Monday, January 03, 2011

New and improved: the DFL message

The straightforward message of Governor Mark Dayton and the new DFL legislative leadership is vastly superior to the convoluted DFL message of 2010. The contorted message of the new Republican legislative leadership shows how much they will miss outgoing Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Gov. Dayton outlined three priorities for his administration during his inaugural address:
1. To bring more jobs to Minnesota.
2. To balance the State Budget fairly.
3. To improve government services.
Compare this to the three priorities introduced by the Republican legislative leadership at their press conference last week:
1. Create a business friendly climate and stimulate private sector jobs in the state of Minnesota.
2. Make the government live within its means.
3. Make government more efficient and cost effective.
These priorities are parallel: jobs, budget, government. But the differences are apparent. The use of the word "stimulate" is one glaring mistake. After spending two years demonizing the idea of stimulus, to hear the GOP using it in this context is silly. "Live within its means" is a vague phrase. Dayton's message is clean and concise, and clearly demonstrates that he's running the government. In contrast, the Republican priorities are muddy, resort to sloganeering, and shirk the responsibility of governing.

Republicans talk of government as a foreign entity, a thing to be acted upon. They cast themselves as outsiders who "make government" do things. As an opposition party, this framing works. As a governing party, it will not last very long.

Incoming House Speaker Kurt Zellers and incoming Minority Leader Paul Thissen also provide excellent examples of this contrast in dueling commentaries in Sunday's Star Tribune. Both Zellers and Thissen acknowledge that balancing the budget will create pain. In Zeller's framing of the issue, the sacrifice needs to be made by government.
Incentives for economic recovery will require sacrifice. With a $6 billion budget deficit, some tough decisions will need to be made. Minnesota families have made changes in their spending habits to live within limited means. It is time for state government to do the same.
Thissen focuses on the impact of cuts will have on people, particularly the middle class:

In the Republican imagination, we can balance a $6.2 billion deficit -- a 16 percent hole in our budget -- with something they call "streamlining." It's painless, doesn't touch our children's educations and has no impact on where our aging parents will live out their golden years. Streamlining is the Republicans' magic wand that will simply wipe away the largest deficit our state has ever faced.

Thissen's framing exemplifies Democratic framing at its best. Expect the DFL message to follow the title of Thissen's commentary, "what next for the middle class?" He doesn't refer to "government" as a lumpen mass, but rather as services that middle class people depend on. One statistic summarizes the framing difference; Thissen used the words "government" or "govern" once in his opinion piece, Zellers used these words seventeen times.

Added: I liked the Star Tribune's use of a word cloud for Dayton's address. Here are the word clouds for Thissen and Zellers' commentaries.



It will take some time to adapt to the partisan reversal of Minnesota's divided government, but the structural features remain the same. The Governor has several advantages over the Legislature. He speaks first (proposes the budget, proposes other initiatives), speaks last (signs or vetoes legislation), and commands greater media attention than legislative leaders. The majority leadership of the Legislature controls the legislation sent to the Governor, but cannot overcome his veto unless there are significant defections from the Governor's party. The legislative minority opposes the majority and assists the Governor in framing the issues through amendments, alternatives, public statements, and upholding his vetoes.

The early indications are the DFL has chosen well for each role. Gov. Dayton's early message is clear, Rep. Thissen is a skilled foil as House Minority Leader, and the relatively inexperienced GOP leadership team isn't yet comfortable in their new positions.

For eight years, DFL'ers have been frustrated by Gov. Pawlenty's negotiating acumen, skillful use of the media, and deployment of the inherent advantages of the executive branch. As Gov. Pawlenty demonstrated, a skilled executive should be able to dominate a legislature of the opposite party. While it's only Mark Dayton's first day as Minnesota's 40th Governor, he's off to a good start.
Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

(Image Credit: State of Minnesota, Office of the Governor)

1 comment:

Andrew Dubman said...

More tax and spend DFL smoke and mirrors foolhardy wanna be government.  What part of "Live within your means" don't you understand???  Seems pretty straightforward to me.