Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Tim Pawlenty, But Were Too Bored to Ask

Summer is here, when a young political junkie's fancy turns to the vice presidency. I mean, it has to turn to the vice presidency sometimes, even if that veep isn't Richard Milhous Cheney.

This is an especially exciting time for junkies in my home state, because our very own Gov. Timmy, he of the 34" waist, ol' Lostabridge himself, the incomparable Timothy James Pawlenty appears to be at the top of Cranky McAngry's vice presidential short list.

This is, of course, awesome, because TPaw is, quite simply, an obnoxiously smug Republican of the modern sort, the kind that believe any taxes are too many taxes, even if our roads are in such disrepair that our bridges are literally disintegrating and falling into rivers. He's the kind that has his health commissioner bury a report on an asbestos-cancer link to keep people from filing lawsuits. He's the kind that never met a sex-education course he liked, or an abortion restriction he didn't support. In short, he's pretty much like all the other Republicans, only smarmier.

We'll get into who Timmy is and how he got to where he is, in a moment. But to get an idea of who Tim Pawlenty is, he's boiled it down into a handy, bite-sized paragraph from his 2006 GOP nomination acceptance speech:
I can tell you what your worst nightmare is. It's one of the big-spendin', tax-raisin', abortion-promotin', gay marriage-embracin', more welfare-without-accountability lovin', school reform-resistin', illegal immigration-supportin' Democrats for governor who think Hillary Clinton should be president of the United States.
So, in short, Tim Pawlenty is nuts. But you knew that; he's a Republican.

A Man, A Plan, A Waist: Pawlenty!

Pawlenty first made a name for himself in the Minnesota House of Representatives, where he served as House Majority Leader during the bizarre, tripartite era, when the DFL controlled the Senate and Gov. Jesse Ventura held court on Summit Avenue. Pawlenty was planning a run for the Senate seat held by Sen. Paul Wellstone, DFL-Minn., and was literally on the way to his announcement of candidacy when he got a call from Vice President Dick Cheney, R-Pandemonium. Cheney informed Pawlenty that Smilin' Norm Coleman, the former Mayor of St. Paul, was going to be the GOP candidate for Senate. Pawlenty, with nothing better to do, decided to run for governor instead -- a position Coleman had unsuccessfully sought four years before.

Pawlenty's first big step onto the stage came in early 2002, when he struck the corrupt bargain with then-Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine. Moe and Pawlenty were both seeking their respective party's endorsements, and the budget that came sailing down the pike was, to be blunt, a disaster. It was obvious that taxes would have to be raised, or major cuts would have to take place, or both. The Ventura administration made a proposal that suggested a little of both, but Pawlenty and Moe instead put together a plan that pushed all the hard decisions into the next term, so both could pretend they hadn't had to raise taxes while simultaneously pushing Gov. Turnbuckle for being a tax-and-spender. This point became moot when Ventura decided he'd had enough of being governor, and former Rep. Tim Penny, DFL-Minn., became the Independence Party's standard-bearer instead. Still, it was a peek into Pawlenty's governing philosophy, which was long on shell games and short on sacrifice.

Tim Pawlenty reached the governor's mansion through the usual way Minnesota governors reach it: by sheer chance, coupled with extremely unlikely events. Oh, his goofy ads with him talking about his 34" waist and his days growing up in South and/or West St. Paul were fine and all, but Pawlenty, Moe, and Penny were neck-and-neck-and-neck going into the final weeks of the campaign, with each candidate leading in different polls. It looked like it could be a repeat of the bizarre '98 photo finish. But then, Paul Wellstone's plane crashed in Northern Minnesota, and the disastrous Rallemorial came. Now, I know Al Franken has said that the GOP ginned up a lot of the outrage about that event, but I'm a Democrat who watched it live, and I can tell you -- you can't complain about your opponent beating you over the head with a club you handed them. It angered right-leaning independents, who swung home to Pawlenty, abandoning Penny in droves. Moe got no such boost, and ultimately Pawlenty won fairly easily. Now, maybe he would have won anyhow; it was close. But had Wellstone's plane not crashed, it's easy to see how Gov. Moe or Gov. Penny could have taken office.

The First Term: Pawlenticus Rex

2002 was a GOP year, and while Pawlenty wasn't able to win the Senate, which has been in DFL hands since 1493, he did manage to build big majorities in the House, and facing a typically feckless DFL caucus in both houses, he was able to get most of what he wanted. He beat back an attempt to give state workers domestic partner benefits, and blocked any effort to raise taxes to deal with the now-catastrophic budget deficit by raising taxes. Instead, he cut local government aid and school funding, forcing local governments and school districts to -- surprise! -- raise taxes to make up the shortfall. In many ways, this led to a massive, inequitable tax hike that would have been much better targeted in an income tax increase, but that would have affected the rich.

