Political punishment for six Republicans

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The six Republicans who voted to override the governor’s transportation bill veto have already experienced caucus ramifications, and, some say, may have committed political career suicide.

Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), Rep. Ron Erhardt (R-Edina), Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport), Rep. Neil W. Peterson (R-Bloomington) and Rep. Kathy Tingelstad (R-Andover) have all lost high-ranking committee or division positions.

“I have spoken with all six members and received their resignations from their lead positions on House committees and in the caucus,” House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) said in a statement one day after the Feb. 25 historic override vote. “I respectfully ask the House Democrats to respect our decision on this internal caucus matter.”

Before the vote, Hamilton submitted his resignation as lead Republican on the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affair Committee. He said it’d be hard to potentially convince other party members to sustain a gubernatorial veto if one were to occur on an agriculture bill. Heidgerken said caucus members were told that Republican leads that voted to override would lose their committee or division leadership roles.

Others have suggested they will lose their seat in November.

“This isn’t my career,” Abeler said. “My career is in Anoka. My career is serving people as a chiropractor. My career is serving my family,” he said. “I tell my kids to do what’s right, whatever the cost. So the time comes when I have to do what I believe to be right, against some very good friends of mine, against the people who have supported me through five elections.”

Tingelstad said her vote will likely result in several challengers to her seat. She believes her vote was what the majority in her district wanted. “I voted with my conscience,” she said.

“Letting our roads continue to deteriorate is not fiscally responsible,” said Hamilton, who called the vote the second hardest decision he’s made as a legislator, other than the one he makes each week during session when he leaves his family and comes to St. Paul.

Heidgerken said it was his hardest vote in six years as a member. He believes two primary duties of legislators are to take care of our roads and our children. “This is something we’ve needed for 20 years,” he said. “I’m not a follower. Sometimes, you need to show leadership and do what you think is right.”

Refusing to guess at what could happen, Seifert said the biggest problem facing the sextet could be the endorsing process. “I like all these people, and they’re my friends and so forth. I don’t think any of them expect my help when it comes to reelection. If you look at their margins, I think they are fully capable of getting elected, as they have been before, without my help.”

Less than an hour after the vote, Seifert said it’d be up to the caucus to determine if other position changes need to be made, such as with support staff. “I think everybody needs to simmer down before we charge ahead with these things. You don’t make decisions under duress.”

He doesn’t view that as a threat. “No more than putting a four-lane highway in someone’s district to get their vote is a bribe,” he said. Amended into the legislation by the House Ways and Means Committee, part of the law requires that funds allocated to a specific Transportation Department district be first expended to widen Highway 60 in Hamilton’s district.

“If it gets to the point where minority members of the House are stripped of services to serve their constituents, I will not stand for that,” said House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Mpls). “I will assure you as constituents and as Minnesotans they do need services and they will get them.”

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