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Tim Pawlenty makes pleasant — even sweet — public appearance

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s speech at the U of M’s Humphrey School via The UpTake.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made a relatively rare, extremely pleasant — even sweet — appearance at the U of M’s Humphrey School. Friday’s event was also utterly devoid of what we in the journalism game refer to as “news value,” unless you had fallen for the slight pre-event hype suggesting that Republican Pawlenty might make some kind of an announcement about some kind of future political plans. He didn’t.

What kind of weird word is “sweet” for an event like this? Start with the introduction by Steve Sviggum. Sviggum now teaches what he calls “Governing Minnesota Style” at the Humphrey School. As GOP speaker of the Minnesota House in the early 2000s, Sviggum worked closely with Pawlenty, who served as his majority leader.

“The individual who I have here with me today, I love,” said Sviggum, violating the norms of his ancestral culture. “He is the most decent person I’ve ever met in my life.” Pawlenty, before opening his prepared remarks, looked at Sviggum and said, “Love you back.”

How un-newsworthy was the event? On the issue of his political future, Pawlenty said “I consider myself politically retired,” without even making any kind of Shermanesque pronouncement that would be a barrier to re-entering his former trade at some future time if he chooses. (In fact, I think he specified that he wasn’t ruling anything out.)

So his “politically retired” remark was news only to those who entered the day believing he might say something concrete about a political comeback (which, as I mentioned, had received a little pre-hype suggesting that he might, until he didn’t).

The Strib, the Pi-Press and the AP reporters were all stuck leading with Pawlenty’s musings on the likely future of the Republican presidential nomination race, which ended being nothing more than the current conventional wisdom: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is likely to be the favorite of the party establishment; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seems at the moment well-position to emerge as the favorite of the various factions that want a more hard-line conservative nominee. The only “news” here is that Pawlenty currently sees things about the way the punditocracy does.

The Walker factor

But in discussing Walker’s recent rise to (at least temporary) front-runnership among the Republican right, Pawlenty did say one thing I kinda liked about Walker. Walker’s alleged appeal and record of success in Wisconsin have been invisible to me and I have had trouble understanding what the fuss was about. Pawlenty said Walker might succeed over some of the other righties in the field because, running in Wisconsin, he had had to develop the knack for “communicating red messages in blue places.”

My mind immediately went to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and a few others from the last round whose entire careers were in such deep red states that they had never learned how to tamp down the rhetoric so it didn’t sound too crazy or radical to those who weren’t entirely playing for the red team. I’m not sure if Pawlenty’s point is a good one, but I’ll be listening to the next few rounds of the get-to-know-Scott-Walker tour with this in mind.

Pawlenty went a little deeper into pundit territory with another potentially insightful point. Part of the Republican right is libertarian, which is quite a different group, ideologically, from Tea Party types, military hawks and social conservatives. Rand Paul starts out as the choice of libertarians and will get at least a chunk of support in many states. If Pawlenty’s insights above are correct, Paul will eventually drop out and libertarians in the late-voting states will probably decide they prefer Walker to Bush. But, Pawlenty said, “a lot depends on when the libertarian candidate drops out of the race.”

I take that to mean that if Bush consolidates the mainstream business wing of the party while the right wingers continue to split up the vote among factions, Bush may have the nomination locked up before Walker (or whoever is the surviving challenger) can consolidate all the elements of the right. (I suppose something like this happened last time, with Mitt Romney playing the Bush role and various rightier challengers dividing up the base for too long.)

The other Pawlenty line I liked from his presentation was that “most public policy issues come down to a tension between equality, liberty, efficiency or security.” It covers a lot of issues, and the words cover a multitude of sins, but the list, after the first one, is actually slightly stacked in favor of words that excite Repubs more than Dems.


Sviggum prompted Pawlenty to talk a bit about his own ill-fated run for the nomination in 2012, which Pawlenty did with likeable self-mockery. He’d be surprised if anyone was very interested in his presidential run which, he said, “lasted about 10 minutes.” He also said it “lasted about as long as a Kardashian marriage,” although this turns out to be a line he’s been delivering since soon after he withdrew from the race.

For what it’s worth, Pawlenty was once viewed as a possible difference-maker in the contest but ended up withdrawing long before the first primary or caucus. He did discuss on Friday the one big strategic blunder that his campaign made. The strategy had called for him to make a splash, as a neighboring state governor, in the famous (and highly overrated) Ames, Iowa, Straw Poll, which would draw the attention and support he needed to become a factor.

Once Michele Bachmann entered the race — another Minnesotan, an actual Iowa native and a right-wing firebrand — Pawlenty (Pawlenty said) should have revised the strategy and saved his resources. Bachmann,  who also flamed out of the race early, but not as early as Pawlenty, won the straw poll and picked up all the momentary attention and support as her prize, leaving Pawlenty’s campaign momentumless and broke.

