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We shouldn’t forget to remember Tim Pawlenty

REUTERS/Mike Segar
Pawlenty, the former Governor Gimmick, is now seeking a back-door primary victory to renew his capacity to do — what?

Now that the process of finding candidates for governor is over (or nearly so), some rethinking of the history of the gubernatorial election cycle in Minnesota is in order.  This is especially so in connection with the dark-horse candidacy of former Republican governor Tim Pawlenty, now poised to run against the faceless Jeff Johnson, the GOP’s convention pick, in the Republican primary. While we have forgotten to remember, the two terms of Tim Pawlenty (2003-2011) were the result of third-party candidates following in the shallow wake of Jesse Ventura. Tim Penny and Peter Hutchinson’s vain notion that they might be the people’s choice doomed the standard-bearing DFL nominees for governor in 2002 and 2006: Roger Moe and Mike Hatch.

Carlisle Ford Runge

Pawlenty was elected in 2002 with 44.4 percent of the vote and re-elected in 2006 with 46.7 percent. Without Penny, Hutchinson and a gaggle of Greens in the race, as Hamline University’s David Schultz observes, Pawlenty would never have been governor. His unlikely ascendancy led to two desultory terms (although desultory performance in the GOP officeholder today is a badge of achievement).

He ruled as governor for eight years of what Schultz called both a “tragedy and a farce” in a Community Voices commentary on April 10. The tragedy was to define tax cuts above all as a hallmark of success, symbolized by infrastructure underfunding and the I-35W bridge collapse. The farce, in Schultz’s allusion to Karl Marx, is that he is now running again, presumably on this record. As Schultz observed:

Fiscal gimmicks defined the Pawlenty administration; they included illegal use of unallotments, stealing from the tobacco settlement, trying to force contractors to pay for construction projects up front, and calling taxes user fees. One also saw failure to raise state matching funds to qualify for federal transportation matching funding, and borrowing from schools and other funds. When Pawlenty left office, he strapped the state with an illusory balanced budget for the current biennium and a projected $6 billion deficit for Dayton. So much for fiscal conservatism.

Pawlenty, the former Governor Gimmick, is now seeking a back-door primary victory to renew his capacity to do — what?  Will he renew his strange fillip to take money away from Native American casinos and make the state a gambling player? Will he reverse his comments that Trump is “unfit” to be president to curry favor with the deranged, bloated president himself? Will he renounce his years as a shill for the banking industry and become a born-again man of the little guy?

If this political song and dance is a third-time charm and he manages to hoodwink Minnesota’s mainly smart voters again with his hockey-nice hypocrisy, the joke is on Minnesota, as will be four more years of retrogression. We shouldn’t forget to remember his first time around.

Carlisle Ford Runge is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Applied Economics and Law, University of Minnesota. The views expressed here are those of the author.


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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 07/06/2018 - 08:26 am.

    And not to forget…

    That for 6 of his 8 years in office his every decision, pronouncement and thought was ran through the filter of:

    “Does this enhance or detract from my campaign for President?”

    In 2006 he talked of his planned trip to the arctic with Will Steiger. Soon his Presidential advisers told him: “Are you crazy? do you know how many inconvenient truths you will trip over if you traipse around the arctic with a left wing environmentalist?” Trip cancelled.

    The highest honor we can bestow on a citizen of our state is to lead it as Governor. Pawlenty abused that trust to further his own ill conceived political ambitions. Why would TPAW Act 2 be any different?

  2. Submitted by Bonnie Lokenvitz on 07/06/2018 - 08:30 am.

    Party Machine not 3rd Party Candidates

    The DFL party machine that selected Hatch is more to blame then Penny or Hutchinson. And Ralph Nader was not responsible for Gore’s loss.

  3. Submitted by Jeffrey Brenner on 07/06/2018 - 08:40 am.

    3rd Parties and Pawlenty’s win

    “Tim Penny and Peter Hutchinson’s vain notion that they might be the people’s choice doomed the standard-bearing DFL nominees for governor in 2002 and 2006: Roger Moe and Mike Hatch.”
    I am so tired of Democrats blaming 3rd parties for their electoral losses. Maybe they should look in the mirror and see why people vote for 3rd parties. The DFL needs to remember that votes must be earned.
    I hate the feeling that I have to “fall in line” and vote for the DFL just because I happen to hold progressive views.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/06/2018 - 08:47 am.

    Ahh yes, and then there is Tim Pawlenty

    Who could ever forget Tim Pawlenty running lock step with George W. Bush, and we all know what Bush did for the country. Pawlenty became the $6,000,000,000, that’s 6 Billion-dollar, deficit governor of Minnesota. He spent his time in office trying to look Republican presidential. He took from the education budget to make the budget look balanced. Then he ran for President and couldn’t get past those pesky Iowa voters. Not even Republicans wanted him. They saw right through his transparent facade. It was up to Governor Dayton to clean up Pawlenty’s mess, and he did. After his failed governorship Pawlenty left the state to become a lobbyist in Washington DC. Now, hoping the voters of Minnesota have short memories, Pawlenty has moved back to Minnesota thinking he wants to be Governor again. Minnesota is back on sound fiscal footing, thanks to Governor Dayton, I guess Pawlenty sees there is more he can do again to try out his Republican principles to see if they have the same effect this time. I believe the voters of Minnesota have had Paw-Lenty of Pawlenty. With the Trump mess firmly in and on the Republican’s hands I would guess the Republicans might be more particular about who they want to run to be the Governor. I don’t believe a record like Pawlenty’s is what they would be looking for. But then again, they are Republicans and I could be wrong about them using their better judgement.

