In the Spotlight

News & Features
Pawlenty announces bid for governor
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
September 5, 2001
Click for audio RealAudio

Republican House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty ended speculation about his political plans by jumping into the race for governor in 2002. Pawlenty is the first candidate to formally announce a gubernatorial bid, although several other candidates are actively campaigning and others are considering running. Political observers say Pawlenty will be a strong contender for the Republican endorsement against his main rival, businessman Brian Sullivan.

Rep. Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, announced his campaign in the blue-collar South St. Paul neighborhood where he grew up, and stressed his working-class roots as the son of a truck driver. Listen to his announcement.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
SURROUNDED BY SEVERAL HUNDRED SUPPORTERS, Pawlenty chose the Croatian Hall in South St. Paul as the backdrop for his campaign announcement, located in the blue-collar neighborhood where he grew up. The Eagan attorney has served in the Legislature since 1992, but he stressed his working-class roots as the son of a truck driver and the first in his family to go to college. Pawlenty says the state deserves better leadership than it's been getting.

"The Ventura era has been something of a political Woodstock. It's been interesting. It may even have involved a message to the people of Minnesota, a symbolic message. But there comes a time, like with Woodstock, where you need to go home, take a shower and get back to the work of making Minnesota a great place to live and work," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty says his agenda includes repealing the state's Profile of Learning graduation standards, creating a tax credit for charities, building more roads and spurring job creation. Gov. Ventura hasn't said whether he's running for re-election, but said he supports Pawlenty and anyone else getting into the race. "I encourage all citizens to run for office. I mean, the better, the more citizen involvement in government, the better government you'll have," Ventura said.

Pawlenty's decision prompted one of his caucus members to recommend that Pawlenty step down as majority leader, suggesting Pawlenty's campaign could affect legislative negotiations between the House and governor's office next year. But Pawlenty says he has no plans to leave his post, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum says most House Republicans agree with him.

"By far, the majority of the caucus feels Tim needs to remain as Majority Leader, to lead us through the next session," said Sviggum.

At least 20 of Pawlenty's House Republican colleagues attended his press conference to show support. But Pawlenty says he has a tough fight ahead of him to get the Republican Party endorsement. He says entrepreneur Brian Sullivan has the backing of the party elite. "I believe I'm an underdog in this race, both with respect to the party, and I'm also going to be the outsider. There are some folks in the party who have shut some doors on me, and now I'm going to kick a few open," Pawlenty said.

Both Pawlenty and Sullivan say they will abide by the party endorsement. Sullivan says the intra-party competition is healthy, and won't affect his approach. "Obviously Tim is a fine guy," Sullivan said. "I just think I have the right kind of experience and background that the activists are looking for to represent the party, and I think they also believe I'll be the best governor."

Sullivan has been wooing party activists for months, and was the first to file a campaign committee. He says he'll hold off on a formal announcement until the end of the year.

The chair of the political science department at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Dan Hofrenning, says Sullivan and Pawlenty are well-matched to fight for the Republican endorsement. "Brian Sullivan, obviously, is a fresh face to the political scene, but he's a person with deep financial pockets, and there's no reason to expect that he won't run an aggressive strong campaign, and Tim Pawlenty, as a leader of the legislative wing of the Republican Party, also will be formidable. So I think this can potentially be a big battle," Hofrenning said.

A third Republican says he's in the race for governor as well. St. Louis Park accountant Michael Vekich, the former chair of the MnSCU Board of Trustees, filed a campaign committee last week, and says he'll go on a statewide listening tour before he officially jumps in the race. "We can be a bridge to both sides of the aisle, because the people that are behind me now are a combination of both Democrats and Republicans," Vekich said.

Vekich says he hasn't decided whether he'll seek the Republican endorsement. While the Republican gubernatorial field is growing, the DFL slate of potential candidates is even larger. State Auditor Judi Dutcher, state Sen. Becky Lourey and artist Ole Savior have campaign committees, and state Senators John Hottinger and Roger Moe, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and attorney Michael Ciresi are considering entering the race, which is still 14 months away.