Tim Pawlenty doubles down on abstinence-only

Tim Pawlenty has opted to take grant money from a federal law he wants repealed.

The money is for programs dismissed by the state as ineffective.

And he picked a grant that requires $379,000 in state matching funds, while the state is already drowning in red ink.

What's going on here? Sex education. Watch the political contortions.

Pawlenty likes to cast the health care reform legislation passed last March by Congress as a federal trampling of states' rights. He wants the law repealed. And he has tried to push state Attorney General Lori Swanson to join other states in a lawsuit challenging the law.

But now we've learned that Pawlenty has applied for a $500,000 grant to fund abstinence-only sex education, and the money is coming from the very legislation he disdains.

At the same time, he decided not to apply for an $850,000 federal grant aimed at funding other teen pregnancy prevention programs deemed evil by such folks as the Minnesota Family Council. It, too, is funded through the health care reform package.

If the object of the exercise is to actually prevent teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, Pawlenty made an odd choice. The state began turning away federal money for abstinence-only programs in 2007 because they weren't working.

And if Pawlenty is the budget hawk he insists he is, the abstinence-only grant again presents a contradiction. To win it, the debt-ridden state has to pony up 75 percent in matching funds -- about $379,000.

The $850,000 grant carried no such requirement for matching funds, and he could have applied for both and supported approaches that, taken together, are actually effective. It wouldn't have cost the state anything more than the choice he made.

But Pawlenty's spokesman made it clear yesterday that the governor is making a political calculus, "striving to find ways to stop" health care reform's benefits from reaching Minnesotans.

That is, unless they are politically advantageous.

"There's been a concern in the field that governors across the country would use these funding opportunities to rack up political points instead of putting young people's futures first," said Brigid Riley, director of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting. "Why else would you turn down almost a million dollars for youth programs that require no match, but take funding for failed programs that require a 75 percent match?"

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