One simple question, three non-answers on Iowa gay marriage

Everyone who moderates a debate this year could learn from the journalists who guided the May 1 Iowa Republican gubernatorial candidates' debate: Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Paul Yeager of Iowa Public Television, and Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio. Too many journalists ask long-winded questions that are easy to evade, or ask about hot topics of no lasting importance, or ask about policies outside the scope of the office the candidates are seeking. In contrast, almost every question the panelists asked during Saturday's debate was direct and addressed an issue the next governor of Iowa will face.

Mind you, asking an unambiguous question doesn't guarantee that you'll get a straight answer from a politician. Look what happened when Dorman asked the Republicans, "Can you identify one tangible way Iowa has been harmed during a full year of legal same-sex marriage?"

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We don't need budget advice from Pawlenty

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was in Iowa this weekend to headline an event organized by Iowans for Tax Relief. The crowd cheered the future presidential candidate after Pawlenty blasted the Obama administration and proposed one bad idea after another.

Pawlenty's "economic bill of rights" includes requiring Congress to balance the budget every year. Freezing or reducing federal spending every time revenue drops is great if you like turning recessions into depressions, but basic economic facts won't stop Pawlenty from pandering to the "Party of Hoover" set. I wonder whether Pawlenty's proposed balanced budget amendment still includes "exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies."

Pawlenty also wants line-item veto powers for the president. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that unconstitutional at the federal level, and it's unlikely Congress would ever approve a constitutional amendment on this matter.

In addition, Pawlenty favors extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Those tax cuts didn't prevent the most severe economic recession since World War II, but they did manage to massively increase our national debt and deficit while delivering most of the benefits to the top few percent of the population.

But wait, there's more to Pawlenty's wish list: "He also called for requiring a supermajority of Congress to raise taxes or the debt ceiling." Unfortunately, that would exacerbate our budget problems. When the Pew Center on the States examined state fiscal problems last year, a common feature of the states deemed "most like California" was a supermajority requirement for tax increases or budget decisions.

Speaking to the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd, Pawlenty bragged about getting Minnesota out of the top 10 states for taxes but glossed over other aspects of his record as governor. Iowa Republicans have hammered Democrats for supposedly "overspending," even though our state leaders have kept our budget balanced without depleting our state's reserve accounts. What would they say if they knew about Pawlenty's record?

During Pawlenty's first year as governor, the state drew down its reserves and relied too heavily on one-time revenue to address its budget problem. As a result, the state lost its Aaa bond rating from Moody's Investors Service; the state has yet to regain its Aaa rating from Moody's.

The 2009 report of the bi-partisan Minnesota Budget Trends Study Commission has recommended that the state build up its budget reserves and cash flow account in response to an increasingly unstable revenue outlook. All members of the Commission, including the five appointed by Governor Pawlenty, endorsed this recommendation.

Pawlenty and state legislators couldn't agree on an approach to balance the Minnesota budget. As a result, last year "Minnesota's [projected] budget gap was the largest in the nation on a per capita basis." Pawlenty can bash President Obama, but his state desperately needed the roughly $2.6 billion it received through the federal stimulus bill to help cover the shortfall. Even with the stimulus money, Minnesota was still billions of dollars short. So, in addition to some spending cuts, Pawlenty proposed "a bond issue that would be paid for by existing and forecast revenues from the tobacco settlement—a one-time fix disliked by some because it aimed to use long-term borrowing to pay for current state operations."

To be clear: Pawlenty wanted the state of Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills. In contrast, Iowa's state borrowing program (I-JOBS) is funding capital investments in infrastructure. Last summer, Iowans for Tax Relief in effect ran the Republican campaign for a special election in Iowa House district 90. During that campaign, the Republican candidate made false and misleading claims about Iowa's state budget and borrowing. How ironic that the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd gave a standing ovation to a panderer with a much worse record of fiscal management.

Not only did Pawlenty want Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills, he also decided that underfunding local governments and forcing them to draw down their own reserves was a good way to control spending for the 2010-2011 budget period. Yes, Pawlenty decided in 2009 that cutting aid to local governments by hundreds of millions of dollars was a good way to balance the state budget:

“Many [cities], if not all, have reserve funds, or rainy day funds, and they should use them,” Pawlenty said.

He also talked of the option cities have of raising property taxes to make up for any LGA [local government aid] cuts.

One of the Republican talking points against Iowa Governor Chet Culver is that his midyear budget cuts supposedly forced local governments to raise property taxes. Yet Pawlenty gets a free pass from his Iowa friends. Culver's across-the-board budget cut last October wasn't popular, but it did keep state government from overspending. In contrast, late last year Minnesota's cash flow was so poor that state officials considered short-term borrowing to meet budget obligations.

"It's a bad sign," said former state Finance Commissioner Peggy Ingison, now chief financial officer with Minneapolis public schools. "It signals you didn't have good fiscal discipline."

Minnesota has muddled through without borrowing money to pay bills so far, but prospects for later this year are dicey:

State budget officials updated lawmakers [April 12] on Minnesota's precarious cash-flow situation. They all but ruled out short-term borrowing for the 2010 budget year that ends June 30.

Budget director Jim Schowalter says "deep cash problems" loom for the 2011 fiscal year. Barring law changes, spending cuts and upticks in revenue, he says the state might have to take out short-term loans to meet its obligations.

The Minnesota Budget Bites blog takes a more detailed look at the state's "troublesome" picture for fiscal year 2011. BulliedPulpit posted a good rebuttal of "TPawnomics" at MN Progressive Project. The last thing our country needs is budget advice from Tim Pawlenty.

