Pawlenty: the gov who cried wolf?

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s call to reinstate the death penalty following the arrest in the Dru Sjodin case seemed to come out of nowhere. It was not one of his key campaign issues, and following the Star Tribune report that the majority of those in the state House and Senate disagree with him, many wonder what the governor and his advisers were thinking. Pawlenty’s hasty move causes us to question his ethics and political intellect.

It is not that we find it surprising or heretical that the governor supports capital punishment. After all, most Minnesotans also support the death penalty. The issue we have is the timing and method of the governor’s push for the policy.

The death penalty is not an issue to take lightly, and there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether to reinstate it. For Pawlenty to take up the issue while people’s emotions are running high is opportunistic and irresponsible. History has taught us what happens when reactionary policies are enacted. Capital punishment should be discussed in the public square only when cool heads prevail.

The governor’s hasty call is also disrespectful. Sjodin has not been found yet nor has she been missing for long. The sound of Pawlenty’s horn drew local media attention away from her disappearance in the days when it mattered most. Furthermore, it pinned Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. as guilty before he’s been proven to be so. Rodriguez’s previous horrendous crimes do not justify Pawlenty’s act of recklessness.

Bringing up the death penalty so soon after Sjodin’s disappearance almost forces her case to be an advocate for it, as a recent cover of the St. Paul Pioneer Press shows. The paper juxtaposed the headline “A call for the death penalty” and its story next to the picture of two young female friends of Sjodin’s.

What if Sjodin or her family are against capital punishment? How awful would it be to have such a policy pushed for in your name if you disagree with it?

Besides being unethical, the governor’s move was not smart politically. He is most likely catching the ire of those who agree and disagree with capital punishment because of the circumstances surrounding his push. He might have even ruined his chances of trying to bring up the issue later, when perhaps it would be more palatable.

The issue of capital punishment is important; however, there are other policy ideas the governor will want to be an advocate for that will affect Minnesotans more. By spending his political capital, Pawlenty is destroying the effectiveness of his bully pulpit. Like the little boy who cried wolf, if Pawlenty keeps pushing ideas that are reactionary or have little support, people will quit taking him seriously.

When it comes time for Pawlenty to persuade the public or lawmakers to side with him on a policy he feels is really important, no one will pay attention.