Pawlenty on the road often in 2008by Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Gov. Pawlenty has been out of the state an average of at least one out of every three days since Jan. 1, 2008. The governor says his travel does not have an impact on his duties as governor. But some Democrats say they'd prefer to see him at the negotiating table more often during the legislative session.
St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty is clearly racking up the frequent flyer miles.
MPR News analyzed the governor's campaign travel, his public events schedule and press accounts and found that he's been out of the state all or part of the day at least 25 times between Jan. 1 and March 12.
Much of that time was on behalf of Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Pawlenty has traveled to Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Florida to campaign for McCain.
Pawlenty is co-chair of McCain's presidential committee and spent at least 10 days campaigning for McCain since Jan. 1.
It should be noted that most of that campaigning has occurred on the weekends. Pawlenty also spent part of a weekend at McCain's vacation home in Sedona, Ariz., earlier this month, where he met with McCain and his other political advisors.
The governor also hit the road to attend the National Governors Associations winter meetings in Washington DC. Pawlenty chairs the NGA, and was promoting his proposal to adopt clean energy alternatives.
While in Washington, Pawlenty appeared on the Sunday morning TV talk shows. Much of the conversation was about the presidential campaign, and the possiblity he could be McCain's running mate. One interview was with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.
"Would you be interested in running with him if he asked," Wallace asked, "and do you think you could add something to a ticket both politically, in terms of policy, and in terms of putting the Upper Mississippi Valley in play?"
"You know, I have a day job," Pawlenty responded. "I support him because I think he'd be a great president, not because I want to be vice president."
Pawlenty has taken at least three other trips to Washington D.C. since the beginning of the year. On one, he spoke at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference. On another, he reportedly attended the annual Gridiron Dinner, and on the third, he was on his way to Germany.
The three-day trip to Germany was to attend an international conference on security policy.
Pawlenty also made at least one out-of-state trip to Chicago on behalf of the the Minneapolis-St. Paul Host Committee for the 2008 Republican National Convention.
It's not always easy to tell when the governor is in Minnesota and when he's not. The public events schedule given to reporters doesn't show many of his out-of-state trips.
On 29 days over the past two and a half months, his daily itinerary simply said, "no public events scheduled." MPR News filed a request under the state's public records law to see Gov. Pawlenty's full schedule, but that request was not fulfilled in time for this report.
Pawlenty explained his travel earlier this week.
"Most of my travels have been on the weekends, and I put enough hours as governor to more than take care of my duties here," Pawlenty said.
"Much of the travel is also either for the host committee -- which is boosting the state's presence from a hospitality standpoint when we're hosting the Republican Convention -- or for the National Governors Association. A lot of that is policy-related as well, so those are parts of my duties," Pawlenty added.
This isn't the first time a governor's travel has come into question. And it doesn't appear Pawlenty is making any money off his travel, unlike his predecessor, former Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Ventura moonlighted as a color commentator for the now-defunct XFL football league in 2001, and also made trips to promote his books.
Nevertheless, DFL lawmakers say Gov. Pawlenty's out-of-state travel is having an impact on their working relationship.
DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich says the governor has not been as engaged on certain issues like the transportation bill, the bonding bill and the budget. He says compared to other years, there has been a lot less communication between the governor and Legislature this year.
"When the governor is not fully engaged in our discussions, we have to make more assumptions on where he stands on issues, and it's hard to negotiate with somebody when you're not sitting across the table," said Sertich.
"When you buy a car from somebody you'd rather be in the same room doing that negotiation, than sending letters back and forth and doing it over the phone," Sertich added. "Same thing with our state government."
Pawlenty's spokesman Brian McClung said the governor has been meeting with legislators. He said he recently met with lawmakers regarding the higher education budget, health care and the bonding bill.
"He is very actively engaged. I think the Legislature would tell you that sometimes they think he is too engaged," McClung said. "Here's a guy who is frequently sending them letters, who is in communication with them. He is hosting bipartisan groups of legislators at the governor's residence, at his office, dating back to December."
McClung says McCain's campaign, the RNC host committee, the Defense Department and the National Governors Assocation paid for nearly all of Pawlenty's out-of-state travel.
He said the only time taxpayers picked up the tab for a trip was for NGA winter meetings in Washington D.C. last month.
- Morning Edition, 03/14/2008, 7:20 a.m.