Tim Pawlenty's job as Minnesota House majority leader already makes him a big player at the Capitol _ but not big enough. The witty Eagan attorney with blue-collar roots wants to be governor and thinks he'd have an edge on Gov. Jesse Ventura and Roger Moe, a staunch Democrat who has served in the Legislature for about three decades.
I've got enough experience to know what's going on, but not so much as to make me entrenched," says Pawlenty, who was first elected to the House in 1992 and has served as majority leader since Republicans won control in 1999.
He says he offers a sense of boldness and freshness "without all that goofiness." Pawlenty's plans were rerouted twice last year _ once by state party leaders who asked him to run for U.S. Senate rather than governor and again by Vice President Dick Cheney, who persuaded him to cede the Senate race to then-St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
"In hindsight, it may have been the best thing for me," Pawlenty said. "I believe things happen for a reason."
From South St. Paul, Pawlenty was the youngest of five children and the lone Republican in a liberal family. His father was a truck driver and Teamsters member and his mother a homemaker who died of cancer when he was 16. His father lost his job a few years later. His experiences help him relate to many types of folks, he says.
The trim, 41-year-old father of two knows when to dress up and when to wear jeans and cowboy boots _ and he seems equally comfortable in both. Practicality led the youngest Pawlenty family member to the GOP; he needed a job and saw in the newspaper that Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger was hiring interns. He was hired and Durenberger, also from South St. Paul, took a personal interest in the teen-ager. He later was elected to the Eagan Planning Commission and the Eagan City Council before running for a state House seat. Forming public policy and the debate that goes with it is what keeps him coming back. He takes himself seriously, but not too seriously, laughing when colleagues throw a jab his way and always responding with a good-natured comeback.
This isn't Timothy Pawlenty's first involvement with a gubernatorial campaign. He was an adviser to businessman John Grunseth who ran for governor in 1990 but dropped out just weeks before the election. At the time he was a member of the Eagan city council to which he was elected in 1989.
His state political career got off the ground in 1992 when he won a suburban legislative seat with 49 percent of the vote. He was re-elected five times and ascended to the post of House majority leader when Republicans took control in 1998. That year he briefly toyed with a run for governor, but didn't follow through. To get the Republican nomination, he beat a better-financed challenger in the endorsement stage and trounced a token opponent in the primary.