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Pawlenty's legacy: Good leadership during hard times

Governor Tim Pawlenty will soon leave office and his mark on the state is already being debated.

Former President George W. Bush was fond of saying he would be judged by historians -- not by current members of the media -- and that is by and large true. However, we don't need to wait 20 years to note some of Pawlenty's accomplishments and some of his criticisms.

First, Pawlenty is a man of his word and he's trustworthy. He had a clear vision for how he wanted to run the state, he communicated that vision clearly to his constituents, and he executed that vision. Sure, there are people who disagree with some of his policies, but few could argue he put politics above policy: he said what he meant and meant what he said.

In his two terms, Pawlenty never had the benefit of a strong national economic expansion, yet he managed to comply with the state's mandate for a balanced budget without raising taxes, a campaign promise that became a rallying cry for both him and his party. One wonders if Pawlenty would be one of the most beloved governors if a little good fortune would have come his way in the form of a national economy that helped his balance sheet. It's much easier to be a great governor when times are great, but to be highly regarded after steering the state through tough times is much more difficult.

Pawlenty represented Minnesota well, and he's a Minnesotan through and through. He played hockey. He went deer hunting and fishing -- and never looked like he was out of place while doing so. He talked about hard work and personal responsibility. He did what he said. That's pretty Minnesotan.

Now the criticisms: Pawlenty was often inflexible, and rarely used the carrot as a negotiating tool. He was all stick. And while the state budget came in balanced each year, there were no Minnesota Miracles here. When listening to his own state economist, one wonders if Pawlenty wasn't occasionally penny wise and pound foolish with Minnesota's future, especially with cuts to higher education in training tomorrow's workforce.

But again, that's the sort of challenge a governor faces when economic times are bad, and Pawlenty shouldered that load. His job would have been easier and more fun with a stronger national economy.

Pawlenty's legacy is simple: prosperity through tough times. Even though Minnesota hasn't had the money to make any huge strides forward in education, business cultivation or health care, Pawlenty always was able to make the best of a bad situation, and keep us on the right track during difficult times.

On a more personal note, Pawlenty was one of the public officials who was very responsive when the Wadena area was struck this year with tornadoes, and his leadership was a comfort. That probably says more about what a good man he is than a good governor. We witnessed first-hand he's a good man.

And people who would count Pawlenty out of the 2012 presidential race now don't know him very well. He went from an unknown to a popular governor in no time. He's a political survivor, has a great resume, and knows how to get things done. He's not the flamboyant celebrity Sarah Palin is, but we'd take Pawlenty any day in that race.

The governor should be proud of what he's done. We are too.

The Pioneer Journal editorial represents the voice of the newspaper's editorial board. Today's editorial was written by Steve Schulz, editor and publisher.