Governor Pawlenty's staff on Friday defended the extra time he's spent outside of Minnesota in 2008, in response to a report by Minnesota Public Radio and its website MPR.com.
The MPR analysis of the Governor's travels found he'd been out of the state 25 times in 2008, roughly one of every three days so far this year. DFL legislative leaders said they'd already sensed Pawlenty's appearances at the Capitol were fewer and farther between.
"I'm not quite sure what that's about," said House Speaker Margaret Kelliher, "I had a meeting with him the week before session started. I have not heard from the Governor since."
That referred to a private meeting with the Governor in her office February 6th. Pawlenty's communication director Brian McClung later pointed out that Kelliher was also present, along with other leaders, at a February 13th meeting in the Governor's office.
McClung also took exception to the thrust of the MPR report.
"They make it sound like the Governor's hardly here, but only eight of these days where the governor's been out of the state have been weekdays," McClung told KARE 11.
He said most of those weekday trips were connected to official business, including his role as a chairman of the National Governor's Association.
"It's mostly related to being chair of the National Governor's Association, or supporting the host committee for Minneapolis - Saint Paul," McClung explained, "Which is going to be a great opportunity for us to showcase the Twin Cities and this state for the world."
The governor has devoted many weekends to stumping for his friend John McCain's presidential campaign. It's a volunteer role, as opposed to some of the high-profile paid gigs Jesse Ventura took on the side in his days in office.
"I really don't think Minnesotans care if the Governor is playing hockey, or campaigning, or watching his daughters volleyball games," McClung remarked, "What he does on his weekends is probably his business."
But the MPR report is still troubling to Democratic Leaders who worry the Governor's globe trotting leaves him less engaged in solving the budget shortfall at the Capitol.
"You don't make major financial decisions, billion dollar decisions, back and forth jumping on and off a plane," Majority Leader Tony Sertich told reporters Friday, "You've got to be in the room looking face to face."
Truth be told the Governor offered his budget balancing plan on March 7th, and now considers the ball to be in the legislature's court. Still, DFL leaders would like more face time with Mr. Pawlenty.
"I know he's a pretty good hockey player," Kelliher quipped, "I think he needs to come over to our ice and play with us for a while."
(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)