A portrait of the governor as a young weenie: Grant Hart recalls his old classmate, Tim Pawlenty

Hart in 2009; T-Paw in 2012

Hart in 2009; T-Paw in 2012 Elizabeth Flores; AP

This article was originally published in City Pages on January 28, 2004, but the online version did not survive various web re-designs. Upon Thursday's news of Grant Hart's death at 56, we decided to digitize this stone-cold classic. RIP, Grant.  

Editor's note: Musician/songwriter/visual artist Grant Hart (Hüsker Dü, Nova Mob) attended junior and senior high school in South St. Paul with Tim Pawlenty. In Swedish, Hüsker Dü translates to 'Do you remember?,' which Hart does here about his former schoolmate:

Whenever I exercise my Pawlenty bragging rights, I'll cut it to, 'Yeah, I graduated from the same school as him.' There are no tracks in [the middle of] South St. Paul, but if there were, he and I would be on opposite sides of it. He was definitely an early political protégé. Without any specific incidences coming to mind, it always seemed like he was on the right side of a smarmy outcome.

In junior high, I petitioned the school to change the bylaws of the student council to accept all members of the student body, rather than just those who had attained a specific grade-point average. My theory was to democratize the thing, because, especially in a town like South St. Paul, there's not a fair curve. If you're on a [sports] team, you're gonna get a B average.

And there was no way they couldn't pass it; there was just an overwhelming number of signatures. My father was South St. Paul [high school] faculty, so I had an inside with a lot of those. It passed, and then the next year there was no student council. The school had disbanded it in favor of what they called 'The Packer Activity Club.' Which, if memory serves me, Pawlenty was one of the people who moved from the council into the activity club. Now, my confidence in the veracity of the story is only unsettled because it just seems too much like Pawlenty not to be someone augmented by memories.

He was fairly nondescript. He was not a big hockey player himself, but he seemed to have those people as friends. It kind of rang nostalgic then, when, right after he was elected, he did so many hockey-type attention-getters.

We never named [the junior and senior highs in South St. Paul] for some reason, although I would like to see it be Harold Stassen High School. He's one guy whose memory is not really remembered: How moderate of a Republican that guy was, but still a very, very great man. I had the privilege of attending his memorial and wake, and come to think of it, that was before Pawlenty was elected. Let's put it this way: I didn't see him there.

When you come into South St. Paul, in the past there used to be a big sign that said, 'Home of Harold LaVander, such-and-such governor of the state of Minnesota.' Now, of course that land belonged to LaVander--first lot across the border, an amazing property to this day, and I really admire the family for not splitting it up. But it seems like the city of South St. Paul has disowned Pawlenty, and Pawlenty has disowned South St. Paul.

He's from Eagan! When you first heard about Pawlenty, where did you hear about him being from? Eagan. It's hard to say whether it's a 'Well, if he's not gonna claim us, we're not gonna claim him' thing. South St. Paul in some ways has always been a 'bite your nose to spite your face' kind of place. It's very Democratic, and people know in this town that there are people out to screw 'em. It's been my impression that there's been a mutual denial of each other's existence.

The best I've ever heard about the Pawlentys is, 'Oh, the mother's a real nice woman. She helps out at her church.' Or something like that. But a lot of people that know him are like, 'What's with Tim? Oh, his goal is to become president.' You know, he's a real power whore.

There's a teacher here who, it sounds like, at one point, Pawlenty made comments after some student-teacher confrontation, 'Oh, this isn't going to matter, because I'm gonna be president someday.' I've only heard the details secondhand, but it sounds like there's a real 'I'm gonna getcha' kind of thing in him. Or a real refusal to take what ends up happening as the final word. He acts like he's got a trick up his sleeve.

He was a good student. More than likely top five percent; not brilliant by any means. You need to keep in mind that, at a time in people's lives when they're probably the most conformist, there was probably a lot of lip service and just not having fully formulated what his steps were going to be, or his political agenda. It's funny, for as fast as he's moved in the last five years, that he didn't move faster coming out of school.

Strangely, I would say I was more overtly political at the time. We all identify with our heroes, after the fact or before the fact. This might be too trite a conclusion, but I would almost say I was a Wellstone to his Coleman. And by saying these things, I'm not saying I'm trying to put myself on a par with Tim, but let's say where I would set up alternative fundraising so that the kids that didn't sell enough fruit to go on band tour could go on band tour, and get in trouble for it because it put ripples on the pond because maybe the teachers didn't want certain kids to go on the band tour, [Pawlenty] gave no indication--you know, without blowing up my own balloon--of being concerned with the less fortunate, within even our own school.

I don't know how much liberty, life, and pursuit of happiness I can put on the line about this stuff, but I think you know how I feel about what's happened in this state in the last two years. I think that the right wing has looked at history, and they don't trust Minnesota. I think this next year is going to be revolutionary. I mean, even four more years of Bush is going to polarize everyone even more. [The Republicans] are going to give the American people the conclusion that we can't afford to govern ourselves, that we have to have the corporations do it for us.

And they've got a [friend] in Minnesota. When I think of the crowd Pawlenty ran with, it was the high school equivalent of, you know, Grunseths. I mean, kids that weren't in and of themselves bad kids, but kids who automatically made the A squad. The very, very privileged of the town.

I was working at Cheapo [Records] at the time, and bringing my amp and guitar and record player to parties. Guys would go, 'Is this the new Aerosmith?' And I'd say, 'No, it's the New York Dolls.' I would say that Tim was probably into whatever music swung with the crowd he was trying to impress. He probably had never been to an arena concert, at a time when you could see eight bands for four bucks, but I don't know.

That's the funny thing: I knew the guy for years, and it's still like he's a cipher. He's Chauncey Gardener. With a lot less Zen. You know, I'd vote for Chauncey.