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?

For what it's worth, the bill—a paragon of clarity to most eyes—was quite explicit in cataloguing which parties health care providers would still have been able to supply financial information to. These would have included the patient, her lawyer, and debt manager; debt collectors; auditors or accountants working for the provider; and, as required by law, the government.

13. Who says our kids don't make great guinea pigs?

Lobbyist Kathleen Schuler's job this spring boiled down to one objective: A statewide ban on a pair of chemical groups linked to deformities in lab animals.

First, the bill Schuler championed would have banned so-called phthalates in children's products. Phthalates are added to plastics to increase flexibility, but studies have linked them to feminization—a shorter distance between scrotum and anus, to be specific—in young male lab rats. Long banned from children's products in Europe, the chemicals face a similar prohibition in California beginning next year.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Jim Mone
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

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Also in Schuler's bill: outlawing a flame retardant known as DECA, which has been linked to brain damage in lab mice. DECA is used in TVs, computers, and textiles, though many companies, seeing the cancerous writing on the wall, have already begun phasing it out.

Even after her bill sailed through the Legislature with strong bipartisan support, Schuler, co-director of the nonprofit Healthy Legacy, knew it faced an uphill battle. "It's easy for industry to muddy up the science and misinform people," she says.

She was right. Pawlenty's veto letter sounded an awful lot like industry talking points. The science on these contaminants is inconclusive, he wrote, and viable alternatives are lacking.

Actually, Pawlenty went a bit off-message, incorrectly stating that DECA is used in children's clothing.

A day after vetoing the bill, he issued a clarification. Notably, while his veto letters are all written in the first-person singular—"I have vetoed" is a favorite formulation—the correction made use of a different pronoun: "We apologize for the error."

14. Leave no veto behind

The night before sending the education policy bill to the governor's office, a couple of key legislators met for a strategy session. On the agenda: What to do with the hot-button portion of the bill dealing with sex education?

"The governor was going to veto the bill no matter what," says Rep. Neva Walker (DFL-Minneapolis). DFLers "figured his veto message could be about sex ed., or he could say why he was really vetoing it."

At the last minute, DFLers took out the provision to eliminate abstinence-only programs in Minnesota's public schools.

But the bill contained something else: A new school-by-school competitive yardstick acting as an alternative to the federally mandated No Child Left Behind benchmarks, which for many schools amount to unachievable targets tied to the looming threat of forced closure.

Such an implicit challenge to George W. Bush's signature domestic policy was beyond Pawlenty's pale. He vetoed the bill.

"I support the use of a 'growth model' for measuring student achievement," he wrote by way of explanation.

At least he couldn't hide behind his hatred of condoms.

15. I was for improving health care before I was against it!

Last year, Pawlenty appointed a blue-ribbon commission to advise him on making health care coverage at once cheaper and better.

When the bill incorporating his own appointees' recommendations arrived at his desk, Pawlenty—you guessed it—vetoed it.

"The level of expansion in public subsidies for health care in this bill, without evidence of achieving cost containment, is excessive and irresponsible," he wrote.

While the Legislature later passed, and Pawlenty signed into law, a revised bill, it was a pale shadow of the original, leaving thousands of Minnesotans out in the cold.

"It's really problematic," says Mary Jo George, a lobbyist for the state's nurses. "The governor relies too much on a private market approach to health care."

16. Pawlenty to ex-cons: And stay out of state social work jobs!

In 2005, Pawlenty pushed for and ultimately signed into law a tough-on-crime bill barring the state from hiring anyone with a serious felony conviction for a wide range of social work jobs.

As a result, many reformed criminals, some at their jobs for decades without incident, were summarily dismissed after changing positions within the bureaucracy.

Rep. Neva Walker introduced legislation that would have allowed these people the same opportunity they had before the 2005 law took effect: to make their best case and leave it up to the state agency's top brass.

Walker's bill would only have affected workers who'd been at their jobs before the law took effect.

Seizing the opportunity to look tough on crime, Pawlenty brandished his pen. Relaxing the standards he'd championed and bringing up to 400 ex-cons back into the fold would be "unacceptable," he wrote.

"People can change," says Walker. "It was the triumph of politics over good policy."

17. Ignore your sick relatives and get back to work!

Most government workers in Minnesota are allowed to use sick leave to care for their ill children, but not to look after an unwell spouse, parent, or grandparent. With many private employers now offering their workers more flexible "personal" days, a bill arrived at Pawlenty's desk to grant everyone else a similar courtesy.

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