Whatever life the portrait artist Rossin coaxes out of his canvas will
soon replace Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the Minnesota State
ECM Capitol reporter
Whatever life the portrait artist Rossin coaxes out of his canvas will soon replace Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the Minnesota State Capitol.
The former Eagan City Council Member, state legislator, and two-term governor is making final preparations for leaving office. His choice of artist to paint his gubernatorial portrait was one of the last on an eight-year long list of decisions.
Not that everything is set in place. “I genuinely haven’t decided yet,” said Pawlenty of future plans.
Pawlenty, who just turned 50-years-old, is nationally seen as a potential presidential candidate.
Whatever his future holds—an upcoming book tour has him visiting key presidential election states—in meeting with reporters he methodically went over handouts listing the perceived accomplishments of his administration.
“I’m the first true fiscally conservative governor in that regard the state has had, in the modern history of the state,” he said of refusing to continue a pattern of double-digit state general fund spending.
Not that Pawlenty isn’t mindful that less flattering explanations exist.
So ingrained is the idea among Democrats, among the “chattering class,” that increasing taxes is normal, Pawlenty explained, they can’t comprehend someone unwilling to do so.
He just won’t raise taxes
“‘He must have an ill motive or a mental defect, because he just won’t raise taxes or act like a Democrat,’” Pawlenty depicted the mentality. “I would say to you respectfully, it’s a bunch of crap. I’ve always had these (conservative) positions I had them in the Legislature. I had them as governor.”
One thing Pawlenty admits that has changed—at least his willingness to show it—is his sense of humor. As a lawmaker, Pawlenty was known for his wise cracks. But the playfulness went away over his time as governor. “I think I’m still that same person. (But) everybody is looking for that one phrase that can get on a blog to drive readership,” he said of the cutthroat media market. “A joke gets lifted, and it comes across as mean spirited.”
“I miss those early days, because I’d rather continue like that,” he said.
In reviewing his administration’s achievements, Pawlenty made a number of comments. He expressed concern over recent Northstar Commuter Rail ridership numbers showing the line, which Pawlenty’s support was critical in getting it built, is falling short of projections.
“I was a little surprised and disappointed by the numbers,” said Pawlenty.
He looks to better promotion as making good the ridership gap—still believes it makes sense to push the line to St. Cloud—but always called for sharp analysis.
As for the proposed Northern Lights Passenger Rail Line between Duluth and Minneapolis, Pawlenty suggests it will not happen.
“The main proponent of it was (Democratic) Congressman (James) Oberstar. And with him now gone, I think the odds of that happening go down significantly” said Pawlenty. “My goodness—you can drive to Duluth in less than three hours.”
Talks property taxes
In talking about property taxes—critics have long charged that Pawlenty’s unwillingness to raise state taxes has increased the local property tax burden—Pawlenty portrays the blame as falling elsewhere.
“I don’t buy the notion there’s only one way that county and city (taxes) can go, and that’s up forever,” said Pawlenty. “The only real way to limit property taxes is to cap them,” he said.
While Pawlenty depicts Democrats and the chattering class as unable to grasp his conservatism, some moderate Republicans, too, find it a bit much.
Former Republican state representative Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League and recently appointed by Pawlenty to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees, called Pawlenty “a steady hand at the wheel.”
Former Pawlenty chief of staff and executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership Charlie Weaver praised his former boss’s fiscal conservatism. “In a nutshell, I’d say he reinstated fiscal sanity” said Weaver.
Weaver views Pawlenty’s legacy as real enduring.
“That’s a legacy kind of achievement that 20, 50, 100 years from now people will say, ‘That was important,’” Weaver said of creation of the state’s first new state park in almost 30 years, Lake Vermilion State Park.
Incoming Democratic Gov.-elect Mark Dayton praised Pawlenty’s attention to those serving in the military and their families. But Dayton also portrays Pawlenty as a reason the state currently faces a projected $6 billion state budget deficit.
“I think he (Pawlenty) left us in a terrible situation,” said Dayton, speaking at a recent Capitol press conference.