Presidential Hopefuls: Tim Pawlenty

Former Minnesota governor is ‘one of us,’ according to one pro-life activist.

Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty
Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (photo: Office of Gov. Tim Pawlenty)

Editor’s note: In a series of occasional articles, the Register is looking at the men and women who have declared their candidacy for president of the United States in 2012. As primary season is less than a year away, we want to give readers a little more insight into those who hope to lead America for the next four years: where they stand, what positions they’ve taken in the past, and what has led them there.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Although pro-abortion rights critics have pointed out that presidential candidate and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty specifically mentions the word “abortion” only once in his 300-page autobiography, Courage to Stand, pro-life activists in Minnesota and on the national scene have nothing but praise for Pawlenty’s record.

“We are very impressed with his pro-life commitment. He’s really solid, and it’s exciting to have somebody who is willing to talk about defending life on the campaign trail,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life.

Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life, the state’s largest pro-life organization, called Pawlenty “solid as a rock.”

Pawlenty recently appears to have upset some pro-lifers on the campaign trail in Iowa. Responding to a question, he said that he does not support criminal penalties for abortion. Pawlenty’s staff quickly issued a statement saying that, while the former governor opposes criminal penalties for women who have undergone abortion, he does believe providers should be penalized, possibly with criminal penalties.

As governor of Minnesota for eight years and before that as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Pawlenty was always identified with the pro-life cause.

“We’ve always considered him one of us,” said Fischbach. Pawlenty has routinely spoken at pro-life events and, while in office, marked the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade with a proclamation declaring a “Sanctity of Human Life Day.” He delivered a well-received keynote address at the Susan B. Anthony List dinner, a premiere gathering of pro-life activists and supporters, in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

As a legislator, Pawlenty was a leader in the fight to secure passage of the Woman’s Right to Know Act, which requires a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed. Govs. Arne Carlson and Jesse Ventura had vetoed the bill before Pawlenty signed it in 2003. The law, which requires that women be informed of risks associated with abortion and instructed about fetal development, was regarded as one of the strongest informed-consent bills in the United States at the time of its passage.

Among the other measures Pawlenty has signed are:

• a law that made Minnesota the first state to provide perinatal hospice as an alternative for women who want to abort a child who has been diagnosed with a fetal anomaly

• the Unborn Child Pain Prevention Act, which mandated that a woman aborting a child at 20 weeks or later be offered a painkiller for the child

• the Positive Alternatives to Abortion Act, which provides services such as medical and nutritional assistance to help at-risk women carry their pregnancies to term.

Other Life Issues

Pawlenty—a former Catholic who is now an evangelical Christian—does support exceptions to the illegality of abortion. Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Pawlenty campaign, affirmed June 16 that Pawlenty would allow abortion in case of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.

But many of his actions and stands of a symbolic nature have heartened pro-lifers. He filed an amicus brief in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, a case revolving around parental consent, when it went before the Supreme Court, for example. Further, he proclaimed April 2010 “Abortion Recovery Month” and supported programs to help post-abortive women.

And last spring Pawlenty joined Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence in calling for the federal defunding of Planned Parenthood. This led Minnesota Planned Parenthood to sarcastically praise Pawlenty for “the courage to pander,” a slur derived from the title of Pawlenty’s autobiography. 

The number of abortions in Minnesota dropped 3% in 2005, reaching a historic low for the state. This is widely attributed to pro-life measures during Pawlenty’s two terms as governor.

“You’re already seeing national pro-abortion organizations speak out against him,” said Steven Ertelt, who has covered Pawlenty for

“Every time Pawlenty had a chance to do something pro-life, he did it,” Ertelt added.

Pawlenty has compiled a strong record on other issues. In 2008, he vetoed the Kahn-Cohen Cloning Bill, which would have legalized human cloning and required taxpayers to fund the procedure. He supports adult stem-cell research but opposes the use of embryonic stem cells.

In the first GOP presidential debate, held in South Carolina in early May, Pawlenty said he believes stem-cell research “should be adult derived” and added that “I don’t think we should pursue” embryonic stem cell research.

