It was a classic semi-sliming.
At a news conference Wednesday, Marty Seifert, perhaps a leader in the pack of Republican gubernatorial candidates, sort of implied that three DFL gubernatorial hopefuls — Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Tom Rukavina and Paul Thissen — MIGHT be using taxpayer money to help in their respective campaigns for governor.
Seifert, a state rep from Marshall who stepped down as House minority leader when he announced his candidacy, said that other legislators running for governor should not hold outstate committee hearings as a cover for campaigning for higher office. Legislators can charge the state for per diems and mileage when they hold hearings away from their St. Paul offices.
“I don’t know if they are doing that, but I want to throw it out there,” Seifert said. “I’m just trying to get ahead of the curve. I’ve been hearing from folks about plenty of hearings and the like.”
He then named Rukavina, Thissen and Kelliher as three who, because of their House leadership positions, could call such hearings.
Is he saying that the three are calling for committee meetings in Greater Minnesota, making some self-serving headlines in local newspapers and then billing the state for their travels?
“They shouldn’t do that,” he said. “We should always do things for the right reasons.”
Are they or aren’t they?
But are they making bogus committee trips?
“I don’t know if they’re doing that,” he said.
Thissen, who represents Minneapolis, was the first to respond to the sort-of-charge from Seifert. As chairman of the Health Care Human Services and Oversight Committee, Thissen said that his committee did meet with hospital administrators throughout the state when Gov. Tim Pawlenty whacked $381 million from the General Assistance Medical Care program in his efforts to balance the budget without raising taxes.
The action raised grave concerns among hospital administrators from around the state, with many saying their hospitals won’t be able to remain solvent without program revenues they receive for treating the poorest of the poor.
Republican and DFL legislators alike attended those meetings with hospital officials around the state, Thissen said.
“This is the most important issue facing hospitals,” he said. “… The problem with holding everything in St. Paul is the people in Greater Minnesota don’t get heard. They need to be heard. This is an extremely critical issue.”
But did he receive per diems or mileage for holding those hearings.
“No,” said Thissen. “No per diems, no mileage.”
And those were the only hearings he’s held outside St. Paul, Thissen said.
Rukavina’s colorful response
Not surprisingly, Rukavina, an Iron Ranger who represents Virginia, was a little more colorful in his comments about Seifert’s implications.
First of all, he said, he has not held a single public hearing since he announced he was a candidate for governor a few weeks ago.
But, as chairman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee, he did hold hearings at MNSCU campuses in the Twin Cities area after the governor cut an additional $50 million from the $30 million the Legislature already had cut from the University of Minnesota and MNSCU systems.
And yes, Rukavina did charge mileage — 31.8 cents per mile — to drive from Virginia, a one-way trip of 210 miles.
“I can’t afford not to,” said Rukavina. “I think most people in this state think we make about $100,000 a year. I had a bet with a janitor once at a meeting up here. He was talking about how much money we make and I said, ‘I bet you $100 that you make more than I do.’ He asked me how much a legislator makes and says, ‘OK, you win. I owe you $100.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I know you can’t afford to pay me $100. I couldn’t afford it either.”
(State legislators are paid $31,140 a year.)
Anyhow, Rukavina said he’s not going to let Seifert’s innuendos stop him from doing his job as a legislator.
“When I became chairman of my committee three years ago, my pledge was to go around the state and learn as much as I can about our universities,” said Rukavina. “I still care about this state even if the governor doesn’t. … I’m going out there to see the devastation those $80 million in cuts are causing. I’m betting that Seifert supported those decisions by the governor.”
Kelliher’s campaign manager, Jaime Tincher, sort of sighed about the fact that the slime season already has begun.
“Margaret has taken her per diem only when she’s doing her work as the speaker [of the House],” Tincher said. “She’s very clear about the difference between what her official business is as the speaker and her campaign.’’
Recall that Seifert immediately stepped down as minority leader when he began exploring running for governor. Kelliher, who represeents Minneapolis, is showing no inclination to leave her powerful position as speaker as she campaigns for a political promotion.
“Just throwing out” stuff about potential opponents wasn’t Seifert’s primary mission at the Wednesday news conference.
Instead, he unveiled “Marty Seifert’s Leadership Plan for Minnesota.”
Like Rep. Paul Kohls, who unveiled his plan on Tuesday, Seifert made no mention of social conservative issues.
But unlike Kohls, Seifert did take on two favorite targets of conservatives in talking about how to address Minnesota’s problems. Both welfare recipients and illegal immigrants were part of his seven-point agenda.
He wants to repeal “sanctuary city ordinances for illegal aliens” in Minneapolis and St. Paul. And he wants to reform welfare in Minnesota “to bring about accountability, work and responsibility.”
Seifert’s No. 1 priority is to cut regulations, licensing and taxes that he says makes Minnesota so unfriendly to business. As an example, Seifert passed out to reporters a letter he received from a man who wanted to set up a vodka distillery in Windom. Minnesota regulations, Nathan Busch wrote, would have required him to pay $30,000 a year in annual fees. He decided to build his distillery in Iowa, where the fees were $350.
Because of its regulations and fees, Seifert said, Minnesota has lost three distilleries in recent years, not to mention a privately funded cancer treatment facility.
Other parts of his plan call for:
• Reforming health care with “sweeping tort reform” and more competition in insurance choices.
• Designing a K-12 bill that creates equal funding across all districts.
• Ending pork-barrel spending. (The one example he provided dealt with the sheet music museum in Chatfield, which had sought $400,000 for renovations, but that money already had been vetoed by the governor.)
• Passing “sweeping ethics reform” that “will hold office holders to higher standards.”
That’s when he mentioned the DFLers and the ethics issues, though, like he said, he wasn’t making a charge.
“Just throwing it out there,” Seifert kept saying.