Battle Royal in Minnesota

Long-simmering hostility has broken out into open warfare between the political parties in Minnesota. It started when Attorney General Mike Hatch, the only Constitutional officer of the state who is a Democrat, spearheaded an effort to discredit newly-elected Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. Hatch was behind a series of smear stories that appeared in the local press. The “issues” raised by the stories didn’t get any perceptible traction with the public, but when they continued, the Republicans decided to defend themselves by launching a counter-attack against Hatch. Now there are dueling attempts at “investigation” of the various controversies–none of which are really worth describing–with the Democrat-controlled Senate launching an unsuccessful effort to investigate Pawlenty, while the Republican-controlled House has just announced an investigation of Hatch. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on the latest proceedings.
The battle is colored, to be sure, by the fact that Hatch is the most obvious Democratic candidate to challenge Pawlenty in 2006. But in my opinion, there is another, darker subtext. Pawlenty is a political superstar; he has the potential, I think, to do for the Republican Party in Minnesota what Hubert Humphrey did for the Democrats 50 years ago. Therefore the Democrats are determined to discredit him at all costs. Hatch is a far less talented politician; he is neither likable nor especially able. To the extent that Hatch goes after Pawlenty and both men are diminished, it is rather like a hockey team sending a thug out to start a fight with the opponent’s star player: like one of the Carlson brothers going after Wayne Gretzky. So the spectacle is not edifying. The only real question is whether, when all of the smoke blows over, Pawlenty’s image will have been significantly dented. On that, the jury is still out.

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