The Real Pat Awada

Patricia Anderson spent most of her first five years at an Idaho ranger station 95 miles from the nearest town. After that, she and her family lived in several northern Minnesota locations, before settling in Forest Lake. She graduated from Forest Lake High School in 1984, and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. “I went to school wanting to be a psychiatrist,” she recalls. While she pursued a pre-med honors track, she worked at several Uptown nightspots, including an extended stint in William’s Pub’s peanut bar. “When I wasn’t working I would be there drink…” She catches herself. “Or somewhere, out.”

As Awada progressed through the University, she began taking courses in political science and economics. Eventually, she shifted her major to international relations with a focus on political economics. She also became involved in student government, serving a term as the chair of the student fees committee, a perennially controversial position that dispenses tens of thousands of dollars in compulsory student fees to university organizations and programs. Awada recalls it with a fond smile as her “first position of political power.” During her tenure, she succeeded in rendering optional what was then a mandatory student fee paid to Boynton Health Clinic, a first notch in her belt that clearly still delights her. “If you had your own health insurance, you only had to pay part of it,” she says. “My political beliefs were pretty much set at that point.”

“Pat Awada’s father has been associated with the Libertarian Party for years and years,” explains Mike McCarty, treasurer of Minnesota’s Libertarian Party. “He was one of our first guys. It’s a family thing.” It certainly is: Pat Awada is the only elected state officer in the United States with standing as an officially endorsed Libertarian. When I tell her she’s featured as an “officeholder” on the state and national party websites, she laughs ruefully, “Oh, god!” Nonetheless, Awada does not hide the fact that she accepted the Libertarian Party endorsement for state auditor in 2002. (Minnesota does not allow multiple party endorsements to appear on its ballots, so Awada chose to run as a Republican.)

But Pat Awada is not your typical Libertarian, just as she is not your typical Minnesota Republican. She explicitly rejects the term “ideologue” as applied to her, and though she’s respectful of the religious wing of the Republican Party, she concedes that her philosophy and approach to government is not religiously motivated. (She was raised Lutheran, and she has remained so, though she and her husband have agreed to raise their children in his Greek Orthodox faith.) “I’m very pragmatic,” she explains. “Very logical.”

Awada has an intellectual independence, curiosity, and seriousness that is unusual in either major party, and she respects those qualities in her political adversaries. At a recent meeting of her deputies, she commented on DFL State Representative Phyllis Kahn: “I used to think she was a kook, but I’m beginning to like her.” Deputy Auditor Tony Sutton, a former executive director of the Minnesota Republican Party, glanced at the reporter in the room and turned white. Awada noticed him blanching but was not deterred. “She’s the only one asking questions, Tony,” she said. Referring to material that her office made available to Kahn and her fellow legislative committee members, Awada noted, “She’s the only one reading the stuff.”

Awada traces her interest in fiscal issues to the late 1980s, “when we started realizing as a generation that maybe there wouldn’t be any Social Security.” Deficit entitlement spending worried her, and she found herself gravitating to politicians who were willing to speak the politically unpalatable fiscal truths about it. In 1992, she supported Ross Perot’s campaign against the first President Bush, even though she had supported Republican candidates prior to that. “I liked Perot because he was honest and he was the only person who would tell the truth about what was going on with the budget.”

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