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With yes vote on gay marriage, GOP Rep. Garofalo builds war chest — just in case

“This is my ninth year in office, and this is the most positive feedback I’ve ever received,” he said.

State Rep. Pat Garofalo, center, listens to a supporter during Thursday night's fundraiser.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

State Rep. Pat Garofalo’s skirmish on Twitter with liberal blogger Eric Pusey produced only a modicum of candidate remorse at a fundraiser on his behalf Thursday night.

On Twitter earlier this week, the Farmington Republican and Pusey exchanged barbs, with Garofalo mocking Pusey’s last name.

Of the tweets, Garofalo said, “He’s acting like a moron and the best thing to do is to avoid morons, [but] there’s no shortage of left-wing stupidity on Twitter.”

Garofalo stands by his words and actions, including his vote in support of gay marriage. He’s one of four House Republicans whose yes vote on gay marriage may affect their chances for party endorsement. But so far, he says, he’s not heard rumblings.

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“This is my ninth year in office, and this is the most positive feedback I’ve ever received,” he said.

He’s amassing a sizable campaign fund, nonetheless.

“On July 1, I raised $10,000 in one day,” he said proudly. “Not much if you’re a statewide candidate, but not bad for a House seat.”

He padded that sum on Thursday at a fundraiser sponsored by longtime friend and public affairs consultant Mike Franklin, who did work for Project 515, one of the groups that pushed for the gay-marriage legislation.

“What can you say about one of only four House Republicans to support same sex marriage,” Franklin wrote in email invitation to the event, “and yet his most notable moment in the 2013 session was arguably letting some ‘boisterous’ AFSCME members know who ‘runs the place?’ ” — a reference to one of Garafolo many colorful floor speeches.

“It’s an important year for Pat, “ Franklin said in an interview.

“If I had to guess, he’s trying to build his war chest so that if anybody tries to take a run at him, he’s able to show that, one, he’s going to put a fight and, two, that he’s got a lot of support from a broad spectrum.”

Garofalo say’s he is prepared for any challenger that tries to outflank him on the right, noting that he’s the Minnesota chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative think tank that produces model legislation for state legislatures and is scorned by Democrats and liberals.

“The feedback I’ve been getting is overwhelmingly positive in the district, and mostly on the union, tax and spending issues,” he said.

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“It’s because I’ve never fought the Democrats so hard.”

Yet Garofalo voted with the Democrats on, arguably, the most significant legislation in two decades on a social issue. He makes no apologies.

“My vote was in defense of religious freedom and religious liberty,” he said. “Anybody knows that same-sex marriage is the direction our country is moving. People are thankful that we got religious freedom protection [an amendment sponsored by GOP Rep. David FitzSimmons] put into the bill.”

According to Garofalo, the only protest he has encountered is that his vote came as a surprise.

“People wish they knew about it advance, but the way the amendment process plays out, there wasn’t an opportunity to do that,” he said.

Thursday’s event attracted business lobbyists, such as Loren Laugtug from Otter Tail Power Co. and Jacob Millner from the Minnesota Auto Dealers.

But also well represented was the lobbying effort in support of gay marriage.

“From a Republican perspective, I was glad to see Republicans took a stand, looked at the future and then moved forward,” said Patrick Connolly, whose firm, Connolly Kuhl Group, coordinated outreach to Republicans on the issue.

Minnesotans United, the umbrella group supporting gay marriage, has offered to support Garofalo’s campaign with a PAC contribution, but Garofalo has demurred.

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“I don’t think I need to [accept it],” he said.

With strong support from the business community and gay-marriage advocates, Garofalo now sets off to convince his district’s Republican activists not to define his candidacy by that one vote.