Rogue Republicans still feeling heat from overriding governor's veto

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG and BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 3, 2008 - 9:53 PM

In Glenwood, Minn., worshipers held a prayer service last week for Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport.

As such groups often do, they prayed for his salvation. But this time it was salvation from the fire turned on Heidgerken by his own party after he voted to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion tax-raising transportation bill.

"It's tough to override the governor," Heidgerken said. "I've always told my children, 'Don't succumb to peer pressure. Always make me proud.' I was getting a lot of peer pressure from my party. I went back and thought about what I told my children. It's more important do to what's right than get reelected."

Heidgerken and five other Republicans who voted for the override Feb. 25 were scolded and stripped of leadership jobs in the House of Representatives by their caucus, and now are facing varying degrees of resistance in efforts to get party endorsement for reelection.

State Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said his reading of the situation shows that many voters are upset with the gas-tax increase, particularly Republicans for whom lower taxes and smaller government are core beliefs.

"People do expect their local officials -- Republican or Democrat -- to stand on a key philosophy to gain support of the party," he said.

In his rounds of local party conventions last weekend, Carey visited one of three in Heidgerken's district west of St. Cloud, partly to make points about the veto override.

"It's not my job to call for the ouster of a representative," Carey said. "But I can let [delegates] know what their options are."

That would include delaying endorsement and letting other candidates emerge. At the Feb. 23 convention in the district of Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover, delegates delayed an endorsement vote after Tingelstad voted in favor of the transportation bill.

Two days after that, she voted to override Pawlenty's veto, and was removed as the ranking minority member of the House Capital Investment Committee.

Heidgerken's district was not scheduled to take an endorsement vote last weekend.

Not a game plan

The six representatives who broke party ranks didn't act in concert, said Rep. Neil Peterson of Bloomington, although each was aware that others were considering supporting the override.

"The hardest part for me was the public lashing from the governor," he said. "It's hard not to take it personally."

In an interview, Peterson expressed concern about being expected to "march in step" to the caucus: "If that's the case, they might as well send a duck to do the job instead of me."

Said Heidgerken, who represents an area of central Minnesota: "I'm not down here to represent a party. I'm here to represent my people."

The other rogue Republicans who voted with the DFL on the override were Rep. Jim Abeler, Anoka; Rep. Ron Erhardt, Edina, and Rep. Rod Hamilton, Mountain Lake.

It was the first Pawlenty veto to be overturned.

Endorsement votes are scheduled this weekend in Abeler's, Erhardt's and Peterson's districts.

Peterson's office received about 500 e-mails and 200 phone calls in the days immediately after Monday's vote. Most were supportive, he said, adding that he's responded to every critic with an explanation of his position.

Heidgerken said he received close to 700 e-mails in a day and most were favorable.

Criticism has been easy to find, too.

"Just stick your head out the window," said Erhardt, who has sponsored gas-tax increase legislation for several years and has a challenger for the Republican endorsement.

But on a Saturday call-in show on The Patriot, a radio station that ties itself to Republicans and conservative causes, challenger Keith Downey declined several times to discuss Erhardt or his gas-tax support. His 20-minute appearance attracted only one call, though the show's hosts pledged to "push [Downey] over the top."

Ex-governor: Politics is rough

Former Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican, vetoed 127 bills. None was overridden. Still, he called last week's treatment of the rogue Republicans "appalling."

"I can understand a governor wanting to prevent an override," Carlson said. "I cannot understand the caucus turning around and punishing people who express independence, and what they feel is in the best interest of the state.''

Carlson added that he believes the six Republicans actually guaranteed their reelection because "the public is light years ahead of a political party. They understand the virtue of independence and independent thinking."

Dave Jennings, one of four Republicans who held out against a budget-balancing measure crafted by Republican Gov. Al Quie and DFL leaders in the early 1980s, said the four were pressured to change their minds, but not reprimanded. Within a year, Jennings ran unopposed for reelection and was named House minority leader.

Party discipline is needed, Jennings said, but it's not always clear when it needs to be enforced, or when a "conscience" vote should be honored.

"I think it's probably a bad idea to punish people who believe they're doing the right thing for the people they're elected to represent," Jennings said.

Like Heidgerken, Quie also found himself thinking last week about how politics can echo family life.

"When I was a young man, I finally stood up to my dad, and I was scared," Quie recalled. "When I became a father of four sons, when my first son stood up to me, I realized how proud my father was of me -- because if I would stand up to the authority of my father, that means I would have the courage to stand up to other things and move in the way I believed was right."

cxiong@startribune.com • 612-673-4391 mcaul@startribune.com • 612-673-7646

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