Emmer, MIA on DWI vote, ignites criticism

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 13, 2010 - 10:57 PM

Passage of legislation imposing tougher consequences for drunken driving draws attention to the absence of the Republican gubernatorial candidate at other times.

The vote drew attention to a tougher law on drunken driving -- and to voting.

The Senate and House overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday requiring that more serious first-time drunken-driving offenders use breath-activated ignition systems to drive. The legislation also provides for longer license revocations for repeat offenders.

But the 131-0 vote in the House brought more attention to the actions, or inactions, of the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor, Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano.

Emmer was among three House members who didn't vote on the measure. He said he missed it.

"I had a lunch I had to go to at noon, and it ran over, simple as that," Emmer said in an interview on the House floor after the vote.

How would he have voted if he had been there? "I have no idea," Emmer said, adding, "Had I been here, I assume I would have voted in favor of it."

Emmer was twice arrested decades ago for drunken driving, a background that his rival for the GOP endorsement, Marty Seifert, cited a week before the convention at which Emmer got the party's backing.

Now some recent missed votes by Emmer have become fodder for attacks by the DFL, which has cited 65 missing votes since he was endorsed April 30.

"This is nothing more than petty politics," Emmer said, saying that the DFL gubernatorial endorsee, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, has missed 50 to 60 votes during the session. The state GOP said she has missed 51 since her endorsement April 24.

Emmer notes that the DFL majority controls the agenda of the House, making it more difficult for him to plan. "We don't run the place," he said. "I don't think we're expected to be here all day."

Shortly before Emmer missed the vote on the drunken-driving bill, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, sent out a press release chiding him for missing a vote early Thursday morning on natural resources and energy spending. It includes $58.9 million for prairie, forests, wetlands and habitat projects funded through the 2008 Legacy Amendment.

"At 12:15 last night I got excused," Emmer said Thursday afternoon. "And I went home. I got home about 1. I had meetings that started at 7 this morning."

"Apparently that's no longer acceptable."

Emmer was excused by Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, who was filling in for Kelliher as speaker.

Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, told KFAI's Minnesota Capitol News after the vote on the outdoors bill that Emmer was excused to attend his daughter's softball game or to take her out for ice cream.

Kelliher was quick to make a pointed reference to Emmer's absence on the outdoors bill, telling Minnesota Capitol News she found it "interesting."

Emmer also missed a vote Thursday on a bill making it easier to expunge some kinds of criminal records. He said he missed it after stepping out of the chamber to get a cookie.

Last week, Emmer was absent when the House voted 105-27 not to ratify the $2.7 billion in budget cuts that the state Supreme Court said Gov. Tim Pawlenty could not make on his own. Emmer said he was trying to wrap up business at his law firm last week when the House refused to ratify the cuts.

The drunken-driving measure, which passed the Senate 60-1, requires first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol reading twice the legal limit, or .16, to use the ignition interlock system.

While increasing revocation terms for some drunken-driving offenders, the bill also eases prohibitions against any drinking by some repeat offenders.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210

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