Gov. Pawlenty has made no secret of his intent to run for a second term, but he waited until the day before the state GOP convention to kick off his campaign.
With Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau at his side, Pawlenty made his re-election announcement at a park near his home in Eagan. He began with one of his trademark quips.
"Thank you for driving all the way up to the Boundary Waters canoe area, we appreciate it," he joked to a chorus of laughter.
Pawlenty ticked off the highlights of his first term, starting with the $4.5 billion deficit he faced right after his election in 2002.
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"It was a big uphill climb, but we resolved the budget crisis, we brought us back now into surplus, and we did it without raising job-killing state taxes," said Pawlenty.
Pawlenty said he continues to believe Minnesota doesn't need to increase taxes, but says he won't sign the no-new-taxes pledge that came under fire his first term.
Democrats said the pledge boxed Pawlenty into a budget solution that cut higher education, local government aid and state health care programs. Pawlenty says the pledge -- not his stance on taxes -- dominated the budget debate, so he won't sign any interest group pledges this campaign. He says Minnesota doesn't need to raise more revenue, but should spend it more wisely.
"We just don't throw money at problems and hope that they get better," Pawlenty said. "You gotta also demand accountability and innovation from these systems, and from the bureaucracy and from government, and start asking not just how much is being spent, but how well is it being spent?"
Pawlenty says his first term resulted in performance pay for teachers, tougher penalties for meth makers and sex offenders and a massive expansion of road construction. He says if voters elect him to a second term, a top priority would be reforming Minnesota high schools.
While Pawlenty and Molnau flew around the state to tout their re-election bid, DFLers kicked off a campaign to defeat Republicans in November.
"The Pawlenty administration is like a car that has two gears -- park and reverse," said State Sen. Steve Kelley, one of the Democrats vying for Pawlenty's job.
Kelley says DFLers will push for universal health care, smaller class sizes and affordable college tuition.
"I think Minnesotans are ready to actually solve problems, to think big again," said Kelley. I'm optimistic about this campaign for change leading to those kinds of larger results, and a movement away from governing by gimmicks to governing by real solutions."
Other Democrats running for governor are Attorney General Mike Hatch and state Sen. Becky Lourey.
Lourey announced that she's picked Minneapolis developer Tim Baylor as her running mate. Baylor, a former Minnesota Vikings player, has never run for office before. Lourey says Baylor is a dynamic community leader who brings excitement to the race.
"Democrats can win when we energize our base. We win when we broaden our base. And we win when we draw a sharp contrast to the shortcomings of our current leadership," Lourey said.
Lourey, Kelley and Hatch will seek the DFL endorsement June 10 at the party's state convention in Rochester. Hatch is viewed as the frontrunner, and says he'll consider running in the primary if he doesn't get the endorsement.
Consultant Peter Hutchinson is running for governor in the Independence Party.
Pawlenty also faces a challenge from the right. Minneapolis bar owner Sue Jeffers is also seeking the GOP endorsement this weekend in Minneapolis, and has criticized Pawlenty on issues ranging from the 75-cent-a-pack cigarette charge to a new Twins ballpark.
"My turning point for wanting to challenge Tim Pawlenty for the Republican nomination was the stadium," said Jeffers. "But every time I looked at that billion-dollar bonding bill, I asked, who is looking out for the taxpayer?"
Jeffers says other fiscal conservatives are unhappy with Pawlenty's record. Pawlenty doesn't seem threatened by Jeffers, and he questions her GOP credentials, since she's also running as a Libertarian.
"If you're going to run for the Republican endorsement, then you should commit to run as a Republican. Just a novel thought," Pawlenty said. "But I don't think she's in that situation, and I think once the delegates get to know her a little better, I think I'll do pretty well."
Pawlenty also committed to serving an entire four years if re-elected, trying to end speculation that he has an eye on higher office.