In one sense, David FitzSimmons, freshman state representative from Albertville, represented a Republican high point of the legislative session. He was one of the few Republicans to successfully attach an amendment to a bill.
The problem for FitzSimmons is that the bill was the legislation that legalized same-sex marriage in Minnesota. He not only amended it but also voted “yea.”
FitzSimmons is now paying the price in his House district in Wright County, perhaps the most conservative county in Minnesota, as he is forced to defend his vote and his political turf.
FitzSimmons says the reaction in his district is mixed.
“I think like most things dealing with the electorate, it’s a wide variety of viewpoints,” he said. “Everything from people who are upset with the results, upset with me — and people who are sympathetic to the situation and knew I was trying to get something out of the legislation.”
Amendment added word ‘civil’ to marriage
The FitzSimmons amendment added the word “civil” before the word marriage whenever it appears in state law, in an effort to add more protections for religious institutions that would refuse to deal with same-sex marriage participants.
“I wanted to put myself on the record of making sure that when we are expanding the freedom and liberty for one group, we are not trampling on the freedoms and liberties of others,” he said.
Tom Prichard — president of the Minnesota Family Council, which opposed the legislation and supported the amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the Minnesota Constitution — says FitzSimmons’s amendment clouded, not clarified, religious protections because it doesn’t specifically state that any entity — religious or secular — has the right to deny services to same-sex marriage participants.
“It doesn’t deal with the photographer that doesn’t want to photograph same-sex marriages, with school officials, with government officials, with marriage counselors,” he said.
To which Fitzsimmons replies, “There are human rights protections. What they wanted was impossible.”
Impossible or illegal, the Minnesota Family Council promises to inform voters. “We are a policy organization,” Prichard said. “We are making sure people know how candidates voted on the marriage legislation.”
Solid GOP credentials
That means that FitzSimmons may find himself in an endorsement battle in District 30B when he runs next year. There are no candidates yet who have announced plans to run against FitzSimmons, testimony, perhaps, to his solid Republican credentials.
He is the former Republican chair of Wright County and former chair of the 6th Congressional District, represented by Michele Bachmann, whom he has supported. He managed, briefly, Tom Emmer’s gubernatorial campaign and volunteered at the media event where Emmer announced his campaign for the Bachmann seat.
FitzSimmons may get some help from Minnesotans United, the group that lobbied for gay marriage and promised campaign help for supportive lawmakers from socially conservative districts. Fitzsimmons didn’t make the first cut of names that Minnesotans United mentioned in a recent fundraising email.
It’s too early to gauge what impact outside groups will have in the district.
Amy Koch, former state senator from Wright County, says Minnesotans United may be helpful but needs to recognize the composition of the district. “He [FitzSimmons] has the very conservative side of the district — St. Michael, Albertville,” she said. “[In redistricting] he picked up Big Lake.”
Emmer says FitzSimmons can help himself by just explaining — and explaining again — his decision.
“I disagree with him on this vote. But he said something to me that’s important to communicate to his delegates: ‘At least I was trying to do something,’ ” Emmer said. “You believe what you believe. You stand up for what you believe in, and if the people disagree, you talk to them.”
FitzSimmons remains optimistic that his constituents will understand the nuances of his legislative actions.
“I have said it before and after — I still have a lot of concerns with the way things are moving with same-sex marriage,” he said. “It’s obviously still very new. We don’t know how it will work. We have very limited ground experience.”
And even in as conservative a district as FitzSimmons’s, he believes there are Republicans who are conflicted on the issue of gay marriage. “Most Republicans are struggling with this issue,” he said.
So much so that FitzSimmons offered a post-legislative analysis of the gay-marriage vote. “Someone asked me what the Republican vote would have been on a secret ballot,” he said. “I think 15 to 20 [House Republicans] would have voted yes.”