Funny, because I wanted to make that same point earlier. In August 2007, the St. Anthony Bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people and touching off a firestorm of controversy before the victims had all been pulled from the river. Local politicians rushed onto the news, both local and national, to proclaim the collapse a failure caused by budget cuts (even though the bridge was actually getting a facelift at the time of its collapse) and by Tim Pawlenty’s commitment to fight tax increases. One local crank blamed the deaths on David Strom, at the time the president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, just six hours after the collapse.
In the end, though, it turned out that the bridge collapsed because of a design flaw from the time of its construction and the lack of redundancy in the architecture, and aggravated by the work done on its deck that summer, not negligence or a lack of maintenance. Pawlenty recalls the incident in this interview with WMAL’s Grandy Group:
“This is precisely one of the things outlined in the book is when you have a tragedy, it’s really important to get all the facts out on the table before people make judgments. One of the examples I use is when the bridge fell in Minneapolis, it was a terrible tragedy but while we were still rescuing people in the water, there was still an active rescue operation underway — we had people saying, one legislator called one of my staff people and say ‘we’re going to use this to carve the governor up politically.’ As it turns out a year later, the NTSB determined the bridge feel because of an original design flaw dating back to the 1960s, not because of some current event.”
Well, they certainly tried. I wrote about it extensively at the time, and the first posts are probably the most germane to this point. Former and current legislators at the state and national level, like Elwyn Tinklenburg, Amy Klobuchar, and Jim Oberstar, each took their turn at exploiting the tragedy to flog their political agendas. However, it backfired almost immediately; a poll on hiking the gas tax eight day later showed a majority opposed to it.
What we saw then was a model for what we’ve seen over the last 48 hours. Hopefully, it will lead to the same kind of backfire for those who indulge in the exploitation.
Note: Governor Pawlenty’s book Courage to Stand gets released tomorrow.