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National Journal looks at Pawlenty’s changing stance on the environment

“As a governor, Tim Pawlenty pushed through tough laws to reduce greenhouse gases and slow climate change.

“As a governor, Tim Pawlenty pushed through tough laws to reduce greenhouse gases and slow climate change. Then he ran for president.”

That’s what a story in the National Journal says about Minnesota’s former governor.

Notes the story:

Pawlenty’s public squirming over climate change — an issue on which he was once viewed as an emerging national leader — highlights the deeply uncomfortable dance that top GOP contenders will have to execute as they seek to reconcile their past records, their current positions, and their party’s increasingly rigid dogma.

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Supporters of action against climate change have always been a small minority among Republicans. But they weren’t always considered heretics. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, was an unabashed believer in the reality of climate change and a coauthor in 2003, with Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, of the first Senate cap-and-trade bill.


No other candidate, however, has made a more jaw-dropping about-face than Pawlenty. Despite his current claims, Pawlenty did far more than flirt with climate change: He made the issue a signature of his administration and of his 2007-08 tenure as head of the National Governors Association. He aggressively led state, regional, and national efforts to promote cap-and-trade legislation and pushed through one of the country’s toughest renewable-energy mandates in Minnesota. Along the way, he won other Republicans over to the cause. And he did it in the national spotlight, as his star rose high enough to put him on McCain’s short list of possible running mates.

Pawlenty’s clean-energy and climate push began in earnest at the end of 2006, after he narrowly won a bruising reelection race against Democrat Mike Hatch.

Although Pawlenty’s first term had been defined by fiscal and social conservatism, he campaigned as a moderate, and he wanted to create a more centrist profile in his second term. As a practical matter, he also had to move his ideas through the Democratic-controlled Legislature in St. Paul. A clean-energy push fit the bill perfectly: Minnesota’s windswept prairies had the potential to generate vast supplies of low-carbon electricity, along with jobs in manufacturing and installing wind turbines. Plus, the governor had bipartisan support for some form of renewable-energy legislation.

Pawlenty also had a personal motivation. As an evangelical Christian, he had been brought to believe in the urgency of climate change by his pastor, Leith Anderson, who earlier in 2006 had banded with a group of other evangelical leaders to challenge the Bush administration on global warming. In a letter to the president, they argued that there was no longer a legitimate scientific debate on the merits of climate science and that evangelicals had a moral obligation to solve a problem that threatened the world’s most vulnerable inhabitants. (Anderson is now president of the National Association of Evangelicals.)

The very long story concludes:

Some GOP strategists say that Pawlenty risks losing more by abandoning causes he appeared to believe in deeply than he would by sticking to his positions and alienating ultra-conservatives.

“He’s been involved enough in the issue to truly understand the realities of it,” said David Jenkins, vice president for government and political affairs for Republicans for Environmental Protection. “Being that deeply involved, you can’t come away without a deep understanding of the science. … He disowned his accomplishments to pander to one segment of the Republican Party.”

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Republican strategist Mike McKenna, who advises GOP leaders on energy policy and strategy, put it more bluntly. “Guys like Pawlenty now look like what they are — opportunists without authentic beliefs,” he wrote in an e-mail to National Journal. “That is why the issue is so damaging. It is totemic.”