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Published March 01, 2011, 08:17 PM

Pawlenty Files Show Personal Side, 35W Bridge Crisis

Republican Tim Pawlenty didn't forget to say thank you when disciplined GOP minorities helped him quash tax increases pushed by a Democratic-controlled Minnesota Legislature two years ago.

By: Martiga Lohn, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Tim Pawlenty didn't forget to say thank you when disciplined GOP minorities helped him quash tax increases pushed by a Democratic-controlled Minnesota Legislature two years ago.

The former governor and likely presidential candidate sent personal notes of appreciation to all 70 Republican state lawmakers for resisting "billions in job-killing tax increases," adding handwritten shout-outs to most. "You were awesome!!" he scrawled on the bottom of the letter to Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake. "You have been wonderful and I am grateful. Best always, Tim," he wrote to Rep. Mary Liz Holberg of Lakeville.

Glimpses of Pawlenty's personal side show among thousands of pages of documents from his eight-year gubernatorial administration, held in about 50 boxes made available to the public Tuesday by the Minnesota Historical Society. The archives contain everything from the governor's daily schedules and recordings of his weekly radio show to thick legal files on a partial government shutdown, a disputed surcharge on cigarettes and his controversial use of an obscure executive budget-cutting power called unallotment.

The Pawlenty files don't reveal much in some cases. Boxes on litigation are filled with court documents and technical letters between Pawlenty's lawyers and other attorneys, showing little of the strategy or behind-the-scenes deliberations that led to the 2005 shutdown or a 75-cent cigarette fee that broke the impasse.

Pawlenty left office in January after two terms. He is expected to announce his presidential plans in the coming weeks.

Here are highlights from the Pawlenty archives:

—One file contains letters dealing with perhaps the biggest crisis of his tenure as governor: the rush-hour collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, which left 13 people dead and more than 100 injured. Pawlenty requested multiple levels of help from the federal government, including disaster declarations and money to rebuild the bridge. He corresponded with Democratic state legislative leaders as they tried without success to negotiate transportation funding in the aftermath. He thanked those who offered condolences.

Then floods struck in southeastern Minnesota, killing seven and devastating rural areas.

"August was a difficult month for Minnesota," Pawlenty wrote in a Sept. 6, 2007, letter to then-President George W. Bush. "Our state saw the collapse of the I-35W bridge, and then experienced extreme flooding over seven southeastern Minnesota counties — resulting in significant loss of life, physical injury, the complete destruction of the state's busiest interstate bridge, and the destruction of private and public property."

—In letters after the bridge collapse, Pawlenty also reached out to those who contacted him about the disaster, telling fellow Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline his condolences were "a source of comfort and encouragement," extending "my sincere thanks to the Minneapolis City Council and staff for your remarkable work in addressing this challenge and efforts to move forward" and thanking individual legislators who wrote him about bridge inspections in their districts.

It wasn't all above politics. More than a year after the collapse, Pawlenty wrote a one-page letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell taking issue with something the Democrat said on "The Rachel Maddow Show."

"As usual you did a great job. However, I'd like to correct you on one very important point. You indicated during the interview the I-35W bridge fell because of maintenance issues. This is not correct," Pawlenty said, adding that federal investigators attributed the collapse to a flaw in the structure's 1960s design.

Rendell faxed the letter back to Pawlenty with a short note: "Dear Tim: I stand corrected."

—There's a copy of the shutdown-ending deal reached at 1:30 a.m. on July 9, 2005, including the so-called "health impact fee," signed on three pages by Pawlenty and the leaders of the four legislative caucuses.

In his memoir, "Courage to Stand," published this year, Pawlenty acknowledged he still wonders whether he should have held out longer during the shutdown.

—One of Pawlenty's encouraging handwritten notes went to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, now one of his potential rivals in the GOP presidential field. In 2009, Bachmann had written Pawlenty urging his administration to consider a commuter bus service in her district for state and federal transit funds. He responded with a brief typed letter referring the matter to his transportation chief, adding in pen at the bottom: "Thanks so much for your service to MN, Michele!"

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