The smoldering feud between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Attorney General Mike Hatch has flared up again, this time over the issue of a possible government shutdown. Of course if Pawlenty and legislative leaders can reach a deal on the budget by the July 1 deadline, it all becomes moot. But for now, Pawlenty is questioning Hatch's ability to argue on behalf of the administration. Here is how MPR's Michael Khoo put it:
"Our attorney can't also be simultaneously our political opponent. That's a very awkward posture. And again, the situation's going to be tense enough as it is if it gets to that point, and awkward enough as it is without having that extra layer of complexity or tension or conflict," Pawlenty said.
In a letter to Hatch, Pawlenty asks him to consider stepping aside, saying "the 2006 election should not compromise the public's interest." Pawlenty and Hatch have a history of squabbling and trading public barbs over each other's performance in office. But Hatch says Pawlenty has mistaken the respective roles of the governor and the attorney general.
In 2001, the state faced a similar budget crisis before a shutdown was averted at the last minute. Hatch says that at that time, his office successfully petitioned the courts to grant spending authority to a broad range of state officials. But he says in doing so, he represented the entire state of Minnesota not just then-Gov. Jesse Ventura. He says if history repeats itself, he again won't be serving directly as the governor's legal advisor and therefore any conflict between the two is irrelevant.
"We don't have a king. We have a state government," Hatch said. "And when we go into court, we represent state government and we ask the court, 'will you fund those core functions?'"
All this raises one question: if there's not enough money to pay for government to stay open, who pays for the outside lawyer the governor would have to hire to argue the case?
Of course the Legislature did get some things done during the regular session, including passing a public safety bill. The governor signed it Thursday as noted by the Star Tribune:
The new law will lock up the most heinous sex offenders for life without possibility of parole and many others with open-ended prison sentences up to life. And it will severely curb sales of popular cold remedies in an effort to rein in the manufacture of the illegal stimulant methamphetamine.
Also included is a new felony crime of domestic assault by strangulation.
The provision, which may be the biggest effect of the law, at least in the short term, could send hundreds of abusers to prison for up to three years.
The overall bill appropriates $1.685 billion for more law enforcement, court and prison resources to fight crime.
The amount is a 16 percent, two-year increase in tight budget times.
The governor had a busy day Thursday. He was also in St. Cloud where he talked again about one of his pet issues--performance pay for legislators. The St. Cloud Times has the story:
Pawlenty's visit was part of a swing to urge lawmakers to settle on money for public schools. In the speech, Pawlenty also pitched his performance-pay plan for teachers.
He responded to a question on why there have been nine special sessions in 11 years. "One of the things I'd love to see dearly is performance pay for politicians," Pawlenty answered. "It could end this now."
If the Legislature did not finish on time, lawmakers, including the governor, would not be paid in the summer or would lose part of their pay, he said.
Pawlenty expressed support for a plan from Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, for special elections in July when the Legislature enters a special session.
At the Capitol, Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said Pawlenty's idea is a way to avoid "talk about cutting working people off from health care and increasing property taxes."
The special session goes into week three next week. Anybody want to bet on when they'll resolve this thing?