If Pawlenty absolutely had to spend money, as he did to get the I-35W/Crosstown reroute done, he did so by maxing out the state's credit card, passing the bill on to...well, anyone but today's taxpayer.

In 2005, the DFL accidentally found its spine, and Pawlenty and the DFL could not find a way to agree on the budget by the Constitutionally-mandated end of session, forcing the first state government shutdown in state history. This led to my favorite Tim Pawlenty moment. Faced with a DFL that refused to accept further cuts, Pawlenty finally agreed to an increased tax on cigarettes. But Pawlenty had previously pledged never to raise taxes, and he knew that any willingness to raise taxes could kill his chances of moving to Washington some day. And so he relented, on one condition: that the bill label the tax as a "health care fee," not a tax. Timmy, you see, wasn't raising taxes, only fees.

Pawlenty was rewarded for his genius in 2006, when he won re-election by sheer happenstance and coincidence. Pawlenty was facing the ill-tempered, charismatically-challenged Attorney General Mike Hatch, DFL-Burnsville, and former Commissioner Peter Hutchinson, the Independence Party's sacrificial lamb. Hatch had the edge through most of the campaign, as one might expect, until he inevitably melted down in the last weekend of the campaign. After his running mate, former State Auditor Judi Dutcher, was shown on KSTP-TV blanking on what E85 is (it's ethanol! Sweet, sweet ethanol!), Hatch could have dealt with the issue by remembering that only four people in the Twin Cities watch KSTP news, and besides, it wasn't that big a deal. Instead, Hatch dealt with it by attacking the media, accusing the media of "going after the woman" instead of him, and calling one reporter "a Republican whore." Hatch's lead melted, and Pawlenty won by 21,108 votes out of over 2.1 million cast, on a night when Amy Klobuchar was cruising to a blowout win in the Senate race and the Democrats were winning near-veto-proof majorities in both the Minnesota Senate and, for the first time since the '90s, the Minnesota House.

Term Two: Can I Go Yet?

Pawlenty's re-election, though by a slim, improbable margin, nevertheless cemented him in the firmament of GOP rising stars because, well, after the 2006 mid-terms, there weren't that many Republicans left, especially not Republicans who had actually won in swing states in 2006. That Pawlenty had no business winning was beside the point; he had won, and that was enough.

Pawlenty immediately set to work taking the DFL supermajority to the cleaners, inexplicably rolling them on everything from school funding to transportation. He stood firm, keeping tax hikes at the county and city level, and vetoed a transportation funding bill that had bipartisan support.

That kind of came back to haunt him a few months later, when the Interstate 35W Mississippi River Bridge collapsed one bright August afternoon. Oh, Pawlenty could say, truthfully, that nobody could have predicted a bridge would just come crashing down if you didn't adequately fund roads for the better part of a decade. And he'd try valiantly to distract people from the fact that he'd appointed his Lt. Governor, Carol Molnau, to serve simultaneously as Minnesota DOT head, a move that seemed like a good idea at the time, except for the fact that Molnau was pretty much opposed to funding transit or roads.

While Pawlenty's personal popularity didn't wane much, his political capital did. The GOP lost enough defectors in the House that in 2008, they overrode a Pawlenty veto and actually passed a funding bill that had tax increases in it. Pawlenty tried a few times to poke his finger in the DFL's eye, vetoing bonding for a commuter rail line he'd previously championed, apparently out of spite. But before the end of the session, Pawlenty reversed course and endorsed the bill, because...well, because he was running for vice president. Indeed, the session is most memorable for the off-color joke Pawlenty told about his wife, former Judge Mary Pawlenty:
I have a wife who genuinely loves to fish. I mean, she will take the lead and ask me to go out fishing, and joyfully comes here. She loves football, she'll go to hockey games and, I jokingly say, "Now, if I could only get her to have sex with me."
It's funny because Mary Pawlenty's a frigid bitch. At least, I think that's what Timmy was saying, it wasn't totally clear.

McAngry/TPaw: A Match Made in Heck

Pawlenty backed John McCain back in 2007, and it looked like a bad bet. Early in 2007, he was named one of McCain's national co-chairs. In February 2008, Pawlenty's support meant squat, as McCain finished a distant second behind Multiple Choice Mitt and just ahead of Ron Paul, in the Minnesota caucuses. And yet, somehow, McCain won the nomination, and Pawlenty has stood as the biggest winner in the process.

Oh, Timmy would be on the short list for any of the GOP candidates. But McCain and Pawlenty have worked together now for well over a year, and Pawlenty was loyal to McCain when McCain was doomed.


The only way Tim Pawlenty won't be running for President in 2012 is if John McCain somehow wins this year and stands for re-election. He's got it all -- the smarminess, the double-dealing, the ability to use Orwellian terms to make it appear he's keeping his word. That's not change we can believe in. But then again, change we can believe in isn't what McSame is selling.

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