The state of Minnesota's bleak budget forecast didn't scare off Independence Party candidate Tim Penny.
He told a crowd at the Central Lakes College cafeteria Thursday that the projected state budget deficit probably made him more inclined to run for governor after an eight-year hiatus from elected office.
The former state senator and U.S. congressman, who represented southern Minnesota, said he wants to prepare people for the worst in the months before the 2003 legislative session opens. He described the state's situation as a budget mess and told students he couldn't promise them big tuition hikes wouldn't follow the ones they've already experienced.
"I wish they had done this task last year," he said of the Legislature's actions on the budget deficit, instead of relying on "gimmicks" such as borrowing against the reserves.
"The problem is serious," the bespectacled Penny said. "Public service is most important when the challenges are tough."
His presentation at the college was low key -- a brief summary of his resume and connections to the area and a question-and-answer session. It was in marked contrast to then-candidate Jesse Ventura's wisecracking and the exuberant reception he received from students four years ago at CLC when he appeared on his first television debate with his Democratic and Republican opponents.
Penny makes no pretense about being another Ventura.
"My style is different," he said.
Generally, Penny said he agreed with Ventura's policies. It was the celebrity governor's style and personality that sometimes caused the incumbent problems.
Penny sat on a five-member advisory board that met with the governor three or four times a year. He also had occasional conversations with the governor's chief of staff.
Describing himself and his running mate, Sen. Martha Robertson, R-Minnetonka, as non-partisan and moderate, he said they would be hands-on and engaged in the legislative process. He hopes the legislative session can be less contentious and partisan.
"We want to focus on getting things done rather than getting in an argument," he said.
In comments after his presentation, Penny said he was pleased being in what appears to be a dead heat with Republican House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty and Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe.
At this time four years ago, Penny said Ventura was about 15 percentage points behind the leader in the polls. He said the advertising firm the campaign has hired is the same one that did Minnesota Twins commercials. He hopes to have campaign ads that are positive, with a serious message and yet creative enough to "break through the chatter" of all of the 2002 political advertising.
He said he probably wouldn't have re-entered politics as a Democrat or Republican because it's very difficult to be nonpartisan while seeking an established party's endorsement.
"There's a lot of appeal to breaking new ground here," he said of his Independence Party candidacy.
Penny was a U.S. representative from 1982-1994. He served in the Minnesota Senate from 1976 to 1982. He is a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute Policy Forum at the University of Minnesota and is a senior counselor to the Himle-Horner public relations firm.
He and his wife, Barb, live in Waseca and have four children.
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