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DFL attacks Pawlenty on sex offenders
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Rep. Debra Hillstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, and Sen. Jane Ranum of Minneapolis said they sought the campaign after failing to get satisfactory answers from Pawlenty's administration in wake of the Dru Sjodin case. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
The state DFL Party started running a television ad on Tuesday accusing Gov. Pawlenty of standing by while his administration released sex offenders. The hard-hitting ad is unusual, because Gov. Pawlenty isn't up for re-election for another two-and-a-half years.

St. Paul, Minn. — The ad opens on a close-up of what the viewer eventually learns are Gov. Pawlenty's eyes, and accuses him of doing nothing to stop the release of sex offenders.

"These eyes just watched, as administrative bungling and the wrong budget priorities let rapists and sexual predators back on our streets," it says. The ad says Pawlenty tried to distract attention from the release of sex offenders with, "death penalty politics."

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Image He says it's Ventura's mistake

"I just describe the whole ad and claims as bizarre," Pawlenty says. He says his call for the death penalty is no distration; he says he supported the death penalty as a legislator.

Pawlenty called for reinstating the death penalty late last year, after the arrest of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., in the disappearance of missing college student Dru Sjodin. Rodriguez is a Level 3 sex offender who was released from prison last May after serving a 23-year sentence.

Corrections officials did not recommend that Rodriguez be civilly committed to a secure psychiatric hospital. Pawlenty says his administration shouldn't be blamed for Rodriguez' release.

"Again, the evaluation for whether Mr. Rodriguez was to be released was done in the spring or so of 2002 at a time when we had a budget surplus, in a prior administration, and they made a bad call," the governor says.

A second evaluation of Rodriguez was conducted in January 2003, after Pawlenty took office, but Pawlenty says that evaluation was not done to determine whether to seek civil commitment. The second evaluation recommended that Rodriguez be assigned a risk level of 3, which is the category of sex offenders most likely to reoffend.

After Rodriguez' arrest, Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian said all Level 3 offenders will be referred to county attorneys for possible civil commitment.

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Image Sen. Jane Ranum

Rep. Deb Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Park, says the Corrections Department sent the files of 236 Level 3 offenders to county attorneys, despite the fact that corrections officials had already concluded many of those offenders were not candidates for civil commitment.

"The governor provided no recommendation to counties on which of the 236 offenders should be committed, and he provided no support to counties to overturn their prior negative referral. And he accepts no accountability, instead shifting all the cost and responsibility to the counties," she told a news conference on Tuesday.

Hilstrom and other DFL lawmakers asked the DFL Party to run an ad on the issue.

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, says the Pawlenty administration hasn't adequately explained what happened in the case of Rodriguez and other offenders, and what needs to change.

"We have been asking in the Senate a lot of these questions. And we have either been getting misinformation, excuses or fingerpointing," Ranum says.

Pawlenty acknowledges there are problems with the state's sex offender laws. He says those problems predate his administration. He says his administration is trying to fix the problem.

"We are taking steps to reform and address the challenges and problems that have been identified. That's how we're trying to respond and take responsibility for it," according to Pawlenty.

Pawlenty says Democrats are trying to suggest that they're tough on crime, but says he doesn't think the public will buy it.

"If that's what they want to spend their money on in an election year when the president's up for election, when they've got House members up for election and members of Congress up for election ... seems like a waste."

Pawlenty is not up for re-election this year, and DFLers say they're running the ad now because the issue of sex offenders is before the Legislature.

Political science professor Dan Hofrenning of St. Olaf College says while Pawlenty isn't on the ballot this year, Democrats may be laying the groundwork for the 2006 campaign.

"It's clearly an attempt to gain some political traction at a time in which the DFL needs some political traction. In some ways, this may be a low point in the political strength of the DFL, having not won a governor's election since 1986, having lost the House, having a narrow majority in the Senate, they need to do something, and I think clearly the crime issue has been a potent one in politics across the nation," Hofrenning says.

Hofrenning says the ad may also be designed to help House Democrats, who are up for re-election this year.

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