An organization claiming to represent the Tea Party Patriots of Rochester is taking aim at Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem for not being conservative enough.
The Rochester Post-Bulletin’s Heather Carlson reported Monday that the Tea Party group was irate over Senjem’s support of a “half trillion’’ dollar bonding bill. Carlson pointed out that, in fact, the Tea Party was a bit on the high side on the bonding bill. In fact, the Senate — and Senjem — are supporting a bonding bill that’s shy of a half-billion dollars.
“I don’t think a half-trillion would fly around here, not even with the governor,’’ said Senjem, laughing.
In an email sent to its members, the Rochester Tea Party bunched Senjem with “Etch A Sketch’’ politicians.
This seemed to baffle Senjem.
“I don’t even know what that is,’’ the Rochester senator said.
It was explained that term came out of the Republican Party’s presidential contest. An aide to Mitt Romney had explained that the candidate will be able to move to the middle for the presidential campaign by starting over. All those ultra-conservative pledges Romney has made during the primary season can disappear, with the shaking of a political Etch A Sketch.
“That’s a little too worldly for me,’’ said Senjem after the Senate ended a ho-hum session Monday afternoon.
Is he facing pressure from the right in his home district? Is he concerned that there will be an effort by party activists to endorse a more conservative candidate?
“I’ll deal with that when we get back home,’’ said Senjem. “You just try to do the best job you can when you’re here.’’
Although the Tea Party movement was said to be a substantial part of the reason for the Republican takeover of the Minnesota Legislature in the last election, Senjem said there’s always been “an element’’ opposing any sort of bonding bill.
“I’ve seen it before,’’ said the three-term senator. “All you can do is focus on the job we’re doing here.’’
This year’s bonding bill is controversial, even among Republicans. The House has come up with a far smaller bonding proposal from the Senate.
Senjem said at this point there have been no substantive talks about reconciling the two.
The life of a politician always is “a tight rope,’’ Senjem said.
“You can’t please everyone,’’ he said. “When you’re talking about bonding, you try to hit a sweet spot. You’ve got to come up with something that you think has a chance of passing.’’
The Tea Party email also charged that Senjem is doing “a 180 at the last minute’’ on the bonding bill. The Senate version of the bill includes funding for renovation of Rochester’s civic center, which the Rochester Tea Party opposes.
Senjem also has been taking heat from DFLers on the bonding bill, because it includes funds for the Rochester and St. Cloud civic centers. Those communities are represented in the legislature by Republicans.
The bill excludes money for a civic center in Mankato and the baseball park in St. Paul, cities represented by DFLers.
At this point, no Rochester area conservatives have stepped forward to challenge Senjem. The DFL has a strong candidate, Olmsted County Commissioner Judy Ohly, and high hopes of winning in a district that leans Republican.