With help from Minn. DFL, Dems dog Pawlenty at public events

Tim Pawlenty
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Friday, Feb. 11, 2011.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be in Boston Friday to speak at a tea party-sponsored "tax day" rally. In preparation for Pawlenty's visit, Massachusetts Democrats held a news conference Thursday to try to make the case that Pawlenty, a Republican, is not the tax cutter he claims to be.

The Minnesota DFL party helped with that effort, and party leaders here say they are poised to help Democrats in other states respond to Pawlenty as he campaigns for president.

Pawlenty has formed an exploratory committee, and has said he will announce in May whether he will formally become a candidate for president in 2012.

Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin says he thinks Tim Pawlenty has a decent chance to win the Republican nomination to run against President Barack Obama next year. But he doesn't want to see that happen. Martin and other Democrats insist Pawlenty has an abysmal record as Minnesota governor, and want to spread that message.

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"Every step of the way we're going to make sure that people understand exactly what his record has been for the state of Minnesota, and how destructive it would be if he got a promotion to the presidency," said Martin.

Martin says Pawlenty is misrepresenting his record when he tells audiences around the country that he held the line on taxes in Minnesota during his eight years as governor.

The reality, Martin says, is that Pawlenty shifted the tax burden from state to local governments, and used federal stimulus money and accounting maneuvers so he could stick to his "no new taxes" pledge.

"Taxes and fees in this state went up significantly under his watch, and people in other states deserve to know that."

"He used every gimmick and tool in his toolbox to make sure that he could say he was an anti-tax governor, but his record proves otherwise," said Martin. "Taxes and fees in this state went up significantly under his watch, and people in other states deserve to know that."

The Minnesota DFL is working with the Democratic National Committee and Democratic parties in other states around the country, arming its allies with extensive research and Pawlenty fact-checking, according to Martin.

The latest example of that cooperation occurred Thursday, when Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak joined Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh to criticize Pawlenty.

In a separate interview with MPR News, Walsh said it's important that media reports of candidate visits go beyond the candidate's rhetoric.

"I'm hoping that we can have some balance in that coverage," said Walsh.

A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee declined to comment on its role in helping rebut Pawlenty. But the efforts of the Minnesota DFL seem to be going national.

Earlier this month, Pawlenty appeared at an event in Iowa, talking with college students. To coincide with his visit, the Minnesota DFL helped the Iowa Democratic Party put together a telephone news conference to criticize Pawlenty's higher education record.

The effort paid off, according to Norm Sterzenbach, the executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party.

"We had some good writeups in the Des Moines Register," he said. "They had some quotes from our press conference, and it helped to shape the coverage of Pawlenty's visit just a little bit."

Pawlenty supporters dispute the notion that the former governor's record will hurt him.

"I think his record has been a great record," said Tony Sutton, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party. "Look at Minnesota. We held the line on taxes here because of Gov. Pawlenty's effort."

Pawlenty was one of just four governors to get top marks from the conservative Cato Institute for his approach to taxes and spending.

Sutton says Democrats are wrong to pin local government tax increases on Pawlenty.

"Nobody put a gun to local governments' heads," said Sutton. "They raised the taxes. Local governments raised property taxes."

So far the Minnesota DFL has not taken an active role in rebutting U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in out-of-state locations, as she travels the country exploring a bid for president.

But party staffers say they have begun providing background information to their counterparts in other states about Bachmann's voting record and other issues.