Unlike her fellow Eaganite, Governor Tim Pawlenty, she refused to sign a “no tax” pledge during the 2002 campaign. “I’m very fiscally conservative, but there are certain things a community needs to do to create community. Especially in suburbia,” she says. When Awada was a suburban mayor, those things included controversial levies and bonding to acquire property for parks and to build recreational facilities. She often found herself at odds with Eagan’s anti-tax Republicans.
On a late spring evening, driving through Eagan, she points out her building projects with pride. “Why a water park? We’ve got a ton of kids out here. The Central Park? We needed a place where we could permanently hold events.” They are the sorts of projects that one might expect the daughter of a former parks administrator to support. But they are quite unusual for a statewide Republican (and Libertarian!) officeholder. “Look, a lot of Republicans see government as a negative. I don’t, but I don’t see it as a solution, either.” Transcending the labels that are typically applied to her, Awada argues that government is necessary, but that the conversation should start with a pragmatic discussion about quality control. “I think its job is simply to do things well.”
For example, Awada believes that one of the things government can do well is protect the environment while encouraging energy alternatives. For instance, she is opposed to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve. But unlike other Republicans who furtively oppose drilling in ANWR, Awada is willing to take her opposition one step further. “If I was President Bush, the first thing I’d do is I’d announce that we would become self-sufficient on solar and wind.” Awada is not unaware that she says this while owning an SUV with 147,000 miles on it. But when Pat Awada is confident in her views, she does not hesitate for political calculation. She goes right at it. “I own a Jeep. And I’m not gonna give up the Jeep.” Her argument comes down to a simple mandate. “You’ve gotta create new forms of energy.”
Ironically, Awada is most closely identified not with an ideology or methodology, but with a suburban lifestyle that rankles many urban liberals. Right or wrong, it’s a reputation earned back in 2000, when she stood up to the Metropolitan Council, a state-chartered planning agency for the seven-county metro area. The Council demanded that Eagan build more high-density, low-income housing, and threatened to hold hostage such Met Council programs as Park and Ride and light rail if it didn’t. Awada won the showdown by correctly pointing out that the Met Council lacks the authority to force municipalities to build specific housing types. She also won enemies: Opponents openly suggested that her opposition to the housing mandate was proof that she was an elitist, a classist, and even a racist. Awada rejects all of the characterizations as emblematic of a left obsessed with labeling opponents. “The liberals’ thing is usually just to cry discrimination or bigotry or, ‘She hates poor people’ or something,” she says with exasperation. For Awada, the argument against mandated housing types was straight logic about the limits of power. “I would never go into Minneapolis and say, ‘Your lots are too small. You can no longer develop like this,’” she huffs over a lunch of White Castles in her office. “I mean, that’s how ridiculous it is to suburbanites.”
When Pat Awada graduated from college in 1989, she was aspiring to a career in Washington, “the State Department or something,” she says. But then she met and married her husband, and dreams of Washington “died”—at least for the time being.
Mike Awada was raised in Mendota Heights, the son of an entrepreneurial Syrian and Lebanese family that Betty Anderson compares to the high-living Mediterraneans in last year’s hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding (“The Awadas called us Andersons ‘those hot-dish Scandinavians’”).
“I met him on a Booze Cruise, if you wanna know,” his wife recalls with a snicker. She was 22 and he was 25. It was the Fourth of July, and Mike and his friends had rented a yacht on Lake Minnetonka where, for $30, participants could eat and drink all they wanted. Pat Anderson and Mike Awada dated for 18 months and lived together for nine more before marrying.
Standing over a pot of boiling spaghetti in their airy, modern Eagan kitchen, Mike Awada reflects on the challenges of being a political husband. “At political functions, I feel more like a bodyguard than a spouse. Everybody wants a piece of her.” He speaks through a wry smile. He is tall and handsome, his skin slightly olive, his hair thinning but still full. A 15-foot wall separates the kitchen from the entryway, and it’s completely covered with children’s drawings, paintings, and photographs. Near the garage entrance is an Anne Geddes calendar devoted solely to when and where the Awada kids must be driven. For the month of April, there is not a single day without at least three destinations. Both parents share responsibility for the calendar, though Pat’s public responsibilities often require Mike to assume a heavier burden. “Every now and then the kids say, ‘I miss mommy,’ and I tell her she needs to be here.” He shrugs affably. “During the campaign for state auditor I was effectively a single parent.”