Pawlenty's terrorism ad draws ire of opponents
ST. PAUL -- The TV commercial begins: "Al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker, learned to fly a plane in Minnesota."
As a Minnesota map appears, a narrator adds: "Terrorists are here."
The screen then fills with a close-up of Tim Pawlenty's face as he says, "When foreigners apply for a driver's license, we are going to print their visa expiration number right on it."
It's just a 30-second spot, but the Republican candidate's ad incited so far the biggest controversy of the Minnesota governor's race.
"He knows no bounds in his political ambition," charged Sen. Roger Moe, the DFL candidate. Moe said he considered the commercial racist. The comment came during a hastily called news conference in which Moe had the backing of many of Minnesota's minority community leaders.
"It does not serve Minnesota well to have in this campaign the suggestion that immigrants are somehow to be set apart," Independence Party candidate Tim Penny said a few minutes later.
Penny said Pawlenty turned "a national tragedy into a campaign ad."
But Pawlenty's campaign chairman said he sees no problem with the commercial, and it will remain on the air.
"Their objections seem to defy logic," Chris Georgacas said.
The issue was a touchy one during this year's legislative session. House Republicans and Gov. Jesse Ventura tried, but failed, to mark driver's licenses of immigrants holding limited-time visas so law enforcement officers easily could tell if a person's permission to be in the United States had expired.
Public Safety Commissioner Charlie Weaver this summer started a rule similar to what Pawlenty suggests, over the objection of civil rights leaders.
The legislative debate and Pawlenty's suggestion stem from law enforcement officials' statements that they needed more powers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Moe, who had called himself a friend of Pawlenty, said he was disappointed Pawlenty "stooped to a new low. ... He is using terrorism as a campaign tool."
Moe said he was most upset over the word "foreigners."
Penny said the phrase "terrorists are here" implies "all immigrants ought to be treated as terrorists."
Moe and Penny said they were more bothered by the tone of the commercial than the issue Pawlenty raised. Both said it raised a question of whether Pawlenty could lead a state with an ever-growing minority population.
The commercial controversy was joined by one about debates. Two broadcast forums were canceled when Moe pulled out of them, leaving two debates left before the Nov. 5 election -- a Monday statewide radio debate and a Nov. 1 debate to be broadcast on public television.
Campaign officials of Pawlenty and the Green Party's Ken Pentel said Moe and Penny are trying to duck debates.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707