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Pawlenty steps into new role with huge challenge at hand
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Members of Minnesota's executive branch pose after their inaugurations. Left to right: Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, Attorney General Mike Hatch, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, Gov. Tim Pawelenty, and State Auditor Pat Anderson Awada. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Republican Tim Pawlenty has become the 38th person to hold the office of Minnesota governor. Pawlenty and the state's other constitutional officers were sworn in during a ceremony at the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul. Gov. Pawlenty inherits a projected $4.5 billionr budget deficit, and his closest advisor says he's prepared for the challenge.

St. Paul, Minn. — Tim Pawlenty chose to move his inauguration from the traditional Capitol rotunda to the Landmark Center, to allow more family members and supporters to attend. Standing next to his wife, Mary, a Dakota County judge, and his two daughters, Pawlenty took the oath of office administered by Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz.

At age 42, Pawlenty is Minnesota's first governor born in the 1960s. In his inaugural speech, he noted the passing of the torch of leadership from his parents' generation to his. He says his parents' generation fought world wars and built much of the nation's infrastructure.

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Image Pawlentys and the lieutenant governor

"They faced enormous challenges, challenges that make our state budget worries of today seem minor. They didn't flinch. They didn't complain. They didn't blame someone else. They worked hard and they faced their problems head on," he said.

Pawlenty says Minnesotans have always rallied around challenges, and turned problems into solutions.

"Twenty years ago we had too much corn and too much air pollution. The Minnesota solution was ethanol. Our winters are too long, and sometimes we didn't have enough to do. The Minnesota solution was to build snowmobiles."

The challenge facing Minnesota now is a budget deficit equal to about 14 percent of the state budget. Pawlenty didn't offer any specific solutions in his inaugural speech, but has pledged to balance the budget without raising taxes. He says he'll challenge Minnesotans to come together to tackle what he's called the equivalent of a fiscal tornado.

"Change must come and it will come," Pawlenty said. "My job is not to impose it upon you from above, but draw it from you by casting a vision, fostering hope and stirring our passion for innovation."

Pawlenty took a moment to thank his predecessor, Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura. He said Ventura "led with great boldness and he spoke from the heart." Ventura didn't have any parting comments as he ended his term, but other former governors had some advice for Pawlenty.

Republican Al Quie was governor in the early '80s when budget deficits were comparable to today's problem as a percentage of the state budget. Quie says it will be tough for Pawlenty to balance the budget without raising taxes, when about half of the state budget is spent on K-12 and higher education. He suggested Pawlenty could find ways to trim administrative costs.

"Trust the teachers for two years, and get rid of all those folks that get all those reports and send in and all that thing; just trust the teachers for two years, and then check them again and see how they did," Quie said.

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Image Entenza promises support

Pawlenty has said he'll try to protect K-12 funding from cuts. Former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, who also tackled deficits in the early '90s, says there will be pain, no matter what Pawlenty does.

"There'll be a lot of anger, a lot of disruption. But the reality is that we're going to be in for some painful times, and I think in all fairness, the public understands that," said Carlson.

Pawlenty's chief of staff and close friend, Charlie Weaver, says Pawlenty knows he's facing a daunting task. But Weaver says in many ways, Pawlenty has been preparing his whole life for the challenge.

"South St. Paul, blue collar roots; I mean, what better governor than to have someone who grew up in kind of a tough economic time, father's a truck driver, lost his mom when he was a young guy, only one of his whole family to go to college? That's a nice training to be governor," Weaver said.

Weaver says Pawlenty is also prepared to hit the ground running, with a decade of legislative experience under his belt. Pawlenty has hired about half of his cabinet, starting with Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy, a former legislator.

Weaver served as public safety commissioner under Gov. Ventura, and was the only commissioner who had been named when Ventura took office four years ago. He says given the magnitude of the budget problem, Pawlenty didn't have any time to spare.

"Four years ago, Gov. Ventura basically was forced to present Gov. Carlson's budget. But getting McElroy on the ground early, having Tim's background, my background, we're prepared. We will be prepared to offer a budget that truly is Gov Pawlenty's," Weaver says.

Pawlenty has six weeks to finish his budget for the next two years. He must also come up with a plan to erase a projected deficit of $356 million in the current biennium, which Weaver says Pawlenty will release in the next 10 days.

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