Gov. Tim Pawlenty can't be governor and run for president at the same time. I don't mean he isn't allowed to or that it is illegal or unethical. Of course not. Most politicians can walk and chew gum at the same time or as we call it now, multi-task.

No, I mean the governor seems to get confused about which role he is serving at any given time. This confusion came to a head this week. Last Sunday (Feb. 14), he was Tim Pawlenty, the engaging conservative policy wonk and prospective presidential candidate, holding forth on the editorial pages of the Washington Post with his prescription for national health care reform. Accusing President Obama and the Democrats in Congress of overreaching in their effort to extend access to health care to millions of uninsured Americans, Pawlenty served up some simple "common sense" solutions that he said would hold down the rising cost of health care.

Five days later, the governor, acting as governor, demonstrated his health care acumen and experience by vetoing the latest legislative attempt to fix the funding for GAMC (General Assistance Medical Care), the health care plan that provides basic care to 35,000 of the state's poorest residents. The Legislature had to act because last spring Pawlenty unalloted funding for the program, creating huge problems for the recipients who would lose their health care and for the safety-net hospitals and health care providers who receive funding to serve them. The program will end April 1 without legislative action. Many of the recipients have serious mental health issues.

There was so much reaction to the governor's dismissal of this important program that Republicans, in an unusual move in this partisan atmosphere, joined Democrats Thursday in the House and Senate to pass a compromise funding bill.

Health care providers have said they would lose more than $90 million in uncompensated care unless the program is extended. Administration officials put the loss at closer to $30 million. Pawlenty, through his spokesman, said he vetoed the measure because it would spend too much money. DFLers argue that their bill would spend less per person over the next 16 months than the governor's plan which would move 21,000 to MinnesotaCare, a health plan for working adults.

It's hard to take seriously Pawlenty the policy-wonk, health care expert candidate when his major action as governor is to put the people most in need of health care out on the street without coverage. That doesn't hold down costs because those folks will end up at emergency rooms much sicker and we pay for their visits anyway. And it sure doesn't improve access.

Pawlenty the governor vetoed the GAMC bill in Washington, D.C., where Pawlenty the policy guru and possible presidential candidate was about to address the Conservative Political Action Conference, the nation's major conservative group.

He gave a partisan speech saying he stands by the values of "limited government, the rule of law, free markets, the sanctity of life and traditional marriage and families."

He also made a religious pitch saying, "God's in charge," citing the reference to the "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence.

If candidate Pawlenty wants to invoke religion, maybe he should return to Minnesota where people of faith, including such diverse groups as the Catholic Bishops and Jewish Community Action, have a different view of God's intentions when it comes to the 35,000 poor people on medical assistance. Both groups and many others support the Legislature's actions, the Bishops saying it is "a matter of justice (for) our neighbors with the greatest needs."

The showdown continues next week when DFLers try to muster enough Republican votes to override the governor's veto. I hope they do the right thing.