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At press conference, Pawlenty addresses possibility of extended tenure

In a piece published today, TWI detailed how a recount in the gubernatorial race between Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer might play out. Dayton holds a significant lead, just shy of 9,000 votes, a margin that is still close enough to trigger an automatic recount unless the Democrat opens a wider lead in final vote counts, scheduled to come in on Nov. 23.

If the recount process and subsequent litigation drag out through the beginning of 2011, current Gov. Tim Pawlenty will remain in office until a winner is certified. After Republicans gained control of both the state House and Senate on Tuesday, a prolonged recount battle and continual lawsuits could play to the GOP’s favor, allowing the legislature to pass conservative bills with a friendly face in the governor’s mansion before Dayton could possibly take the seat.

Pawlenty’s office did not return requests for comment on the article, but the governor addressed questions from the state press corps late Thursday afternoon. He once again affirmed he will not abdicate his role if no winner is declared by Jan. 3 — the date when the next governor is currently scheduled to assume office — but stayed mostly mum on the details of how he would operate if that situation occurs.

“In the event that it goes beyond Jan. 3, and again I hope it does not, then I will address matters as they arise and as they need to be addressed but obviously we will just be addressing those things as they need to be addressed and as they arise,” Pawlenty said in his opening remarks at the press conference. He continued to use the same language in response to most of the questions posed to him. He continually hedged and never satisfyingly defined what he meant with his most frequently used term, “arise.”

“If an emergency were to take place for example and I needed to call in the national guard I would certainly do that, or respond to an emergency. If something were presented to me that required action or lack of action or a signature or a decision, I would certainly undertake that,” Pawlenty said.

So Pawlenty himself might not push new legislation — at least not publicly — during this potential period of limbo, but a newly empowered Republican majority might not hold the same reservations. Based on Pawlenty’s statement on signatures and decisions, it seems he has not ruled out signing new bills that come across his desk. The conservative legislature could become proactive, passing numerous conservative bills that a Gov. Dayton would be inclined to veto.

Even if the House and Senate decide to wait until the recount concludes to begin crafting their legislation, Pawlenty would quickly face key decisions if his stay in the governor’s mansion continues through January. The governor must present a budget in early February, and as part of a deal between Republicans and Democrats during the last legislative session, there is a Jan. 15 deadline for the next governor to decide whether to opt-in to an early Medicaid enrollment program with the federal government. That choice would fall to Pawlenty if litigation prolongs the recount.

At the press conference, the governor reasserted his opposition to the program, indicating that the state would not accept the funds if he remains in office. “I’ve already made that decision as for me and my administration and as long as I’m here that will remain,” Pawlenty said. He pointed out that despite the current deadline, the legislative body has the option of changing it.

“It’s in the hands of the next legislature and the next governor to alter that in any way that they want,” he said. However, a Republican controlled House and Senate would be unlikely to allow any governor to have that choice again.

While Pawlenty was less than clear about how he will act if his tenure is extend, the governor did clearly state his preference for the recount situation to be resolved by the beginning of 2011. “I earnestly, genuinely, sincerely hope this is resolved by Jan. 3. It is not in anyone’s best interest to have this spill over and have a holdover situation. I hope that doesn’t happen, but in the unlikely event that it does, I will fulfill the responsibilities as required by the constitution. Not because I want to, but because I am required to,” Pawlenty said.

Prolonging his stay in office may be beneficial to implementing policies favored by state Republicans, but it could also interfere with the timing of Pawlenty’s probable 2012 presidential bid.

Whether Pawlenty gets his wish of leaving office in two months will be decided by the state parties, and whether they choose to file lawsuits challenging the results of the recount. On Friday, the secretary of state released a proposed time line for any possible recount. The process would begin on Nov. 29, and results would be settled by Dec. 14. That would leave little time for a gubernatorial transition, but would still allow Pawlenty to leave office on schedule. But with such high stakes in the race, either party is likely to extend the recount process through litigation, dragging the ordeal into 2011.

MPR captured video of the whole press conference:

Pawlenty preser on transition from tommy scheck on Vimeo.

Patrick Caldwell is a reporter for The American Independent.

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