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Back to the future: Tim Pawlenty’s case for why he maybe, probably might want to be governor* again

On Monday, Tim Pawlenty released a statement announcing he had registered with the state campaign finance board for a possible run for governor.

*You know, if he runs.

Dressed in a casual fleece pullover and a pair of jeans, Tim Pawlenty is pacing across the stage inside the James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall at St. Thomas University’s Anderson Student Center like he’s delivering a TED Talk, one of those 18-minute online speeches about some big idea.

Pawlenty’s topic is technology and the economy — or the onset of what he calls the “fourth industrial revolution.” He covers everything from 3D printing and artificial intelligence to self-driving and flying cars, peppering the speech with a few jokes and one-liners: “I spoke the other day about AI and someone said: ‘Is that artificial insemination?’”

“We are at the doorstep, the dawn of the so-called fourth industrial revolution, and that industrial revolution is what’s coming next in terms of next generation, transformative, quantum, exponential capability in technology,” he tells a group of alumni, faculty and students in the speech, which he delivered at St. Thomas late last year.

Pawlenty has been giving some version of this talk for more than a year now, delivering the address in front of local chambers of commerce, college students and pretty much whoever else is willing to listen. On the surface, it might seem like a strange topic of focus for Pawlenty, who served two terms as Minnesota’s governor and left the office in 2011 to run for president. But as Pawlenty turns his attention toward an increasingly likely run for his old job as governor, the talk has served another function: as a preview of his 2018 stump speech, one that looks far ahead into Minnesota’s future — and hardly at all at its, and his, past.

‘It’s not Star Trek’

On Monday, Pawlenty released a statement announcing he had registered with the state campaign finance board for a possible run for governor. “In recent weeks, Minnesotans have shared ideas and concerns with me about the new and difficult challenges they face in a rapidly changing economy,” the statement said. “I’m optimistic about Minnesota’s future and understand how to deliver more accountable government and better jobs.”

That future is rendered with vivid colors in Pawlenty’s “fourth industrial revolution” speech. Among other things, according to Pawlenty the nation’s healthcare debate — one of the biggest fights in Congress over the last decade — could soon be solved by a cellphone.

As he delivers the address, he holds up his phone to the crowd and then puts it up to his arm, his neck, his kidney. New technologies have catalogued all 10,000 known human medical conditions, he says, and applications are being created that can diagnose ailments as simply as putting a phone next to whatever part of the body hurts. That will dramatically change the affordability and quality of the healthcare industry, as well as access, he argues.

“It’s not Star Trek, it’s not some freaked-out scenario; these are all technologies, these are all capabilities that will be brought to market shortly,” Pawlenty says. “It’s going to change access, it’s going to change cost, and it’s going to change quality, probably for the better.”

The bulk of Pawlenty’s speech is pointing out examples — sometimes giddily — of areas where technology is rapidly evolving and addressing issues the country is facing. He mentions 3D printing, a developing technology that has recently been used to build an entire house at the fraction of the cost and time, something that could help the affordable housing crisis. He talks about new self-driving cars, and even shows a video of a beta-tested flying car that he says could revolutionize how people get around.

The fourth industrial revolution isn’t a new concept: Scholars and economists have been talking for years about the potential of the internet and digital age — the third industrial revolution — to transform into something bigger; to raise income levels and quality of life around the world, and soon.

Pawlenty said he’s been traveling the state to tell groups that Minnesota needs to be ready for this new era: that while there will be plenty of new jobs created, advances in technological automation won’t eliminate the need for vocational jobs, things like plumbers, electricians, painters, police officers and people in the hospitality industry. To meet those needs, the state’s schools should focus on training that can’t be outsourced, Pawlenty argues, while corporations and businesses need to engage in retraining programs to make their workers ready for the future.

“One of Minnesota’s biggest challenges is complacency,” Pawlenty says in the closing moments of his talk.“There’s a reflexive reaction in Minnesota to say we sort of just need to do what we’ve been doing and things will be fine. It’s not fully mindful enough of the need for change and the disruption that’s coming.”

