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Record as governor haunted Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty's real problem in the past few months wasn't presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann.

Pawlenty's real problem was Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Because in any evaluation of the records of the two much-talked-about governors, Pawlenty suffers by comparison.

Here's how, and here's why Pawlenty's withdrawal from the presidential race ultimately stems not from his personality or campaign but from his record as governor of Minnesota.

Imagine a Pawlenty campaign if the candidate could have pointed to accomplishments such as this:

"Pawlenty's aim of managing the state of Minnesota as business entity instead of conventional government has resulted in an incredible turnaround for the state in barely five years.

"Minnesota's budget deficit of $200 million has been wiped off, and the budget now has a surplus of $1.3 billion. His results are even more remarkable considering that he actually authorized the lowering of the state's property taxes by 30 percent, as well as expanding the insurance coverage for an additional 48,000 citizens through the Healthy Minnesota Plan."

That record was achieved with "a number of controversial plans to balance the state's $24 billion budget through tax increases, budget cuts and privatization plans."

This "pragmatic strategy paid off, and many have expressed their admiration for his convictions, with some even calling him 'America's Best Governor.'"

Then in his second term, "most of Pawlenty's backed agenda was passed; education reform bills were enacted, creating a statewide school voucher program, restricting collective bargaining rights for teachers and instituting merit pay for public school personnel. Immigration law penalizing companies that employ undocumented workers and denying in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants was enacted. ...

"A November 2010 poll gave Pawlenty a 75 percent approval rate."

Take out the words "Pawlenty" and "Minnesota" above and insert "Daniels" and "Indiana" in their place, and you've got published accounts of Daniels' two terms as governor (his second term is up next year).

As Minnesotans and North Dakotans know, Pawlenty's real-world accomplishments in Minnesota don't come close to that record. Pawlenty's best known for one and only one thing: refusing to raise taxes.

In marked contrast to Daniels' more "pragmatic strategy," which won solid support throughout Indiana and helped Daniels push conservative reforms into law, Pawlenty's stance brought about stalemate by cementing Democratic and moderate opposition.

The disastrous result was a $5 billion deficit, which not even a government shutdown earlier this summer could fully resolve.

A note for Grover Norquist fans: Remember, the frontrunner in the Republican field is neither Bachmann nor Ron Paul, the first- and second-place finishers in the Iowa straw poll. The frontrunner is Mitt Romney -- a center-right leader who, like Daniels, points to a much more balanced portfolio of business and government accomplishments.

When it comes to executive-branch leadership, Americans like their elected officials to focus not on ideology or pledges but on what works. Romney knows that; Daniels knows that. Pawlenty would have been much better off if he had known it, too. -- Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald