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

I talked to Marty Seifert about the reputation of the Republican Party, his run for governor, Tom Emmer and other topics.

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.