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Pawlenty-Hatch feud is escalating
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Attorney General Mike Hatch has been feuding with Gov. Pawlenty's administration recently. He claims the governor's attacks against him have been personal in nature. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
One day after Gov. Tim Pawlenty's top aide called for a truce in a feud with Democrats, the war of words shows no sign of abating. The chair of the state Republican Party Thursday blamed Attorney General Mike Hatch for the spate of recent accusations against the Pawlenty administration. Hatch says Republicans are simply trying to divert attention from the allegations. The feud is affecting the relationship between the state's top executive and the top lawyer officer.

St. Paul, Minn. — Tension between the governor and attorney general became apparent a month ago, when Attorney General Hatch criticized the Pawlenty administration for looking for ways to release sexual predators into the community. Republican Pawlenty blamed Hatch's criticism on the DFLer's desire for Pawlenty's job.

Then earlier this month, the story broke of Pawlenty's connections to telecommunications companies. And this week criticism emerged over a secrecy clause inserted into an administration-signed settlement with United American Insurance Company, accused of defrauding seniors.

State Republican Party chairman Ron Eibensteiner says he believes Hatch is leaking all of these stories.

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"I just see a lot of Hatch fingerprints on this whole controversy over the last two weeks," Eibensteiner says. "I think that my personal belief is that Mike Hatch is behind all of this and orchestrating this in the best fashion that he can."

Eibensteiner calls Hatch the most partisan attorney general the state has seen in several decades.

"I can deny any leaks or any involvement as to United American," says Hatch. "I can deny any leaks, any information, any documentation as to anything related to any of these other scandals."

Hatch says he hasn't attacked Gov. Pawlenty personally, and he stands by his criticism of the Pawlenty administration for discussing the release of sex offenders into the community. Since the story broke, Pawlenty issued an executive order barring his administration from releasing sexual predators unless ordered by a court or by law.

Hatch says Pawlenty and his chief of staff, Charlie Weaver, have attacked him personally at least six times in the last few weeks.

"I'm not making personal attacks. You can go through any one of those pieces of paper, you're not going to find one personal attack on anybody," Hatch says. "You will find that I do question the sincerity of this business about calling for truces when you're nibbling at my toes. That's not what I call very sincere politics."

Hatch met with Pawlenty last week, but wouldn't disclose what the meeting was about, citing attorney-client privilege.

Chief of staff Charlie Weaver says the dispute is seeping into the relationship between state agencies and their lawyers in the attorney general's office. Weaver says he's advised agency heads to be more guarded about what they tell the attorney general's office. He says if matters worsen, state agencies will seek outside legal counsel. He says Hatch has attacked his own client, the Commerce Department, in public forums.

"So that kind of behavior makes it very difficult to continue to work together. As our lawyer -- we gotta be able to trust our lawyer, first and foremost. And when he continues to attack his own clients, provide them, on his own admission, inaccurate legal advice, as I said yesterday, the trust is eroding," Weaver says.

Tension between the governor's office and the attorney general is nothing new. The conflict between Republican Gov. Arne Carlson and DFL Attorney General Skip Humphrey was no secret in the 1990s.

University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs says while tension between the two offices isn't unusual, this latest round seems more acrimonious.

"We've got two individuals who have strong personalities and a strong streak of independence. We've got agendas that are pretty different, and we've got two people with ambitious political futures ahead of them," says Jacobs.

Hatch downplays questions about his political ambitions. Although he has twice sought the governor's office, he says he's not planning to run for Pawlenty's job in 2004 at this point.

Jacobs says while the public probably isn't paying much attention to the strained relationship right now, it appears to be bogging down the business of state government.

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