Sertich, who is from the Iron Range town of Chisholm, said he apparently fell into Gov. Tim Pawlenty's disfavor last month, when he was quoted in a MPR News story on the governor's out-of-state travels.
In that story, Sertich accused Pawlenty of not being engaged in legislative discussions. Sertich said the story prompted a telephone call from a Pawlenty staffer.
"He had a message from the governor to me," Sertich said. "And the direct words were -- it's a hockey analogy. 'Cheap shots are cheap, but they're not free.' That the governor was looking forward to seeing my area's bonding recommendations when they come across his desk. A direct threat to veto the projects in my district, from the governor."
Sertich, who refused to identify the staffer, said he initially didn't believe the threat. The Associated Press reported the conversation was between Sertich and Chief of Staff Matt Kramer.
However, four weeks later, Pawlenty used his line-item veto authority to remove 52 projects from the bonding bill. Sertich's northeastern Minnesota district lost $1.5 million for projects in Chisholm, Floodwood and Hibbing.
The vetoes also hit other DFL districts. Sertich described the cuts as mean-spirited, partisan and vindictive. But his decision to go public about the threat didn't come until later in the week.
Sertich said he was concerned when Pawlenty threatened to veto a bill authorizing a nearly $5 million study of lung cancer among Iron Range miners.
"I was going to let this slide, because I did have concerns about doing this. Who knows what his next retribution to me or to the people of northern Minnesota is going to be," Sertich said. "But I believe the public has a right to know. And then when I saw him threaten to veto the mesothelioma bill, that can't wait. These projects will come back. These are good projects for the state. They'll come back. They'll get funded another year. But this mesothelioma bill needs to get done this year."
The governor supports the study, but he objects to funding it with state workers compensation money. Pawlenty has recommended two alternative funding sources.
As for the bonding bill vetoes, Pawlenty has repeatedly said Democrats exceeded the state debt guidelines. But a spokesman for the governor confirmed the phone call to Sertich took place, but he denied any threats were made.
In a written statement, Brian McClung said,
"We respect the spirit of confidentiality that is generally part of private conversations, so I won't go into great detail regarding who said what."
He said nothing was said about the relative value of cheap shots.
"Sertich and all Democrats had fair notice of the consequences if they chose to violate the state's credit card limit by passing a fiscally irresponsible bonding bill," McClung added.
Pawlenty himself made that point earlier in the day during his weekly radio show.
"They should not be shocked or surprised. They were warned that that was going to happen. They made their choice to blow the spending limit anyhow and so they need to be responsible for those actions as well," Pawlenty said.
Republican legislators are also defending the vetoes. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said there's no surprise that DFL districts would take a bigger hit.
"The reality is the bill was a super-sized DFL bill, and so therefore the line-item vetoes were more DFL oriented, because that's where the bill was," Seifert said. "And I had a project in my district that was line itemed. I'm not wailing and gnashing my teeth. I just acknowledge that's the reality." Seifert told reporters he had extensive discussions with the governor late last week about the line-item vetoes. Seifert added that his proposed veto list was much more aggressive than the governor's list.