WASHINGTON - Betty McCollum and Tim Pawlenty don't have a lot in common politically. She's a liberal DFLer in Congress, and he's a former Republican governor and presidential candidate. But the pair will both be in Tunisia to monitor the country's first elections since the Arab Spring uprisings overthrew Tunisia's longtime ruler earlier this year.
"Two kids from South St. Paul High School, out paving the way for democracy!" said McCollum in an interview last week.
McCollum heads to the North African country in an official capacity and will travel with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). She explained that as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, oversight is one of her duties. As part of her taxpayer-funded trip, McCollum will make sure American financial assistance for the elections is well-spent.
Pawlenty will be in Tunisia as part of a group organized by the International Republican Institute, a non-profit affiliated with the Republican Party that promotes democracy overseas.
This is McCollum's third trip to the Middle East this year. In February, she went to Yemen and in June, she traveled to Israel, Egypt and the West Bank. She said national security concerns shaped her interest in the region.
"I think the United States can have a constructive role to play without coming in militarily to a country, but to come in armed with democracy, armed with economic opportunity" said McCollum.