THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW: The Bridge Collapse That Could Ruin Pawlenty
When John McCain picked Sarah Palin to run with him, we quickly learned that her teenage daughter was pregnant — and then even more stories started piling up. What will the rest of America learn the day after Mitt Romney selects his vice-presidential nominee? What are the skeletons in the closets his team is prying open as they try to find the best debate opponent for Joe Biden? To answer those questions, we bring you The Day After Tomorrow, a new series previewing the veep scandals everyone may soon be talking about.
Tim Pawlenty — the former Minnesota governor who briefly ran for president in 2012 before being outflanked by Michele Bachmann — has emerged as a possible vice presidential running mate after spending the past several months enthusiastically stumping for Mitt Romney. As an informal Romney adviser told MSNBC’s Michael O’Brien, Pawlenty’s stock has recently improved, largely because the vanilla Pawlenty would never overshadow Romney.
Just because Pawlenty himself comes off as bland doesn’t mean that there’s nothing interesting in his record, however. Were Pawlenty to be selected, the media would certainly take a much closer look at his role in the tragic Interstate 35W bridge collapse.
On August 1, 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis suddenly collapsed in the middle of rush hour. 13 people were killed and 145 were injured in the disaster, which the National Transportation Safety Board later determined was caused by steel gusset plates that were too small and inadequate to support the load of the bridge.
Minnesotans immediately began wondering how the tragedy could have been prevented, and fingers began pointing at Pawlenty soon after.
In May of 2007, just over 2 months before the bridge collapse, Pawlenty vetoed a transportation bill that would’ve included a mandate for yearly inspection of state bridges, which at the the time only needed to be inspected every two years. Pawlenty rejected the bill because it would have increased Minnesota’s gasoline tax by 7.5 cents per gallon.
Two years earlier, Pawlenty had vetoed a similar bill, derisively asking of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor sponsors: “How dumb can they be?”
Whether or not the increased funding and oversight of Minnesota’s roads and bridges could have prevented the disaster will never be known, but the tragedy did prompt state lawmakers to finally increase the gas tax shortly after the bridge collapse.
“The bridge went down on August 1, and a gentleman from my district died,” Representative Shelley Madore said at the time. “If you’re asking me, is his life worth a nickel a gallon [state gas tax increase, as the plan calls for], I’m telling you it is.”
Pawlenty disagreed; he vetoed the tax for the third time, only to be overridden by the Legislature.
As The Huffington Post’s Peter Smith wrote in 2007, “For many angry and, frankly, embarrassed voters, the bridge was a symptom. Pawlenty’s conservative, ‘no new taxes,’ stance is the disease…Tim Pawlenty did not cause the 35 W Bridge to collapse. He does, however, embody the conservative approach to government that did.”
Although Pawlenty’s role in the bridge collapse received relatively little scrutiny during his presidential run, there is reason to believe that it would get more attention today. Republican obstruction in the House of Representatives is threatening to kill the new federal transportation bill, ending the current funding mechanism for road and transit problems. Does Mitt Romney really want to pick a man who proved how dangerous this type of partisan gamesmanship can be?