Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R)
Elected: 2002, term expires Jan. 2011, 2nd term.
Born: Nov. 27, 1960, St. Paul .
Education: U. of MN, B.A. 1983, J.D. 1986.
Family: Married (Mary); 2 children.
Elected office: Eagan Planning Comm., 1988-89; Eagan City Cncl., 1990-92; MN House of Reps., 1992-2002, Maj. ldr., 1999-2002.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1986-92.
Republican Tim Pawlenty was elected governor of Minnesota in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. As his second term draws to a close, Pawlenty has been taking initial steps to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2010. In the fall of 2009, he established a political fund called Freedom First and hired several consultants with experience in presidential campaigns.
|Tim Pawlenty (R)||1,028,568||(47%)|
|Mike Hatch (DFL)||1,007,460||(46%)|
|Peter Hutchinson (Ind)||141,735||(6%)|
|Tim Pawlenty (R)||147,622||(89%)|
|Sue Jeffers (R)||18,490||(11%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (44%)
Pawlenty grew up in South St. Paul near the stockyards and a meatpacking plant. His early years were difficult. When he was 16, his mother died and his father lost his job at a trucking company. He worked his way through college and law school at the University of Minnesota, becoming the first college graduate in his family. At first he wanted to be a dentist, but he got involved in politics when interning for Republican Sen. David Durenberger of Minnesota. He practiced law until 1992, when he was elected to the state House from Eagan in suburban Dakota County. He distinguished himself in the Legislature, and planned a bid for governor in 1998. But he was persuaded to step aside for St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, who had switched parties and become a Republican. In 1999, Pawlenty was elected Minnesota House majority leader. In 2001, he set out to run against Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, but White House political strategist Karl Rove thought Coleman would be a stronger candidate. Vice President Dick Cheney called Pawlenty to say it would be better if he got out of the Senate race and ran for governor. For the second time, Pawlenty deferred to Coleman.
Running for governor in 2002 was a formidable task. The incumbent was Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler who, as the Reform Party candidate, was elected in 1998 over Coleman and Democrat Skip Humphrey and was enjoying high job-approval ratings. Pawlenty set his own agenda and put forward his own persona. He talked constantly of his South St. Paul roots and said he wanted Republicans to be “the party of Sam’s Club, not the country club.” He promised never to raise taxes and took conservative stands on abortion rights and other cultural issues. He had voted for a gay-rights measure as a freshman legislator, but now called his vote a mistake.
His opponent in the Republican primary was Brian Sullivan, a conservative and a self-financing businessman. A straw poll of those attending the March 2002 precinct caucuses showed Sullivan leading Pawlenty 51%-37%. But Pawlenty’s organizational work put him even when the state convention assembled in June. Almost every state House Republican showed up wearing a Pawlenty blue shirt, and he ended up winning 58%-42%. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor nomination went to Roger Moe, the state Senate president since 1981, who had been waiting for the chance to run for governor. For the first time since 1978, no serious candidate challenged the candidate endorsed by either party’s nominating convention.
The guiding assumption in both parties was that Ventura would run for another term. But on June 18, Ventura announced he wasn’t running. Into that void stepped Tim Penny, a former Democratic congressman from a Republican-leaning district who had retired in 1994, saying he was disgusted with the partisanship of Washington. Several of Penny’s former aides had been appointed to top jobs by Ventura. On June 26, Penny announced that he was switching to the Independence Party, the one most closely associated with Ventura, and running for governor. He chose a Republican state senator as his running mate, and Ventura supported him.
The three were by far more traditional politicians than Ventura, who had not cared about making friends in politics. Just about everyone in Minnesota politics agreed that Pawlenty, Moe, and Penny were decent, likeable people: a “Minnesota Nice” campaign. Of course there were differences on issues. Pawlenty pledged no tax increase. “The last thing I want to do is raise your taxes,” Moe said. But also: “You pay a high income tax because you have high incomes in this state and we enjoy a higher quality of life.” Penny said he “would keep taxes on the table as a last resort,” and suggested there would have to be tax increases and spending cuts, and that he was the only candidate leveling with the voters. Pawlenty favored restrictions on abortion. Moe and Penny opposed them. Pawlenty and Penny favored a concealed-weapons law, and Moe did not.
