Barely a day after Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced he won't seek re-election to a third term and more than a dozen names are being bantered about as possible successors to the Republican mantle to run for governor. And while the Democrat side was already crowded with candidates wanting a 2010 shot at Pawlenty, that field is also sure to grow.
It all means a heightened campaign for governor in Minnesota. Even though the election is nearly a year and a half away, expect campaigns to earnestly gear up this summer, hitting the parade route from one end of the state to another.
Gov. Pawlenty spent $4 million on his re-election bid in 2006 and barely eked by in a three-way race and still did not capture a majority of votes. He said Tuesday he felt confident that he would have won a third term had he stayed in, and cited several polls showing favorable numbers even while Minnesota awaits the effects of his pending unallotment and shift of $2.7 billion in budget shortfall projected for the next biennium.
It is that chore that most observers believe would hang around the governor's neck like a rock in 2010. His cuts will affect the state's most vulnerable, such as destitute adults who will need to burden hospitals with expensive emergency room care rather than the state's General Assistance Medical Care program, or threaten to close rural nursing homes because of cuts in reimbursements.
While the troops on both sides of the aisle now line up for a clean shot at the governor's office, they need to remember that they need to appeal to their followers with basic core values, but that those values must eventually seek common ground in what's best for Minnesota.
For Republicans, that means staying away from Gov. Pawlenty's "no new taxes" pledge which has guided him into a no compromise position. Minnesota's taxes were cut in 1998 and 1999 in times of budget surpluses, and haven't been adjusted since. Even holding state spending down, inflation has driven up spending and revenues must keep pace -- just like the mythical family at the kitchen table that Gov. Pawlenty is so fond of citing expects a salary increase once in a while.
And while true that the family at the kitchen table must balance the checkbook and make spending cuts to match the checkbook, there comes a time when that family must seek a second, or a third, job to make ends meet. So must the state, and its second job is new revenue fairly taken from income taxes.
And Democrats need to know the state can't solve every problem of society, that many new programs may be great but we can afford only so much. They need to campaign on priorities and break away from the traditional label of being the "tax and spend" party.
Somewhere in the middle there is our new governor.