The candidate from the far left is preaching "tax the rich" while the candidate at the extreme right appears ready to take a machete to state government.
Neither of them, not the DFL's Mark Dayton nor Republican Tom Emmer, seems able to convince many Minnesotans their approaches would completely solve the state's massive money malaise, a budget hole estimated as deep as $6 billion. The major-party candidates for governor are having an even tougher time selling their radical strategies as a recipe for long-term fiscal health in the state.
That's not to say there aren't encouraging nuggets in the approaches of Emmer and Dayton.
And that's why Minnesotans can be relieved there's another gubernatorial candidate, the Independence Party's Tom Horner, vowing to mine the most promising of the ideas from the extremes of our polarized, too-partisan, political machine and combine them with the potential of his own strong plans to create actual solutions.
Horner is at the center, where most of the rest of us are.
His proven ability to build coalitions, to bring together varying viewpoints and to make tough decisions (even if, in this instance, it means serving only one term in office) are among the arguments that can convince voters to select him Nov. 2 as Minnesota's next governor.
Our state's immediate financial future and long-term fiscal health may just hinge on Horner.
"The Democrats won't let the Republicans succeed. The Republicans won't let the Democrats succeed. Minnesota is left in serious financial jeopardy that's only getting worse," Horner said in a meeting with the News Tribune editorial board. "It can't just be about short-term solutions anymore. That $6 billion shortfall is a result of previous shortfalls that weren't fixed.
"Only an independent will be able to get things done," Horner said.
The same way the Independence Party's Jesse Ventura did when elected in 1998, by loading his cabinet with the brightest minds, the most experience and the best expertise available, regardless of political affiliation. No matter how wacky Ventura's term in the governor's office ended, there's no denying the progress and the many successes of his first two years, largely because of the talented people around him.
A governor not beholden to the Democratic or Republican parties also can better engage the majority of Minnesotans, building consensus that provides leverage with Minnesota lawmakers.
"I'm happy to be the political lightning rod. I'll take the heat so we can move Minnesota forward," Horner said. "Most Minnesotans get it. They understand how serious the problems are."
Horner has long been among "most Minnesotans." He has been a small business owner since 1989 when he and a partner created a public affairs firm that focused on strategies and solutions for clients in economic development, health care, transportation, the environment, agriculture and other interests. The ability to compromise and bring people together, no matter how strongly they disagreed or didn't like each other, was key to his business success.
Horner's no political novice. He served as press secretary for U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, joining the Republican on his first campaign in 1978 and working with him until 1985. During that time, he met his wife, Libby, a staffer for Sens. Hubert Humphrey and Muriel Humphrey, both Democrats.
Despite their politically mixed marriage, the couple found enough common ground to produce three children, all now grown.
Horner recognizes the state's most-pressing immediate challenge is the "need to get our financial house in order," as he put it. His balanced approach would include "tough cuts in spending, making government work better and collaborating better."
Horner has identified overlap and redundancies in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development as just one example where government could be more efficient and more collaborative.
The state could be smarter, too, about buying health care coverage, Horner said. He understated -- or maybe was just being polite -- by calling the current system "unsustainable."
"Clearly we can make government smaller," he said. "We ought to, but that can't be the only solution."
Reducing corporate income taxes and creating more incentives for private investment would encourage job growth, Horner said.
And although the results won't be seen for several election cycles, Horner advocates increased investment in education, from early childhood to our universities. Minnesota's future depends on it, he said.
Because more revenue and new sources of revenue are needed to pay for a renewed attention to education and other critical initiatives, Horner supports expanding the sales tax to services and perhaps even to clothing. The sales tax is stable, he said, its revenue is easier to predict, resulting in smoother budgeting and fewer busted-budget crises. The sales tax also is more equitable, Horner argued. The wealthy tend to buy more so consequently would pay more.
And, "increasing the sales tax can be done in a way that's sensitive to lower-income Minnesotans," Horner said. "Absolutely."
Fixing the budget will require a structural approach with comprehensive tax reform. As Horner points out, our state's tax structure no longer fits our state's demographics. Also, Minnesota has become too reliant on income taxes, which are harder to predict, resulting in unstable revenue and the massive money malaise that has become all too common.
"The next four years demand an independent-thinking governor who can take the best from both parties," Horner said. "This is an election about jobs and economic growth. ... Minnesota is a state of tremendous opportunity with so many assets. But we get hung up on all the wrong issues, including who's right and who's wrong. Why can't we be reasonable?"
This election, Dayton, the candidate from the far left, has talked of forcing the wealthy to pay more in taxes, an approach that punishes Minnesotans who work hard and achieve success. Meanwhile, Emmer, the candidate at the extreme right, touts smaller government and government cuts, an approach that victimizes the most vulnerable among us.
Neither candidate, considering how locked they are in their stances, seems likely to free Minnesota from gridlock.
Meanwhile, rather than feeling a need to build consensus with a powerful party, a Gov. Horner would be able to build consensus with Minnesotans, whether Republican, Democrat or otherwise, bringing all of us together to work toward a brighter future.
In an interview with MinnPost in April, Horner said: "Voters don't have to choose between the lesser of two evils. ... The way forward is not to rail against government. It's to fix Minnesota."
Minnesotans' best way forward is a vote on Nov. 2 for Tom Horner.