Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s evangelicalism has
become one of the planks in pundit-class conventional wisdom about his
chances of winding up John McCain’s running mate.
Back home in Minnesota, ironically, Pawlenty’s religion is little known
and seldom discussed. The governor himself has rarely alluded to it
publicly. But its impact on his policies and actions has been
far-ranging. During the spring 2008 legislative session, to take a
recent example, Pawlenty effectively gave the arch-right Minnesota
Family Council a seat at the legislative bargaining table, informing
Democratic leaders at the Legislature that they needed to obtain the
Family Council’s approval on their comprehensive sex-ed bill if they
wanted to avoid a veto. (Democrats subsequently gave up on the bill;
Below, I take a point-by-point look at what
Pawlenty has said and done through the years on a number of the
evangelical right’s perennial pet issues.
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Pawlenty pushed for the "Women’s Right to Know" bill as House majority
leader and signed it into law as governor. The statute mandates a
24-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed, and also
stipulates that a physician must provide information about the risks of
abortion and pregnancy. Pawlenty’s former health commissioner, Dianne
Manderbach, came under fire for
providing inaccurate information about breast cancer risks supposedly
associated with abortion, a frequent talking point of the religious
His campaign literature says he opposes late-term abortion and public funding for abortion.
Eric Magnuson, a Pawlenty friend appointed by the governor as chief
justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, wrote a friend-of-the-court
brief for an anti-abortion group challenging the public financing of
Pawlenty has spoken at March for Life rallies. In 2006, he alluded to a desire to have Roe v. Wade overturned,
saying: "We have a dream today that someday soon this will not be an
anniversary of sadness, but an anniversary of justice restored."
This represents a sea change from Pawlenty’s early political career. "I
think we could move beyond the fundamental [abortion] question and
start talking about other aspects of family planning," he said in 1992,
[Eagan This Week, Nov. 8 1992]. Around the same time, he told the St.
Paul Pioneer Press that the abortion issue "isn’t a big deal" to him
[Oct. 7, 1992].
In 1993, Pawlenty was one of 11 House Republicans to vote for the Human
Rights Amendment that outlawed discrimination in housing and employment
based on sexual orientation. It was the first legislation in the nation
to offer protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
While he was running for governor in 2002, he called that vote the only
one he regretted from his days in the Legislature.
When labor unions asked for health benefits for same-sex partners in state labor contracts in 2001, he opposed those benefits.
In 2004, he signed a pledge
to support a constitutional anti-gay marriage amendment. "Traditional
marriage is itself a pledge, and I will take a pledge to defend it," he
said. "Some issues are too important to play the field with."
In 2006, he appeared in an anti-same-sex-marriage video produced by the Republican Party of Minnesota.
Despite all this, Pawlenty was criticized for "promotion of homosexual
agenda" in 2006 by the religious right group EdWatch. "Homosexual
advocacy groups are being funded by grants from the state Department of
Health under his authority," wrote EdWatch in a letter about Pawlenty.
"Additionally, under Governor Pawlenty’s supervision, his
administration is actively promoting the indoctrination of students
into a homosexual worldview and value system."
In 2007, Pawlenty vetoed legislation that would give control to local
municipalities in deciding who could receive domestic partner benefits.
He vetoed a similar bill in 2008.
A bill to allow government employees to use sick time to care for a
seriously ill family member came up in 2008. The bill would have
expanded current laws that allow for the use of sick time to care for
spouses and dependent children. The Minnesota Family Council, a group
affiliated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, painted the measure
as part of a strategy to facilitate same-sex marriage. "The end game in
all of this is a legal imposition of homosexual marriage upon the state
of Minnesota," said Tom Prichard, the group’s president. In the end,
the bill was changed to exclude domestic partners for fear of a veto.
The governor vetoed the measure anyway, saying it would cost too much
for employees to use their own earned sick time to care for loved ones.
In 2007, Pawlenty seemed supportive of stem-cell research, although
he’s walked a fine line on the issue. In a letter to legislators, the governor wrote that
stem-cell research "offers tremendous opportunities to improve human
health and well-being by addressing serious diseases such as diabetes
and Alzheimer’s. As a matter of public policy, stem-cell research
deserves careful consideration and bipartisan support."
But at the same time, he was telling the Minnesota Family Council that he supported restrictions on
the research. And he told Minnesota Public Radio that the federal
government should go further than the Bush executive order allowing
government-sponsored research only on existing lines.
