Ken Pentel is only genuine candidate for reform

by Erik Nelson

Despite all the bellyaching we do about our lives, most Minnesotans would, upon reflection, conclude that their lives are extremely comfortable. The great majority of us have access to warm shelter, a steady stream of cash that is more than necessary for basic needs, a myriad food choices, reliable transportation and a plethora of amusing entertainment distractions. Except for a stray bullet here or there and a barroom fight now and then, most of the violence we experience is either fake, staged or in lands far, far away. Therefore, it is not surprising that most of us are conservative in the truest sense of the word; we find the status quo to be comfortable and worth maintaining.

Even with their efforts to portray themselves as distinct policymakers, Roger Moe, Tim Penny and Tim Pawlenty are all fairly conservative Minnesota gubernatorial candidates and are interested in maintaining the status quo. For example, under Moe’s vision, public schools in Minnesota would have a little more money to play with but not much more. Given this largess the schools could hire a new teacher or two. Pawlenty would like to give a little less to public schools than they currently receive and emphasize standardized testing. If Pawlenty’s vision were implemented, public schools would have to fire a teacher or two, and teachers would have to spend more time preparing students for standard tests. Penny’s education plan places public schools somewhere in the middle of these alternative futures. Regardless of which future scenario came to pass, these marginal changes in education policy would not alter the fact that public schools are finding it difficult to adequately prepare a majority of their students for adult life.

Even on the matter of taxes, these three gubernatorial candidates are not as far apart as we are led to believe. For the average Minnesotan, under Moe’s fiscal plan, tax burdens would probably increase only a few hundred dollars – a drop in the bucket when you consider all the money an average Minnesotan spends in one year. Conversely, under a Pawlenty regime, the average Minnesotan might save a few hundred dollars a year in tax payments, just enough to take a family of four to a Vikings game. As in most other issues, Penny’s leadership would in all likelihood result in a change in tax burden somewhere between Moe’s and Pawlenty’s. Either way the proposed tinkering with the tax code would not greatly affect the tax burdens of most Minnesotans; the status quo would be relatively preserved.

Should we be this conservative, however? What if we could do better for ourselves and our children and their children by boldly and shrewdly reinvigorating our civic society, keeping what is great about the United States and discarding what is malignant? Ken Pentel, the Green Party candidate for governor, is one who thinks we must boldly strike a new path in the state of Minnesota in order to ensure a sustainable life far into the future.

Pentel argues that despite our general sense of comfort, we are on a path that will make it much more difficult to maintain comfortable living standards in the future. An increasingly bimodal society of haves and have-nots, an expanding stock of pollutants that cannot be rendered harmless and rising levels of institutional violence against American citizens are all indications that the well-being many Minnesotans take for granted could be harder to attain in the future.

While many might dismiss Pentel as a doomsayer, evidence we are following an unhealthy path lay all around us. Incidences of cancer, asthma and other respiratory diseases are increasing throughout the United States primarily due to our exposure to a suite of pollutants and carcinogens. More and more people are falling below the poverty line and, perhaps not incidentally, more and more people find themselves without medical insurance.

In order to right the ship, Pentel would attempt to implement the four pillars of the Green Party of Minnesota – social and economic justice, grassroots democracy, ecological wisdom and nonviolence. In rural Minnesota this would involve the creation of self-sustaining and environmentally-friendly towns and farms. Self-sustaining economic and environmental goals would be met by the increasing practice of lucrative organic farming and reliance on wind energy for power and revenue. In urban Minnesota this would involve significant investment in public transit and alternative policing techniques that emphasize nonviolent solutions. Statewide, it would involve the shuttering of the Prairie Island nuclear power plant and the fostering of alternative energy sources to replace dirty coal. The Pentel vision also would increase funding for public education, alternative education techniques, a single-payer health care system and the recognition of gay marriage.

Such an ambitious agenda would necessitate an overhaul of our tax system. Pentel believes this overhaul could take place without increasing the average Minnesotan’s tax burden; instead the rich would pay more and a pollution tax would require conventional energy producers and car owners to add more to the state’s pot. It is important to note a general pollution tax is not some socialist plot to ruin capitalists and big consumers; economists of every ideological strip have noted an economy can become more efficient if externalities such as pollution-related damage are internalized, or in other words, paid for, by the owners of the pollution sources.

Admittedly, the implementation of Pentel’s vision would involve some temporary financial hardship. For example, owners of inefficient SUVs might see their gas bills increase dramatically. But, under Pentel’s vision, these same SUV owners would reap the benefits of a cleaner environment, universal health care coverage and a more extensive public education system in the future.

A vote for Pentel in the gubernatorial election should not to be construed as an endorsement of the view that status quo behavior is leading to some absolute, inevitable societal catastrophe. Given human ingenuity and its technological expression, for at least some, the future will be wonderful and plentiful. The real question is how many people will have wonderful and plentiful futures. Given the increasing number of working poor, ill-educated students, rising rates of environmental-related illnesses and the inability for more and more to pay for basic services such as health care, an increasing number of people may find the future a rather unpleasant experience. Therefore, it is time to abandon our conservative ways and aggressively create a future where everyone can thrive, not just the well-to-do. Thankfully, Ken Pentel is a gubernatorial candidate willing to show us the way.