There are a number of big “ifs” attached to this possibility: IF McCain continues his remarkable rise from has-been to the Republican Party’s presidential nominee and IF he selects Gov. Tim Pawlenty as his running mate and IF that team wins election in November, then Molnau would get the promotion.
“That’s, ummm, difficult to comprehend,” said Sen. Steve Murphy, the DFLer from Red Wing who is leading an effort to see that the DFL-controlled Senate does not confirm Molnau as the state’s transportation commissioner when the legislative session begins next month.
But even if the Senate fires Molnau as the commissioner, the woman still will be the lieutenant governor.
The last laugh?
It’s a little early for the embattled Molnau to start thinking about getting the last laugh and a bigger office. McCain may be the front-runner now, but Feb. 5 could change everything, especially now that the focus of presidential politics has switched from international affairs to the economy.
Pawlenty was quick to sign up as a McCain supporter when this long process began and stuck with him even when McCain was in the political dumps. Even so, both men claim they have not talked about the possibility of the governor joining McCain on the Republican ticket.
Still, McCain has gushed about Pawlenty, saying he represents the future leadership of the party, and the Minnesota governor has loyally campaigned for McCain throughout the country.
Despite that little bridge albatross hanging from his neck, Pawlenty offers nifty demographic balance for the 71-year-old Arizonan. He’s young. He’s from a Midwest swing state that will be in the national spotlight as host of the Republican National Convention. And he has the potential to attract the party’s conservative base, which is nervous about the maverick streak in McCain.
The governor’s office is not saying what would happen if Pawlenty did become a vice presidential candidate. We’re supposed to believe that nobody’s even thinking about Pawlenty’s ambitions or national politics at the governor’s office.
There is nothing in the state’s Constitution that would require Pawlenty to resign while campaigning for vice president. Remember, his predecessor, Jesse Ventura, did considerable moonlighting while serving as governor. Who can forget our governor refereeing wrestling matches or working as a color commentator for the quickly defunct XFL?
‘Second job’ not that rare for governors
There are more traditional examples of governors taking second jobs.
Until he recently dropped out of the Democratic Party race, for instance, Bill Richardson was serving as governor of New Mexico while he campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Technically, under the New Mexico Constitution, the lieutenant governor — in this case, Diane Denish — is promoted any time the governor is out of the state. The lieutenant governor even gets a bump in pay when the governor is gone. Richardson’s press secretary, Gilbert Gallegos, said that Denish donated her extra pay to charity.
Technicalities aside, Denish never really was in charge during Richardson’s campaign. Even when Richardson was in places like Cedar Falls, Gallegos said that Richardson still had regular meetings, via telephone, with his cabinet. And when there was a state emergency, such as a tornado, Richardson quickly returned.
New Mexico residents accepted Richardson’s absences, Gallegos said, because he’d been up front about the possibility he might run for president even as he campaigned for governor.
In 1988, Michael Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts when he won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. He never did step down from that position, though most gubernatorial duties were carried out by his lieutenant governor during the presidential campaign. After being thrashed by George Bush I, Dukakis returned to Massachusetts and finished out the last two years of his governor’s term.
So Pawlenty could both campaign for vice president and remain as governor. But surely his absence would mean a much-higher profile and more leadership responsibility for Molnau, who has become camera shy since the collapse of the bridge.
And if a McCain-Pawlenty ticket would win in November, Pawlenty would move to Washington and Minnesota would get Gov. Molnau.