Thursday, February 14, 2008

On behalf of the other St. Cloudians, thank you Governor 

I had mentioned briefly in my review last night two comments at the top of Larry Schumacher's live-blog of the State of the State address here in St. Cloud. To repeat:

State media folks are saying this sounds like a speech from a guy who hopes he's not going to be governor for much longer.

Locals who were expecting some kind of announcement regarding St. Cloud are walking out scratching their heads and asking why he came here.

Dave Aeikens of the Times said on my guest stint on the KNSI Morning Show this AM that the first comment was something that didn't make the newspaper, and that to do so it would have needed attributable quotes. Obviously that wasn't the plan; Larry was making a note about something he was hearing in the press row. I will let readers decide what the meaning of that note was; I think it's fair to say the press is currently reflecting back some of the combative nature of political discourse in St. Paul right now. (And I agree with Aeikens that an adversarial press is an important part of democracy, but I don't know that Larry's first sentence is evidence of that. Again, you decide.)

But he did write an article about the second sentence, titled "Speech attendees expected big news". The point seems to be that while the speech lavished praise on the city, we did not get goodies.

Yet many local residents lucky enough to get an invite from Pawlenty's office to the speech at St. Cloud's Civic Center walked out of the room scratching their heads afterward.

"We're of course pleased that the governor recognized the hospital, especially for its efforts at transparency and quality, where we think we're a little ahead of the curve," said David Borgert, government relations director for CentraCare Health System. Borgert was at the Civic Center to hear Pawlenty's speech in person.

"I'm still a little mystified why he came to St. Cloud, though," he said. "I think maybe we were hoping for something after Rochester."

Of course, that's 2005 when Rochester was the site of a state of the state address in which Pawlenty unveiled a plan for a University of Minnesota campus in the city. As Mayor Dave Kleis mentioned later this morning on my show, we already have the best university in Minnesota. (Full disclosure: Dave's a graduate of our university, and took a class from me while he was here. This fact makes me feel very old.) Mayor Kleis said some people were inquiring in the weeks after Pawlenty requested to give the address here whether it meant there would be a big announcement, but no representations were made that the Governor wanted to use St. Cloud as an illustration of Minnesota values.

The rest of the article does not really refer to anything relating to expectations regarding St. Cloud -- it contains the usual plaints for economic stimulus (stabilization policy being something most economists would doubt a state could enact notwithstanding) and scorn on Pawlenty's veto pen from lobbyists for more money for roads. And, of course, this little bit of scaremongering from our state senator.

Just a couple of blocks down from the Civic Center, the Minnesota Highway 23 DeSoto Bridge crosses the same Mississippi River that Pawlenty praised in his speech, said Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud.

But Pawlenty's transportation bonding plan wouldn't make any new money available for replacing the state bridge and others that share the same design as the Interstate Highway 35W bridge that collapsed last year, while the DFL plan does, she said.

"Even our bill doesn't have the money to do all that needs to be done," she said. "But at least it would let the Department of Transportation start figuring out which of these fracture-critical state bridges to address first."

Of course the governor's bill does have money for bridges (discussed here earlier) and the MnDOT has already made some decisions about which ones to address first. But Sen. Clark must not like those choices, and so refers to the DeSoto Bridge as "fracture-critical" to help drum up support for an unpopular gas tax hike.

But in general I thought Senator Clark's response to the Governor's address, while filled with DFL initiatives about which we'll disagree, at least managed to thank Governor Pawlenty for coming here. She called the show this morning as well and while she did say she thought the governor might offer something more for St. Cloud she didn't seem to make a very big deal about Governor Pawlenty not playing Santa Claus. Good for you, Senator. Gary has Rep. Haws response as well, which also takes a polite and grateful tone.

I'm frankly embarrassed by the Times article, however. A governor comes to St. Cloud, highlights St. Cloud and central Minnesota values, praises a local hero and lifelong public servant, and the local paper runs an article that sounds like a skit from an old Saturday Night Live where a comedienne keeps whining "Where's My Stuff?" I cannot imagine Pawlenty reading that with his morning breakfast without thinking "what's a guy gotta do?"

So to Governor Pawlenty, on behalf of at least those I've spoken to this morning but I think for many more, thank you for coming to St. Cloud. We've never had a governor bring the entire government of the state to our city to say "Much of this area is built on solid rock. This area's values reflect the strength of our state and the goodness of our people." And when we hear it, we know how to be grateful.

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