Tarryl Clark on endorsement, abortion and her Republican past

AUDIO: Eric Black interviews state Sen. Tarryl Clark, who is running for Congress in the 6th District, about her views on abortion.

State Sen. Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud is seeking the DFL endorsement (and only the DFL endorsement) for Congress from the 6th District. She’ll abide by the endorsement, meaning she won’t run in a primary if Dr. Maureen Reed, or someone else, gets endorsed. In that circumstance, she will seek to keep her seat in the state Senate and will remain as assistant majority leader.

Clark is pro-choice on abortion (“rare, safe and legal”). She knows Republicans will run against her as a tax-and-spend liberal. And, and did you know (it’s no big secret, but I didn’t know it) Clark was a Republican until the mid-’80s?

State Sen. Tarryl Clark
State Sen. Tarryl Clark

The race to be the 2010 challenger to two-term Repub incumbent Rep. Michele Bachmann has received a ridiculous amount of attention over recent weeks, especially from your humble ink-stained wretch, but it’s been outrageously lively so far in advance, what with the former frontrunner Elwyn Tinklenberg dropping out, Clark — a DFL rising star who has been rumored to considering running for several major offices over recent years — getting in and with Reed, whose only previous candidacy was on the Independence Party ticket for lieutenant governor in 2006, seeking both the IP and DFL endorsements but not making clear what she might do if she doesn’t get the DFL endorsement.

Reed also has a likely competitor for the IP endorsement, Bob Anderson of Woodbury, who was the IP nominee (sort-of) in 2008 and who plans to seek the IP endorsement this round. A bit more on that below.

Yesterday, I tormented Dr. Reed on the abiding and abortion issues and today I pass along Sen. Clark’s answers to some similar basic questions about her approach to the campaign.

Clark, 48, has been a community activist, has a law degree (worked in the Minnesota attorney general’s Office) and a master’s in education, and has been a senator since  2006. She grew up in Virginia, Illinois and Arizona before arriving in Minnesota in 1988.

A former Republican

A MinnPost reader stumbled on the fact that Clark was a former Repub and asked me to check it out. Sure enough, she grew up in a Republican family and voted Repub as a young adult, including for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 (ouch, don’t tell Walter Mondale).

Of that 1984 vote for Reagan, Clark says: “If I could take that back, I would. He [Reagan] was kind of the nail in the coffin” of her Republican sympathies.

During the Reagan years, she says, she saw her ancestral party abandoning the needs of families and failing to walk the walk on fiscal responsibility. She’s been a Dem ever since and served as deputy chair of the DFL. (An aside, because I happen to recall it, Rep. Bachmann was a Democrat as a young adult, campaigning for Jimmy Carter. The Reagan years turned Bachmann into a conservative Republican and Clark into a liberal Democrat.)

Clark gave serious thought to the governor’s race this year. When I asked her why she switched to Congress, she said that, “given my geography, there’s a lot of good people running [for guv] that could not possibly run here [for 6th district congressperson]. We need better representation in Washington, D.C.”

Clark once referred to Bachmann as a “devil in a blue dress.” Her current phrase of choice for criticizing the incumbent seems to be (in this version, from her announcement of andidacy):

“It’s time to deliver more than a sound bite. Representative Bachmann’s biggest accomplishments are creating controversy instead of creating good jobs, and working the talk show circuit instead of helping working families.”

Tax and spend

On the day after she filed papers of candidacy, Minnesota GOP Chair Tony Sutton released this statement:

“Tarryl Clark is a tax and spend liberal who has consistently voted to raise taxes on Minnesotans.  As a state senator, Clark has voted to increase gasoline taxes, the metro wide sales tax, license tab fees and income taxes.  Regardless of who the DFL puts up, the Sixth District will have a clear choice between Rep. Michele Bachmann, who opposes any new tax increases, and the Democrats who have long supported adding to the tax burden of hard-working Minnesotans.” 