Pawlenty looks ahead, others will look back

It’s not surprising Pawlenty, in a run up to a potential governor’s bid, would be looking for some “new material,” said Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College.

Without a forward-looking message, the main conversation about Pawlenty would focus on his two terms in the governor’s office, which he held from 2003 until 2011. “He needs a new angle, one that no one else is talking about and that will make him look like an enterprising, forward-looking person, that distinguishes himself from everyone else in the gubernatorial field,” Schier said. “Otherwise the entire debate is going to be explaining his past actions, and when you are explaining, you’re losing.”

Campaign groups and his potential opponents on both sides will be doing enough talking about Pawlenty’s past, Schier said, particularly his two terms as governor, where his position to not raise income taxes put him in frequent clashes with a DFL lawmakers on everything from balanced budgets to new transportation funding.

“With a past like Tim Pawlenty’s, he’s the last person that Minnesotans need leading us into the future,” said Joe Davis, executive director of Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a DFL-aligned campaign group. “He did enough damage to our families and our state the first time he was governor.”

In particular, groups like Alliance for a Better Minnesota are attacking Pawlenty for his moves while governor to borrow from school district funds to help balance the budget, plus the $6.2 billion budget deficit he left behind when he exited office.

Pawlenty’s post-governor career will also face scrutiny. Since leaving office, his record includes a failed run for president and five years as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, an organization that lobbies in D.C. on behalf of the country’s largest and most powerful banks and financial institutions, and DFL-aligned groups are already attacking him as a Wall Street lobbyist.

Pawlenty officially left his job with the Financial Services Roundtable on Friday, and while he doesn’t go out of his way to talk about the job in his talk, he has also tried to point to its benefits. He mentions that it put him in contact with companies developing innovative technology, like GreenSky, which developed an app that can take a picture of someone’s driver’s license and send it to a bank for almost instant loan approvals.

The current leading Republican candidate for governor, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, said looking at future technologies and how to best position the state is an “important topic,” and one he’s also been talking about on the campaign trail, specifically in terms of implementing more technical training in schools.

“Making sure we’re ready for the economy of the future is crucial, but solving the current problems facing Minnesotans right now is what they deserve and what this election will be about,” Johnson said. “This election will be about bringing fundamental reform to government so it serves people instead of bullying them and so it stops taking more than it needs to from us. Putting on the green eyeshades and making government a little more efficient isn’t going to cut it.”

Right now, Pawlenty’s pitch about the future only dips slightly into politics, but that will change if he announces a bid for governor. He’s expected to position himself as the person best suited to bring Minnesota into the new future his speech envisions, one that could dramatically change the state’s economy, social services and educational system. If he does talk about his past two terms as governor, it will likely be to focus on things he sees as forward-looking, like renewable energy standards and working with Minnesota companies that were developing innovative technologies.

“We have the most innovative and creative people in the world in terms of arts and culture and technology,” he says. “Our economy is still the biggest in the world. We have so many blessings, we have so many advantages, we have so many assets if as a people, whether your’e R or D or independent, or something else or nothing, if we can just get some common consensus around a few basic things we’re going to have a great future.”

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/21/2018 - 11:03 am.

    I’m curious

    What do our regular conservative Minnpost commenters think about Pawlenty coming back.

  2. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 03/21/2018 - 11:24 am.

    Why would anyone support him?

    All we saw from Pawlenty as gov was almost record deficits, slow growth, skyrocketing property taxes in some areas as he cut funding for municipalities, cities, counties, etc., and increased fees on everything.
    Sadly, as you look around the country, you will see similar results from repub govs…and let’s not ignore that the vast majority of worst K-12 educational systems and poverty are located in repub states.

    • Submitted by Robert Briscoe on 03/21/2018 - 11:45 am.


      And he promised “No New Taxes”!!! My property taxes doubled and fees for everything went way up, not to mention a bridge collapsing from cutting money for inspection and repairs at MNDOT.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/21/2018 - 12:39 pm.

      Here’s Who

      Republicans would support Pawlenty, that’s who. Who else have they got? Jeff Johnson? Kurt Daudt?

      You might think that, given their control of MN legislative bodies for a good chunk of this decade, they’d have a few more horses in the stable.

