Why I’ll miss Tom Stinson

If you have to cover something as huge, messy, imprecise, and prone to spin and politics as a state economy, Tom Stinson is the kind of guy you want in your proverbial rolodex.

You'd leave a conversation with him feeling that you'd gotten a measured, thorough, and up-to-date analysis of whatever question brought you to him, whether the economic effect of "Jesse checks" (Ventura-era tax rebates) on Minnesota's economy, or the forces eroding employment in the state's manufacturing sector.

You felt like you'd gotten the truth, as best it could be known at that point in time. And sometimes the truth was simply, "it's just too soon to tell right now."

That's the business end of Tom Stinson. He was non-partisan to a fare-thee-well.

Then there's the Tom Stinson who, in his measured tones and carefully chosen words, would provide a giggle that somehow seemed rooted in the "dismal" part of the dismal science.

When he projected a nearly $2 billion budget shortfall in late 2001, Stinson harkened back to Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign to explain the sharp reversal in the state's fortunes. "The Clinton election campaign had a slogan. The slogan was, 'it's the economy, stupid.' My staff and I have come to the conclusion it's the stupid economy that's doing it," Stinson said.

When I asked him in 1999 what he'd do with his Jesse check, he said he didn't know. Then he added: "Probably save it. I'm an economist."

And then there's the Wall Street Journal blog (paywall alert) detailing the mistaken wee-hours phone calls that would come to Stinson's home from rabid fans of Tommy Stinson, the bassist for the seminal Twin Cities band, the Replacements.

For the record, Thomas Stinson isn't a Replacements fan and never had the pleasure of attending one of the band's notorious shows ("But, then, I suspect Tommy Stinson has never been to a [budget] forecast release").

And now, for better or worse, Tommy Stinson has missed his last chance to catch one of those performances of his namesake, who, to my ear, has been a virtuoso in his own right.

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