The 6th District is one of Minnesota’s strongest bastions of conservatism. And Bachmann favors cutting most taxes that can’t be eliminated entirely. I asked Clark how she would respond to the Republican portrayal of her as a tax and spend liberal:

“They were going to say that about anyone who ran,” she said. “They’ve gotten to point where they choose to run on fear and divisiveness and to turn people into things they are not. I think that’s unfortunate. I think Minnesotans and the people of the 6th District have seen them do this for a long time and can see through it. I intend to focus  on the things that matter to people.” (Elsewhere in the interview, she mentioned economic and retirement security, education and health care.) “They’ve ran against me that way before and people around here know better than that.”

But, of course, Clark has indeed, as Sutton said, supported tax increases. Her response:

“First off, like with our current governor, Representative Bachmann believes in pushing the payment for key services onto others.” This refers to the DFL argument that Gov. Tim Pawlenty, by holding down state taxes, necessitated local governments to raise property taxes.

As a legislator, Clark said: “I have voted against tax increases when I felt that was the right thing to do. I also know when you’re in the middle of a multi-billion-dollar deficit, you have to be able to both cut and to make sure that we have adequate revenues… Saying ‘no’ is really not a solution.”


I pressed Clark (and Reed) for their abortion positions because the 6th has been the most anti-abortion of Minnesota’s Congressional districts and part of Bachmann’s political strength has been her reputation as a complete social conservative. It may be difficult for any abortion-rights supporter to win in the district, which is surely why both Democrats tried to answer a basic question about whether women have the right to choose an abortion in the early stages of a pregnancy with an answer about preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Me: “You are pro-choice, I take it?”

Clark: “I have worked hard to reduce abortions. I will continue to do that. The three things we can and should be doing — and I think most people agree with this — is to reduce unwanted pregnancies,  increase adoptions, help with family stability issues. We can eliminate 90-95 percent of all abortions and it would be good to have representation that understands and has actually worked on those issues…”

Me: “But you nonetheless do support a woman’s right to choose?”

Clark: “If somebody wants to  be voting for someone who’s going to reduce abortion, I’m the one with a track record…”

Me: “But there’s a basic question that you’re dancing around. For people who are interested in the basic pro-life, pro-choice division…”

Clark: “We can eliminate 90-95 percent of all abortions but then at the end of the day you want it to be rare, safe and legal.”

The IP situation

In Jesse Ventura’s 1998 win for governor, the 6th District was his best. Although the party hasn’t won much else, the Independence Party has remained active in the 6th — as elsewhere — and close races have left behind arguments about whether the IP candidate drew more heavily from one side and may have determined the outcome. In 2006, the IP candidate for Congress from the 6th received 8 percent of the vote. In 2008, IPer Bob Anderson received 10 percent.

In 2008, the IP actually endorsed the DFL endorsee, El Tinklenberg. But state law prohibits a candidate from appearing on the November ballot under two different party banners, so Anderson — who had sought and lost the endorsement to Tinklenberg — ran unopposed in an IP primary (Tinklenberg couldn’t be on the IP primary ballot because he was the DFL nominee) and won the IP ballot position.

Anderson, 51, a dental technician, has said he might run again, and if he does he would seek the IP endorsement. Since I’ve been tormenting all the other candidates on the abiding question, I asked Anderson this week whether he would abide by the IP endorsement. He said yes, he would, as long as it didn’t involve a cross-endorsement like last time. He was unwilling to defer to Tinklenberg since Tinklenberg would be on the ballot as the DFL candidate (and, presumably, if Anderson hadn’t run, there would have been no IP candidate on the congressional ballot).

This year it’s Reed who seeking both the DFL and IP endorsements. She refuses to say whether she will abide by the DFL endorsement, which means (although she won’t acknowledge this) that she reserves the right to run in a primary against Clark if Clark wins the endorsement. (Clark has flatly promised to abide and said that if Reed or anyone else wins the DFL endorsement, she will drop out of the congressional race and seek to keep both her seat in the state Senate and her position in the DFL Senate leadership.)

