Pawlenty has grand vision, but no plans to run again

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke Friday in futuristic terms about the societal, economic and policy considerations of the nation’s fast-moving technological revolution during a regional Chamber of Commerce speech he said shouldn’t be construed as a return to Minnesota’s political mix.

Pawlenty, a two-term Republican governor who now leads a Washington-based financial services industry trade group, warned against a rigidness in thinking that he said could leave his home state and others behind.

“Minnesota, as you know, is just a fantastic state. It leads the nation, is in the top five or 10 in just about everything that matters. That does not mean we can rest on our laurels. We’re a very strong, dynamic, innovative, hard-working, caring, educated, skilled state. It’s a fantastic place,” Pawlenty told the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast, a short drive from his home in Eagan.

“But I worry about Minnesota sometimes being a little too complacent — resting on where we are now, resting based on what we knew from 10 years ago or 50 years ago or 100 years ago,” he added. “And so the assumptions that we have to plan our future on cannot be the assumptions of the past. They cannot be the assumptions of the current.”

Pawlenty used examples of 3D printing that can now construct dwellings in hours rather than weeks or months. He said the spread of drones, sensor technology and the Internet-of-things — where devices control things that used to be done manually — will both make life easier and also alter the workforce and present privacy challenges. He said public policy, including how and what people learn in schools, must adapt.

Later, in response to audience questions, Pawlenty reflected on the health care debate in Washington. He said it all boils down to access, quality of care and affordability.

Pawlenty said Republicans have “to do something they can plausibly call repeal and replace Obamacare.” He predicted a House-passed bill will undergo major changes in the Senate.

“My own view of it is: You have to keep protections for pre-existing conditions. This idea that we’re going back to people who are sick, can’t get insurance or may not get insurance depending on the whim of some politician. I don’t agree with that,” Pawlenty said.

On Medicaid, Pawlenty said a final deal must retain federal funding for the insurance program for the poor.

“It’s good to let the states experiment and innovate within guardrails,” he said. “But the idea we are going to go dramatically backwards on Medicaid is not realistic either.”

If all of it sounded like a campaign-message in the making, Pawlenty brushed that notion aside though not definitively.

“I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to serve Minnesota as a member of the city council, as a state legislator, as governor. I enjoyed it and I certainly hope I’ve added value to this great state,” he said. “But I consider myself politically retired.”

Asked if the comeback door was slammed shut, the 56-year-old stuck with his “politically retired” response.

Pawlenty said he plans to convey a similar message in newspaper opinion commentaries as well as speak about it “as I can around the state.”

But Pawlenty said it shouldn’t be construed as campaigning and his speeches are coming at the invitation of groups. “I don’t seek them out,” he said.

He is the last Republican to win a statewide election, his second-term victory in 2006.

If Pawlenty were to revive his political career, the only real deadline for him to enter the 2018 fray is late May of next year, when candidate filing ends.