It’s déjà vu for some Minnesotans this week: Tim Pawlenty, who served two terms as Minnesota’s governor from 2003 to 2011, ended months of speculation Thursday when he announced plans to run for the office once again.
But the Pawlenty running now might sound a bit different this time around.
After a failed bid for president in 2012, he’s spent the last five years as CEO of Financial Services Roundtable, where he acted as a lobbyist for big banks and made millions of dollars. It was an experience that made him realize he doesn’t really “like Washington” and doesn’t want to run for president again. But, he says, he did vote for President Donald Trump and thinks he’s doing a good job. (Pawlenty said Trump was “unfit” to serve as president after the Access Hollywood tape was released.)
Pawlenty does want another shot at governor, however, and this time he refuses to sign any no-tax increase pledges, a position that put him regularly at odds with Democrats in the Legislature. He said he would try to be a uniter this time around.
“Our politics in Minnesota and in the country are too divided and are too toxic,” Pawlenty said Friday at Hovies Grill in Eagan, the first time he fielded questions about his campaign. “I think I’ve got the strength and the experience to rise above that and bring people together.”
His late entrance into the race has shaken up an already crowded field, with candidates from both parties already using his previous record and positions as governor as ammo against him. But eight years later, where does Pawlenty on the major issues facing the state and nation today? Here’s an edited look at his response to questions about everything from guns and global warming to whether he plans to abide by the Republican endorsement.
On his early comments that Donald Trump was ‘unfit’ to be president
I voted for President Trump, I support almost all of what he’s doing in terms of policy directions strongly, I just don’t like and haven’t in the past liked some of his past behavior.
After the Access Hollywood tapes came out, that kind of set me off, and that’s why I made those comments, but since then I think he’s made a lot of great progress as leader of our country and president of the United States in terms of his policy priorities and the outcomes.
On how he’ll explain his time lobbying in Washington, D.C.
I grew up in South St. Paul, the son of a truck driver, my mom was a homemaker who died young, and I’ve had the chance to be successful. I want everybody to have that chance.
On the Republican Party’s endorsement
I’d be honored to have the Republican endorsement and we are going to explore that, although I’m getting into the race very late and I’m not sure if the cake is already baked for that endorsement.
This is a campaign that is going to be focused on winning. We hope to get the endorsement, but this campaign isn’t going to stop there.
On the current Republican field for governor
I met with Jeff [Johnson] and Keith [Downey] last year…I said, “Look, I don’t necessarily need to run if one of you can get some momentum and get some traction and raise some money and show that one of you can be a winning candidate in Minneota. I’ll support one of you.” But that hasn’t happened.
This is a tough race in the best of years for Republicans in a tough state, and we need to have our A team on the field, and I haven’t seen that from the other candidates in the field.
On the opioid crisis
We have a raging opioid crisis all across the country, all across Minnesota. It’s devastating families, it’s devastating communities, there are a lot of people that need to be held responsible for that outcome, a very bad and tragic outcome, but one stakeholder in that is the large drug companies who have made a lot of money profiting from pushing opioids, and I think frankly, urging over subscriptions of it in some ways.
On education funding
We do need to drive more resources to our schools, but we need to make sure they are accountable for better results. When it comes to closing the achievement gap in Minnesota, we need to try everything. The idea that more of the same is going to work, or incrementalism as it relates to addressing the educational needs of our most challenged and disadvantaged students has to go out the window.
A four-year college degree may not be the best pathway forward for everybody, and as we think about the future, the skilled trades and the jobs where people can receive a technical education and retain a technical skill, are going to be so vitally important to the economy in the future. I would like to bring technical training back to the high schools.
On tax cuts and making pledges to not increase taxes
My focus is going to be on tax relief and holding down taxes, especially for those in the middle income brackets in our state…we are in the minority of states in the country that taxes social security benefits. For modest and middle income Minnesotans, we’re going to eliminate taxation on social security benefits.
I’m not going to sign any pledges, I’m not filling out anybody’s questionnaire, I’m not going to be beholden to any interest group, and anybody who wants me to pledge or guarantee anything, they can go fish. I’m going to be my own candidate with my own thoughts and views.
On school safety and gun control
Let’s make our schools more secure and more safe, and that means giving them more resources and more help to design on a local level the types of security enhancements that they would like.
We need to make sure that people who have mental health challenges or have a history of being violent, don’t have access to guns. It’s just common sense. Let’s make sure that we have bump stocks, or anything that would make a weapon or a machine gun, illegal.
As it relates to background checks, one idea I think that is worth exploring is to say, if you’re a registered firearm dealer, you have to have a background check, if you’re not a registered firearm dealer and you’re selling weapons, make the background check system available to those people in a way that’s easy and convenient, and offer them legal safe harbor if you use it. That’s common ground. That’s an area where strong Second Amendment supporters like me could come together.
On global warming
I think you have to acknowledge that climate is changing. That at least in a recent period of time, there have been indications that it’s getting warmer. That’s the science, and humans caused some of it. But…we’re addressing it better than anybody in the world.
On the 2018 election
It’s not going to be the easiest year for Republicans nationally or in Minnesota. It’s hard to tell, when people talk about waves, politics in six months is an eternity. What might be true in April will be different in November. I think it’s fair to say it’s not going to be the easiest year for Republicans.