Reed also said that she would not run on the IP ballot line, because she intends to run on the DFL ballot line. She is unwilling to make her intentions completely clear, but it creates the possibility that, if Clark wins the DFL endorsement, Reed could either run in a DFL primary or — especially if she wins the IP endorsement — run on the IP ballot line in the general election.

But Anderson says that the IP is reconsidering its policy on cross-endorsement and might, at an October meeting, adopt a rule that it will only endorse candidates who are exclusively seeking the IP nomination.

At this point, my eyes are crossed trying to game out the possibilities.

Most DFLers seem to think that the IP in general and Anderson in particular cost the DFL the last election in the district (Bachmann, 46.4 percent; Tinklenberg, 43.4; Anderson, 10.04). The logic seems to be that the voters are voting for or against Bachmann and the IP candidate splits the anti-Bachmann vote.

But I did ask Anderson about his abortion position. He is strongly and firmly pro-life (“I’m a Catholic,” he said).  Reed took an ambiguous middle position on abortion. It’s possible to imagine that the presence of an anti-abortion IP candidate provides a harbor for strongly pro-life voters who are turned off by other aspects of Bachmann’s persona, but would not vote for a pro-choice DFLer.

AUDIO: Eric Black interviews state Sen. Tarryl Clark, who is running for Congress in the 6th District, about her views on abortion.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 08/07/2009 - 10:54 am.

    Speaking of nails in coffins, speaking ill of President Reagan in the 6th congressional district is a good start. Good luck Ms. Pogemiller.

  2. Submitted by Jazziette Devereaux on 08/07/2009 - 11:39 am.

    President Reagan was indeed loveable. I voted for him as well. But the sad truth is that the Reagan/Bush administration was a disaster for this country. It was at that point that I also left the Republican Party. Kudos to Senator Clark for her insight and integrity and devotion to ALL the people and not just the wealthy few. As an ‘American’ from Arizona I am aware of the high stakes and importance of this race and the fact is that Americans everywhere, not just Minnesota, are anxious to get ‘out of control’ politicians like Michele Bachmann out of positions of power that can affect us all.

    There is no more viable candidate than Tarryl Clark. Let’s hope and pray that for the good of Minnesota and this country that she gets the DFL endorsement and that the good people of Minnesota get behind her.

    As for abortion….it’s so sad that such a delicate and personal issue must always be brought up at election time. But the reality is that Roe vs Wade is probably never going to be overturned and Senator Clark’s approach and experience toward working to reduce unwanted pregnancies is far more realistic than simply saying “no”.

    Best of luck to Senator Tarryl and all the good people of Minnesota!

  3. Submitted by Dave Thompson on 08/07/2009 - 11:47 am.

    Statewide instant run-off elections can’t get here fast enough. The only reason Bachmann (and Pawlenty) won the last time is because of the IP candidate.

  4. Submitted by Dan Hoxworth on 08/07/2009 - 01:17 pm.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Aaron. Seems to be very biased in face of State Senator Clark on the matter of abortion. It seems to me that while the catch phrase “rare, safe, legal” wasn’t used by Ms. Reed, there positions are the same. Why not the same heading. No one is pro-abortion. Both Clark and Reed appear to want to make sure that this is a decision made by a woman in consultation with her physician.

    As for the IP candidacy, I don’t know how Ms. Reed could be clearer on this issue. Yet, Eric continues to beat this dead horse.

    What is clear is that the State law is worthy of reconsideration to allow political parties to endorse whoever they want and put them under their banner whether the candidate is cross-endorsed or not. Why should a state law eliminate this possibility? It should be the decision of the political party. If so, Twinklenberg might very well have won if he was also listed at the IP candidate.

  5. Submitted by Aubrey Immelman on 08/07/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    From the article: “Most DFLers seem to think that the IP in general and Anderson in particular cost the DFL the last election in the district (Bachmann, 46.4 percent; Tinklenberg, 43.4; Anderson, 10.04). The logic seems to be that the voters are voting for or against Bachmann and the IP candidate splits the anti-Bachmann vote.”

    That was my thinking, too. But when I work the numbers, the empirical support just isn’t there, or weak at best.

