Political Notebook: Pawlenty Gets Attention, Calls For GOP Change

Pawlenty in Iowa

By Don Davis

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is a regular talking head on a variety of cable television channels, and his quotes show up in print and online media that may not have often covered his failed presidential campaign.

What he is saying these days may not have helped his campaign as he wooed Republican activists.

A recent USA Today story began with: “Former GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty has a message for the Republican Party, and it’s not Minnesota-nice.”

Pawlenty, who leads the banking industry’s Financial Services Roundtable, said the GOP needs to change.

“The Republican Party, I think, is going to need newer leadership, more dynamic leadership and leadership that’s genuinely interested in earning the support of those groups (it now does not serve) and has policies and the ability to go out and market and earn the support of those groups,” he told USA Today.

Pawlenty said he thinks the party will turn around, but could not predict if it will come in time for this year’s election, or even the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Elections are marketplaces, and markets adjust over time, and there’s no better incentive for market adjustments than repeatedly getting your butt kicked,” he said. “It’ll adjust. It always does. It’s just a question of is it going to adjust over 12 months or 12 years.”

In the interview, Pawlenty repeated what he told the Minnesota media and others: He is done running for office.

RFS key in rural areas

Most people have no clue to what “RFS” means, but to many Midwest farmers it is the most important issue of the day (and maybe year or, even, decade).

It stands for “renewable fuels standard.” In plain talk, it means the federal government’s requirement that some gasoline and diesel fuel products come from renewable fuels such as corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel.

In other words, it is using farm crops to help make your car go.

The Obama administration is thinking about lowering how much biofuel must be blended with fossil fuel. That has farmers worried after they have done surprisingly well financially because of the increase in use of their products.

Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said that at meetings he has with farmers, he hears far more about RFS than he does the must-discussed farm bill that is struggling to get through Congress.

A few days ago, more than 7,000 letters from Minnesota corn farmers and renewable fuels supporters were sent to the Environmental Protection Agency offices supporting RFS.

“The response has been outstanding,” said President Ryan Buck of the Minnesota Corn Growers’ Association, who farms near Goodhue. “People are saying, ‘Don’t mess with the RFS.’ It’s not just coming from corn farmers, either. Many nonfarmers recognize how damaging this proposal is.”

Corn farmers blame the oil industry for the proposed change.

Frederickson’s department estimates that if the use of biofuels is reduced, up to 1,532 Minnesota jobs could be lost and the total economic impact made by ethanol in Minnesota would be reduced by $610 million per year.

7th District all the buzz

Washington political junkies are paying more attention to Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District than ever.

Among the latest looking at the race is Roll Call, a Washington publication widely circulated on Capitol Hill: “Collin C. Peterson’s friends aren’t doing him any favors. When Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., announced their retirements, it put two vulnerable Democratic seats into the GOP column. It also gives Republicans more time to focus on the DFL congressman from Minnesota.”

Democratic Congressman Peterson, whose district stretches from Canada nearly to Iowa, says he will not announce whether he will seek re-election until he wraps up his work on the farm bill, which could be soon.

He has one of his strongest GOP opponents ever, state Sen. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake, who has support of many Republican Washington insiders.

Roll Call reported that the Westrom candidacy is one reason it moved the race from “lean Democrat” to “Democrat favored,” meaning the publication’s experts think Westrom has a chance.

“The question is whether GOP pressure is discouraging Peterson or inspiring him to run again,” Roll Call says.

Without Peterson, widely described as a conservative Democrat, Republicans likely would have an easier time winning in the GOP-leaning district.

Peterson has served in the U.S. House since 1991.

Davis back in race

Frequent candidate Leslie Davis is becoming a Democrat and running for governor.

Davis, 76, who has not been successful in his regular statewide campaigns, said the state needs new leadership and “we must hold the line on taxes.”

He is challenging Gov. Mark Dayton in the Aug. 12 primary election. Dayton is seeking his second term.

Davis, usually considered an independent, calls himself an environmental activist. He often sparred with then-Gov. Jesse Ventura and wrote a book called “Always Cheat: The Philosophy of Jesse Ventura.”

“Right now, many Minnesotans are losing jobs, homes, farms and retirement funds, and many middle-class families are being thrown into poverty as fuel, food, housing, medical care and education costs soar,” Davis said. “As Minnesota governor I will work closely with the Legislature to implement the ‘Davis Money Plan,’ balance the budget, create living wage jobs, avoid program cuts, prevent new taxes and stop mandatory water fluoridation.”

GOP reports progress

The Minnesota Republican Party may still be more than $1 million in debt, but that is better than the $1.7 million it faced a year ago.

“The state party’s cash position and net liabilities both improved for the year,” GOP Treasurer Bron Scherer said. “The result is a better financial position than we have been in for many years.”

The party received $2.5 million in contributions last year and had $90,000 in the bank as 2013 ended.