Tim Pawlenty was not a good Governor, but he proved to be a remarkable Ruler, constantly grabbing for power and, when attained, using it ruthlessly. Elmer Anderson and Arne Carlson were my idea of good governors.
by Charlie Leck
It seems to me, the question should always be this: What is good for Minnesota and all Minnesotans?
That’s what should drive a good Governor. With that as a test, a Governor becomes less and less a politician, seeking party approval, but a worthy Governor, seeking what is best for the entire state and its entire population.
The best recent example of the latter kind of Governor (and I offer it up reluctantly because there are so many things about him I did not like) was Republican Arne Carlson. He was a hard-nosed negotiator and a political animal for sure, but he went far beyond this in understanding what had to be done for the sake of the entire state. He was the best Governor I ever witnessed at bringing the legislators of both parties in for both whippings and gentle conversation. Arne seemed, to the casual observer, to shoot from the hip, but I can guaranty, as someone who worked for him for a while, that he never did that. He always thought things through, tested his ideas on people he knew could think well, and then refined his ideas based on that examination. He very often abandoned the politically safe approaches in favor of the best approach for the entire state.
Pawlenty, I believe, was the opposite of the Arne Carlson model. Pawlenty is the consummate politician, driven by political goals and aspirations. His “no new taxes” pledge is one of the most harmful political actions ever to happen to Minnesota. At a time when “some” new taxes were vitally important and could have solved some immense problems, Pawlenty forced legislators down paths that weakened our state and made it less efficient in order to keep an unwise political promise.
Tim Pawlenty ruled with an iron fist. Arne Carlson, in times like these, would have governed. He would never have sacrificed his core and deeply held moderate-conservative positions, but he would have driven parties together instead of apart. Carlson knew that the essence of good politics is compromise, in the finest sense and definition of the word. Compromise could be for the good of the state and not a desperate act of surrender.
When I rate the quality of Minnesota Governors in my life time, it is odd that I come up with two Republicans who reside at the top of the list. My pals in the Democratic Party may wince, but that’s just the way it is – Arne Carlson and Elmer Andeson. They were both Governors who did not attempt to rule. They governed.
Andersen held office from 1961, through all of ’62 and until March 20, 1963. It’s interesting that his father’s name was Arne. Andersen was defeated in his attempt at a second term of office. It takes some separation in time to understand a person’s worthiness and success. Anderson’s contributions as both Governor and after he left office were worthy and valuable for our state. Nowadays, he is both fondly remembered and highly esteemed. He died in November, 2004.
I first met Arne Carlson when he came to my office on the Southside of Minneapolis in 1967, seeking help in his run for Mayor of Minneapolis. I gave him the courtesy of a long and respectful conversation, even though I had already made up my mind to vote for and support his opponent. It is a remarkable testimony to his character that he never held that against me and, over the years, we grew to be quite close friends. He even put me to work for awhile, when I needed work the most.
Freak occurrences and circumstances of political history, quite accidently and coincidently, led him to the Governor’s office. How lucky we were. He was tough. He was sometimes mean. Yet, he knew when to stand-down and when to fight. He was a master of bringing sides together. We need such leadership again. Carlson, who lives these days in Forest Lake, is always prepared to offer his opinion on issues of government and politics. I always enjoy listening to him. He always seems to be a man among boys. Minnesota needs someone like him again – right now!