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Lawmakers from across region buzz over news of gov.'s plans

WILLMAR -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty's announcement he will not seek a third term didn't really catch area legislators by surprise, but its timing has them buzzing.

"It's a reality check for those of us in the Republican party,'' said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck. He pointed out that as the minority party, the governor's veto "was the only power we had.''

Anderson is concerned Pawlenty's early announcement will weaken his role and that of the party overall.

Anderson gives Pawlenty high marks for his performance as governor and believes like many others that his announcement opens the way for a run for national office.

"He's got what it takes. He's got charisma. He's young enough,'' Anderson said.

State Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, believes the announcement benefits the many Republicans in the state who are hoping to put together campaigns for the governor's office.

Gimse said he was only somewhat surprised by Pawlenty's announcement.

"From my perspective, he's been doing a good job,'' Gimse said.

He calls the governor "a man of his word,'' and appreciates his commitment to reducing government spending.

Gimse believes the announcement offers Pawlenty more options in deciding on his national aspirations.

DFL legislators said Pawlenty's unwillingness to negotiate a budget deal convinced them early in the legislative session that he had his sights on national office.

"He's been kicking the can down the road with our budget and leaving a mess for the next person in office,'' said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.

"He didn't really solve the budget problems,'' said Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City. "They are still hanging out there.''

Koenen said the governor's expressed willingness to use his power to unallot left him and other DFL'ers with only one question: When will he announce for national office?

Koenen said he believes the early announcement gives Pawlenty more opportunity to court the national Republican party's base and its call for no new taxes.

Juhnke said he has watched Pawlenty emerge from a quiet legislator in the second from last row of the House to a national party contender, and doesn't believe any of it is by accident. Juhnke said he is convinced that Pawlenty is studying his national options and is willing to bide his time.

Pawlenty might be poising himself as a Republican candidate for national office in 2016, after a popular President Obama has served two terms, Juhnke said.

Juhnke pointed out that ever since Minnesota made the governor's term four years, no one has successfully won a third term. Nor has anyone launched a successful campaign for national office after losing out in a race for governor. Pawlenty avoids both of those dilemmas with his announcement now, Juhnke said.

But he said it comes at a cost to the party. Juhnke said his surprise over the announcement is the timing, noting that Pawlenty will be a lame duck for 19 long months.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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