He publicly backed President George W. Bush’s plan to restrict federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research to lines derived from stem cells harvested before Aug. 9, 2001.

Noting that “most of the therapies and breakthroughs that we are seeing in terms of treatment are coming from adult derived stem cell research,” he stated, “I strongly support that.”

Traditional Values

Pawlenty is widely credited with having appointed qualified judges to the bench. A few appointments have not been popular with more liberal Minnesotans. Lorie Skjerven Gildea, whom Pawlenty elevated to the position of chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, was described by the Star Tribune as having “a conservative tilt,” and David Stras, a Pawlenty appointment to the Supreme Court, is a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. 

Counterbalancing his popularity among pro-lifers, Pawlenty is deeply disliked by Minnesota’s homosexual-rights activists. Not only does the former governor oppose same-sex “marriage,” he vetoed a bill that would have granted municipalities the right to give domestic partnership benefits to homosexual employees. Pawlenty further earned the enmity of Minnesota homosexual rights activists when he vetoed a bill that would have allowed the surviving member of a homosexual couple to recover death damages in a wrongful death case. At an event in Iowa in February, Pawlenty said that if he were elected president, he would rescind funding for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for homosexuals serving in the military.

Pawlenty did vote in favor of a 1993 bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, accommodations and employment. But he has since said that he regrets the vote. He explained in an interview with Newsweek in 2009 that the statute was “overbaked” and “included things like cross-dressing and a variety of other people involved in behaviors that weren’t based on sexual orientation, just a preference for the way they dressed and behaved.”

Pawlenty is also outspoken about marriage.

“I think he grew in office,” said Tom Pritchard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, which supports a state amendment stating that marriage is between a man and a woman. Pritchard noted that Pawlenty had spoken in favor of the amendment. “As governor, he didn’t compromise his principals,” Pritchard said, “but he was adept at dealing with the liberal political and media culture. He’s a decent, solid guy.”

Charlotte Hays writes from Washington, D.C.


Pawlenty on Money Issues

As governor of Minnesota, Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty spent eight years fighting for lower taxes and smaller government.

“He guarded against efforts to expand the role of government,” recalled Peter Nelson, a policy fellow at Minnesota’s pro-free-market Center for the American Experiment. The former governor was for the most part successful, Nelson said, despite a “constant fight” with the more expansionistic-minded state legislature. A program called “Drive to Excellence,” introduced by Pawlenty in 2005, is credited with saving money by streamlining government procedures.

“He built his entire political persona on not raising taxes,” said critic Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice, a progressive organization in Minnesota. “You’ve heard the expression [from Prairie Home Companion] about … children being above average. We believe in being a little above average in paying taxes in Minnesota.”

Smith has charged that Pawlenty’s economic programs — including lowering taxes — had created a sluggish economy, though he admitted that Minnesota was still better off than many states.

One of Pawlenty’s controversial efforts was to reform General Assistance Medical Care, health insurance for the very poorest residents, by streamlining and reshaping the program. But since Gov. Mark Dayton, Pawlenty’s successor, has opted to expand Medicaid instead, the program ended, and it is impossible to evaluate the attempt. Insisting that a federal takeover of health care would be detrimental to the country, Pawlenty opposed the Obama administration’s health- care system and ordered state agencies not to apply for discretionary funds created by the legislation, setting off a firestorm of criticism.

On the economic front, Pawlenty has put forth a plan for the nation that appears to be his policies in Minnesota writ large. The salient features: two personal income tax rates — 10% for those making $50,000 or less and 25% for those earning $100,000 or more, along with slashing corporate taxes and deep cuts in government spending. Pawlenty proposes “The Google Test” — if a service is offered on the internet, the government shouldn’t offer it, too.

While Catholic scholar Michael Novak is “not absolutely certain” that such reductions in the tax rate would bring in more revenue, he believes it is “highly probable” this will happen.

“Nothing betrays the poor and needy more than our current course of spending and borrowing more when there is very little hope we can repay it,” he said. “The only hope for the poor is dynamically increased economic activity in opening new businesses and creating jobs and reducing unemployment to 4% or 5%.”

— Charlotte Hays