Tim Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota during difficult times: a national recession and near depression. And this summer he's being hammered for the hard decisions he made to guide the state through it, including holding the line on public salaries, spending cuts, and even Minnesota's first government shutdown over budgeting disagreements.
"People criticize me for, 'You held the line on this' or, 'You cut that.' You bet I did," Pawlenty said in an interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board. "When you're in a near depression and government's budgets have contracted, the answer isn't to go out to the taxpayers and say, 'We need to raise your taxes.' We had to tighten the government's belt, just like every family did, just like every house did."
Pawlenty is running for governor again for the opportunity to lead during far better economic times. Minnesota Republicans' best chance this fall to take back the executive branch, Pawlenty can be advanced by voters in the Aug. 14 primary to Election Day on Nov. 6.
"I'm 57 years old, I have no other political ambitions. I'm not running for any national office. I'm coming back to try to run for governor not because I need the title; I already have it. And I don't need to go to sit in the office; I've already done that for eight years," said Pawlenty, governor from 2003 to 2011 and a Republican presidential candidate in 2012. "I'm coming back for one reason, which is to get things done for my state and for the state that I love. And I think that at this point we need somebody who is strong enough and experienced enough and, frankly, willing to embrace enough risk to bridge the (political) divides. I am in the best position in this race to do that."
What does Pawlenty want to do if elected again? He wants to slow down health insurance premium increases and maybe even reduce them. He wants to provide tax relief to middle- and modest-income Minnesotans, including by getting rid of Minnesota's rare tax on Social Security benefits. And he wants to modernize and improve Minnesota schools and the state's educational system to finally close the achievement gap and to help meet growing workforce needs.
Yes, a projected budget deficit followed Pawlenty's previous term as governor. But he inherited a projected deficit, too, and, "It occurs fairly frequently," he said. "I didn't whine about it. We just kind of went about the business of fixing it."
For the record, Pawlenty, like other Minnesota governors, didn't leave any actual deficit. State law requires a balanced budget every biennium. Former governors are often ripped for the "projected" deficits that follow them.
Pawlenty has been far more conservative on social issues like abortion and gun rights and more moderate on matters like the environment. His support for ambitious renewable energy goals while he was governor was quite un-Republican. His support to increase the minimum wage and to ban smoking in bars and restaurants also raised eyebrows among his own party. He didn't seek his party's endorsement in this run and has refused to sign pledges from special interests.
Former state Rep. Jeff Johnson, in his third and final term on the Hennepin County Board, is running against Pawlenty on the Republican side of the governor's race. Of Plymouth, Minn., Johnson ran four years ago, too. His lieutenant governor running mate this time is Duluth's Donna Bergstrom.
"I got in this race," Johnson told editorial board members in a separate interview, "honestly, for the same reasons I ran four years ago, which is to give people more control over their own money and over their own businesses and over their own health insurance, and I could go on and on down the list."
Matt Kruse of the Mankato, Minn., area, a retired mail carrier, is also running as a Republican. There are five DFL candidates.
Pawlenty is the candidate around whom Republicans can rally.
"I've lived in this state my whole life and I love it," he said. "It's a wonderful state with great strengths and opportunities. I think I can use my experiences and my strengths to help overcome some of the divides in politics and to get some really good things done for our state. That's what I'm really excited about."
ABOUT THIS ENDORSEMENT
This endorsement editorial was determined entirely by the Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board. The members of the board are Publisher Neal Ronquist, Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick, employee representative Kris Vereecken and citizen representative Julene Boe.