Marty Seifert on the GOP: It’s not a question of being ‘mean’

Marty Seifert
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Marty Seifert: “The average Minnesotan is starting to ask why we can’t reform and downsize programs like they do in other states.”

Marty Seifert doesn’t act like a man in a hurry. In fact, for a guy who’s in hot pursuit of the GOP gubernatorial nomination, and whose day can begin as early as 4:30 a.m. and run till almost midnight, he’s remarkably laid back.

Unflappable is the word, a trait no doubt honed during the years he taught school. You can take the man out of the classroom, but the old habits, the equilibrium, if you will, remains. Especially in the rough-and-tumble world of politics.

I talked to the state representative from Marshall about his run for governor, the reputation of the Republican Party, Tom Emmer and other topics. (To read my Q&A with Emmer, go here.)

MinnPost: The Republican Party, locally and nationally, has the reputation of being the “Party of No,” that it is unconcerned about the needs of the most vulnerable members of society. In the wake of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the General Assistance Medical Care bill, and the House’s failure to override the veto, some DFLers branded the GOP “mean-hearted.” How do you answer that?

Marty Seifert:
It’s not a question of being “mean,” it’s a matter of personal responsibility, accountability and reform. In Minnesota, we have 19th and 20th century programs that need to be brought into the 21st century. They are bankrupting the state. The average Minnesotan is starting to ask why we can’t reform and downsize programs like they do in other states.

MP: How is it possible to downsize these programs and still be humane?

We have multiple health-care and welfare programs that are duplicative in nature. For example, we have programs that serve veterans, but we have people who are either dual-enrolled, or they go in the most expensive program when we have other, more cost-effective, programs that will serve them. Republicans have done a lousy job of explaining to the public that folks will be taken care of, that there are just better ways of doing it. Look, we’re facing a budget catastrophe. If you go out and find 37 cents under your doormat, you have more in your budget reserve than the State of Minnesota has.

MP: Recent polls, Rasmussen for one, suggest that you and Tom Emmer are in a virtual tie for the GOP nomination. How do you intend to put this race away?

Tom Emmer
Tom Emmer

MS: I think it’s about identifying who has the temperament and leadership skills to be governor. On issues, there are pockets here and there in which we disagree.

MP: For example?

The stadium referendum in Hennepin County. State law requires a referendum. He voted to excuse the state law, and I voted to require it. I think that was important. State law says that if you want to build a stadium with public money you have to have a referendum. I still haven’t heard a good reason why he opposed that.

Another fundamental difference is tort reform. Pretty much every tort reform bill that has come to the House floor I’ve supported, but Tom has voted against them. I’m not going to assign motives to that, that he’s a trial lawyer, blah, blah, but the reality is that the absence of tort reform drives up the cost of doing business in Minnesota.

MP: At an Elephant Club meeting a couple months ago, Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton talked about the possibility of duplicating the 1978 “Minnesota Massacre.” What do you think?

I think it’s very possible. I think people are tired of bailouts, they’re tired of spending money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need. They are fed up with lack of accountability and handouts. They want strong managers to come in with innovative ideas.

MP: What kind of innovative ideas?

Using the private sector for government-service delivery. Reform. Downsizing government, just like the private sector has done. And people are looking for private-sector job growth. They look at the DFL Party and they see no solutions, other than more taxes and more government.

MP: The way the DFL gubernatorial contest is evolving suggests Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher are the frontrunners. What’s your read on that?

I think that Dayton certainly is a force to be reckoned with, because of his name ID and his money. I would contrast my humble background against his any day.

MP: How do you characterize Margaret Anderson Kelliher?

I know her as the speaker, of course, but I also know her as sort of family; my cousin is married to her cousin. I think that when it comes down to her tenure as speaker, as leadership, it’s a rocky road. It’s very difficult for anyone to point to success. She’s been outmaneuvered by Pawlenty and myself in the legislative process numerous times. I think there are a lot of Democrats who have concerns about whether she has what it takes to be governor.

MP: Last April, in a talk to the Humphrey Institute, you brought up the importance of uniting social conservatives and libertarians, a process that the late Frank S. Myer of National Review called “fusion.” Is that possible?

I think it is. The challenges we face with government growth — what I call “a commonality of frustration” — are faced by both libertarians and social conservatives. The themes I hit upon — lack of accountability, bailouts, handouts, the need for reform — are overarching in that they attract all of those folks, and excludes none of them. As [Mississippi governor and chairman of the Republican Governors Association] Hailey Barber says, the Republican Party is successful when you build it by multiplication and addition, not by subtraction and division.

MP: What are the most critical issues facing Minnesotans today?

