Friday, May 15, 2009

What leaders do 

It is worth contemplating the anxious reaction of the DFL leadership to Governor Pawlenty's announcement last night that he'll use his line item veto powers to balance the budget if he does not get agreement with them before Sunday. Within hours of his announcement DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher sent a letter to the governor. (Thanks to Politics in Minnesota for posting copies of many of these letters.)
According to your press availability this afternoon, your latest offer to solve our budget deficit implies that you will sign the budget bills sent to you by the House and Senate, and then proceed to unilaterally unallot portions of the state budget. As you clearly have been planning this course of action for some time, Minnesotans have a right to know how you plan to proceed with your unallotment strategy. It is best if this offer can be fully vetted in a public forum.
She attempts to personalize this by crossing out "Governor Pawlenty" and handwriting "Tim", which I think is rather arrogant as well as her demand in the next paragraph that "an immediate meeting of the Legislative Advisory Commission must be convened" so they can dress down the chief executive officer of the state.

Which is what he is. To re-use a rapidly wearing out phrase, elections have consequences. He is not a king, he is the duly elected governor of this state, and he earned therefore the right to the line-item veto. To put it in sports terms, "scoreboard."

When my boss makes a decision after hearing five months of discussion, and after having received a memo from me, I do not call it arrogant for him to decide not to do exactly as my memo suggests. The CEO gets to make the final decision. And that's exactly what Governor Pawlenty told her in response last night:
You characterized my announcement this afternoon as an "offer". It was not an offer, it was a decision.
The CEO does not react to the anxious demands of his or her organization. He leads; he makes decisions. He leaves the door open to discuss those decisions but does not relinquish his executive rights. What many have praised in President Obama has been coolness in leadership, a firm vision of what he wants to do and a determination to do it. I don't like what he's doing, but I have to tip my cap to his public stylings (as opposed to his private thuggery.) Governor Pawlenty is displaying at this moment that same cool hand: "The budget will be balanced; no endgame shenanigans or uncertainty of a shutdown or special session. There will be no tax increases; get on with your lives."

Leaders lead.

If the Legislature intended to have further discussions it could have held these bills from the Governor until such time as a revenue agreement was reached. They offered these bills to induce an endgame where they could negotiate the revenues ex post. I don't write my household budget by writing down all the expenditures I want first and then figure out how to pay for them. I write my budget listing income first and then what I can afford. (Do you write a budget? Here's an example of how. Note what's on top.) They have made a hash of the session, a vacuum into which Pawlenty has had no problem stepping forward. The blame for their fate is in the mirror into which they stare nervously this morning as they wonder what they'll say when they take their end-of-session flyaround on Tuesday.

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