The 2012 Candidates On The Arts : Tim Pawlenty

With arts and public broadcast issues percolating on the edge of the race for the 2012 presidential race, I thought it made sense to look at where the declared and prospective candidates for president have stood on arts issues throughout their careers. Their views on everything from arts education to intellectual property rights to support for local artistic traditions say a lot about how they value culture — but also about how they think about the role of government.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s a fairly typical Republican on issues of arts funding. Like his fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann, he opposed a constitutional amendment that provided a steady stream of arts funding for the state. And like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), he tried to spin off a state arts school to save money. But he also tried to negotiate deadlocks over broadcasts of Twins games, proposed a drug importation plan that would have undermined intellectual property regimes, and got a little friendly with the telecommunications industry over his push to expand broadband access in Minnesota:

2002: The issue of state support for renovation of the historic Guthrie Theater became an issue in the gubernatorial campaign. Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed $24 million for the theater, and Democrats raised the issue of whether Pawlenty and other candidates would follow suit. As House Majority Leader, Pawlenty head up a budget balancing task force that proposed $750,000 in cuts to the Perpich Center for Arts Education, a Minnesota State Agency.

2003: In his first budget proposal as governor, Pawlenty proposed cutting funding for the Minnesota State Arts Board (which alone would have seen its state funding fall 40 percent) and other arts organizations by 22 percent, a larger percentage than other organizations faced as Pawlenty sought a 14 percent overall reduction in the state budget. The legislature ended up approving a 32 percent cut to the board, and funded the Guthrie’s renovations funded through bonds.

That year, in a speech to a Chamber of Commerce group, Pawlenty emphasized intellectual property as a means of revitalizing the state’s economy, rather than yearning for the days of a manufacturing economy. But his proposal to import cheap prescription drugs, including knockoff generics into Minnesota from Canada, prompted warnings from state biotech companies that the plan would rob them of profits they needed to do research and employ local scientists.

2004: Pawlenty tried to intervene in a fight over what fees cable providers would have to pay to air Twins games. The channel the team owned wanted $2.20 per subscriber from cable companies, a fairly high fee, and the failure to negotiate contracts kept the beginning of the 2004 season off a number of networks. The network never quite developed into a channel like YES, which is owned by the Yankees, but it did garner revenue increases. Pawlenty had proposed that networks would get the games for free as long as they agreed to enter into binding mediation that would set the prices they’d eventually have to pay.

2005: In this budget cycle, Pawlenty proposed keeping arts funding flat after the 2003 cuts.

2006: As Minnesota geared up for a fight over a constitutional amendment that would have increased the sales tax by 3/8ths of 1 percent to ensure a revenue stream for parks, water preservation, and arts projects, Pawlenty, like Bachmann, then in the MInnesota legislature, opposed the amendment. “While the arts and public broadcasting are important, they do not rise to the level of being in need of dedicated constitutional support,” Pawlenty said, according to the Grand Forks Herald. Though it was a tough fight, the amendment eventually passed in 2007.

That same year, Pawlenty announced a push to expand broadband access in Minnesota, signing on to a proposal by a board made up of telecom executives, government, business, and rural leaders. He’d suggested that broadband was key to Minnesota’s economic development in a 2005 speech in Hong Kong.

2009: Pawlenty proposed turning the Perpich Center into a charter school in the name of saving the state $4.5 million annually. The proposal would have dramatically decreased the amount of research and teacher training the center was able to do, but the proposal was eventually defeated.

This same year, Pawlenty also put together a task force to get Minnesota to universal broadband access by 2015. But Pawlenty and his administration recommended a non-profit with strong ties to the telecommunications industry for a contract to map existing broadband connections, prompting ire from some stakeholders. And they also made certain documents about state broadband funding private, rather than treating them as public documents.

2010: This year, Pawlenty signed a bill meant to reach that 2015 goal, and setting standards for dowload speeds, but the bill didn’t have a funding mechanism for reaching that goal. It’s not clear the state is on pace to meet it.