Job number one is jobs. It is not just a cliché, it is the way to solve a lot of our other problems. If you have more jobs, you have less deficits; if you have more jobs, you have stronger communities. You have less welfare, less crime, more stable families, a broader tax base. Jobs is the core of what we have to focus on.

Minnesota is a destination point for innovative leaders. Medtronic started in a guy’s garage; Schwan’s foods, a $6 billion company, started with one truck in 1952. You wonder if that could happen today. There are so many Minnesota-based companies — Hormel, Mayo, Speedy Delivery — that all started with a few people and innovative ideas. Right now, most of those people wouldn’t even get past the permitting stage that Minnesota government throws up in their way.

MP: An issue that resonated with voters in Massachusetts in one that is likely to be equally important here: health care. What is your view of President Obama’s health-care program?

I think it could hurt Minnesota. We are a state that covers more people with some type of health care plan than most others. We usually are one, two, or three among the 50 states for coverage. We have the highest quality indicators for health than almost any other state. Lifestyle, fitness, less smoking — the whole nine yards. Our main focus has to be cost. The reality of the tax component of Obamacare is frightening. I recently visited with the executive board of Medtronic, and they say that if Obamacare passes, with its taxes on the medical-device industry, the question will not be if Medtronic faces layoffs, but how many there will be. Nine thousand Minnesotans work at Medtronic.

MP: Who has exerted the most important influence on you politically?

It’s my dad, Norbert. He’s passed away now. I quote him frequently. I talk about the values that he taught me. The basic thing is, you don’t spend more money than you have coming in. If you borrow money, it has to be paid back. Life is precious at all stages. Parents raise children, not the government. If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll realize the American Dream. My dad had an eighth-grade education, raised six kids, and, other than serving his country in the Korean War, never left Minnesota. He was on the town board for 20 years, did his part in the community. It’s who I am, the basic lessons I learned from my dad.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/18/2010 - 09:59 am.

    It’s not about being “mean?” No, it’s about being incapable of saying to yourself, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and being incapable of recognizing the universal truth of that statement. It’s about being incapable of imagining what it would be like to be someone other than yourself.

    Lacking those abilities, all people like Rep. Seifert can do is assume that everyone else is just like them and that one solution, the one that would have worked for Marty (presumably his dad kicking him, literally or figuratively in the backside whenever he got lazy), will work for everyone else, no matter what their family of origin was like, no matter what their economic status is like, no matter what their physical or psychological disabilities might be.

    Sadly, if Rep. Seifert thinks that the litany of his dadisms: “You don’t spend more money than you have coming in. If you borrow money, it has to be paid back. Life is precious at all stages. Parents raise children, not the government. If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll realize the American Dream,” does not reflect the ways the world has changed since Regan (i.e., if you work hard chasing the “American dream,” your banker, your boss, or the firm handling your retirement accounts is going to be the one to reap the benefits, not you).

    Marty complains about 19th and 20th Century programs that need to be taken into the 21st. Century, but his underlying, unexamined, knee-jerk philosophy, from his dad, is strictly 18th. Century. He’s simply not equipped with the up-to-date knowledge, the breadth of perspective, the empathy, nor the innate emotional, rational, and spiritual intelligence necessary to enable him to comprehend the world as it is today let alone the unforseen issues likely to arrive in the rapidly-changing future.

    Rather than begin to fill in the massive sinkhole created by Gov. Pawlenty’s reign, Marty would keep right on digging. (Of course Tom Emmer would likely do the same.)

  2. Submitted by Tim Walker on 03/18/2010 - 11:06 am.

    Well, Seifert sure is mean, or wants to be mean, to “foreigners” — i.e., non-white folks.

    Check out the racist comments he made at an April 2009 Minnesota budget forum, as reported here at MinnPost:

    Here’s the relevant passage:

    Things really got personal when Seifert, the House minority leader from Marshall, picked up on the theme that health and human services is “out of control.”

    Seifert then made everyone in the room gasp when he suggested that Minnesota might not be able to help provide health care to “anyone not born in Minnesota.”

    House Speaker Keilliher was first to jump on Seifert’s comment.

    “How many of you were not born in Minnesota?” she asked chamber members.

    About half the people in the room raised their hands.

    She noted that her great-grandmother was born in Sweden. Her husband was born in a different state.

    “We shouldn’t leap to conclusions about who’s getting health care,” she said to Seifert.

    “I meant foreigners,” muttered Seifert at one point.

    And this got Pogemiller incensed.

    “Those people — the Ecuadoran mothers with their children, the Hondurans, the Somalis — may be foreigners to you, Seifert,” Pogemiller said, “but they’re constituents to me. It’s offensive what you said.”

    This was uncomfortable breakfast table talk.