      Having seen Don Trump elected POTUS, and Jesse The Body elected guv, I know there is never a 100% guarantee of someone losing an election. But between two US senate races and the guv’s office, it’s be nice to see one halfway decent candidate from the GOP.

      Why not drag out Mary Kiffmeyer again?

  3. Submitted by Stephen Dent on 03/21/2018 - 11:33 am.

    I hope he runs…

    Tim Walz, a man who really does care about Minnesota and Minnesotan, will easily win.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/21/2018 - 12:44 pm.


      I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of Tim. He strikes me as too Republican Lite and my tastes run towards liberal and progressive.

      • Submitted by ian wade on 03/21/2018 - 05:00 pm.

        If Walz can appeal to rural voters

        I’ll take a win any day of the week. I have no interest in this fine state turning into the cesspool that is currently Wisconsin.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 03/21/2018 - 11:43 am.

    I’m not who you are looking for, Pat

    but, why would anyone, other than a monied-interest voter, want to return to someone like Pawlenty who had a negative governing record as the article pointed out ? Futurist speeches are
    a ‘dime a dozen’. Pawlenty’s track record lies in the past. His lobbying years do not give credence to the so-called revolution he touts.

  5. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/21/2018 - 11:46 am.

    Pawlenty’s problem is pretty simple

    and well-identified in this piece.

    Pawlenty was interested in running for President and did things, as governor of Minnesota, that he believed made him look good for that endeavor. Unfortunately, for him, they ruined the state’s budget and led to plenty of problems.

    I am amazed that he thinks he is ever going to get voters to forget what he did.

    And if I were a Republican, I would be furious at him for doing this. If he should manage somehow to end up the Minnesota GOP candidate, they will lose. And it won’t be helpful down-ticket either.

  6. Submitted by B Carlson on 03/21/2018 - 11:53 am.


    What’s the asterisk in the headline stand for?




    • Submitted by David LaPorte on 03/21/2018 - 01:55 pm.

      The asterisk

      It’s defined under the photo: ” *You know, if he runs.”

      Pawlenty is acting like he’s going to run a gubernatorial campaign, but he hasn’t announced. This might be a trial balloon or he might think that being coy will get everyone breathless with anticipation.

  7. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/21/2018 - 12:41 pm.

    Vote For Me

    I’ll put an organic chicken in every pot & a flying car in every garage!

    Are we supposed to think htis won’t come about with Tim in the guv’s chair? Sheesh!

  8. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 03/21/2018 - 12:44 pm.

    My guess and two bits….,

    Are that he has his eyes on running for president post Trump and needs an elective platform. Being a tool of Wall Street appeals to no one, after the possible Trump apocalypse the party will need a somewhat bland and appealing guy, which fits Pawlenty to a T. Trouble for him is the record, which helped very few-even the wealthy got hit with a surtax due to his policies.

    The GOP’s local candidates are a bunch of conspiracy yahoos who are unelectable statewide and the trend is pretty bleak right now for statewide and local offices, except for MAGA loyalists and their base is not expanding. Pawlenty looks good in comparison.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/21/2018 - 12:45 pm.

    Well Briana

    You pretty much nailed it: The guy that mismanaged our governemnt into a $6B deficit, then left the state for 6+ yrs, bellying up to the big $ donors that would love to see the entire state economics, culture, environment etc. go down the toilet to save 25 cents on their taxes. But hey, there are plenty of right wingers that believe all/any governemnt is bad, all business is good, (especially if it is monopolistic and can crush anyone that gets in its way), they will line up behind this bought and paid for politician. And the cry will be to UN-regulate all this “new” technology! Gee Tim where you been the last 8 years freeze dried?

  10. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 03/21/2018 - 12:50 pm.

    What does technology do?

    Concentrates wealth and power in a few hands, increasing poverty and allowing the wealthy to buy politicians.
    Creates structural unemployment for displaced worker, which destroys communities corporations abandon.
    Pushes down wages and standards of living, with traumatic impacts on children who hungry, homeless, and getting inferior education and healthcare.
    Creates risk if not safety is not considered – assault weapons and flying cars are the perfect terrorist tools.

