Gubernatorial candidate Penny returns to U

by Lee Billings

Almost five months after departing to focus on his unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial bid, Tim Penny returned to a University classroom Monday to teach a public affairs course.

Penny, who spent six terms as a Democratic U.S. Representative for Minnesota, took a leave of absence last fall from his senior fellowship at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs to be the state’s Independence Party gubernatorial candidate. Penny also is the co-director of the Humphrey Institute Policy Forum.

The institute is one of the nation’s top public affairs graduate schools. Its policy forum is an outreach program that presents educational conferences and seminars from leading experts, according to its Web site.

Penny’s course on public budgeting teaches students state and federal budgeting basics using the current financial crisis as a model. Penny said he plans to cover state budgets in the second half of the semester when the real-world debate over Minnesota’s fiscal future could be at its fiercest.

Minnesota is facing a $356 million deficit for current fiscal year, with a projected $4.2 billion deficit for the fiscal years 2004-05. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently proposed that University funding be reduced by $25 million and said the University might not receive increased funding in the future.

“We knew during the campaign that the deficit would be large, and I didn’t get a sense that Pawlenty was preparing people for the tough decisions that would be required, which he’s now doing a better job of – putting us on notice that there are no easy answers,” Penny said. “Given the state of budgeting at both the state and federal levels today, I should probably rename the course ‘deficit politics.’ “

Since Penny’s departure from teaching in September, he has remained active in public affairs by coordinating numerous events for the Humphrey Institute and organizing third-party political meetings. He is also active in national groups such as the Concord Coalition, which monitors budgeting on Capitol Hill.

“When I was in Congress I was known as a fiscal watchdog,” Penny said, adding that he still stands for fiscal restraint.

Both the staff and students at the Humphrey Institute say they are excited by Penny’s return.

Brian Atwood, dean of the Humphrey Institute, praised Penny as “a very thoughtful person” with both federal and state government experience.

“Consequently,” Atwood said, “his class is sold out and we aren’t surprised.”

Chris Dolan, a University graduate student in public policy, said learning from experienced politicians is a benefit for all students.

“It’s good to learn public policy from people who have actually been there – especially in a topic like public budgeting,” Dolan said.

Public policy graduate student Rebecca Hooper, who attended some of Penny’s policy forum breakfasts, agreed with Dolan.

“I definitely think he has the qualifications for (teaching),” she said. “Someone that’s worked in state and federal government definitely knows more about the process than someone who hasn’t been involved at that level.”

Lee Billings welcomes comments at [email protected]