Reporting Colin Smith
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Former Minnesota Congressman Tim Penny isn’t the first and won’t be the last person to express his disgust with the ongoing fiscal cliff mess.
But the Democrat-turned-Independent who served six terms in the House says he would barely recognize today’s Congress as the body he served in from 1983-1995.
“Say what you will about (Former Speakers of the House) Tip O’Neill and Bob Dole, they understood that governing came first,” Penny said. “Now it seems politics is the order of the day and (both parties) aren’t really interested in solving problems, they’re just interested in trying to blame the other side.”
For a 61-year-old who has spent the better part of his life in public service, you bet he’s frustrated.
“It’s maddening to sit here and watch in dismay and disgust,” Penny said. “If you don’t want to do the job then you shouldn’t have the job. Laying blame may be good politics and popular with some of the partisan folks, but it’s not getting the job done.”
But where there is frustration lies opportunity. Penny, who ran for governor as an Independent in 2002, thinks the stalemate could provide fuel for massive third-party support.
While both Democratic and Republican leaders have moved toward the left- and right-wings, respectively, Penny is quick to point out Independent voter registration numbers are growing.
“The system is producing a polarized politics even though voters are not that polarized,” Penny said. “Half the electorate is between the extremes and very much understands the need for compromise, common sense and meeting the other side halfway.”
That paradox, coupled with a two-party system too intent on assigning blame to avoid a fiscal cliff, could be a perfect storm.
“Our political system has been shaken up in the past when the two major parties have behaved so badly that people are finally fed up, and it may come to that again,” Penny said. “It may emerge again especially if the gridlock we’re seeing on the fiscal cliff continues for the next two or four years…I think middle may rise and deliver the message that needs to be sent.”