Radinovich's stand on marriage could cost him job, voters say

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Joe Radinovich
The decision by DFL Rep. Joe Radinovich to vote to legalize same-sex marriage has some voters in his district upset that the first-term legislator is not following the will of his constituents. Last fall, 63 percent of the area's constituents voted for a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. A legislator's vote on the bill to allow same-sex marriage carries significant political risk, especially if they disagree with voters in their districts.
Photo courtesy of JoeRadinovich.com

For many of those in the Minnesota House of Representatives, Thursday's vote on a bill to allow same-sex marriage carries significant political risk, especially if they disagree with voters in their districts.

Last year, in Aitkin in north-central Minnesota, a solid majority of people voted for a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, effectively banning same-sex marriages.

Even so, the first-term representative from the area says he will vote for the bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

At Daune's Barber Styling, a few steps from the main intersection in downtown Aitkin, owner Duane Gross said he has heard plenty of talk about DFL state Rep. Joe Radinovich's decision to vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

"Oh, yes, I have," Gross said.

As he trims a customer's hair using an electric clipper, Gross is quick to state his opposition to same-sex marriage. He called it "ridiculous" that his representative is in favor of same-sex marriage when last fall 63 percent of the area's constituents voted for the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage.

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"They don't want two men or two women to be married. They're for one man and for one woman," Gross said. "And in democracy you should be representing the majority and that's what the majority wants. That's what he should be representing."

"They're for one man and for one woman. And in democracy you should be representing the majority and that's what the majority wants."

The customer, an older gentleman, said same-sex marriage is a "slap in the face" to those couples in traditional marriages. He makes it clear he wants the conversation to end.

From the floor of the Minnesota House, Radinovich said voting against same-sex marriage would "betray" his conscience and that good public servants need to be "true to themselves."

"I'd rather have the voters be upset with me right now than for me to be upset with myself for the rest of my life for making the wrong decision," Radinovich said.

Back in downtown Aitkin, some of Radinovich's constituents certainly are upset with him, including one man who said gay people should be rounded up and shot.

"Well, it sounds to me like (Radinovich) must be gay too. I'm totally against that," the man said. He declined to give his name.

On the sidewalk with the unnamed man, Paul Ellingson, 75, of Crosby, Minn., said he does not oppose same-sex marriage, but he thinks representatives need to vote in line with the wishes of the majority of people they represent.

Paul Ellingson
Paul Ellingson, 75, of Crosby, said that representatives need to vote in line with the wishes of the majority of people they represent.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"You know with anything, the representative is responsible for representing his district and the wants of the people," Ellingson said. "If he isn't doing that, then he's dead wrong. I don't care what the issue is."

Not all who were interviewed in Aitkin said representatives like Radinovich should be compelled to act on the will of the majority of their constituents.

Out shopping with a friend, Joan Kingsley, 72, said Radinovich should do what he thinks necessary.

"Well, we elected him to do what he thought was best," Kingsley said.

But going against the will of the majority could very well cost Radinovich his chance at re-election, Kingsley said.

The notion lawmakers should vote based on what they think is right and not the will of their constituent majority seems to be the minority opinion in Radinovich's district. There's already an effort to hold a recall election to replace Radinovich over the same-sex marriage issue.

Doug Kern who lives just south of Brainerd in Radinovich's district has filed a recall petition and is already collecting signatures.

Pat Williams
Long-time Aitkin County Republican Pat Williams signed a petition to recall DFL Rep. Joe Radinovich, even though he doubts the effort will be successful. However, he does think that Radinovich will have a hard time getting re-elected next year.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"When you have a representative that is clearly not representing his constituents -- I mean absolutely, positively not representing them, that's wrong," Kern said.

The Minnesota Constitution says a recall can only proceed if a public official is convicted of a "serious crime," or is otherwise deemed guilty of "serious malfeasance or nonfeasance."

Long-time Aitkin County Republican Pat Williams signed Kern's petition, although he doubts the recall will be successful. He does think that Radinovich will have a hard time getting re-elected next year.

"I do think that it is a strong warning to him and perhaps to others like him that they shouldn't be disregarding what a majority of the people want in terms of their representation," Williams said.

Radinovich said he is at peace with his decision to vote in support of same-sex marriage. He does plan a re-election run, and looks forward to discussing his decision with constituents.