Capitol portrait plaques retouched after Ventura, Pawlenty object

Tim Pawlenty's portrait and biographical plaque, before revisions.
Tim Pawlenty's portrait and biographical plaque, before revisions.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Disputed biographical plaques next to the official Capitol portraits of ex-Govs. Jesse Ventura and Tim Pawlenty have been swapped out with fresh versions just as the Capitol is staged for a weekend grand reopening celebration expected to draw thousands.

The rewrites undertaken by the Minnesota Historical Society — in consultation with Ventura and Pawlenty — appeared this week in the Capitol's ground-floor corridor. It was a quick turnaround after a controversy that bubbled up weeks ago when, for the first time, narratives appeared alongside portraits of living governors.

The original write-ups upset Ventura and Pawlenty. Ventura objected to a quote he said was incorrectly attributed to him while Pawlenty argued the narrative by his portrait had a decidedly negative tone.

Ventura insisted the "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat" motto assigned to him when he worked as a pro-wrestling bad boy was actually the catchphrase of fellow ring villain Ken Patera. That sentence was removed from the description of his life but no other changes were made.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Pawlenty's plaque had a more substantial makeover, playing up more of his accomplishments and dwelling less on the tougher times of the Republican's two terms.

Gone were passages about abandoned U.S. Senate hopes, a direct mention of strained relations with Democrats in the Legislature, a loss at the state Supreme Court over his use of executive power and details about the casualties in the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Plaques next to portraits of past governors, including Jesse Ventura.
Jesse Ventura's portrait and biographical plaque, before revisions.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

In its place, the narrative now notes his efforts to remake education, health care and renewable energy laws. And it touts Pawlenty's tenure as the National Governors Association chair and his moves to recognize Minnesota soldiers serving in conflict.

"Pawlenty's gubernatorial record attracted widespread attention," the placard reads toward the end. "His reputation as a conservative who could succeed in a state with a liberal bent made him a potential GOP vice-presidential nominee in 2008."

Even the description of the job he holds now was modified. Before, it described the Financial Services Roundtable, where he is the chief executive, as "a major Wall Street lobbying group."

Now, it refers to the association as "an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C."

The Ventura plaque edits were an easy call, said Jessica Kohen, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Even though Ventura had on occasion used the quote, she said the agency removed it because "it did not alter the historical content being presented and because we worried that people might misinterpret it out of context."

The Pawlenty modifications took more time and internal deliberations. The historical society, she said, enlisted an outside historian in the review and had to work within the confines of a 350-word upper limit, which is the consistent standard applied to all 39 ex-governor portraits.

"After much consideration we agreed that we were comfortable making some of the governor's suggested changes," she wrote in an email. "The biography was rewritten to include more specific accomplishments during his two terms."

Pawlenty expressed appreciation for the revisions in a statement issued to MPR News.

"I sincerely appreciate the Minnesota Historical Society's willingness to review the plaque in light of the concerns we raised and we are grateful for their consideration and response," Pawlenty said.

Kohen said the agency doesn't anticipate making further changes to the portrait plaques of other governors, but said those of living governors could be adjusted to add significant civic contributions they make later in life.

How Pawlenty's bio was cleaned up

Revising Gov. Jesse Ventura's plaque required the Minnesota Historical Society simply to remove a single sentence. The changes to Gov. Pawlenty's bio were much more extensive. Below is the current version. Click on the highlighted areas to see how it initially read.