For most of the campaign, polls showed the three in a three-way tie. Then in October, Pawlenty had a serious financing setback. All three candidates had accepted public financing of up to $400,000, which required them to limit spending to $2.2 million. The parties were allowed to spend money for their candidates, but not in cooperation with the campaigns. The Pawlenty campaign had sold some of its video—footage of the candidate talking about growing up in South St. Paul and making humorous comments—to the Republican Party. The state Campaign and Finance Disclosure Board ruled that the cost of the ads, about $1 million, had to be counted against Pawlenty’s $2.2 million. After paying fines and the cost of the video, Pawlenty had only about $600,000 to spend in the closing days of the campaign. But he won with 44% of the vote to 36% for Moe and 16% for Penny.
This was a high point for Minnesota Republicans. Coleman was elected to the Senate over Walter Mondale, the former vice president’s his first loss ever in Minnesota, and Republicans won narrow victories for secretary of state and auditor. The only statewide DFL winner was Attorney General Mike Hatch, who calmly and fairly handled the issue of replacing Wellstone on the ballot after his death in a plane crash. Republicans increased their majority in the state House to 82-52 and narrowed the DFL margin in the state Senate to 35-31-1.
Pawlenty took office with a budget shortfall estimated at $4.2 billion. He started off with good relations with legislative leaders of both parties, but much of that goodwill dissipated after an acrimonious budget battle. Pawlenty held to his no-new-taxes pledge and cut spending by more than $2 billion, explaining, “The days of a program for every problem and a state government that leads by blank check are over.” There were small increases in health and human services, public education, and criminal-justice funding, but overall state spending fell slightly from 2003 to 2004 and increased by just 2.3% in 2005, the lowest increase in a consecutive two-year period in more than 40 years. “We’re transitioning from a classic liberal state to a swing or transition or center-right state,” Pawlenty told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “That’s not to say we are going to become North Carolina, nor should we be. We want the traditions of Minnesota, the heritage of Minnesota, the priorities of Minnesota updated for the times. There’s more than one way to better health care, more than one way to better schools.”
Among Pawlenty’s other accomplishments in 2003 were a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, a concealed-weapons law, establishment of tax-exempt zones in distressed rural areas, and a bill requiring recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. He proposed an ambitious mail-order program to buy cheaper prescription drugs from Canada through a state-sponsored website. In 2004, when the Legislature could not agree on a plan to close the state’s $160 million budget deficit, Pawlenty balanced the budget largely by tapping a windfall of federal dollars that had been designated for the state’s subsidized health insurance plan. Among his disappointments was the failure of his education initiatives, of a bill for stricter penalties for sexual predators, and of a $740 million bonding bill. A partisan impasse stalled a proposed same-sex marriage constitutional amendment.
Democrats in November 2004 reduced the Republican majority in the state House from 81-53 to a tenuous 68-66—the first time in 12 years the DFL gained seats in the House. In 2005, polarization increased. After Pawlenty and the Legislature could not agree on a budget, there was a partial shutdown of the state government in July, the first in Minnesota’s history. Pawlenty got the Legislature to impose a 75-cent “health impact fee” on cigarettes—a retreat from his no-new-taxes pledge, many charged. Democrats also claimed that he was responsible for higher property taxes because of reductions in state aid. In 2006, he and the Legislature reached accord on bonding for a new University of Minnesota stadium and a ballpark for the Minnesota Twins. He vetoed only $1 million in spending and approved measures to conserve duck lands and reduce mercury levels in coal-fired plants.
Pawlenty entered campaign year 2006 with the most-polarized job ratings in SurveyUSA’s 50-state polls: Republicans loved him, DFLers hated him. His DFL opponent was Attorney General Mike Hatch, who ran for governor in the primaries in 1990 and 1994 and was elected attorney general in 1998. Hatch charged that property taxes and college tuition had increased 50% on Pawlenty’s watch, and that the governor had done little to improve access to health care, which he called “a right, not a privilege.” Pawlenty said that Hatch’s health care bill would encourage lawsuits against insurers and called for health savings accounts, price transparency, and patient incentives. “The future doesn’t belong to the tax increasers or the education-without-accountability promoters and the folks who want to have government take over the health care system,” he said. Polls showed the race between Pawlenty and Hatch close. In the last week Hatch was embarrassed when his running mate, Judi Dutcher, said she had never heard of E-85, the ethanol fuel sold at many Minnesota gas stations. On November 2, when a reporter asked Hatch to speak to Dutcher about that, Hatch said, “You’re nothing but a Republican whore.” This got widespread publicity throughout “Minnesota Nice” land. Hatch said he had called her a “Republican hack,” but his explanation was not widely accepted. Pawlenty beat Hatch 47%-46%, with 6% going to former Minneapolis schools superintendent Peter Hutchinson, the Independence Party candidate. In the Twin Cities core counties of Hennepin and Ramsey, Hatch led 51%-39%. Pawlenty won 54%-39% in the outer counties in the Twin Cities media market. In the remainder of the state it was a standoff: Hatch led 48%-46% because of his big margins in the traditionally DFL Iron Range.
