The political retaliation has been swift: Republican House Minority Leader Marty Seifert immediately took the leadership positions away from Republicans who broke ranks and voted this week to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a $6.6 billion transportation bill that raises taxes.
Of the six House Republicans who voted for the bill Thursday and then overrode the veto Monday, Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover, had the most difficult immediate circumstances attending her decision.
On the weekend between the two votes, Tingelstad faced a party convention in District 49B and was denied endorsement. She was also the lead Republican in the House on the Capital Investment Finance Division panel that will play a prominent role in fashioning the bonding bill — the most significant legislation lawmakers will act on this session, aside from transportation. On Tuesday, Seifert and the rest of the Republican caucus stripped her of that authority.
Yet when Tingelstad returned our phone call yesterday afternoon, she seemed neither cowed nor angered by her party’s response to her votes and was confident that she would survive politically and unflinching in her belief that she has done the right thing.
MinnPost: How tough was your decision to vote for the bill on Thursday and for the override on Monday?
Tingelstad: It was the toughest decision in the 12 years I have been here. Governor Pawlenty is a Republican and so am I. It was very difficult to go against him, but I just felt the policy issues were too important. I’m comfortable with my decision.
They were two very different votes. I was one of seven [House Republicans] last year who did support transportation. There are a lot of needs in my community and my constituents are mixed on the gas tax, not overwhelmingly one way or another, probably even about 50-50. There was more pressure on the override because it had never been done [to Pawlenty], especially by members of his own party. But I felt this issue was different and had a higher threshold. Governor Pawlenty drew a line in the sand about not having any [increased] taxes. I view the gas tax as more of a user fee. And there were other factors, especially the bridge collapse — that was the major factor in my decision. I felt we couldn’t leave the session without a [transportation] bill. We needed a reconciliation and we needed to deal with that issue.
MP: Were you influenced by the late support of the Chamber of Commerce or had you already made up your mind?
KT: The Chamber’s position was helpful, but not a factor.
MP: What about the nonpartisan Legislative Auditor’s [evaluation] report [on state roads and bridges]?
KT: Sure. The timing on that was amazing for what we were doing. They called the situation “grim” and they rarely use words like that. I thought the report was very clear in describing what the needs were.
MP: Were there any other people or factors that were particularly influential in your decision? Who did you rely on for counsel as you thought about this?
KT: There were some former legislators.
KT: Just in general. I’d rather not say.
MP: Moving forward, how does this color the rest of the session?
KT: Well, certainly the House Republican caucus is fractured and we need to do some healing. I don’t know if you heard, but all six of us [who voted to override] lost our committee appointments. I had the highest ranking position on the capital investment bonding, I was the GOP lead. We have been doing bonding the last five days, and I have all this info I have gathered over the last year and a half on these projects, and now I’m not the lead. It changes the dynamics. With the Democrats, of course they are very friendly now with me. It is the Republicans who are angry and I am supposed to be representing the Republican point of view on bonding issues. I am the chief author of the governor’s bill on bonding. It’s a weird situation, although I have to say that the governor is not angry with me; it is basically within the House Republican caucus, and mostly the executive committee.
MP: Have there been direct threats by them about your career?
KT: No, nothing like that; it is very much indirect. I think the correct word is ostracized.
MP: Are any of the six of you being treated any differently than each other?
KT: Not that I’m aware of. But I probably had the most to lose right away because of my position on the bonding committee and this being a bonding year. I am the only woman. I meant I’m the only woman among the six, but I’m also the only Republican woman on the bonding committee.
MP: Do you think you are being treated differently because of your gender?
KT: Not from my colleagues, but from people who call or email. Most of them are obviously not my constituents, but I find they have more anger with a female legislator than with a male legislator.
MP: Has all this been worth it?
KT: Oh, yes. I slept really well last night. I know I made the right decision. Was it tough? Yes. But I went into the vote with my eyes open. I knew I could lose things in caucus, but the policy issues were of greater importance than to worry about any repercussions personally. Basically I was a martyr.
This is one issue of hundreds we deal with at the Capitol. Nothing will be as visible as this issue, nor as important, probably, but I think it is important that all legislators work together to get things done regardless of their party.
MP: What about your future reelection? Do you still have some strong supporters within your party? Was the reaction nasty at the convention last weekend?
KT: Oh, I definitely have supporters in the party. I am hopeful that the next endorsing convention will be toward the end of session in May, but it is to people in my area if they want to run [against me] or not. I’m not sure there is one person [opponents had] in mind. I think if there was they would have had somebody there Saturday. But the behavior there was very professional on both sides. At the end I had a lot of people come up to me and say they disagreed with me on this policy issue but were encouraged on how I handled myself. I kept my chin up.
Britt Robson, formerly a staff writer and senior editor at City Pages, covers the state Capitol and politics. He can be reached at brobson [at] minnpost [dot] com.