It's Walter Mondale and Friends to the rescue in Minnesota, where the state's political elders have staged a third-party intervention.
As the state's budget shutdown continued into its fifth day, two of Minnesota's key statesmen, including the 83-year-old former vice president, stepped in to form a bipartisan committee of political and business power brokers to help the Democratic governor and Republican Legislature find common ground.
Mr. Mondale was joined by Arne Carlson, a Republican former governor, at a morning news conference at Minneapolis City Hall, to announce an advisory committee to help break the budget impasse, which shut down state government Friday. He called his home state "special" and said he was concerned that the longer the shutdown continued, the more Minnesotans would be hurt, particularly on the national stage.
"A spirit of compromise is necessary," Mr. Mondale said. "We're in a place where both sides have to sit down and think freshly about how we can come out with a result that serves Minnesota.
"I think that this state has always been a little bit different, and as far as I'm concerned, better. I'm afraid that if we don't reassert Minnesota's ability to think and create in this crisis, that we will be overwhelmed by national pressures to take part in this national harsh ideological debate that we see in the nation's capital and all over the country."
The committee's co-chairmen are Democrat Wayne Simoneau, a former state finance commissioner, and Republican Steve Dille, a former state senator. Others on the panel are James Campbell, the former CEO of Wells Fargo; Affinity Capital Management President B. Kris Johnson; John Gunyou and Jay Kiedrowski, who are both former state finance commissioners; one-time U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger; and Pam Wheelock, who served in the administration of former Gov. Jesse Ventura.
While Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, will allow the committee access to finance commissioner Jim Schowalter, how the outside intervention will be received by key legislators remains unclear.
Minnesota lawmakers and the governor could resume negotiations on an acceptable two-year budget later this week, picking up after the rancor last week that exposed political divisions over taxes and spending as the state tackles an anticipated $5 billion deficit. The governor has asked for $35.7 billion in state spending under the new budget. Republican lawmakers have suggested a $34 billion figure.
Senate Majority Leader Amy T. Koch, a Republican, said in a statement Tuesday that solving the budget quandary was the responsibility of her and other elected officials.
"Republicans in the Legislature will continue to maintain our strong commitment against raising taxes and holding the line on runaway government spending," she said. "I am always open to hearing thoughts and suggestions from all Minnesotans."
Mr. Kiedrowski, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said his group will begin its discussion Wednesday. He said he was pleased to serve but called the divisions within state leadership significant, noting he did not see things changing in the short-term.
"I think they are truly divided, and it's not unlike the president and the national Congress," said Mr. Kiedrowski, who served as Minnesota finance commissioner from 1983 to 1987. "It really is a microcosm in what is happening nationally. I am struck by the similarities."
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in the middle of a run for the GOP presidential primary nomination, claims in a new Iowa campaign ad, that his leadership - "results, not rhetoric" - helped to end a similar 2005 Minnesota shutdown. Says the new ad: "Minnesota government shut down? Why? Because Tim Pawlenty would not accept Democrats' massive tax and spending demands. Result: Pawlenty won."
Mr. Pawlenty said last week that the latest shutdown could be a good thing for Minnesota over the long-term in keeping the size of government in check - a theme echoed by Republicans in Congress in their budget fight with the Obama administration. Mr. Pawlenty offered praise for Republican lawmakers for standing up to the governor on new spending.
That prompted a back-and-forth Tuesday between Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Mondale, with the former vice president telling a Politico reporter after the Minneapolis press conference that Mr. Pawlenty had used accounting gimmicks to balance the state's budget and then "left basically the mess we see. ... He shifted these issues into the future [when] he wouldn't be around" as governor.
In a statement, the Pawlenty campaign attacked Mr. Mondale and the commissioners.
"Walter Mondale ran for president against Ronald Reagan on a platform that called for higher taxes. Arne Carlson supported John Kerry, Barack Obama and other Democrats. It should surprise no one that they both support more spending and higher taxes in Minnesota," the statement said.
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