  5. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 07/06/2018 - 08:54 am.

    Pawlenty’s shortcoming was his unwillingness to cut spending. If he can put out a thoughtful plan that includes tax and spending cuts, he might be worthy of a second chance.

    I’d also like to hear his opinion on the MNSure and MNLARS debacles. The waste contained within those two massive failures could have funded a tax cut in themselves.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/06/2018 - 11:09 am.

      Pesky Details

      The trouble with spending cuts is that while it’s great fun to campaign against “waste, fraud and abuse,” sooner or later one must identify actual programs to eliminate or reduce.

      If that were easy, the swamp, er, DC based GOP would not have blown a hole in the federal budget, such that we are being swamped (oh, that word again) by a sea of red ink.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/08/2018 - 09:29 am.

      He DID cut spending

      Among other things that’s why bridges started collapsing. The complaint among true believers is that he didn’t double down on magic as much as they would have liked.

  6. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/06/2018 - 12:34 pm.

    T-Paw Redux!

    My first reaction on hearing that Pawlenty was going to run for re-election was that the man cannot possibly be serious. Does he really think that his tenure as Governor is remembered fondly by the people of this state? All it took was for some media pundit to mention him in a list of names as part of the future of the Republican Party, and the man who could screw up a two-car funeral decided he was presidential material. Surely, his capacity for self-delusion cannot be that great.

    On reflection, however, maybe not. No one ever said Pawlenty was a bold, independent thinker, so there is someone putting this idea into his head. Given his singular talent for sucking up to wealthy conservative donors, he could have a good source of campaign funds at his disposal. In addition, the endorsed candidate, Jeff Johnson, is a pretty lackluster specimen. There may be an opening here yet for good ol’ T-Paw.

    No matter how much we would all like to do it, forgetting Pawlenty is not an option this year.

  7. Submitted by Roy Johansen on 07/06/2018 - 12:59 pm.

    Gay Rights

    Don’t forget that for eight years every June he refused to sign Twin Cities Pride proclamation. And for those eight years he vetoed every gay rights bill that landed on his desk.
    The day after he announced his run for another term he spoke at one of the most virulent anti gay groups in the state.
    We do not need another term of his blatant LGBTI hate.

  8. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/06/2018 - 01:06 pm.

    Half right

    Your analysis of T-Paw is spot-on. But don’t blame the third party candidates for the DFL’s selection of poor candidates.

  9. Submitted by Jim Smola on 07/06/2018 - 01:09 pm.

    Pawlenty’s record

    Minnesota voters will have a factual record of what Pawlenty’s terms of office did for the state. As mentioned in an earlier post it is abysmal and it be a center of his opponent’s campaign for office!

  10. Submitted by Jim Roth on 07/06/2018 - 01:22 pm.

    Old Trump steak without the sizzle

    Pawlenty is a mini Trump steak without the sizzle. Even worse, an old steak out of the bottom of the freezer after eight years. We can do better.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/08/2018 - 10:04 am.

    Third Party’s aren’t blame, but…

    It is true that Pawlenty never faced a true head to head election challenge, and THAT fact did play a role in his victories. But the DFL ran complete duds against him. The DFL celebration of mediocrity was catastrophic for MN, and continues to threaten the State and the nation.

    This will likely be the first true head to head match-up for Pawlenty, but again he may have an edge of sorts. There’s always a little “Party” fatigue after two consecutive terms, voters tend to want to switch out Parties, so that could work in Pawlenty’s favor. The other problem is that MNDFL is still leaning sooooo centrist that they’re not producing compelling campaigns for or messaging that will bring voters out. Democrats will need to run a really good campaign that brings voters out if they want to defeat Pawlenty… and I haven’t seen the MNDFL do that in decades. When Democrats win its either by default or because they fail to lose somehow… not because they run strong and effective campaigns.

    I lean towards Murphy but I’m worried because I’m not seeing her campaign. I got nothin, no e-mails, no phone calls (except when the DFL is asking for money), nothing on social media… nothing. She won’t win if she doesn’t campaign. Same with Walz. I don’t know where they are, I don’t know what they’re doing.

    Tina Smith is running, but her campaign is a dud… she spent a lot of time sitting living rooms eating donuts… that’a a losing campaign that tells us Democrats have still not learned their lessons about identity politics from the last election. If THAT campaign doesn’t bring up it’s “A” game Smith will lose, and as the only other Statewide campaign ( in play) her loss wouldn’t bode well for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

    Democrats need to hit the ground running… a month ago, it’s looks like they’re just hanging back.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/09/2018 - 08:30 am.

      Campign for Guv?

      Is there a campaign for governor going on? In Minnesota? Really? None of these campaigns have come across my radar since the conventions.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 07/11/2018 - 12:38 pm.


      I get regular emails from all of the gubernatorial hopefuls. Of course, I signed up specifically for them. No sense in spending a lot of money and effort on anyone not looking for the information right now. Voters have short memories, which is good news for T-Paw. Trying to build a long-term relationship at this point is just expensive. And, I’m all for shorter campaigns. Wish they’d do that in Congress and for President.

      Another thing going for T-Paw is that the Trump voters might just be a little bruised over Trump’s policies, but they still might feel safe voting for a local crony. I don’t see the bruises of the Trump presidency overcoming the brainwashing of the daily swampery coming from Fox News Channel. They’d rather go down with the ship than get in the lifeboats with the perceived devil. That’s the power of propaganda. So, it will all come down to getting out the vote for the state-wide races.

  12. Submitted by Bob Johnson on 07/10/2018 - 01:50 pm.


    ‘Living With Less in the Land of Pawlenty’ should be our new State motto.

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