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Political recrimination: Republican Tingelstad on her override vote and its fallout

Rep. Kathy Tingelstad
Rep. Kathy Tingelstad

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?

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]?

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.

MP: Republicans?

Just in general. I’d rather not say.

MP: Moving forward, how does this color the rest of the session?

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?

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?

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?

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.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 02/28/2008 - 06:28 am.

    I think it is bizarre to expect that legislators are elected to do the note-for-note bidding of the most vocal members in their district, Mr. Switft. I expect to be able to send legislators to the House who know how to make decisions based on weighing the issues while in the Capitol.

    Tinglestad made a courageous vote based on her information and experience, even knowing that it may cost her politically.

    I am sure that you won’t complain when some of the roads are fixed in your neighborhood, unless to say “It’s about time the government did something for me.”

  2. Submitted by Darren Heydanek on 02/27/2008 - 11:29 am.

    The stories coming out about the Republican legislators being punished demonstrates the dominant problem in politics and government today – in all parties.

    When did the party system become more important than any individual’s conscience or constituency, her country or community?

    When I elect someone, I want that person to use his or her own mind to make the decision he/she feels is best for the city/state/country served – not what’s best for the political party.

    The idea that just because Clinton and Obama are Democrats means that they can never agree with President Bush – ever – is ludicrous. The fact that Republican ligislators in Minnesota can never be in favor of a tax (even Rep. Tinglestad above sidesteps it by calling it a “user fee”) without changing parties is equally ridiculous.

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 02/27/2008 - 12:44 pm.

    Laws are not passed by any one person. They are passed by majorities of like-minded people. The quickest and most common way to do that is to form coalitions. And the most common form of that is a political party. And they have their own dynamics. Plus, no matter how hard any one legislator works, they have to rely on each other to know all the details and to trust that those people are looking after them.

    What I object to is the flagrant and public “punishment” of legislators who didn’t vote the way their party leaders told them to vote. This has gone on privately, but this time there is not even any shame about it. Just like anybody who decides to do something of which we don’t approve, there is a temptation to retaliate. However, it is a basic instinct that a modern politician should be able to overcome.

    And it’s note even smart. At this point, all Rep. Seifert has done is to throw away his only pressure over these legislators. All they have to lose now is to be kicked out of the caucus. If they are kicked out, they can essentially form their own caucus of “Former Republicans” which will then require Seifert or someone else in the Republican caucus to go “ask” for every single vote for the rest of the session. If Seifert is the best the Republicans have, they will be doomed the rest of this session.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/27/2008 - 01:11 pm.

    Evidently the “Override 6” have been persuaded by the Democrat arguement that elected officials know what is best for constituents, but they have evidently forgotten that the majority of voters in the six districts they represent are Republicans.

    We expect our elected to listen to what we are saying to them.

    I’m sure that Rep. Tinglestad and her 5 fellow “free thinkers” will be more comfortable with the Democrat Party (her gender victimhood fantasies will certianly get her more traction there) and I wish them the very best of luck.

  5. Submitted by Ellen Wolfson on 02/27/2008 - 02:40 pm.

    kudos to Kathy Tinglestad and her vote to override. I was always under the impression that being conservative meant paying your own way, not living on borrowed money.

  6. Submitted by Rich Crose on 02/28/2008 - 07:09 am.

    Expecting a paycheck from the government without working is called welfare. Expecting to drive big SUVs on government roads without paying for them is called conservative. There must be something I’m not seeing here.

  7. Submitted by Nesseth Nesseth on 02/28/2008 - 08:39 am.

    It is hard to believe that we raised taxes, and the next day the senate passes a $1 billion dollar bonding bill that goes to light rail, bike trails, hockey arenas, etc. The 2010-11 biennium budget is $35 billion, $24 billion goes to K-12 education and Health and Human services ($13 & $11 billion respectfully). Perhaps, Ms. Tinglestad, you should have voted for wiser spending practices before taking more money from the taxpayers.

    Secondly, only about 25% of this “User Fee” actually goes toward metro area roads, though the metro has 60% of the state’s population – so how did you actually serve your constituents (Look up how the trunk highway funding calculations are figured, and you’ll see the 25% calculation is accurate).

    Finally, if you constituency was actually split 50-50 as you elude to in conversation, then the right thing for you to have done is to abstain from voting at all – what tipped you towards voting to override? Something, if it wasn’t your constinuency – please explain to me and all taxpayers why you made this decision?

  8. Submitted by John Olson on 02/27/2008 - 05:25 pm.

    Mr. Swift, I would have expected your predictable response to be something with a little more class. The “fantasy” comment is especially tasteless and over the line, in my opinion.

    You are right, those districts lean Republican–some much heavier than others. But did you ever stop to think that for example maybe the folks from Rep. Erhardt’s district (Edina) are getting tired of their Grey Poupon sloshing all over their Pierre Cardin tuxedoes and Givenchy dresses whilst in their Rolls Royce on their way to the opera and want something to finally be done about it?

    On a more serious note, what these six did was nothing short of courageous. The response from Rep. Seifert and his fellow house Republican leaders simply shows that differences of opinion matter only so long as you agree with him. It is also characteristic of a group that is probably destined to be in the minority for the next several years. When you are in the minority to the degree that the House and Senate Republicans are, you just show up and collect your paycheck, per diem and always remember to push the red button.

    Maybe enough constituents in her district DID say that they too are getting tired of having their dental work rearranged on any number of highways in this state.

  9. Submitted by Darren Heydanek on 02/29/2008 - 12:54 pm.

    The comments here that reprimand the legislator demonstrate what my original post was about.

    The people that are so irate about her daring to vote against her own party assume that everyone who is a member of that party holds the same views as they do – 100% across the board.

    It’s just not true. To expect any legislator to vote along party lines all the time – depsite differences in districts, personal values, political agendas etc. is totally ridiculous.

    The only people that could possibly vote on one side every time are going to be the extremes of the left and right, or those who just follow party lines for their own self-interest and advancement in the party, not to do what is right by/for the people. Why would we want those people to be making the decisions for our country?

    It’s like pushing an anti-gun agenda before going to get your canceal and carry license. If you don’t believe in it, don’t vote for it and vice versa.

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