Rogue Republicans face endorsement backlash

Rep. Ron Erhardt
Rep. Ron Erhardt, R-Edina, faces a challenger this weekend in his effort to win the GOP endorsement for re-election.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Republican Ron Erhardt didn't flinch when he voted to override the governor's veto of the transportation bill. And by the sound of it, he may not flinch if he loses the GOP endorsement on Saturday.

He said he'll continue to seek reelection either in the Republican Primary or as an independent. Erhardt said he won't abide by the endorsement awarded by GOP activists in his district this weekend.

"I don't think that makes any sense," he said. "If I have 179 people who are going to decide whether I run or not when I get 60 percent of the vote like I have in the past, I don't see where that's a good idea."

Erhardt has represented Edina for 18 years, the longest tenure of any Minnesota House Republican running for reelection this year. He said his political philosophy, socially moderate and fiscally conservative, has helped him continue to win in the district.

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But after his support of the transportation bill some Republicans are questioning whether Erhardt is as fiscally conservative as he claims. Keith Downey of Edina is challenging Erhardt for the endorsement.

"He would say that he's a fiscal conservative and a social moderate," Downey said. "I think his voting record would show that he's a fiscal moderate and pretty hard left on the social issues, and Republicans in Edina don't feel like they have to be that far over in order to hold the middle."

"I think his voting record would show that he's a fiscal moderate and pretty hard left on the social issues."

Downey said he's unhappy with Erhardt's vote on the transportation bill, but he also said Erhardt too often votes with Democrats. He said Erhardt has adopted a DFL-lite agenda.

Downey toes the party line on most Republican issues. He wants to keep spending in check by not raising taxes. He's opposed to legalized abortion and he would not have voted for the transportation bill.

Erhardt has countered that Downey's views are too extreme for the Edina district. At one point he called Downey the male version of Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Eight Republicans - six in the House and two in the Senate - voted to override the transportation veto. And Ron Erhardt isn't the only one facing a backlash.

"What happens on Saturday? I don't know," said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. He said he's heard that some activists are seeking a candidate to challenge him at his endorsing convention Saturday.

Abeler said he'll explain that he supported the bill because the state's transportation system needed more money. He said he'll also explain that he will oppose any other tax increases and will vote to sustain Gov. Pawlenty's future vetoes. But he said he won't be a robot and said delegates who want a candidate to toe the party line on every issue should vote for somebody else.

"One wrong on a test is not an F, if it was even wrong," he said. "And I did well in school, but 95 was an A when I went to school and I've certainly done that well by my people. I hope they recognize that. I hope they see that," he said.

Abeler said he'll consider his options if he doesn't win the endorsement.

Rep. Neil Peterson
Rep. Neil Peterson, R-Bloomington, is one of the six Republicans in the Minnesota House who voted to override Gov. Pawlenty's veto of the transportation bill.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Rep. Neil Peterson, R-Bloomington, declined to talk about his endorsement contest. He's facing a challenger on Saturday.

Republican Party Chair Ron Carey said last week that he was disappointed that eight Republicans voted to override the governor's veto. He said holding the line on taxes is a core issue of the Republican Party. Carey said the party will leave the endorsement decision to the party activists in each district.

"This is a local party decision as to endorsement and I support whatever the local party decides," he said. "If they choose to re-endorse some of these incumbents. If they choose to endorse somebody other than the incumbent, we'll stand there and we'll give party support to the endorsed candidate whether they are incumbent or nonincumbent in these races."

Carey may also be doing his best to keep the transportation bill on the minds of GOP activists. The party spent $10,000 on TV ads in the metro area on the Fox News Channel that criticize Democrats in the Legislature for backing the gas tax increase.

The ads fail to mention the Republicans who voted to override Gov. Pawlenty's veto.