We took a great step today in deciding that in Minnesota we would be ruled by the laws we have in place and not by the man whose job it is to execute them.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled in Brayton v. Pawlenty that Governor Gutshot “overstepped his bounds” (speaking of delicious irony) in deciding that he was not only the governor, he was the legislature, too! In a decision written by his own appointed Chief Justice, Eric Magnuson, who was his former law partner, to boot, the Supreme Court held that Pawlenty did not have the authority to remake the budget of the state for a biennium that hadn’t even begun.
It is frankly astonishing that Pawlenty ever thought he could. Also astonishing is that he did get three of his own appointees to agree with him, in a dissent that took several pages to explain why the statue unambiguously gave the governor that authority.
The governor apparently takes the position (as opposed to what his own reading of the opinion must tell him) that the decision in Brayton only applies to the unallotment of the special nutrition program that the plaintiffs were on. But any fair reading of the opinion makes it plain that its logic and its holding — the legal conclusion — applies with equal force to all of the unallotments made by Pawlenty for the current biennium.
Undoubtedly, it is Pawlenty’s strategy to run out the clock on the session and pack his bags for campaign visits to Iowa and New Hampshire. Pay no attention to all the lawsuits behind the curtain!
But it would be a mistake to let him slither away. This is a mess that has been a decade in the making, most of it on Pawlenty’s watch. All of the accounting shifts (if you or I did it, it would be called “check kiting”) and raiding of the Health Care Access Fund, and putting the cost of government on local units of government, license buyers, litigants, and property tax payers, and the rest of the whole putrid fiasco, needs to be delivered to his door. The bills are coming due in a final, irrevocable way.
Revealing the governor for the reckless, self-absorbed charlatan that he is, is the most important task remaining for the session. Until the legislators wake up and recognize exactly what they have enabled, lo these past many years, there is little prospect for fixing it.
I have some optimism — and a lot of hope — that will happen, and that many years from now, fifth graders taking Minnesota history will read about the day that Minnesota took a step toward reaffirming the rule law.