There was no mixed message
in 2008 when a bill to loosen restrictions on stem-cell research landed
on the governor’s desk. The bill was fiercely opposed by Catholic
groups and the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). Pawlenty
vetoed the bill. In February, he sent a letter to all of Minnesota’s
legislators stating his opposition in terms that echoed MCCL’s public
position that the destruction of embryos is morally unacceptable.
A bill to formalize the processes involved in surrogate motherhood
passed the Legislature in 2008. The James Dobson/FOTF-affiliated
Minnesota Family Council railed against it
as "baby-selling" and promoting "designer babies." Another concern?
"Nowhere in the legislation are the rights and interests of the born or
unborn child mentioned in regard to anything," the group wrote in a
In vetoing the bill, Pawlenty parroted the Family Council’s main
talking point: "The bill also fails in any manner to recognize or
protect the life and rights of the unborn child."
Comprehensive sexual health and family education has been perhaps the
closest point of collaboration between Pawlenty and the religious right
in 2008. As a condition of Pawlenty’s signing any sex-ed legislation,
he forced lawmakers to meet with representatives of the Minnesota
Family Council, a group that advocates for an abstinence-only
curriculum. "We were told by the governor’s staff that the Minnesota
Family Council would have had to sign off on whatever negotiated
agreement we have," Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said at the end of
the session. "I was unaware that the Family Council had an election
certificate." Because legislators couldn’t reach a deal with the Family
Council, Pawlenty said he would veto the measure. DFL leaders dropped
the bill shortly thereafter.
Pawlenty has not articulated a position on the teaching of creationism
in public schools, but he did appoint someone who was quite vocal on
the issue. Cheri Pierson Yecke, his first commissioner of education,
became controversial when she expressed public support for what
advocates call "intelligent design." She attempted to put forward the
Teach the Controversy curriculum, a curriculum that opponents say is dishonest.
Pawlenty ultimately signed into law science standards that did not
contain intelligent design mandates, even though his fellow Republicans
pushed the idea.
In 2005, Pawlenty commissioned a report on the costs of illegal immigration to Minnesota, a report that was criticized by Catholic leaders and members of the media who found the economic model used to calculate the costs lacking.
In 2006, Pawlenty hit hard on the issue of illegal immigration, a hot topic for a contentious election year. The Star Tribune outlined his seven-point plan:
• Establish a 10-member Minnesota Illegal Immigration
Enforcement Team that would be federally trained and authorized to
question, detain and arrest suspected illegal immigrants.
Override city ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul that prohibit
police officers from taking action against illegal immigrants unless
they are arrested for a separate crime.
into law a 2002 state administrative rule that prominently marks
driver’s licenses of legal foreign visitors with their visa expiration
• Toughen and add penalties for possession, creation and sale of false IDs.
• Require officers to note the citizenship and immigration status of all arrestees at booking.
Increase felony penalties for human trafficking when minors are
exploited to up to 20 years in prison. In addition, a task force would
be set up to seek ways to combat human trafficking.
Add a state fine of as much as $5,000 to a current federal penalty of
$11,000 for employers who knowingly hire or recruit illegal immigrants.
In addition, state contracts would prohibit the use of illegal
immigrants to perform contracted services.
Pawlenty unsuccessfully offered a similar proposal in 2008. That
proposal also directed Minnesota law enforcement to work closely with
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
He has also railed against in-state tuition for children of
undocumented immigrants. And he authorized the Minnesota National Guard
to assist the Department of Homeland Security in patrolling the United
Pawlenty believes that human are, in part, responsible for global
warming. "Our global climate is warming, at least in part due to the
energy sources we use," he said in 2007.
Also in 2007, Pawlenty signed a number DFL proposals to reduce carbon
emissions. He signed a bill requiring electrical utilities to obtain 25
percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2025. He also
signed the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, which requires utilities
to increase energy efficiency to 1.5 percent per year and reduce global
warming emissions 80 percent by 2050.
He’s also a proponent of expanding nuclear energy and using clean coal technology.
His break from the GOP on the issue of global warming is influenced by
his evangelical faith. "I am a person of faith. I believe in the Bible,
God instructs us to take good care and be good stewards of what He has
given us, and that certainly includes our environment and natural
resources, he told Human Events. "And he expects us to act measured and responsible in that regard."
That shouldn’t be too surprising. Pawlenty’s pastor and head of the
National Association of Evangelicals, Rev. Leith Anderson, has written
and spoken adding global warming to the agenda of America’s evangelical