THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, February 16, 2011 --
Senate President Mike Haridopolos delivered on his pledge to bring potential Republican U.S. presidential candidates to Florida Wednesday, introducing former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to a crowd of mostly GOP lawmakers in the historic state Capitol.
Pawlenty, who was governor of Minnesota from 2003 to 2011, introduced himself to Florida lawmakers and took questions as he tests the waters for a 2012 presidential run.
“In Minnesota, the land of McCarthy, Humphrey, Mondale, Wellstone…and now U.S. Sen. Al Franken, we took spending and we cut it in real terms for the first time in 150 year history of my state,” he said. “We were the first state in the nation to offer performance pay for teachers statewide. We did tort reform, welfare reform, market-based health care reform, all the things that need to get done across the whole country.”
And all that happened in a state much more liberal than Florida, Pawlenty made sure to note.
“There was one state that did not vote for Ronald Reagan in the entire nation,” he said. “Guess which one it was? Minnesota. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.”
Introducing Pawlenty, Haridopolos praised the former governor’s record in Minnesota, though he steered clear of making any endorsement of his prospects as a presidential candidate.
“I had a wonderful opportunity to meet with the governor and travel with him a bit this fall,” Haridopolos said. “It was an exciting experience watching him in action and (hearing) some of the remarkable things that he has done in the state of Minnesota as the governor.”
In turn, Pawlenty threw the friendly Republican crowd gathered in the building that housed the Florida Legislature until the 1970s some red meat in his speech Wednesday.
“We can’t spend more than we take in,” he said to applause. “You can’t do it as an individual, you can’t do it as a family, you can’t do it as a business, and you can’t do it as a government anymore, whether that’s in Florida or Minnesota. That’s not a matter of left versus right. It’s a matter of sixth-grade mathematics.”
Speaking with reporters after his remarks, Pawlenty acknowledged he was considering making a bid to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012, although he did not confirm he was running.
“I’m seriously considering it,” he said. “I’m going to make a decision in the next couple of months.”
As for why he was already visiting the Sunshine State, Pawlenty said “A lot of potential candidates ran last time. They’ve got name ID, so they don’t feel the sense of urgency that maybe a first time candidate does.”
Members of the Florida Legislature clearly believed Pawlenty was going to throw his hat in the ring, taking turns peppering him with questions about health care, immigration, national defense and U.S. fiscal policy.
Senate President Haridopolos started off the questioning; asking Pawlenty what he thought about President Obama’s signature health care law, which was recently ruled unconstitutional by a Florida U.S. District Judge.
“I’m one of the authors of the amicus brief that was filed with Florida as a venue, so thank you for that,” Pawlenty said, adding that the health care law was “one of the worst pieces of legislation in modern history.”
Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, followed up with a question about whether Pawlenty would support a constitutional requirement that Congress balance the federal budget, similar to a state requirement that Florida even out its fiscal numbers each year.
“Budgets get balanced in states because they have to,” Pawlenty responded. “They don’t get balanced in Washington, D.C. because they don’t have to be. We need to make that a requirement.”
Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, asked Pawlenty about his proudest moment as governor of Minnesota.
“I was an unusual governor in an unusual state,” Pawlenty said. “I governed as a movement conservative,” he added, noting he was the only northern state governor to get an A rating from the fiscally-conservative Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.
Much like Haridopolos refrained from endorsing Pawlenty, the would-be presidential candidate declined to back the ambitious Senate president’s own bid for U.S. Senate in 2012, though he did call the Merritt Island Republican “a man of great talent."
Despite clearly trying to lay the groundwork for a successful campaign in the state next year, Pawlenty declined to weigh in on when Florida should hold its presidential primary.
“I don’t purport to give other states advice on when they should hold their presidential primaries,” he said.
Pawlenty gave a similarly non-committal answer when he was asked about Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s decision Wednesday to reject $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail connecting Tampa and Orlando. A similar train that would have connected parts of Minnesota with Milwaukee and Chicago had been scuttled when the newly-elected Republican of Wisconsin made a similar decision to forgo federal money.
“Each one of those projects is different,” he said. “I don’t purport to know the cost-benefit analysis of each one.”