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 03/18/2010 - 11:44 am.

    It may not “be” about being mean, but the result is EXACTLY the same thing — taking away the helping hand when these people need it most. It’s saying it is more important for some upper middle class twit to buy a WaveRunner than it is to help people who have health issues.

    And if jobs is the number one issue, why were you railing against the kick-start bonding bill?

    Frankly, I read this stuff and wonder how he is capable of even basic logic and simple thought.

  4. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/18/2010 - 12:23 pm.

    One Republican interviewed, deserves another:

    Being “mean” is not what Eric Margolis (; another interview of another Republican) would call the Republican Party…and he is a long time Republican.

    Being “dumb” and getting “dumber” is his candid evaluation saying “They have lost their Eisenhower principles…”

    Republican Margolis – and he still wears the label – calls the R. essentially a group of “hicks and holy rollers”…”what exists today is the rump of the Republican party.”


    I would add one point of disagreement… on the “Hicks and Holy Rollers”comment. I would say all ‘holy rollers’ qualify as ‘hicks’, but not all ‘hicks’ qualify as ‘holy rollers’. Eric M…to be technically correct, change the “and” in the middle of the phrase to “either/or”?

    Mean? On that label I agree with Seifert…Repubs aren’t necessarily mean. Margolis’s evaluation is so much better.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/18/2010 - 12:50 pm.

    Great news!

    No longer does the scary smart, reality based community have to accept it’s ability to be all things to everyone being squelched by teh mean Republicans.

    “Legislator offers bill to allow people to pay more taxes”

    “If you’d like to pay more taxes, Rep. Peggy Scott has a bill for you.”

    “She calls it the “I’m not taxed enough already” bill.”

    “I hear over and over, especially down here at the Capitol, that people aren’t taxed enough, that we have to raise revenues to get out of our budget deficit,” said Scott. “So this is people’s opportunity to voluntarily pay more taxes.”

    Yes friends, no longer does your altrusim need to be relegated to the comment threads of leftist blogs. You, yes you, can take control of the state’s ability to raise spending right through the roof; the only thing between you and liberal utopia is your bank accounts.

    Please call you legislators and demand they support the “I’m not taxed enough already” bill.”

    Do it for the children.

  6. Submitted by Erik Esse on 03/18/2010 - 01:55 pm.

    When asked for new ideas, Seifert gives us “Using the private sector for government-service delivery. Reform. Downsizing government, just like the private sector has done.”

    These are not new and are barely ideas. They are the same slogans we’ve been hearing since Reagan ran in 1980. During that whole time, Republicans on the federal level have grown government and created huge deficits and on the state level have just cut programs for the poor.

    For example, Seifert is glad that Minnesota is “…a state that covers more people with some type of health care plan than most others. We usually are one, two, or three among the 50 states for coverage.” How did we get that way? Government programs (or “hand-outs,” if you prefer) and the requirement that all health insurance companies be non-profit (government regulation).

    Want to see the result of the rule of an alliance of libertarians and social conservatives? Look at utopias of prosperity like Alabama and Texas. Minnesota got to be tops in health, education, etc. through policies put forward by our tradition of a near-socialist DFL and a progressive Republican Party, both of which united practicality with a cooperative spirit. Let’s bring that back.

  7. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 03/18/2010 - 02:34 pm.

    It may not be about being ‘mean’, but it is about preserving a tax structure that allows higher income people to pay about 2% less in taxes than middle-class earners.

    The insistence on maintaining a regressive tax structure is bankrupting our state, not GAMC or MinnesotaCare, or even transit funding or higher ed.

    This state has a revenue problem: The people making the most revenue get to keep more of it, and the rest of us get screwed. If feels mean, even if it’s not meant to be mean.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/18/2010 - 02:58 pm.

    “Look at utopias of prosperity like Alabama and Texas.”

    You obviously don’t work for 3M, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Rockwell Automation, Intel, Motorola, Texas Instruments, Advanced Micro Devices, Cypress Semiconductor, Sun Microsystems, IBM, etc. & etc., Eric…or you’d have realized how silly that statement looks.

  9. Submitted by Erik Esse on 03/18/2010 - 03:17 pm.


    Texas and Alabama may be a utopia for corporations who want to pay low wages and pollute, but they aren’t for Texans and Alabamans, who get bad schools, poor health, low wages and high crime.

    In fact, it shows the fallacy of the race to the bottom that so many multinationals can move some of their operations to such places and those states are still some of the worst places in the country to live.

    Let’s say I’ll stay here in this Stalinist nightmare and you can escape to the Real America. Minnesota kids are the ones who are going to succeed in the market because we invested in them, the little freeloaders.

