Wednesday, September 1, 2010

All Things Gubernatorial

Two gubernatorial stories dominate Minnesota news now. The first is an MPR/Humphrey School poll declaring the race for governor in Minnesota is deadlocked between Dayton and Emmer, while the other story is Governor Pawlenty’s executive order forbidding state agencies from accepting or applying for any discretionary federal health care funds connected to the recently adopted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Poll and the Governor’s Race
The poll of 750 Minnesotans with a margin of error of +/- 5.3% found Emmer and Dayton deadlocked at 34%, with Horner at 13%, another 19% undecided. Standing on its own, the poll suggests a tight race, reporting results similar to what was reported in other surveys a couple of months ago. Yet more recent polls suggested a clear lead for Dayton over Emmer, especially in light of Emmer’s bad campaign, missteps on tips, and other similar issues. Has the race really tightened up again?

There are several reasons to say yes. Emmer was out of the news with no real primary opponent. Additionally, recent debates may have helped him, and the national anger towards Obama may be helping him. Yet this most recent poll raises more questions than they answer.
First, the margin of error of +/- must be kept in mind. The race may not be that close but the polling may mask it. Second, there are serious reasons to question the poll’s accuracy. It reports that among those surveyed, 46% identify as GOP, 41% as DFL, and 13% as Independence Party, leaving only 0% as unaffiliated. I seriously doubt this is an accurate reflection of the party alignment of Minnesota voters.

To start, to say there are no unaffiliated voters in MN is crazy. Other polls have put that number at least in the teens. Second, other estimates, even this year, have given the DFL about 35% of the affiliation and GOP around 30%. This is about my guess of where it is located. I find it unlikely, even in this anti-Obama, and Democratic party year, that GOP affiliation has surpassed the DFL and that it is 46%. My sense is that this poll has way overestimated the GOP strength in the state, thereby questioning the validity of the poll here.

Finally, what the poll also does not tell me is who the undecideds are and where they are leaning. Consistently I have argued that suburban women control the battleground in the state. This poll tells us nothing about the swing voters. Other recent polls have suggested Dayton with clear leads among women and moderates compared to Emmer.

Overall, while I suspect the governor’s race is close, this poll is not very good and there are reasons to question it.

Pawlenty and Federal Health Care Dollars
No surprise. Pawlenty foregoes federal health care money to help out the state. Critics will say it is political expediency to bolster his credentials for a likely presidential run, defenders say he is standing on principle.

Let us assume it is principle. First, principle did not prevent him from accepting money in the past, but then again, that was before he was as serious as he now appears to be in wanting to run for president. Second, there is panic. Pawlenty’s presidential run is going nowhere. He has no momentum and time is running short for him to gain it. Just a few months. Expect Pawlenty to do other dramatic things before he leaves office as final efforts to jolt his presidential bid. Look to see some way to use other executive orders to layoff workers or trim back the state.

But still, let us assume principle and personal conviction that the governor honestly believes the federal law is an impermissible intrusion. The parallel I see here is back to when NY Governor Mario Cuomo, a Roman Catholic, gave a 1984 speech at Notre Dame, seeking to explain how he reconciled his faith with his duties as governor. As a Catholic he noted a Church opposed to abortion, but as governor he had to recognize that not everyone held the same views as him on this issue. He eventually sought to reconcile faith and office by arguing that he had to represent the diversity of views in NY and serve the people first.

There is a parallel here with Pawlenty. He may have personal convictions about the federal law, but his first duty is to the people of the state of Minnesota. He is governor first, presidential candidate and person of personal conviction second. He needs to first honor his commitments to the state, doing what is best for it. Given the health care needs of the state, its budget woes, and other concerns, his personal convictions and public ambitions should take a backseat.

If the issue is taking the money conflicts with his presidential bid, then Pawlenty has a conflict of interest between his official duties to the state and his personal interests. If the issue is one of personal conviction, then he is letting his own personal views dictate public policy and what may be in the best interests of the state. Third, look at the grant that he forbid his health commissioner from pursuing–one to address teen pregnancy. Would not one have thought that an anti-abortion politician would want to acquire funds for this purpose? This makes about as much sense as making Bristol Palin the poster child against teen pregnancy!

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