There was no contest as delegates unanimously endorsed Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau for re-election.
Pawlenty took the stage amid neon lights and rock music, and gave one of the longest political speeches of his career. He talked about the achievements of his first term, from repealing the Profile of Learning graduation standards to signing several anti-abortion measures into law.
He said throughout his term, Democrats pushed for tax increases, yet his administration erased a $4.5 billion deficit without raising state taxes. He held up this morning's newspaper with the headline that Minnesota has fallen to 16th in the nation in total state and local taxes.
"And it says here, all the way back to Perpich, and maybe before, governors have been trying to get Minnesota out of the top 10 in taxes in the nation as a goal, as a benchmark, as an accountability measure, as a performance measure. The difference is, they talked about it, we did it," the governor said.
If re-elected, Pawlenty says he will continue to hold the line on state taxes and push to lower them further. He says he'll push for school reform and a crackdown on illegal immigration, and he criticized employers who hire immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
Pawlenty called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. He said Republicans may not support everything he's done in his first term, but they don't want the alternative.
"I can tell you what your worst nightmare is," the governor said. "It's one of the big spending, tax raising, abortion-promoting, gay marriage-embracing, more-welfare-without-accountability-loving, school-reform-resisting, illegal-immigration-supporting Democrats for governor who think Hilary Clinton should be president of the United States."
While the delegates gave Pawlenty their enthusiastic support, many conservatives are upset with him for signing two stadium bills and a billion-dollar bonding package that includes money for the Northstar commuter rail line. David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, says Pawlenty was a hero to fiscal conservatives at the beginning of his term when he balanced the budget without raising state taxes. But Strom says they were outraged last year when Pawlenty backed a cigarette charge that everyone considered a tax, and called it a "health impact fee."
"He wanted to have his cake and eat it too," Strom said. "Instead all he got was some crumbs. He looked like a loser last year. He went from two years before looking like he was on top of the world to looking like he was panicked. And that I think was devastating."
Pawlenty told delegates he's making progress in overturning Minnesota's liberal tradition.
Outside the convention, a group called the Alliance for a Better Minnesota handed out flyers on Nicollet Mall attacking Pawlenty's record. The labor-backed group is running a television ad questioning whether Pawlenty is taking Minnesota in the wrong direction. Alliance chair Dave Foster says Pawlenty cut state health care programs and college funding.
"He said during his re-election announcement that he believes in pay for performance for politicians. Unfortunately, Minnesotans are already paying for this governor's poor performance with higher health care costs, higher tuition costs and larger class sizes."
The three Democrats running for governor have also criticized Pawlenty's record. Attorney General Mike Hatch and state senators Steve Kelley and Becky Lourey will vie for the DFL endorsement at the party's state convention in Rochester next weekend. Also running for governor are two Independence Party candidates, Pam Ellison and Peter Hutchinson.