IF ONLY MINNESOTANS WERE AS IMPORTANT AS PAWLENTY’S AMBITIONS…. As implementation of the Affordable Care Act proceeds, the law extends subsidies to states to help early retirees — folks who leave the workforce before they’re eligible for Medicare, but who still want to maintain their coverage. States led by Republicans may claim to hate the new law, but they’re nevertheless seeking the funds — even many of the states trying to kill the ACA in court.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is taking a different route. The increasingly right-wing governor, desperate to pander to the party’s base in advance of his presidential campaign, issued an order to state officials yesterday, demanding that they not seek grants through the new law, even if the funding would help the people of his state.

Keep in mind, this isn’t some kind of opt-out scheme — the law still applies to Minnesota, just like every other state. This is a scheme whereby funds are made available to states, and Pawlenty is demanding that Minnesota not seek those resources, at least for now.

In a move that could cost the state $1 billion or more in federal health care funds, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced an executive order Tuesday designed to keep what he terms “Obamacare” out of Minnesota.

Pawlenty said he will require all state agencies to funnel their federal grant requests through his office in order to “stop Minnesota’s participation in projects that are laying the groundwork for a federally controlled health care system” — unless they are required by law or approved by his office. […]

Pawlenty could be closing the door, at least during the remaining months of his term, to more than 100 federal health care grants that would fund projects ranging from diabetes prevention to postpartum care for new mothers to tighter regulation of insurance companies.

The heads of Minnesota’s most influential medical associations — which nearly always keep political matters at arms’ length — issued a sharp rebuke. “The governor’s decision just doesn’t make sense for Minnesotans,” the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, the Minnesota Hospital Association and the Minnesota Medical Association said in a joint statement late Tuesday.

That’s clearly true, but this gambit has nothing to do with making sense for Minnesotans, and everything to do with pandering to right-wing activists in Iowa and New Hampshire. Pawlenty’s constituents will not get aid available to other Americans, but his campaign will get a talking point.

Hari Sevugan, the DNC’s press secretary, said in a statement, “After rejecting $7.8 billion dollars for his cash-strapped state where taxpayers are struggling to make ends meet and denying health care to a quarter million of his fellow Minnesotans, Tim Pawlenty’s executive order to state employees might as well have read ‘You will henceforth work for my Presidential ambitions instead of the people of Minnesota.’”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.