Partisan Sniping Over Minnesota Bridge Collapse

The deadly rush-hour collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis led to calls in much of the liberal press for tax hikes and federal action on infrastructure repair. The Times' coverage has been relatively restrained on that topic, but reporter Monica Davey's Thursday Page 1 profile of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, "Bridge Failure Can't Fend Off Usual Politics," indulged in a little partisan sniping.

As in a previous profile by Davey,she focused on Democratic criticism of a GOP governor from the Midwest.

"It took all of two weeks for the political unity brought on by a deadly bridge collapse here to fall apart.

"Even as divers continued searching the Mississippi River on Wednesday for four people missing since the busy Interstate 35W bridge fell on Aug. 1, political leaders were dueling over plans for a replacement span.

"The battle lines extended from disputed plans for light rail to suggestions that Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, was unnecessarily rushing reconstruction to impress Republican Party leaders, who will hold their presidential convention in the Twin Cities in September 2008. Mr. Pawlenty says such talk is nonsense."


"But R. T. Rybak, a Democrat who is mayor of Minneapolis; some Democratic leaders in the State Legislature; and members of the Minneapolis City Council have been loudly critical, questioning the need - and safety, given everything - of rushing to build a bridge.

"Some called for provisions to allow light rail along the new span. Some called for a memorial for the victims. Mostly, they demanded: Why the hurry?

"In a place where politics is usually more civil than in many other big cities, everyone involved seems to wish to play down a rift.

"Still, Mr. Pawlenty's fiercest critics said they wondered whether the governor was hoping to turn attention toward a new bridge in the coming months and away from an investigation into why the old bridge failed and whether there were signs missed. Some suggested that Mr. Pawlenty hoped to show progress on a new bridge when the Republicans arrive for the convention.

"Minnesota is considered a swing state in presidential elections, and some Republicans here have speculated that Mr. Pawlenty might be running-mate material."

Davey did find one instance of political harmony - when Pawlenty said he would consider a hike in the gas tax.

"The days immediately after the bridge collapse brought political harmony here. Republicans and Democrats toured the wreckage together; they met with grieving families. And Mr. Pawlenty, who vetoed a proposed increase in the gasoline tax as recently as May, said he would reconsider such an increase if a special legislative session was called."

The liberal Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a more favorable view of Pawlenty in a headline this morning: "Pawlenty's approval rating is highest ever - His savvy handling of the bridge disaster impressed people, an expert says."