Pawlenty currently works as CEO of The Financial Services Roundtable, which lobbies for the financial industry. He took the job after the meltdown of the late George W. Bush era in which his new industry played a big part, and he didn’t soft-pedal that: “Awful behavior” by some in the industry contributed to the worst recession in recent history and “no organization should be too big to fail; no person should be too big to jail.”

The industry he now represents must surely be near the front lines of the war against cyber threats, and he thinks the government should be doing more. Imagine, he suggested, a hacker that could get into hospital computer files and change blood types of patients in hospital databases. Imagine a cyber criminal who was able to move the decimal point over one space on every dollar figure in bank records. “This is an area where the government needs to be over the tip of their skis, and we’re behind.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 03/16/2015 - 09:27 am.

    Consider the source

    I don’t know that Sviggum is the best judge of “decent” human beings. In his tenure in the legislature, he played “winner take all” politics and was all too willing to stir up hatred and fear toward minorities for political gain – to the detriment of the state as a whole. He and Pawlenty were peas in a pod and I wouldn’t say it was the freshest, most appealing pod.

    • Submitted by Tim Walker on 03/16/2015 - 12:49 pm.

      I agree 100% with your post. Having seen Steve Sviggum in action, as I did in my days covering the Lege in the 1990s, I would say that he is very bigoted.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/16/2015 - 10:22 am.

    Is this a prime example of nostalgia for the good old bad days?

    Or is it just that the new demons are so much worse?

  3. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 03/16/2015 - 12:43 pm.

    Leaders and politicians

    Our governments at all levels need leaders, not politicians. Take Mark Dayton. As a politician, not so hot. Lots of rough edges. Arguing publicly with another party leader – true “politicians” don’t do that – they stick the knife in the back secretly. Instead two strong leaders said what they thought in public and have managed to get beyond it. As a leader, he has been wonderful – and has gotten a lot of things done for the state, not trying to use fancy words to finesse his way out of tough situations. He will be judged based on this results (the way our state is now thriving) as opposed to his rhetoric.

    Pawlenty was and is a great politician. He always has a photo-op smile and nice words to say in public, although how he got four Republicans defeated over their gas tax votes shows how he really thinks. Think for a second – what actually happened during his administration. The only thing that comes up relate to transportation – opposing a small gas tax increase, cutting back on snow polling to save money and hurt the union members who drive the plows, trying to get contractors to advance the state money to build major projects and the “bridge falls down” disaster..How did the state do during his time as Governor? Not very well. Maybe I’ve forgotten, but one should retire from politics if one cannot make the state move in a positive election. The same applies for Walker. What are the good things that have happened in Wisconsin since he took office? He has done a good job of rewarding his allies, but the state’s economic performance – not so great – and signature new programs like the ones that have come with the Dayton administration – not evident.

    Perhaps angry voters prefer politicians who find fault with others and find many good reasons for doing nothing about issues that deserve attention. Sort of like a leaky roof. You can set out a few buckets and hope for the best, or you can get the bottom of the issue and fix the issue. Fixing issues takes time and money – and I guess some people don’t want to be bothered.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/16/2015 - 01:43 pm.

      Good politician?

      For all his charm, this still is the man who won election twice by very narrow margins (and before any of the usual suspects point this out, yes, by more than Al Franken or Mark Dayton the first time they ran for their respective offices). It’s doubtful that he would have done as well as he did if there hadn’t been strong third-party challengers both times.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 03/16/2015 - 04:24 pm.

      The worst governor of all time in recent

      MN history. His only agenda – himself. Now plays with the bankers that he “hated” but now loves their money. Stay in NYC please

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/16/2015 - 07:01 pm.

    Sun Tzu

    Paraphrase: The commander that lacks leadership is destined to be political (a politician)

  5. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 03/18/2015 - 09:16 am.

    A walk in the park

    A hypothetical situation:

    There is a certain flatness in the personality of some men; public figures that one tries to animate with a story or two to make them appear human. let’s suppose two Minnesotans who once upon a time not too long ago transplanted themselves in other eastern climes. Both came back to visit at varied times.

    One died recently and his death activated a thunderstorm of pride and a reluctant or powerful degree of respect by those who knew him,or at least could tell a few good stories about him?

    I-knew-him-when stories; endless stories that make you wish you had bumped into him if only to recognize his genius? Yup, Carr’s the one I’m thinking of

    The other fellow, ex-governor barely appears to have enough to get excited about anymore?

    Let’s imagine again… you’re walking through Central Park and there are two fellows sitting on a bench; one a reporter of some fame. The other an ex-governor.and they appear not to recognize each other
    The reporter has a bag of peanuts and is feeding the squirrels. The ex-gov has a bag too but the squirrels aren’t buying… so he throws his bag in the dumpster. The reporter is now down to one peanut…he gives it to the ex-gov, crumples the bag and walks on his way…

    What if David Carr spoke at the Humphrey Institute…another fantasy, but think about it….

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