Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his wife, Mary, hugged after they posed for photos following the unveiling of his official portrait at a ceremony Monday night, October 10, 2011, at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. The portrait was painted by Ross Rossin of Atlanta.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Pawlenty, portrait, both emerge into limelight

  • Star Tribune
  • October 11, 2011 - 7:13 AM

A reflective Tim Pawlenty Monday unveiled his official gubernatorial portrait as he ponders a future without politics.

The painting, a front-facing view of the governor standing before the state Capitol, contains no hidden messages or secret icons, Pawlenty said.

The governor was equally blunt about his plans for the immediate future: He's looking for a job.

"I don't know what the future holds for me, but in the meantime I need to and want to work and so I'm looking for some private sector opportunities," the 50-year-old former governor said. "I've given a lot of my life to public service. I enjoy public service. I love it. I think its very meaningful. But there also comes a time when there's other things to do in life."

The governor's appearance at the Capitol ended the low profile Pawlenty has kept since abruptly withdrawing from the presidential race in August, a move he says he now regrets in light of the free-for-all that has developed among the GOP field.

Pawlenty, who has refused Minnesota media requests in recent months, will break his silence again with an hour-long interview on Minnesota Public Radio Tuesday. Following that, he'll appear nationally on "Meet the Press" this Sunday. But unlike previous national media appearances, he won't be talking about himself. He will be there as a surrogate for his former GOP rival, Mitt Romney.

The governor admitted to some second-guessing about what might have been, saying his calculation in quitting the race was simple: "We were out of money." He said he found out after he quit that the campaign was actually in debt.

The day after a poor third-place showing in an August Ames Iowa Republican straw poll, Pawlenty ended his run so quickly that many of his key confidantes had little chance to weigh in. But since he dropped out, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won the Ames straw poll, has seen her polling numbers tank and Texas Gov. Rick Perry has surged and fallen back.

Pawlenty said that had he known what the race would become, he would have saved some cash to carry on. Instead, the campaign spent all it had and more in Iowa. "That's a decision we made and it was the wrong call," he said.

Rethinking his future

Pawlenty has shut the door to a run for office in the near future. He has said he does not want to be vice president, although some saw his endorsement of Romney in the presidential race as a bid for that job. He has also repeatedly said that he does not intend to run against U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar next year.

He and his friends say that for the short term, the former governor sees a clear future outside of the daily political scrum.

"The draw of the private sector is pretty attractive," said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership and Pawlenty's former chief of staff. "It's mostly just the opportunity to do something different."

Former Republican Party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner, who has talked frequently with Pawlenty in recent weeks, said that Pawlenty is "in a good place," and is "kind of determining what he is going to do for the rest of his life."

Both Weaver and Eibensteiner say Pawlenty is in no rush to take that next step.

The governor said in the short-term he's looking at piecing together part-time gigs. He raised the possibility of serving on boards, doing some consulting, investing in businesses or starting a business.

"I've got six or eight ideas and probably two or three of them will come to fruition," he said.

For Minnesotans who have spent years watching Pawlenty shape the state's agenda, the months of his absence had been jarring.

"It is a little bit odd that he is off the radar screen," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizen's Concerned for Life.

But he and other longtime allies said no one should be surprised that Pawlenty's taking time to figure out what's next.

"Going through what he did, running for president for the better part of a year or more is a pretty exhausting thing," said Republican political operative Gregg Peppin. "I think that's all time that he probably earned and deserves, quite frankly."

Starting Tuesday, all Minnesotans can see him. By noon, his portrait will be hung in the Capitol.

The painting will hang in a quiet, little-trafficked corner of the Capitol, on the ground level's west wing.

The Capitol workers mostly likely to see it daily? The current governor's staff, who enter their offices nearby.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

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