Pawlenty looks to next chapter in autobiography

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 7, 2011 - 7:43 PM

Rooted in heartland values, the former governor sets the stage for a potential White House bid.

Photo: ., Tyndale House Publishers

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WASHINGTON - There was a point when future Gov. Tim Pawlenty thought then-Gov. Jesse Ventura was actually going to hit him. "He's gonna smack me," Pawlenty, who was then the Minnesota House Majority Leader, recalls in his new book, scheduled for release next week.

 

Ventura, enraged at Pawlenty's quip that Ventura had "left the taxpayers behind enemy lines," had driven from his home to Pawlenty's office and shut the door behind him.

"I was in the military," Ventura shouted, "and we don't leave anybody behind enemy lines." Pawlenty promptly apologized.

"Sometimes an apology is a sign of strength," Pawlenty concludes in the book, "Courage to Stand," which recounts his journey from a working-class youth in South St. Paul to eight years as governor and, now, possible GOP presidential candidate.

The 301-page book, rolling out Tuesday in a national tour, provides a gauzy look at his years tromping around the now-vanished stockyards of South St. Paul, where he was raised by a pious mother who died young and a hard-working, truck-driving dad.

It ends with a withering rebuke of President Obama, laying the fiscally conservative groundwork for a potential Pawlenty platform. "The candidate who promised to change the way Washington worked has only made things worse as President," Pawlenty concludes.

Pawlenty's memoir might be a familiar story to Minnesota readers, but not to others around the nation to whom the former governor needs to introduce himself if he is to gain traction in the 2012 presidential contest.

In the spirit of revelation, the autobiography provides some heretofore undisclosed looks behind the scenes, from the "bizarre" Ventura encounter to the "potentially life-altering" moments in 2008 when GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain passed over Pawlenty to name then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

"Courage to Stand," subtitled "an American story," traces Pawlenty's growing conservatism to the bedrock family values, faith and work ethic of his youth, even as "there were probably ten Republicans in all of South St. Paul."

Democratic critics might point out that Pawlenty's courage consisted of his willingness to forsake the union ethic of the meat-packing plants. By his own account, Swift and Co. shut down its plant and decentralized in 1969, throwing thousands of his neighbors out of work, "in part to combat the power of the unions."

Hulk Hogan's ghostwriter

For the 9-year-old Pawlenty, the plant closing revealed that "bad things do happen in the world and that those bad things happen to people you know and people you care about."

But that experience didn't keep him from taking on the public employee unions he thought were squeezing the state's depleted coffers during his years as governor.

With frequent evocations of the Bible, Pawlenty's look back on his life is a tale of neatly mowed front yards, dogs and kids' bicycles lying on their sides, American flags, picket fences and visits to Grandma Rose, the family matriarch who saw to his education and Catholic upbringing -- a faith tradition he would leave for the evangelicalism of his wife, Mary.

It is a tale in keeping with the faith-based conservatism of early primary voters in Iowa, where he will end the book tour Jan. 31.

Still a child in the turbulent 1960s, Pawlenty was no rebel. Rather, he revels in "the innocence of it all." He exalts the hard work and study that made him the first in his family to graduate from college, followed by law school at the University of Minnesota and a career in Reagan-inspired politics.

Working with author Mark Dagostino, who was ghostwriter on the autobiography of pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, Pawlenty's book -- released by Christian publisher Tyndale House Publishers -- reveals little of the outlines of his political life that aren't already public record.

'A good pick'

But Pawlenty details what has been his closest brush with presidential politics so far: his long association with Arizona Sen. John McCain, who came close to choosing Pawlenty as his 2008 running mate.

"I flat out encouraged him to run for President in 2008," Pawlenty relates, counting himself as an admirer of McCain's record as a war hero and "so-called maverick" conservatism.

While rumors of national aspirations had long swirled around Pawlenty, he writes that he and McCain had never discussed the vice presidency directly: "Not once."

Instead, the call came from powerhouse attorney A.B. Culvahouse Jr., whom McCain had tapped to run the vetting process. Culvahouse's first question: As president, would Pawlenty be willing to accept civilian casualties for a chance to kill Osama bin Laden?

"I replied without hesitation. 'Yes.'"

Amid strict secrecy and with no staff to help, Pawlenty and his wife found themselves up late gathering personal documents for the McCain vetting team. Amid piles of paper strewn across the floor, they joked about a better-known rival from Massachusetts: "No way is Mitt Romney doing this himself!"

With McCain's final decision looming in the days leading up to the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Pawlenty apparently concluded before the press did that he was out of the running -- even if McCain adviser Charlie Black would later tell him, "You were right in there till the end."

"It's strange to have such a large, potentially life-altering decision about your future just hang in the balance and then peter out," Pawlenty said of his long political limbo.

But the morning finally came when McCain called the governor's residence to say he would run with Palin. "He felt he needed to 'try something different,'" Pawlenty recounted. "I told him it was a gutsy pick. A good pick."

After he got off the phone with McCain, Pawlenty took the family dog for a walk, cleaning up after she answered the call of nature. "As I put the little bag over my hand and bent down to pick up her poop, I thought to myself, 'Well, this is the only No. 2 I'll be picking up today.'"

Pawlenty was so pleased with his joke, he tried it out with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a puppet covering the GOP convention for the Conan O'Brien show. It never made the air.

Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.

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