By Don Davis
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to announce "his future plans" this afternoon, his office announced, with most speculation that he will say there will be no third term in his future.
While sources would not confirm Pawlenty's decision on the record, there are several media reports that the state's 39th governor will step down after two terms. No Minnesota governor has served three terms.
The Atlantic reports a Washington source tells it he is not running again. It says the governor made up his mind not to run "a while back."
"Pawlenty's 2012 path mirrors the model that then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took in 2006, when he decided that he'd rather go up -- to the presidency -- or out -- meaning that he would retire from political life rather than run for re-election," the Atlantic reported.
The Associated Press and WCCO-TV also say sources have confirmed Pawlenty will announce he is not running again.
This afternoon's news conference is to be in the governor's reception room in the Capitol, which all but rules out an announcement for re-election or other political office. He generally refuses to answer obvious political questions in his office and never holds a political announcement there.
A brief advisory this morning gave no clue to what he plans to say: "Governor Pawlenty will hold a press conference today regarding his future plans."
Long-time Pawlenty friend Charlie Weaver said this morning that he did not know what Pawlenty would announce, but he would not be surprised to see his former University of Minnesota law school classmate run for president or vice president. The two have talked about the possibility.
"I think he is open to it," Weaver said. "He probably will explore it."
Weaver, who was Pawlenty's first chief of staff, said Pawlenty has done a good job for Minnesota.
"I think he will go down as one of the greatest governors that the state has ever had."
Weaver said the sky is the limit for Pawlenty's future.
"I think he has got lots of options," Weaver said. "He is a very smart guy with a terrific background who can really do anything he wants. Eight years in any job as job for someone as talented as he is a pretty long time."
Debate about the governor's political future has ramped up lately within Minnesota's political community. He is in the third year of his second four-year term and many had speculated he would run for an unprecedented third term. Others, however, expected him to launch a presidential or vice-presidential candidacy.
At the same time, Pawlenty faces chopping the state budget nearly $3 billion after he and Democrats who control the Legislature failed to reach an overall budget deal last month. He plans to announce his plans this month.
If Pawlenty opts against a third term, a dozen or so Democrats stand ready to run - and some already have begun. But no Republicans have announced an interest in the office, waiting to see what Pawlenty will do.
Last year, Pawlenty - at 47 years old - ended up finishing second to Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain's vice presidential pick.
Pawlenty has been able to survive despite obstacles.
For instance, on Oct. 11, 2002, Pawlenty appeared at a Capitol news conference in front of reporters asking questions such as whether he would drop out of his first governor's race a month before the election after a state board ruled Pawlenty's campaign and the Republican Party violated state law that forbids the party and candidate from working together on commercials funded by the party.
Pawlenty did his best damage control, trying to turn the problem into a plus.
"Integrity is really important to me, so this whole situation angers me, it frustrates me and it gives me a lot of personal pain," he said. "But a strong leader takes responsibility."
A few months after taking office, he admitted to accepting $4,500 a month for legal services while running for governor. He never publicly mentioned his legal contract, with a long-time friend, while campaigning. And as one of three directors of NewTel Holdings, he said he did not know a subsidiary was receiving thousands of customer complaints, such as switching long distance services without permission and charging too much.
Opponents argued Pawlenty was tight with other Republicans in the telecommunications business and they looked out for themselves more than their customers.
During a lengthy meeting with reporters on the issues, the governor left mostly unanswered questions about why he did not tell the public about his consulting job and telecommunications connections while campaigning.
"I did not view them as being wildly substantial," he said.
Pawlenty's personal story has been told often, especially bloggers and reporters tried to introduce him to the American public as a potential national candidate. He grew up in a South St. Paul working-class family, near what was then a major stockyard.
He became the first from his family to get a college education, despite his mother dying when the future governor was a teenager and his father losing his trucking job the same year.
He earned his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus and worked in a private law practice. He was elected to the Eagan City Council, then served 10 years in the Minnesota House before running for governor in 2002.
Pawlenty faced a tough challenge for the GOP nomination in that first race, fighting well-known businessman Brian Sullivan until 4 a.m. at the party's convention before winning enough votes for the party's endorsement.
Two words explained why Pawlenty won the party's backing: "Experience and leadership," said Diane Vlach, at the time co-chairwoman of the Kandiyohi County Republicans.
He based his campaigns on leadership.
"There is a value to having public service experience," Pawlenty said. "I have enough to know what I am talking about, but not so much that I am stuck in the past."
Pawlenty won each the 2002 and 2006 elections with less than 50 percent of the vote. He appeared to be trailing going into the final weekend of the 2006 race, winning only after challenger Attorney General Mike Hatch showed his famous temper.
In his typical smooth manner, Pawlenty acknowledged Democratic gains across Minnesota and the United States two years ago, and said his victory provided an opportunity to be grateful.
"We also have to realize the country's divided, and we need to come together," Pawlenty said.
The Republican began his first term well-liked even by Democrats, but some who liked his personality at the time have since grown tired of Pawlenty, saying his refusal to raise taxes is wrong.
To win enough conservatives to his side in 2002, Pawlenty signed a pledge promising not to raise taxes. Even as that helped him win conservatives, it has been a problem.
"As governor, he has balanced Minnesota's budget three times without raising taxes, despite facing record budget deficits," the governor's state Web site proclaimed.
But what it does not say is he was forced to bend that promise in 2005, when a partial state government shutdown convinced him to slap a "health impact fee" onto tobacco products, basically raising the existing cigarette tax.
As governor, one of Pawlenty's favorite phrases has been "nation-leading," when referring to any number of areas where Minnesota is atop national rankings. For instance, he likes to tout the state's leadership in homeownership, its good health ratings and high education levels.
In the past year, Pawlenty has been a regular on national television news programs.