Tim Pawlenty: Governor No

Tim Pawlenty racked up more vetoes this year than any governor in Minnesota's history. Is this the man we want to be vice president?

Ann Lenczewski is a believer in representative democracy. And having six of the seven members of Bloomington's school board hail from the wealthier, western side of the city doesn't strike her as particularly fair.

As central Bloomington's representative in the statehouse, Lenczewski introduced a bill designed to shift the board from seven at-large members to three, with the remainder elected by geographic ward. It's nothing personal against the board members, she says, just the simple principle of equality.

Under the DFLer's plan, the board would have two years to transform itself. With a majority of board members opposed—those with power seldom cede it willingly—her bill had a Plan B: a citywide referendum in 2010.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Jim Mone
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

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As the bill sailed through both houses with bipartisan support, Lenczewski was ready to celebrate.

But Pawlenty had other ideas. "This bill removes local control and authority from the hands of the Bloomington school district voters," he wrote in the letter explaining his veto.

Lenczewski was flabbergasted. "The voters could have voted it down!" she points out. "It was almost as if [Pawlenty and his staff] hadn't read the bill."

3. Pawlenty to FedEx drivers: No benefits for you

Did you know that FedEx gains competitive advantage on UPS by classifying its drivers as independent contractors, thereby avoiding payment of benefits while also saving millions on taxes? Governor Pawlenty does. That didn't stop him from vetoing a bill that would have outlawed the practice in Minnesota.

"It's a hugely important issue to the workers who are caught in a bind," says Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsored the bill in the House.

In his veto letter, Pawlenty derided the bill as arbitrary, vague, and certain to "create unwarranted confusion in the industry."

4. Tim Pawlenty, tough guy

In mid-March, with the legislative session well underway and Pawlenty crisscrossing the country on behalf of John McCain, House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) told reporters that Minnesotans would be "shocked" to know that the governor and legislative leaders "have not been in the same room since the start of the legislative session."

Shortly thereafter, Sertich got a call from a Pawlenty aide with a message straight from the governor: "Cheap shots are cheap, but they're not free."

A couple of weeks later, when the time came for Pawlenty to have a crack at line-iteming the massive borrow-to-build bill, he made good on his threat.

Gone were all three projects in Sertich's Iron Range district.

"You try not to take it personally," Sertich says. "But nobody should be subject to any retribution like that."

It didn't end there.

No doubt fueled by lingering bitterness from the transportation bill veto override, Pawlenty eliminated every single project in St. Paul—reducing at least one local legislator to tears. He killed bike and walking trails across the state, and, in one stroke, cut funding for the University Avenue light rail line.

In the end, Pawlenty's light rail shocker proved to be just a bargaining chip. But his underlying message wasn't lost on anyone: Play with fire and get scorched.

5. Pawlenty to obstructionist city councils: Keep on truckin'!

Last year, a resident of rural Greenfield decided to sell his farm to the adjacent Three Rivers Park District. The farm was zoned as parkland in Greenfield's 10-year master plan, but the City Council, protective of its property tax base, voted to block the sale.

Boe Carlson, associate superintendent of the park district, explains the absurdity of the situation: "We had a willing seller. The parcel was already zoned by the city as parkland. And yet the council said no."

After months of legal wrangling, the council caved.

But to prevent such a situation from happening again, the park district sought to remove the need for any city's blessing when it buys private property already zoned in the city's master plan as parkland.

The resulting bill passed both houses overwhelmingly. But Pawlenty was ready with his red pen.

The current rule, he said in his veto letter, "maximizes local input over land issues that directly impact land within the city."

Carlson doesn't buy the governor's logic. "What if a city council suddenly decided to remove freeways or parkland or housing from their comprehensive plan?" he says. "It's why we have regional planning."

6. The Great Cuba Flip-Flop of 2008

During a 2006 reelection campaign debate, Pawlenty had this to say about the United States' Cuba policy: "If I was in a federal position, I would say it's time to reasonably open up our trade relationships with Cuba."

Here's Pawlenty 20 months later: "Providing more economic opportunity for Cuba through trade will enable and empower the current regime."

The second quote, from Pawlenty's letter explaining his veto of a non-binding resolution calling for the embargo to end, brings him in line with the key Cuban-American voting bloc in Miami and with Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

The governor's office denies any political maneuvering.

"That's not the reason he vetoed it," Pawlenty spokesman Alex Carey told City Pages' Matt Snyders last month. "The reason is outlined in the veto letter.

7. Toward a state-funded national I.D.

In 2005, Congress passed a law mandating that by 2014 all states issue new driver's licenses requiring proof of birth, social security number, and other key personal information—all of which would then be funneled into a massive government database with the hope that it could help prevent another major terrorist attack on American soil.

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