Rep. Mark Olson has a newfound sense of mission, but not a party caucus.
Olson, who was convicted earlier this year of misdemeanor assault against his wife, has been expelled from the House Republican caucus. But he vows to vigorously defend the seat that he has had since 1992, even if his own party mounts an aggressive campaign to knock him off.
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said on Tuesday that the caucus voted to expel Olson last week pending any successful appeal or if Olson, of Big Lake, is reelected to the House. With caucuses scheduled in less than two months, Seifert said, Olson's expulsion cleared up his status to anyone else who might be interested in running. Olson had previously been suspended from the caucus.
Olson could also face a separate ethics complaint, which could result in further discipline, including removal from the House. Seifert said several other people have expressed an interest in running for Olson's Sherburne County district. One name frequently mentioned but not confirmed as a Republican candidate is former Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer.
Olson said Tuesday that he believes the expulsion from the caucus was simply designed to allow party workers an opportunity to come to his district to work against him. House Republican caucus officials, though, said they generally do not get involved in internal party races.
During his tenure in the House, Olson has developed a reputation as a maverick, even within his own caucus. He is known for lengthy orations on such things as the strict construction of the Constitution and for advocacy of personal rapid transportation. With his experience in the court system, he says he now has renewed vigor about attacking what he said are injustices in the courts, particularly those portions that affect families.
"There is nothing conciliatory about this process. I saw nothing positive about this process, and there seems to be no interest for the family," he said. "I have more reason to run now than I did before. I have some experiences in some areas that very few get. Despite the difficulty and how grievous this experience has been there is a side of it that is a blessing," Olson said.
Olson said it doesn't matter who decides to run against him, even though some previous supporters have registered concerns about his electability following the court case.
"I'll make my case and finish strong," he said.
Olson's permanent expulsion from the caucus, which was first reported as a possibility in the blog MNPublius, means that Olson does not have the staff or financial support of his party's resources, such as research, information technology or media assistance. Last session he was provided an assistant just for the legislative session.
Olson was convicted by a Sherburne County jury for causing his wife fear of bodily harm when they collided and fell to the ground behind their garage. He was acquitted of intentionally harming or trying to harm her. He is appealing his conviction and said he has reconciled with his wife.
"A lot of damage has been done by this publicity," he said. "The divorce is dropped, and I'm very blessed to have a wife who recognizes the foundation of our relationship and wants to work this through, as difficult as it has been to her, for myself and for the family."
Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636