By Mike Kaszuba
DFL legislators are taking aim at former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s new book, “Courage to Stand”, over a passage involving the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge.
In the book, which went on sale over the weekend, the former Republican governor describes an episode he said occurred within the “very first hour” following the collapse on Aug. 1, 2007. Pawlenty said his staff received a call from an unnamed DFL legislator – the governor, at a book signing Tuesday, declined to identify the legislator – who said he would “use this tragedy politically to carve me up.”
Pawlenty, in the book, described the episode as “one of the most disgusting examples of low politicking I’ve seen in my entire career.”
Former Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, and other DFLers involved in the tragedy’s aftermath, said they had never heard of the incident and had never heard Pawlenty refer to it. “I’ve never heard anybody talk about it. I’ve never heard anybody say they did it,” said Pogemiller, who frequently clashed politically with Pawlenty and said he was with Pawlenty at times during the days following the collapse.
“I didn’t make it,” he said of the phone call.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, was even more blunt. “I’m not sure that I actually even believe it,” he said. “[Pawlenty] has consistently tried to cast himself as a victim” of the bridge collapse’s political fallout.
“I don’t believe it,” said Dibble. “I would want some proof before I would even begin to believe it.”
Former Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, who chaired the Senate Transportation Committee, said that on the night of the bridge collapse he rushed to the State Capitol, and was in the governor’s office that evening as the tragedy unfolded. Murphy said he spoke to Pawlenty’s liaison on transportation issues during the evening, but did not recall talking to the governor that night.
He said he had never heard of the story – nor was he the one who called Pawlenty.
“I know it’s not me,” said Murphy. “I just can’t see who would make the call. I would have to agree with the governor that was not appropriate.”
In the book, Pawlenty said the phone call was a distraction as he tried to deal with the emergency following the bridge collapse. “We’d had a long-running battle with this legislator, so criticism from him would have been expected in the weeks following the bridge collapse,” the former governor wrote. “But I remember thinking, What kind of low point as a politician do you have to hit in order to lash out like that? While the rescue effort is still unfolding, you’ve already made the choice to politically exploit a tragedy for some hoped-for political gain?”
At a book signing Tuesday, Pawlenty said he had never brought up the incident with the unnamed legislator in the years that followed.
He also dismissed DFLers who said they had never heard of the incident, or doubted it had happened. “Unless they’re one of the people who made the call, then they wouldn’t know, would they?” he said.
The former governor also held firm in his decision not to release the DFL legislator’s name.
“I didn’t name the person because I think it’s an awful thing to do,” he said Tuesday at his first book signing in Minnesota since the book’s release. “There was no premium in causing that person in that situation more trauma or difficulty, and so we decided to just generally describe it.”
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