It was otherwise a good Election Day for the DFL. They unseated 1st District U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht and picked up many state legislative seats, giving them a 44-23 majority in the Senate and an 85-49 advantage in the House. DFL candidates were elected attorney general, secretary of state, and auditor. DFL Senate nominee Amy Klobuchar won 58%-38%.
After the election, Pawlenty struck a different note than he had in 2003, saying voters had sounded a warning to Republicans in the election: “‘We’re not much interested in your product, and we’re choosing to go to your competitor.’ We need to hear that message.” Pawlenty still called for more accountability in education and, with a $2.2 billion budget surplus in sight, continued to stand against tax increases. But he promised little in the way of tax cuts. He called for health insurance for all children and an energy initiative including more E-85 pumps and more reliance on renewable sources. In February 2007, Pawlenty signed a bill requiring Minnesota to get 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025, to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050, and to reduce fossil fuel consumption 15% by 2015. He also supported higher auto gas-mileage standards. As the chairman of the National Governors Association in 2007-08, he steered the organization to agreement on a clean-energy initiative.
After the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, the Legislature overrode Pawlenty’s veto of a transportation bill that included a gas-tax increase and increases in local sales taxes. But most of his 34 vetoes in 2008 stood, including his refusal to sign bills on subprime mortgage relief and appropriations for light rail and an Asian Pacific Cultural Center. He prevented the Legislature from ending his JOBZ rural jobs program and announced a new Green JOBZ program, with tax exemptions for sustainable-energy projects. He got $24 million for his strategic entrepreneurial economic development program, and signed a bill to allow law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws.
Things got progressively worse for Pawlenty in 2008. Republicans suffered further losses in state legislative contests, and the national recession had dramatically changed the budget outlook. In November, the DFL gained one seat in the Minnesota Senate, for a 46-21 advantage over Republicans, and gained two seats in the House, for an 87-47 edge. In December, the state was facing a $426 million shortfall in the current budget and a prospective $4.8 billion deficit in the 2010-11 budget. In January 2009, Pawlenty proposed a small increase for schools, maintenance of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and large cuts in other spending. DFL legislative leaders favored a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. He called for freezing state-funded government pay for two years, cutting the corporate tax rate from 9.8% to 4.8% over six years, and replacing human service agencies in the 87 counties with 15 regional agencies.
In the GOP presidential contest in 2008, Pawlenty was the first governor to endorse Arizona Sen. John McCain, whom he called a “once-in-a-generation leader, one of the strongest, most courageous and fearless public servants I have ever met.” He stuck with McCain when the campaign foundered in the summer of 2007, and stumped for him around the country in early 2008. Speculation of a possible vice presidency for Pawlenty was floated, as Pawlenty abandoned his mullet haircut in June and in July spoke sharply of “the audacity of hypocrisy” in Democrat Barack Obama’s campaign. “Our question for Obama is, ‘What have you done? And what have you run?’ The answers are, ‘Not much’ and ‘Nothing.’”
When McCain instead chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, Pawlenty gamely supported her and welcomed delegates to the Republican National Convention, which was held in St. Paul. He was given a six-minute speaking slot on the last night of the convention. After the election, he spoke to the Republican Governors Association in Miami Beach. He said, “The country is changing culturally, demographically, technologically, economically, and the like. And the Republican Party isn’t changing in a way that reflects those major or macro changes across the country.” Pawlenty announced in June 2009 he would not seek re-election, fueling speculation he is weighing a campaign for president in 2012.