    Government is a necessary counterbalance to robber capitalism, unless Republicans who use government for self enrichment are in charge. Technology has the potential to destroy our democracy if we have the bad sense of voting for a politician who proposed many simple but wrong solutions for complex problems.

  11. Submitted by Sandra Marks on 03/21/2018 - 01:09 pm.


    Walz for Governor.

  12. Submitted by Brian Simon on 03/21/2018 - 01:48 pm.


    If we want a futurist, someone should talk Jack Uldrich into getting back into politics.

    I don’t think anyone in their right mind would vote for the guy who left the state worse off than he found it. The Pawlenty years were a debacle of ineffective leadership and budget gimmicks.

  13. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/21/2018 - 02:42 pm.

    He had his chance…

    The single biggest honor we can bestow upon any politician is to serve as our Governor. We gave that honor to Tim Pawlenty and he spent 6 out of the 8 years of his time in office preening for his long shot at the Presidency.

    Priorities for decisions were not made in the best interest of our state; but rather, what would best forward Pawlenty’s political future.

    I do not know if he would use a third term to actually act as a Governor for the sake of being our Governor or if we are just resetting his national ambitions.

    I do not know why we would take the chance; but, if he would like a place to start he could begin by apologizing for turning the 35W bridge collapse into a tax football so he could stay clean with Grover Nordquist.

  14. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/21/2018 - 03:30 pm.

    No, thank you

    I’ve heard nothing so far from Mr. Pawlenty about the issue raised by all of the technological wizardry he seems so fond of:


    Unless **everyone** has a smart phone, and the necessary apps, it’s a tool, even a medical tool, for the affluent and style-conscious, not available to the general public. Personally, I can’t afford, and don’t need, a smart phone.

    Building a house via 3D printing will put thousands of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and others routinely involved in home-building out of work. The house may be less expensive – I’d have to be convinced by real examples before I climb on that bandwagon – but all those out-of-work tradespeople will be living under bridges, unable to afford shelter at all.

    Self-driving and flying cars have been a gleam in someone’s eye since I was a little boy while Dwight Eisenhower was running the country. They still haven’t happened. In the unlikely event that they do happen on any sort of scale beyond the strictly experimental, who will be able to afford them, and who will be asked to pay for the substantial infrastructure they’ll need to support their safe operation? My answer to the first part is “very few,” and to the second part, it’s “everyone.” In other words, another convenience for the affluent, paid for by those who don’t share in that affluence.

    Tim Pawlenty for Governor a 3rd time? No, thank you.

  15. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/21/2018 - 05:20 pm.

    Good Wages? Ha!

    Pawlenty did plenty to lower the wages of the building trades. He never met a low wage non-union contractor he didn’t like. He wants the entire industry working for $15/hour.

  16. Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/21/2018 - 05:58 pm.

    The Education Candidate

    In 1960, the cost of undergraduate study at the University of Minnesota was $1,700 per year (when adjusted for inflation).

    40 years later, in 2000, that cost had risen to $6,000 (also adjusted for inflation).

    A $4,000 increase over 40 years . . . An average of just over $100 per year.

    (And, as a minor point of interest, when Tim Pawlenty graduated from the U of M in 1986, that cost was less than $4,000 per year).

    Then Tim Pawlenty was elected Governor and, when he left office eight years later, the cost of that same year’s worth of U of M education had increased to more than $12,000 per year.

    Pre-Pawlenty: $4,000 increase in 40 years.

    Under his leadership: $6,000 increase in 8 years.

    From the Minnesota Daily, September, 2017:

    “Over half of University of Minnesota bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with debt, according to a report published by University Government and Community Relations last month.

    “Statewide, Minnesota college students have an average of about $31,000 in debt, according to a report analyzing 2016 graduates published last summer by LendEdu, a student debt resource platform. This is about $4,000 higher than the national average.

    ” ‘We talk to borrowers all the time who have had to sacrifice, either making career choices they wouldn’t have made or settling for jobs they wouldn’t have [because of student debt],’ said Cody Hounanian, program director of Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of student borrowers.”

