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GOP rebels are punished

ST. PAUL -- The top Minnesota House Republican punished six colleagues for not voting the "right way" Monday on a transportation funding bill.

"We want positive leadership from Republicans," House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said of his rare move. "They are not doing the right thing on the floor."

Leadership positions, such as being top Republican on a committee and the title of assistant whip, were ripped away from the six. Seifert said they cannot be GOP leaders if they don't follow the party line on such a major bill as the $6.6 billion transportation package.

"I totally respect what they did," Seifert said, but that respect did not convince him to allow the GOP Six to retain their power.

Those disciplined were Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, Bud Heidgerken of Freeport, Kathy Tingelstad of Andover, Jim Abeler of Anoka, Neil Peterson of Bloomington and Ron Erhardt of Edina.

Heidgerken, who held the top spot on the K-12 education funding committee, said the position is not very important because he works well with the panel's Democrats. Still, the move frustrated him.

"I hate to be penalized anytime I'm right," Heidgerken said.

Heidgerken questioned whether fellow Republicans believe he should vote against his conscience.

"Is this one of the principles of the Republican Party?" he asked.

As a result of the GOP shuffle, Rep. Larry Howes of Walker was named top Republican on the House public works funding committee.

"It's a privilege and it's more work," he joked.

Howes said GOP leaders needed to make a statement.

"Everybody has their way of doing things," he said. "I think Marty's doing it in a somewhat calm way, but making his point."

Capitol observers do not recall a time when a caucus leader handed out such widespread punishment. Seifert, who described the punishment as "once-and-only," said it was needed because the Democratic-written transportation bill was so heavy on taxes.

"I think this has been blown into a much bigger deal than it actually is," Rep. Matt Dean said of the caucus shake-up. "The real consequences are with the voters."

Dean, R-Dellwood, took Abeler's spot as lead Republican on a health care funding committee. Minnesotans are stuck with record tax increases as a result of the override, he said.

Seifert said he could have taken away their secretaries or dished out other punishment -- and the full Republican caucus still could decide to do that -- but he opted for a smaller penalty.

The leader said the half-dozen punished lawmakers will not receive financial help from the caucus if they run for re-election, although he said he does not plan to recruit other Republicans to run against them.

However, state GOP Chairman Ron Carey said he has heard from party leaders in districts served by some of the six who are recruiting candidates to unseat the incumbents.

"It's very disappointing," Carey said of the Monday votes.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.