Rep. Erik Paulsen, who is running to replace the retiring Jim Ramstad in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, is a Republican–but don’t tell anybody.
Throughout his 14-year tenure in the Minnesota Legislature, Paulsen has been one of the most consistent and avid Republican right voices on behalf of government-slashing and “family values” assaults on abortion rights, gay rights and education standards. Yet when Paulsen spoke at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul early this month, his campaign billed the site of the appearance as simply the “National Convention.” In fact, a glance of Paulsen’s campaign materials would leave a casual observer wondering what party the candidate is affiliated with.
That scrubbing of party identification betrays his position as a leader in Minnesota’s Republican Party and his conservative legislative record, a record that appears more conservative than the voters of Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District.
Paulsen has earned high marks from some of Minnesota’s most extreme conservative groups. He has earned a lifetime score of 89 percent from the arch-right Minnesota Taxpayers’ League, reaching a high of 91 percent in 2007. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, a group dedicated to making abortion illegal in all circumstances, gave Paulsen his lowest rating ever in 2008: a mere 90 percent. Paulsen had garnered a perfect 100 percent from 2002 to 2007. The Minnesota Family Council, a group that opposes equal rights based on sexual orientation, noted that Paulsen has voted their way on every issue except for gambling from 2003 to 2005. He scored a 100 percent in 2007 from the group.
Which issues has Paulsen supported to gain such impressive conservative ratings?
On issues of reproductive health, Paulsen has stood firmly with the religious right in opposing any form of abortion or any sex education curriculum that doesn’t include abstinence. In 2007, for instance, he voted against ensuring medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education for public schools and voted for an abstinence-until-marriage school curriculum.
He voted to eliminate any state funding for organizations that include abortion in the reproductive health spectrum. The bill read that funds could not be granted to “an organization that has adopted or maintains a policy in writing or through oral public statements that abortion is considered part of a continuum of family planning services, reproductive health services, or both.” He voted to completely de-fund the Minnesota AIDS Project. In 2005, he voted against a bill that would have required hospitals to carry emergency contraceptives for victims of sexual assault.
He repeatedly voted to create a 24-hour waiting period for abortion, and he cosponsored a ballot initiative that would have outlawed abortion in Minnesota in the event that the federal Roe v. Wade standard was ever overturned.
Paulsen made friends with the religious right by opposing any pro-LGBT legislation and actively working to enshrine religious right issues into the constitution, voting twice for the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, a bill that would amend the Minnesota Constitution to permanently outlaw domestic partnership, civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples. In 2005, he voted against allowing domestic partner benefits for state employees.
On one issue, Paulsen has flipped his position away from the religious right. In 2005, Paulsen voted to allow creationism, the theory that God created the Earth in seven days and that the planet’s history began 10,000 years ago, to be taught in Minnesota schools alongside evolution. In 2008, he voted against such a measure.
In the legislature, Paulsen was a leading voice on behalf of transforming Minnesota’s health care system to a conservative, free market model. In 1996, he attempted to remove caps on deductibles for MinnesotaCare enrollees (poor and uninsured Minnesotans) and to insert language promoting ‘free market solutions’ to Minnesota’s goal of universal health care. He sponsored a tort-restriction bill that would have placed a $250,000 cap on awards to patients injured by medical malpractice.
While not quite wanting to drown Minnesota’s government in a bathtub, he did make moves to shrink it dramatically. He cosponsored bills to reduce the size and scope of the legislature: one to make the legislature meet once every other year and another to reduce the number of legislators by almost a third.
On the drug war front, he cosponsored a bill to increase the penalties for selling, advertising or possessing drug paraphernalia and opposed allowing permits for Minnesota farmers to grow hemp.
Paulsen voted against increasing the minimum wage and voted for a bill that reduced benefits paid to injured workers “in order to lower costs for employers” [Star Tribune, May 23 1995].
On voting rights, he cosponsored a bill to tighten Minnesota’s tradition of allowing neighbors to vouch for each other by requiring oaths from three different residents of the precinct in every case. He worked to ensure that Roseville’s bid to institute instant runoff voting failed in 2004. “Just philosophically, there’s no need for the state to be involved with this,” Paulsen said. “People vote for the one person they think should hold office, and you live with the results. That’s democracy” [Pioneer Press, 2004].
He met with President Bush twice, once in 2003 and again in 2004, and gave the Bush a glowing review on CNN: “I think Minnesotans really do appreciate the firm and steady leadership. You know, the reality is, given 9/11’s situation, I think Minnesotans especially want leadership that was going to be on the offensive against terrorism. And that’s what we’ve seen with our president. And I think that’s why Minnesota is — and there’s a strong possibility of going to President Bush.”