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Pawlenty defends handling of Minnesota budget in Coralville

BY BRITTANY TREVICK | JULY 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty defended his handling of his state's budget and spending on Monday in Coraville, but some opponents of the GOP candidate are still eyeing the Republican's past.

The GOP presidential-nomination hopeful started an 18-city tour of the state Monday, with around 60 people attending his event in the basement of the Coralville Public Library, 1401 Fifth St.

In his two terms as governor, the candidate said, he reformed schools, changing teacher's pay from being based on seniority to being based on performance, scaled back one of the longest transit strikes, and appointed four conservative judges.

"I've got the record, I've got the values, I've got the experience. and I've got the ability," Pawlenty told the crowd.

He said his political experience — a state legislator for 10 years and governor for eight — would help him be successful as president because it's something President Obama lacks.

"[Obama] was in the Senate long enough to have a cup of coffee before it got cold," he said.

But local and state Democratic leaders said Pawlenty's record worries them the most.

"As governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty drove the economy into a ditch," Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said during a press conference Monday morning. "The reality is the road to results for Tim Pawlenty includes the $6.2 billion pothole he left his successor to fill."

Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican, said the Pawlenty administration used accounting tricks to put together what looked like a balanced budget when a budget gap still existed.

"As Pawlenty moved to the right, he adopted short-term budgeting fixes and abandoned sound conservative financial principles," Carlson wrote in a piece in the Des Moines Register on July 16. Carlson, however, differed with Iowa Democrats, saying Pawlenty left a $5.1 billion budget gap — more than $1 billion less than Dvorsky claims.

Still, Democrats speculate Pawlenty's budget controversy will likely be political baggage during the caucus season.

"I think he is having a hard time because of his record as governor," Megan Jacobs, the press secretary for the Iowa Democratic Party, told The Daily Iowan.

But Pawlenty seems to think differently.

"I took state spending from historic highs to historic lows [in Minnesota]," he said.

Pawlenty also defended himself by saying in his two terms as governor, a government shutdown — like the one lawmakers in Minnesota have dealt with for the last couple weeks — never occurred.

"On my watch, every budget was balanced every time," he said.

Tim Hagle, a UI associate political-science professor said arguments such as these often happen between parties as they try to make the other look bad.

"The Democrats' concern is they don't want to see Pawlenty succeed," he said. "[But] I think the bottom line is he still balanced the budget."

Supporters at the meeting were not strayed by the critics' argument. Many noted they appreciated what he did in his home state and praised him for his work.

"If he can do what he did in Minnesota, he can do it in America," said Stan Kittleson, a member of the Johnson County Republicans.


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