‘Politically retired’ Pawlenty unsure of role in ’18 gov race

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks to the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce about the future of technology. He had less to say about his own future. Brian Bakst | MPR Photo

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants it known he's "politically retired." The 56-year-old used the phrase or a close variation six times in 90 seconds Monday when pressed about his interest in trying to reclaim his old job in 2018.

The adamant self-assessment came after he addressed the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, part of a string of a half-dozen similar appearances he'll make in a short span this fall. Pawlenty's circuit focuses on the promise and pitfalls of the technological revolution and what society, business and the political class should do to be ready for dizzying changes to come.

But don't mistake his remarks for a stump speech a candidate would deliver, Pawlenty insisted.

Here's a flavor of his exchange with a few reporters:

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Pawlenty: "I'm politically retired and, as I tweeted last week, there's no change in that status."

Reporter: "What does retired mean to you?"

Pawlenty: "It means I'm not participating. I'm retired."

Reporter: "So is that a guarantee you won't run in 2018?"

Pawlenty: "It's a statement that I'm politically retired and there's no change in that status and you should plan with that in mind."

Reporter: "Is it possible there would be a change in that status? You're not closing the door here."

Pawlenty: "When somebody is retired it means they're moving on to other things. That's usually what it means."

Reporter: "So under no circumstance will you be running for governor in 2018."

Pawlenty: "In life you never say never because things can change. But I am politically retired. I don't have any pronouncements or changes in that status today so there's really nothing to report. There's nothing new. I'm retired. I'm not participating in the campaign. My status as a politician is 'retired.'"

While not definitely ruling himself in or out of next year's race, Pawlenty also wouldn't say if he'll take sides among the Republicans who have announced plans to run for an open office.  DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is stepping away after two terms.

"I don't have any current plans to do that," Pawlenty said, adding he hasn't given it much thought to being involved in his party's nomination process.

Pawlenty is the last Republican in Minnesota to win a statewide race with his 2006 re-election. He left office in 2011 and waged a short-lived run for president. He now runs the Washington-based Financial Services Roundtable, a consortium of banks, credit card companies and insurers

In that role, he's watching closely as President Trump and Congress discuss a major rewrite of the federal tax code. He said his fellow Republicans risk being branded serial failures if they can't get a tax deal enacted after falling short on a health care overhaul.

"It will be a bumpy road but it will come together. You can't be in charge as a party of both houses of Congress and the presidency and screw this up. Even this Congress can't screw this up," Pawlenty said.

Trump and congressional leaders have pitched a plan to reduce the number of tax brackets while also cutting rates. But some popular write-downs would go away, including the ability to deduct state and local taxes.

He said Republicans have been promising big action on taxes for more than a decade, aimed at simplifying the process, stimulating the economy and cutting costs.

"And if they don't do that it will be an abysmal failure and they'll head into the 2018 elections looking terrible," he said. "And they need to do this and they will do it."