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At Hispanics' conference, Tim Pawlenty skirts immigration

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 Republican presidential contender, spoke at a conference for Hispanic conservatives Friday but mostly skirted the controversial issue of immigration reform.

Pawlenty, speaking to a small but engaged audience at the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Coral Gables, addressed the need for job growth, mainly through educational reform, a topic many Hispanics care about. But only at the end of his 20-minute speech did he touch on immigration, without going into specifics.

"We need to start the discussion with the notion that the rule of law is a cornerstone tenet for our nation," he said, adding that broad swaths of the country cannot be "nodding or winking" at the law, presumably a reference to the millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S.

"The system needs to be legal and reasonable and orderly and that's now what we have now," Pawlenty added, without suggesting how to fix it.

Pawlenty is on a national tour promoting his book and, if his Coral Gables speech is any indication, trying to give conservatives a narrative of his background -- of paramount importance to possible presidential candidates -- as the son of a truck driver and a homemaker who died when he was 16 years old.

On education, Pawlenty praised the recent, pro-charter school film Waiting for Superman, and referred to Michelle Rhee, a Democrat and educational adviser to Gov. Rick Scott, as a "superwoman."