    Who is a large part of that average $31,000 in (bankruptcy-proof) debt owed to?

    The Financial Services Industry.

    Who hired Tim Pawlenty and paid him an average of $2+ million per year to be the President and CEO of their premiere lobbying organization?

    The Financial Services Industry.

    Why would the Financial Services Roundtable hire someone with the “fiscal management skills and experience” Tim Pawlenty had on his (public) resume to be fill the role of President and CEO?

    Was he the most qualified person available? . . . Could be, I suppose. Not likely, but possible. Especially if the Financial Services Roundtable was interested in hiring someone with expertise that could, potentially, be of use in fattening up the Student Loan Debt portfolios of their clients . . . Or, who knows, maybe it was his exciting grasp of the future and the role technology will be playing in reshaping our lives.

    But, sticking to the educational aspect of things, I’m sure Mr Pawlenty could provide a LOT of insight into how the following came to be. It would be interesting to hear him explain it, which there’s little doubt he could do, seeing as how he just quit his job the other day and, in his capacity as the Financial Services Industry’s Top Lobbyist, was very likely involved in advancing the concept and explaining the protection some of his organization’s clients claim they need:

    February 27, 2018

    “Education Department Wants To Protect Student Loan Debt Collectors

    “Student loan debt collectors have been accused of deceiving and abusing student borrowers and have been sued by attorneys general in a handful of states. Now, they may be getting some relief.

    “The debt collectors, that is. Not their customers.

    “In an internal document obtained by NPR, the U.S. Department of Education, under Secretary Betsy DeVos, argues that the nation’s loan servicers should be protected from state rules that may be far tougher than federal law.”

    Pre-Pawlenty: $4,000 increase in 40 years.

    Under his leadership: $6,000 increase in 8 years.

    An average of $31,000 in debt.

    $4,000 higher than the national average.

    Many of Minnesota’s young people (and their parents) “have had to sacrifice, either making career choices they wouldn’t have made or settling for jobs they wouldn’t have” because of student debt.

    Welcome home, Tim . . . On behalf of everyone who has attended the University of Minnesota since the year you were elected I invite you to write a MinnPost (or Minnesota Daily or StarTribune or Pioneer Press) Community Voices piece that explains what it was that caused the cost of an education at the University of Minnesota to double during the eight years of your Governorship and why it is the people collecting their share of so much of the resulting debt need protection from state rules.

    And by the way (and speaking of the future you see) . . . While you’re at it, it would be great if you would let everyone know if protection from Minnesota’s rules that apply to those lenders is something you’d be working to see implemented, either locally or through you contacts in Washington, if you were elected.

    I’ll be looking forward to reading what you have to say about those things.

    Thanks in advance!

  17. Submitted by Amy Wilde on 03/21/2018 - 07:59 pm.

    technology snafu

    Most people remember Pawlenty’s “reverse magic” of turning a state surplus into a huge deficit. But only those of us who were “deep in the weeds” of health & human services policy back in the mid “00s” when he was governor probably remember the $8 million or so he frittered away trying to build a health insurance exchange back in the days when his administration was considering a Mitt Romney-style insurance exchange (this pre-dated MnSure and the Obamacare rollout by 5-6 years.) Anyone who recalls the messy MnSure exchange rollout can probably appreciate the challenges of automating our complex Minnesota Health Care systems–but actually, this was a bipartisan dream, back in the day. Pawlenty’s attempt was a total fail and abandoned after the $8 million investment. Dayton’s attempts (both MnSure and MnLARS) at automating state agencies have been a little more successful, but problematic as well.
    (Full disclosure: I was a seasoned county commissioner and chaired the Association of MN Counties Health & Human Services Policy Committee during the time of Pawlenty’s massive health insurance exchange fail.)
    Lesson learned: automating complex systems is like rocket science. Should we trust Pawlenty to do it better this time around? He seems to have not learned the lesson of how his “balancing of the state budget without raising taxes” did NOT work. (Property taxes are taxes, too, T-Paw.) So I truly wonder if this guy with an apparently short and defective memory has mastered the capacity to implement his techie dreams.

  18. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/21/2018 - 09:25 pm.

