For GOP legislators seeking higher office, 2014 votes become milestones or millstones

MinnPost file photo by James Nord
State Sen. Dave Thompson: “I’m really pleased that a bill that I authored will be signed into law by the man I am running against.”

It’s a blessing and curse to serve as a legislator while running for another office — especially for four Republican legislators running for governor or U.S. Senator.

For the four — State Sens. Dave Thompson and Julianne Ortman, and State Reps. Jim Abeler and Kurt Zellers — gains from authoring significant legislation can be undone by a single vote on a controversial bill.

“Those of us who are in office have to contend with more issues than those who are not in office,” said Abeler, who is running for the U.S. Senate. “We have to make decisions on real pieces of legislation. My effort has been to continue to be myself and do what I think is right.”

Abeler, from Anoka, said a good example of voting his conscience is the $846 million bonding bill that Republicans criticized as too expensive.

“The easy, really good political vote is to vote no. But it was, for me, the wrong vote,” he said. “I had a big project in there, important to my district — the bridge in the city of Ramsey to go across Highway 10.”

Gubernatorial candidate Zellers voted against the bonding bill. It contains “so many things that are unnecessary,” the Maple Grove Republican said.

But a legislative session is more than an opportunity to say no, he added. “You can show by introducing a bill, by giving a floor speech, how you would act as governor,” he said.

Zellers said his signature legislation this session was a bill to repeal the warehouse tax, which he made a cornerstone of his governor’s campaign. The governor signed the comprehensive tax bill containing the repeal, but Zellers can use the tax as a campaign talking point.

Zellers’ bill to rebate the money already collected under the tax did not pass. “This was a horrible mistake,” he said. “If this was a bad thing then, it’s still a bad thing now.”

Thompson, a Lakeville Republican running for governor, points with pride to two bills he authored. Gov. Dayton has signed Thompson’s bill requiring a conviction before property used in a crime can be confiscated. Dayton is expected to sign a second Thompson bill, increasing penalties for assaulting a prosecuting attorney or judge.

“I’m really pleased that a bill that I authored will be signed into law by the man I am running against,” Thompson said.

But Republicans could only nibble at the feast of goodies a legislative session offers. “We were either coerced or ignored,” according to Abeler.

The major Republican achievement of the session may well have been using the new Senate office building as metaphor for all the things the GOP believes are wrong with the DFL.

The honor of authoring the bill to repeal building funding went to Sen. Julianne Ortman, running for the U.S. Senate. The bill died immediately after introduction.

Ortman and Abeler face Mike McFadden, a business broker who has never held elective office; other GOP Senate candidates include St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, who has his own voting record.

On the gubernatorial side, Thompson and Zellers face Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and former GOP House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, among others.

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