Pawlenty pushes balanced budget amendment

Not content to push for a balanced-budget constitutional amendment in his own state, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has endorsed the idea of a federal constitutional amendment to require Congress to pass balanced budgets every year. The Wall Street Journal's Amy Merrick observes,

Previous efforts to pass a national balanced-budget amendment have foundered in Congress. Many lawmakers believe deficit spending can help boost the U.S. economy during downturns, and calls to balance the budget sometimes fade as other priorities surface.

It would be insane to restrict the federal government's ability to run deficits during a recession. That's not just something many members of Congress "believe," it's a consensus view among economists. But don't worry, Pawlenty isn't entirely rigid on the subject of deficit spending:

Mr. Pawlenty's proposal for a federal amendment would include exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies. The U.S. has been at war for most of the past decade.

No self-respecting Republican ever let spending worries stand in the way of a blank check for war.

Although it's tempting to laugh at Pawlenty's proposal, I think highlighting the budget amendment could boost his standing in the 2012 presidential race. His idea isn't outside the GOP mainstream; leading Republicans proposed a federal spending freeze instead of the stimulus bill Congress passed in February. Republican politicians in Iowa have also embraced Hoovernomics.

The idea could prove popular with the GOP rank and file too. Mike Huckabee gained a lot of traction in Iowa during the summer of 2007 by being the only Republican to endorse the so-called "fair tax." That idea is even wackier than a federal spending freeze during a recession, but many caucus-goers embraced it.

Any comments about Pawlenty's prospects or the Republican presidential field are welcome in this thread.

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Quitters don't make good endorsers

I haven't written about Sarah Palin for a couple of months, because her political relevance pretty much evaporated when she failed to complete the job Alaska voters elected her to do. She and her entourage seem not to have clued in yet, however:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell repeatedly and personally asked former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for help this summer in his campaign for Virginia governor, a Palin spokeswoman said.

But by late August, Palin learned that the McDonnell campaign no longer wanted her assistance, Palin adviser Meg Stapleton said in an interview tonight.

Earlier this week, McDonnell reacted with a bit of sarcasm when asked whether Palin would be campaigning with him. "There was a time earlier on when she was governor when I thought she would come here,'' he said. "But I think she seems to be busy with books and other things like that. We've still got about 20 different events scheduled down the road and she's not one of them."

But Stapleton says Palin is not too busy to come. She says that her boss offered to help McDonnell numerous times both in conversations with him and his campaign and through the Republican Governors Association.

"The Governor, SarahPAC, and I have all communicated to the candidate, the campaign and to the RGA the Governor's continued willingness to assist in any way possible - even as recently as two weeks ago,'' Stapleton said.

Memo to Stapleton: Your boss doesn't seem like an authority on who's fit to serve as governor anymore. If Palin had not resigned for no apparent reason in the middle of her first term, she might have found a spot on McDonnell's schedule, along with various other Republican governors and former governors.

Assuming Terry Branstad is the Republican nominee for Iowa governor next year, he won't want Palin coming anywhere near his campaign either. I suppose the more socially conservative Bob Vander Plaats might seek out Palin's support during the Republican gubernatorial primary here, but Palin may not be enough of a maverick to campaign for an underdog in a GOP primary.

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FL-Sen: Florida and National Conservatives Continue to Back Rubio Over Crist

Conservative columnist George Will thinks that conservative Republican former state House Speaker Marco Rubio will pull off an upset and defeat Charlie Crist in the 2010 GOP Senate primary:

In January 2011, one Floridian will leave for the U.S. Senate. He is unlikely to be a former governor at odds with his party's nominating electorate, or the probable Democratic nominee, Kendrick Meek, a hyper-liberal congressman. Rubio intends to prove that "in the most important swing state, you can run successfully as a principled conservative." He probably will.

If the straw polls taken around the state by Republican County Committees are any indication, Rubio will indeed defeat Crist.  In fact, since my last round-up of FL-GOP straw polls, which included the following rundown:

Pasco County: Rubio wins, 73-9
Lee County: Rubio wins, "7-to-1 margin" [60-9]
Highlands County: Rubio wins, 75-1
Bay County: Rubio wins, 23-2
Volusia County: GOP Committee censures Crist
Palm Beach County: GOP Committee almost censures Crist as motion fails on a 65-65 tie, still a stinging rebuke
Broward County: GOP Committee attempts a straw poll, blocked only by Crist acolyte eager to avoid embarrassment for Crist

we can add Florida's Hernando County GOP Committee to the list.  Fernando County is a "poor (median income- $32,572), very white rural area north of Tampa" whose County GOP just backed Rubio in a straw poll over Crist by a vote of 46-0.  Yup, 46-0.  To that, we can also add:

Marion County: Rubio 40, Crist 8
Gilchrist County: Rubio 11, Crist 1
GOP Women's Club of Duval Federated: Rubio 65, Crist 4
Northwest Orange GOP Women Federated: Rubio 49, Crist 3
Jefferson County GOP: Rubio 30, Crist 6
Florida Federation of College Republicans: Rubio 19, Crist 6

If you add up the eleven straw polls conducted, the total is Rubio 491, Crist 49.  In other words, among recorded Republican activists in Florida, Rubio is crushing Crist by just over a 10-to-1 margin.  But Crist has the support of the Republican "establishment." To which Rubio says:

"If you are unhappy with the Republican establishment, then let's get a new establishment."

Rubio may be well on his way to accomplishing just that in the FL-GOP.

For daily news and analysis on the U.S. Senate races around the country, regularly read Senate Guru.

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