    Apparently Pawlenty thinks

    Minnesotans have forgiven him for the $6,000,000,000 debt he left us with. Who in their right mind would want a repeat of Pawlenty’s management skills. Maybe he just wants to make another run at being president and ruin the state again in the process. He is wasting his time if he thinks he will get support here for his failed Republican principles. They are the same Republican principles George. W. Bush and Sam Brownback, Kansas Governor, used when they were in office to cause major damage.

  19. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/22/2018 - 10:14 am.

    Poor TPAW

    The best of all TPAW comments here is essentially: “we got no one else with a chance”.
    Comments elsewhere are always essentially the same. Two terms and 8 years as Governor and he seems to have built a constituency of no one.

    One of my favorite votes remains, !GASP!, Jessie Ventura, for all his goofiness, proved that even the “commonest of common men” can pull the levers of state government with equal skill as his predecessor (Arne) and his successor (TPAW): both alledged skilled and experienced politicans. An attorney neighbor commented that Ventura judges are the gold standard: he had no partisan bias, he assembled a group of competent judge pickers and said “get good ones” and it worked. Look at his commissioners: some from the left, some from the right, mostly just concerned with their jobs not their politics. Other than lowering the license tab prices on his Porsche he had very few politicized agenda items.

    For this reason, I had some initial D Trump optimism; but I have come to realize:

    “We knew Jessie Ventura, Jessie Ventura was a friend of ours, and you, D Trump, are no Jessie Ventura”.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/23/2018 - 08:30 am.


      Don’t want to get cross wise but Jesse wasn’t even close to Arnie. Arnie left a balanced and well run/financed state, Jessie immediately turned it into a deficit, and TPaw just kept driving the state deeper into the ditch Jessie put us in!

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 03/23/2018 - 02:46 pm.

        How soon…

        You have forgotten your Jesse check: rebating surplus dollars to the tax payers. Jesse left knowing that a big deficit was on the horizon and the Ds and Rs were in no way prepared to deal with it and he warned us so. And he had money to make and jackals to avoid in 2002….

  20. Submitted by Rick Prescott on 03/24/2018 - 09:21 pm.

    Legacy? No thanks.

    So, Pawlenty is suddenly a futurist and all interested in controlling healthcare costs with a phone. Uh, OK… To me, that reads a lot like a calculated shift to the center for campaigning purposes. Are we gullible enough to believe he wouldn’t pick up right where he left off with the state’s budget?

    I’m reminded that, beyond the gigantic financial mess he left us (I don’t think anyone has yet mentioned the downgrading of Minnesota’s credit rating, which happened on his watch), his legacy can still be seen at many, many places around the state: If you want to ban guns from your place of business, you have to LITERALLY put up a sign. Thanks for that, Tim.

    There are probably some voices in his caucus who are telling him that he was a great governor and that people want him back. If he runs, I think he’ll be surprised to discover that memories aren’t quite as short as they would need to be for him to actually win.

  21. Submitted by Robert McManus on 03/27/2018 - 06:04 pm.

    I think it needs to be said here, and anywhere a discussion of Tim Pawlenty as a possible candidate for governor takes place, that during his administration any outcomes of studies made by Minnesota Departments that didn’t fit with his ideology were suppressed. So, we as citizens did not get truthful information gathered by our government agencies, which we as tax payers funded, if they didn’t fit with what the Republicans in power at that time believed. Government by ideologues is a really bad thing.

  22. Submitted by Bob Johnson on 03/28/2018 - 08:27 am.

    Groundhog Day Governor

    ‘Living With Less in the Land of Pawlenty’
    Timmeh may be the worst ex-Governor our generation has seen.
    Increased property taxes, shell games with school budgets which ‘borrowed from tomorrow’ to pay today’s bills, an insane law prohibiting gas stations from selling gas at more than 8 cents / gallon less than market rate, poor maintenance schedules on bridges leading to the I-35 bridge collapse, all while preaching the positive outcomes of conservative governing.

    No thanks, Timmeh…you had your chance and blew it.

    No go back to lobbying for Wall St. and the ‘too big to jail’ financial sector.

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