GOP leader punishes members
ST. PAUL - The top Minnesota House Republican punished six colleagues for not voting the "right way" Monday on a transportation funding bill.
"We want positive leadership from Republicans," House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said Tuesday of his rare move. "They are not doing the right thing on the floor."
Leadership positions such as being top Republican on a committee and holding the title of assistant whip were ripped away from the six. Seifert said they cannot be GOP leaders if they don't follow the party line on such a major bill as the $6.6 billion transportation package.
"I totally respect what they did," Seifert said, but that respect did not convince him to allow the GOP Six to retain their power.
Those disciplined were: Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, Bud Heidgerken of Freeport, Kathy Tingelstad of Andover, Jim Abeler of Anoka, Neil Peterson of Bloomington and Ron Erhardt of Edina.
Heidgerken, who held the top spot on the K-12 education funding committee, said the position is not very important because he works well with the panel's Democrats.
Still, the move frustrated him.
"I hate to be penalized any time I'm right," Heidgerken said.
Heidgerken questioned whether fellow Republicans believe he should vote against his conscience.
"Is this one of the principles of the Republican Party?" he asked.
As a result of the GOP shuffle, Rep. Larry Howes of Walker was named top Republican on the House public works funding committee.
"It's a privilege and it's more work," he joked.
Howes said GOP leaders needed to make a statement.
"Everybody has their way of doing things," he said. "I think Marty's doing it in a somewhat calm way, but making his point."
Capitol observers do not recall a time when a caucus leader handed out such widespread punishment. Seifert, who described the punishment as "once-and-only," said it was needed because the Democratic-written transportation bill was so heavy on taxes.
"I think this has been blown into a much bigger deal than it actually is," Rep. Matt Dean said of the caucus shake-up. "The real consequences are with the voters."
Dean, R-Dellwood, took Abeler's spot as lead Republican on a health care funding committee. Minnesotans are stuck with record tax increases as a result of the override, Dean said.
Seifert said he could have taken away their secretaries or dished out other punishment - and the full Republican caucus still could decide to do that - but he opted for a smaller penalty.
The leader said the half-dozen punished lawmakers will not receive financial help from the caucus if they run for re-election, although he said he does not plan to recruit other Republicans to run against them.
However, state GOP Chairman Ron Carey said he has heard from party leaders in districts served by some of the six who are recruiting candidates to unseat the incumbents.
"It's very disappointing," Carey said of the Monday votes.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, replaced Erhardt as lead Republican on a property tax subcommittee. He will coordinate the GOP position and strategy on tax issues.
Lanning said he agrees with Seifert's decision, and said it does not mean Republicans cannot vote independent of their caucus. If they do, however, there will be consequences.
"There may come a day when I will lose a leadership position, too, because I haven't followed the expectations of the (caucus) leadership," Lanning said.
The property tax committee's chairman is DFL Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth, whose district borders Lanning's in northwestern Minnesota.
Rep. Dean Urdahl replaced Hamilton as the top Republican on an agriculture and veterans affairs committee.
Hamilton supported the override; Urdahl, R-Grove City, stuck with the GOP caucus.
"In this instance, some consequence may be appropriate, but I don't want to see anything drastic," he said.
In his new position, Urdahl said he will advocate for Republicans' agriculture proposals.
Even Republicans who got promotions as a result of the shake-up said there should be no further penalties for the six who sided with Democrats.
"I hope this is the end of it," Lanning said. "I would not support any further action against my colleagues."
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said Capitol pundits are way off the mark in speculating that the House Republican caucus is in disarray after the override.
"The conventional wisdom on this vote is 100 percent wrong," said Garofalo, who voted for a transportation spending bill in 2005 but opposed this year's bill. "The Republican caucus is stronger now, not weaker."
Seifert made Garofalo an assistant minority whip. His main job will be to gauge where Republicans stand on certain bills before votes are taken.
"I'm happy to accept it," he said. "It's a good position to be in."
Garofalo said transportation has been a tough issue for Republicans, known as "road-and-bridge" supporters and fiscal conservatives.
"Now that we've cleared the deck of this weak link in the chain, we're a stronger chain."
Howes said he has a good relationship with the committee's chairwoman, DFL Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, and did not think his new post will change much. He believes two projects benefiting his district would be included in this year's public works spending plan even if he did not have the committee's top GOP slot.