the Vikings but it is t...