Less than 24 hours after six rogue Republican House members voted to override a veto of a $6.6 billion tax-raising transportation bill, they were stripped of their leadership positions, a swift and unusual recrimination explained as an effort to "stitch together" a fractious House GOP caucus.
Several of the dissenting members did not go willingly or quietly, telling House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, that he would have to fire them from the positions.
"I am not going along with this foolishness. If you have to get rid of me, fire me," said Rep. Ron Erhardt, R-Edina, who was removed as the lead Republican on the Property Tax Relief and Local Sales Taxes Committee. "This is the way we get treated if we vote our districts and vote our consciences and vote our feeling that we are doing the right thing for the state."
Adding to the political repercussions of the override, the chairman of the state Republican Party warned that those who voted for it face an uphill battle winning party endorsement and help in reelection bids.
Seifert said dissenting members were aware of the possible consequences before the vote was taken, including the possibility of losing staff support and other resources. But he said he decided that removal from the caucus or other extreme measures would not be taken. Even so, stripping the members of leadership positions was unusual enough that no one could recall a similar action in recent history.
"We expect Republicans to follow other Republicans, and there is obviously a mixed message with what happened yesterday," Seifert said at a news conference Tuesday. "We're not taking anyone's secretary away. I'm not throwing their computers down the Capitol steps. I'm not severing their phone lines."
The six Republicans voted with the entire House DFL caucus to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto, bucking his lobbying efforts, the caucus position, and the state GOP.
For his part Pawlenty, back in Minnesota from Washington Tuesday, took aim at DFLers, warning them to "buckle their seat belts because there may be some unexpected turbulence."
Pawlenty predicted the bill will haunt DFL House members campaigning for reelection this fall. "You can mark the calendar," he said, "yesterday will be the day that began a tax revolt in Minnesota."
For GOP, a watershed issue
Seifert said he would not be recruiting candidates to run against members of his own caucus but also said the six legislators should not expect help.
"There are a lot of members of my caucus who don't have confidence in following someone who wasn't willing to follow me on the floor. It doesn't mean that I'm taking an ax to them or anything of that sort," Seifert said.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said that the party will support the endorsed party candidates but that he expects contentious conventions in the House districts whose members strayed.
"These are people who are good Republicans who left the reservation on this issue," he said. "This was a critical watershed issue, this is the largest tax increase in the history of the state of Minnesota. To have Republicans not stand against the largest tax increase, that's really baffling. It should have been an easy vote for these Republicans to have taken."
Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, one of the six dissenters, said he would have stepped down if he thought he had done anything wrong but that he believes he made the right choice for his district.
"The message they are sending to me is that 'We don't want any independent-minded people,'" Heidgerken said. "I'll always stand up for what's right. If that means my election, then I don't deserve to be here."
In the Senate, two Republicans voted to override the veto along with 45 Democrats. There were no indications the two GOP senators would face any sanctions.
"I think we need more unity right now, not more division," said Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester.
The Senate DFL, holding 45 of 67 seats in that chamber, has a veto-proof majority, meaning that most of the drama in the override vote was in the House. There, the DFL needed to keep the votes of all 85 of its members plus at least five Republicans to secure the two-thirds vote necessary for an override. The rogue House Republicans were not stripped of their committee assignments, only their leadership positions, which do not include additional staff or resources.
The changes in GOP leadership on House committees are:
• Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, replaced by Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, in the Agriculture, Rural Economies & Veterans Affairs Committee.
• Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover, replaced by Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, in the Capital Investment Committee.
• Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, replaced by Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, in the Health Care and Human Services Committee.
• Heidgerken, R-Freeport, replaced by Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, in the K-12 Finance Committee.
• Erhardt, R-Edina, replaced by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, in the Property Tax Relief & Local Sales Taxes Committee.
• In addition, Rep. Neil Peterson, R-Bloomington, was removed as an assistant minority whip and replaced by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636