  10. Submitted by Rich Crose on 03/18/2010 - 03:20 pm.

    I don’t think the Republican party is mean. I think they are selfish.

    This is the way a Republican thinks: “I’ll pay $5.00 a day to use the sane lane to improve my morning commute but I won’t let you raise my taxes by the same amount so everyone will have a better commute.”

    Or: “I’ll gladly pay too much for my own health insurance before I let you cover poor people.”

    Or: “I got mine through hard work and inheritance and I deserve it. Get your own.”

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/18/2010 - 03:43 pm.

    Eric, it’s obvious that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Have you been to 3M’s Guin, Alabama plant? How about Motorola’s multi billion dollar wafer fab in Austin, Texas?

    I have, and from the looks of the vehicles in the parking lot the employees are doing quite well.

    3M hasn’t spent a buck to upgrade any of it’s operations in Minnesota, in fact, they’re closing plants.

    If you ever happen to be in Austin, stop into their research and development campus on River Place Blvd., or the manufacturing plant on Research Blvd. and see just how hard those poor wretch’s have it.

    If you really want to mock “utopias of prosperity” I suggest you might try Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio or Anytown, California…oh wait, those are ruled by leftists….never mind.

  12. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 03/18/2010 - 06:47 pm.


    funny you chose Austin as an example – famously the only left-leaning city in Texas. Maybe their success is because the sort of creative, over-educated twenty-somethings that drive the high-tech economy are overwhelmingly left-wing in their politics and prefer culture, social justice, urban planning and a clean environment to guns, SUVs, and cul-de-sacs.

  13. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 03/18/2010 - 08:19 pm.

    Thomas, if you did some research you might find the price that Texas and the rest of the south has paid for these corporate investments. Hundreds of millions of dollars for incentives for the car companies to open and operate their plants. People of both parties in MN call that corporate welfare. Minnesota has no plan, no economic development tools and no marketing to attract and help companies expand. Our Department of Economic Development is probably the least resourced state economic development agency in the country.

    Texas, of course, is a unique place. Oil revenue and huge federal defense and space investments keeps their economy running.

  14. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/19/2010 - 09:25 am.

    Jeff, you’re right; Austin does shoulder more than its fair share of leftists. I chose it because that is where California’s semiconductor industry packed up and moved to, and I worked in that industry for many years.

    I could have made the same case with Houston or Dallas…but once the patchouli smoke clears, Austin is still Texas, and Texas is booming.

  15. Submitted by andy on 03/19/2010 - 11:16 am.

    Well, of course it’s about being mean- you can’t say you’re making the “tough choices” if somebody’s not doing some suffering- and who better than people who can’t hit back?

    I love love love that business about reaching out to Libertarians. As a wiser man than I pointed out:

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

    As Alan Greenspan demonstrated, there’s not a thing wrong with letting a Libertarian get his hands on the levers of power…

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/20/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    I agree with Rich.

  17. Submitted by Howard Miller on 03/20/2010 - 01:24 pm.

    it almost seems that the Republican construction is, I got mine. Therefore I deserve it, made all on my own, despite my advantages at the start. You don’t have? You must not be deserving. Take some responsibility about whom you were born to, where you could (or not) attend school, what future medical problems you might face. After all, I’m personally responsible, unlike you. Because I got mine already.

    Until some disaster hits them that even they couldn’t anticipate and forestall adequately. Then the tune changes

  18. Submitted by Silence Dogood on 03/23/2010 - 07:55 pm.

    The tort reform issue is a real loser for Emmer. On the OB-GYN bill, only 3 House Republicans voted against it (of 68) and were all trial lawyers, Tom being one of them. The “I wanted more comprehensive reform” does not hold water at all. He needs a different answer.

    Also, Seifert plain and simple debated better last week. More facts, figures and sharper. Tom needs to release his detailed plan to cut 40% of the state budget, line by line. He talked about this to many of us, in private and at some picnics last year. Get the plan done and get it verified by professionals like Seifert did.

    There are more people saying Tom looks too angry, doesn’t have any substance and is wrong on tort reform. His momentum has slipped away. If he doesn’t move fast on these 3 areas, Seifert will pull this out. Get the 40% cut plan out NOW!

    Also, if Tom picks Brod for Lt. Governor, what does he say about her voting for the same energy bill Seifert did and leading the pro-stadium parade!? Is she for cap and trade? Was Tom lying about Seifert or did Brod not know the bills? They better have an answer on that.

    I have seen about equal negativity from both camps. Follow twitter feeds of both sides. Tom’s supporters insulting Seifert’s wife on twitter has cost him delegates. I’ve heard it and this race is too close for supporters to screw it up for either side. Time to watch the comments everyone…

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