How will Pawlenty’s environmental record play nationally in presidential politics?

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

As his national political ambitions get more traction, Tim Pawlenty’s environmental record as Minnesota governor will get a going-over from friends and foes alike. According to one group’s ratings, Pawlenty is among the “greener” Republican governors.

Pawlenty ranks No. 5 among Republicans and No. 19 overall, according to Greenopia, which describes itself as “your local guide to green living.” The California-based enterprise is in the business of publishing consumer guides that tell us where, for example, to find the best Amish crackers.

Three of the 10 greenest are Republicans: Arnold Schwarzennegger of California (No. 2), James Douglas of Vermont (No. 8) and Jodi Bell of Connecticut (No. 10). The only other GOP governor ranked higher than Pawlenty was Jan Brewer of Arizona (No. 12).

“We looked at all 50 governors in the U.S. and compared their policies, transparency and interest group ratings and ranked them. It was a monumental task,” said Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia’s director of research, in the release of the study. “People want to know which governors are the eco-leaders or laggards, and especially identify those making repeated eco-gaffes.”

The rankings involve such things as initiatives in the areas of climate, energy, conservation, water, pollution and green tax incentives. Pawlenty also gets credit for driving a flex-fuel vehicle (which can run on ethanol or gasoline), although perhaps not as much credit as Schwarzenegger, who converted his Hummer into a hybrid.

Most of his policies have been considered main-street conservative, but Pawlenty has bucked his party on some environmental initiatives, particularly in the area of green jobs. “Centrist” is probably an appropriate label for him overall. On some of the more traditional environmental issues, Minnesota groups like the North Star chapter of the Sierra Club tend to give him lower marks.

Democrat Bill Ritter of Colorado was ranked first, but to show you how politics is the art of compromise, currently he has environmentalists mad at him for chumming up with the natural gas industry.

At the other end from Ritter, at No. 50, is a man mentioned in presidential candidate circles, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. And another Republican governor you may heard of, Sarah Palin (soon to be an ex), ranked No. 48.

I called my colleague at St. Thomas, political scientist Steve Hoffman, who has written extensively on energy and environmental policy, and asked him how a centrist green rating would affect Pawlenty, should he make the leap into the Republican primary in 2012. (Remember when columnist Robert Novak zinged Pawlenty in early 2008 for his greenhouse gas stance?)

“If he can get by the primaries, it works well for him,” Hoffman said. “It’s always the case that the candidates have to move to the center after the primaries.”

There’s a clear difference among Pawlenty and the two others frequently mentioned on the national stage, Palin and Jindal. “My party needs new ideas, new policies, and I think I can contribute to that,” Pawlenty said recently when he announced he would not seek re-election in 2010.

Hoffman noted the much-remarked-on leadership vacuum in the Republican Party may help the governor. “The unresolved question is: Does the party retreat to the wings or come to the center?” Hoffman said. “Are they going to be more fundamental or more inclusive? Pawlenty has offered a lot of progressive ideas, especially in the areas of alternative energies and renewables. He’s different than the other candidates.”

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/22/2009 - 12:10 pm.

    I think I must disagree with the term “centrist,” unless you are referring to green-ness only.

    Pawlenty has proved all through his reign that he is an anti-tax zealot who, with his guru Grover Norquist, considers those who cannot exist without a safety net “takers” and government as an institution that should be shrunken to the point where “it can be drowned in the bathtub.”

    He and Schwartzegger must be congratulating each other constantly for the pickles they have created in their states, especially for the poor, those with disabilities, and those with, for instance, mental illnesses that leave them unable to get or keep regular jobs. Not to mention union members and teachers.

  2. Submitted by dan buechler on 07/22/2009 - 03:15 pm.

    Is Flex fuel enviromentally friendly? As currently configured I don’t think so. I still think there is an or more interesting story on the new failed state park up north. What has been Pawlenty’s support for light rail. Just asking. I know Molnau was big on supporting a little used new freeway in the far sw burbs.

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