Gov. Tim Pawlenty's latest foray into the national media might have come on familiar turf Thursday, but it didn't come with a completely friendly crowd.
At an hour-long taping of "Meet the Press," part of which will be broadcast on the NBC show Sunday morning, the governor was met with tough questioning. The uncompromising treatment came not only from host David Gregory but also from the hometown audience at the University of Minnesota taping.
Despite the fire, Pawlenty, who is a possible 2012 presidential candidate, held his own -- impressing even some political opposites.
"Recently, you gave a speech and you warned about the creeping tyranny of the government. Really? The creeping tyranny of the government under Barack Obama?" Gregory asked to laughs and some applause from the crowd of more than 1,000.
"The more the government does, the more it usurps traditional space in the private economy," the Republican governor said. "It is not an overstatement to say that."
On his third guest spot on the policy show, Pawlenty was asked to weigh in on national issues and he responded. He said he supports the new Arizona immigration law, would repeal and replace the federal health-care overhaul, and wants to keep the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in place for gays and lesbians in the military.
On the BP oil spill, Pawlenty said: "I think it is premature to lay blame on any one person or any one entity because we don't have the facts, all the facts." But he went on to question why Washington didn't have a "government-led" contingency plan for such leaks in place and said it should have reacted more quickly after the spill occurred.
Pawlenty also questioned the 2008 federal bailout of the mammoth American International Group under former President George W. Bush.
"How much worse would the world be without AIG? I mean, really? I make an argument it might be better," he said.
"So you would have let AIG default?" Gregory said.
"I think so," Pawlenty responded.
Pawlenty was without doubt on other issues. Gregory asked whether a President Pawlenty would consider raising taxes. The crowd tittered.
"The people of Minnesota know the answer to that. No!" Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty also said he has what it takes to make what Gregory called the "painful" choices to rein in government spending.
"You are talking to somebody who, with the exception of military veterans, public safety and public schools, has cut everything," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty defended his claim that he has protected schools' budgets to an audience that appeared to express some skepticism.
"We may delay some of their payments, but we're going to maintain their funding overall," Pawlenty said.
The crowd reacted with groans and laughs -- about two-thirds of the newly enacted solution to a $3 billion budget gap comes from a school payment shift.
"It's better than getting cut. In many other states around the country K-12 schools are getting cut. If they'd rather have the outright cut we can do that, too," Pawlenty responded.
The audience members got a turn at mic and their questions confirmed their feisty mood.
Pawlenty was called upon to defend his veto of a measure that would have given gay couples certain rights; the rise of property taxes, and his treatment of political enemies.
"I've found that you consistently have disdain when people strongly disagree with you and invariably treat them in a disrespectful kind of way. You tend to carry yourself as though you're the only adult in the room," a questioner began to applause -- and some boos -- from the crowd. "Would the only adult in the room pass along $3 billion to the next governor and the next Legislature by not paying bills on time?"
Pawlenty said he had a solution to this year's deficit that would have made next year's problem easier to handle but the DFL-controlled Legislature wouldn't agree. He also said he would leave a budget proposal for the next governor and next Legislature to consider.
While the outgoing governor's popularity has taken hits -- his approval ratings this year are among the lowest of his career -- and the audience was not all on his side, he still had the ability to impress.
Paul Hamilton, a self-proclaimed "very liberal Democrat" from Coon Rapids, said he came away thinking Pawlenty could be a credible national candidate. He said the governor was well-informed and has "a little more game than I thought he would."
But that won't make Hamilton a fan -- "I don't agree with his positions at all."
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164