    For Tinklenberg to have defeated Bachmann in a hypothetical two-way race, we would first have to assume that all of Anderson’s 40,643 voters (a) would have turned out at the polls and (b) expressed a preference for either Tinklenberg or Bachmann (as opposed to, say, spoiling the ballot, voting for a write-in candidate, or writing in “Lizard People,” Mickey Mouse, of Ham Sandwich).

    Second, for Tinklenberg to have won, he would have had to gain two our of every three Anderson votes, which would have given him a narrow 50.1 percent to 49.7 percent victory over Bachmann. However, that flies in the face of the well-documented pattern that undecided voters tend to break for the incumbent — in this case, Bachmann.

    Even if Tinklenberg and Bachmann had split the Anderson vote 50-50 in a hypothetical two-way race, Bachmann would still have won, 51.4 percent to 48.5 percent.

    Additional analysis at the links below:



  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/07/2009 - 01:41 pm.

    @Aaron Rothe:

    From the Maureen Reed interview:

    “I come at this from a doctor’s perspective, Eric, as a doctor. I know that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and I’m not looking to overturn it. This procedure [now that I review the transcript, I note that Reed avoids using the word “abortion”] should be used to preserve the health and save the life of the mom and I don’t believe the government should be in the doctor’s office saying what that means…”

    She appears to be advocating placing limits on Roe v. Wade but not overturning it.

    Clark makes a more direct statement (admittedly after being presed, but so was Reed):

    “Clark: “We can eliminate 90-95 percent of all abortions but then at the end of the day you want it to be rare, safe and legal.”

    Bottom line:
    Clark was willing to state directly that abortion should be legal; Reed only with qualifications.

  7. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/07/2009 - 02:03 pm.

    “I suspect this is just the sort of thread that those who like this sort of thread would like.”

    Apologies to Lincoln.

    I think this might be a good one to re-run next July or August.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/07/2009 - 03:18 pm.

    @Aaron Rothe:
    These are direct quotes from Erick Black’s interviews.

  9. Submitted by Eric Black on 08/07/2009 - 03:40 pm.

    I thank the many commenters for the civil, substantive tone of this thread and the one yesterday on the Reed interview. A few reactions from me:
    I didn’t start out biased in favor of either candidate, but I am biased in favor of straight answers. I ended up knowing where Clark stood on the two main questions (abiding and abortion) but not where Reed stood on either.
    The reason I didn’t post the full tape of the Clark interview is that I (stupidly) didn’t get my tape running at the beginning of the interview. The only controversial passage, in my view, was the exchange on abortion, and that you have available.
    I also agree with those who said yesterday that as long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, the question of who wants to ban abortion is mostly irrelevant as a matter of substance. And I don’t expect it to be overturned during the Obama presidency, although it has very shaky five-justice majority (assuming Sotomayor joins that majority and Kennedy remains within it.) But I also think candidates for Congress should have a position on the underlying question of whether would favor a ban on abortion if they could, or whether, as some of Reed’s comments suggested, it should be allowed only when the mother’s health is at stake. And it’s an especially big deal, politically, in this district. I suspect Dr. Reed will have to clarify her answer on this, as well as abiding.
    Wishing that the Legislature would change state law so a candidate can represent two parties on the ballot (which would be fine with me), won’t make it happen, certainly in time for this race. The combination of that law, the policy of IP, and the particular dynamics of this race is a confusing mess, but everyone will have to deal with it until the November ballot is set.

  10. Submitted by Jazziette Devereaux on 08/07/2009 - 06:17 pm.

    Great and unbiased article on the candidates, Eric.

    Just wanted to add something to my previous post.

    RE: Senator Clark changing parties during the Reagan/Bush years – perhaps it was because of the same things I saw and NYT Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman recently wrote an article on:



    “Attacks on Reaganomics usually focus on rising inequality and fiscal irresponsibility. Indeed, Reagan ushered in an era in which a small minority grew vastly rich, while working families saw only meager gains. He also broke with longstanding rules of fiscal prudence.”

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