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Election mail check: Exaggerated abortion, gas tax claims common in Minnesota legislative races

A look at two pieces of hit lit aimed at DFL state House candidate Ethan Cha of Woodbury and GOP incumbent Rep. Greg Boe of Chanhassen.

The Republican Party of Minnesota sent this mailer to voters in the district where DFL House candidate Ethan Cha of Woodbury is running.

The typical negative campaign mailer details “bad” votes cast by an incumbent. That is, one party researches voting records for roll calls on issues that can be used to take down an incumbent.

But a pair of mailings among the hundreds being dropped in mail boxes this year use a different tactic: projecting what a candidate might do if elected. In one case, the guess is based on bills an incumbent has sponsored in the past. Another is based on bills that someone from the same party as the candidate has sponsored in the past.

And in one allegation, the mailing gives a legislator power he doesn’t possess. Here’s a look at two pieces of hit lit aimed at DFL state House candidate Ethan Cha of Woodbury and GOP incumbent Rep. Greg Boe of Chanhassen.

Republican State Party and House Republican Campaign Committee vs. Cha

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The mailing is headlined “Ethan Cha will support higher gas taxes to pay for more wasteful spending” and features a photo of a smiling Cha taped over the body of someone pointing, seemingly at a gas pump with $4-gallon-plus prices. 

“I DID THAT!” Cha appears to be saying in an image similar to stickers that were placed on pumps featuring a pointing Joe Biden. On the back, the same image is pointing to a headline that says “Ethan Cha will support higher gas taxes.”

campaign mailer
The back of the mailer sent by the Republican Party of Minnesota.
So what is the attribution? Has Cha declared his support for gas taxes? Did he sponsor a bill or take a vote in favor of higher gas taxes? The mailing doesn’t go there, instead relying on the guilt by political association method.

“Ethan Cha is endorsed by the liberal DFL because he will be a solid vote to take more money from hardworking Minnesotans,” the copy reads. “He is a member of the same party that voted to raise the gas tax and refused to stop the DFL’s automatic gas tax increases even though the price per gallon rose to above $5.00.”

There is some truth to that claim – and some major league stretching of that truth. In 2019, Gov. Tim Walz proposed increasing gasoline taxes to increase spending on roads and bridges and other increases to pay for transit projects in the metro area. The sequence of four, five-cent-per-gallon gas tax increases was ultimately approved by the DFL-controlled state House but was blocked by the GOP-controlled state Senate.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the price of a gallon of gasoline in Minnesota when that vote was taken was $2.74.

Because the tax was never approved, there were no automatic increases for the Legislature to stop when prices reached $5 per gallon. The only moves last session were by some DFLers, including those who voted for the 2019 gas tax hike, to stop collecting the state gas tax as a form of tax holiday. That move was opposed by other DFLers, though it was endorsed by Walz. It was never voted upon.

Minnesota DFL Party vs. Greg Boe

The front of the mailer shows a woman wearing green medical scrubs and handcuffs. Over the photo is the headline “Greg Boe’s legislation would turn doctors … into criminals.” On the back, over the statement “Greg Boe Is Too Extreme To Trust With Minnesota’s Future,” are three claims about a bill he cosponsored in 2021: that the bill would criminalize abortion in Minnesota, that it would ban abortion without exceptions for rape or incest, that it “even contained possible criminal penalties for doctors.”

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The Minnesota DFL Party sent a mailer with these images to voters in the district of state House Rep. Greg Boe, R-Chanhassen.

Many of the mailings sponsored by the DFL and associated groups this election are focusing on abortion. In some cases, as with Boe, it points to bills sponsored. In others, often with non-incumbents, it cites answers to questionnaires from anti-abortion groups.

Boe was one of 11 sponsors of House File 262. The Senate companion bill, Senate File 223, had one sponsor. Both were titled “Abortions prohibited when a fetal heartbeat is detected with certain exceptions, and penalties provided.” It was introduced, referred to the House Health Policy and Finance Committee and did not receive a hearing.

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The bill is one page long and uses definitions found in the Texas law that outlawed abortions at the point of fetal heartbeat detections. The bill said that “except in the case of medical emergency,” a doctor must test to determine if a fetal heartbeat is detectable via an abdominal ultrasound “according to standard medical practice.” If such a heartbeat is detected, no abortion shall be performed. Punishment would be a gross misdemeanor subject to not more than one year in prison or a fine of not more than $3,000.

The bill defines fetal heartbeat as “the steady and repetitive contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” It defines “unborn child” as “a member of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until birth.”

Backers of such laws assert that heartbeats can be detected at six weeks of gestation. But an examination of the science by NPR says many pediatricians dispute that claim, saying that until heart valves develop at 18-to-20 weeks, no heartbeat is present. Still, the timing definitions of the sponsors shows the intent of the bill is to ban most abortions because many woman aren’t yet aware they are pregnant before six weeks.

The only assertion that is questionable is that because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a state legislator in Minnesota “can outlaw abortion.” Under current state Supreme Court rulings, there is a fundamental right to abortion in the state Constitution. And a recent district court ruling that has not been successfully appealed found that nearly all restrictions such as gestational periods are not permitted.

Boe could vote for a bill to ban abortion, and if Republicans run the House and Senate next year and hold the governor’s office, it could become law. But under the current court, it would be found unconstitutional. Boe could vote to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to change the state constitution, but that would need voter approval.

While it might sound like a technicality, no Legislature in Minnesota can outlaw abortion without a change in the court makeup or approval from voters – the same voters who have told pollsters in solid majorities that they don’t want such a ban.