Some legislators skip votes to campaignby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A few weeks ago, MPR News reported that Gov. Tim Pawlenty was out of the state about 40 percent of the time during the first few months of the legislative session.
At the time, the governor's spokesman said we should look at how the legislators who are running for other offices are doing their jobs. So we did.
All but one of those lawmakers have missed votes during this year's session, and their excuses vary widely.
Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, is the only lawmaker running for another job who hasn't missed a vote during the first 10 weeks of the session.
House research shows that Seifert voted every time he was required to -- from the opening day of the session on Feb. 4 through April 12. That's 294 votes. Seifert is running for governor, and said his perfect voting record is important.
"I do take the job very seriously, and I think the constituents are paying us for that," said Seifert. "I know that sometimes campaign events come up, or rallies. The taxpayers aren't paying us to go to campaign events and rallies when the Legislature is in session. I think the expectation is we're here."
That comment is aimed directly at Seifert's main rival for the GOP gubernatorial endorsement, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano. Emmer missed a vote on April 7, when he was attending a campaign rally featuring prominent Republicans, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Since the session began, Emmer missed six votes. He freely admits that he missed some of them because he was campaigning for governor.
"This other job that I have taken on, this interview with the people of Minnesota to be the next governor of Minnesota -- it still requires the same type of activity," said Emmer. "And I don't think you see anything there, at least I don't, that would suggest to me that I'm not doing my utmost to do both jobs to the best of my ability."
Emmer isn't the only lawmaker who missed votes because of campaigning. Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, who is running for Congress in the 6th District, missed seven votes this session, out of 256 that have been taken so far.
Five of those were on April 13, when she was in Washington D.C. for a campaign fundraiser and meetings with DFL members of the state's congressional delegation.
Clark is the DFL Party's endorsed candidate to run against Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann. She has raised Bachmann's missed votes in Congress as an issue, but said her missed votes are different.
"Out of the thousands of votes that have been taken, I've missed about a handful. That's hardly anything," said Clark. "So they should take away from it that I take my job very seriously and I'm working hard for the district."
Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, another candidate for governor, missed the most votes of any legislator seeking higher office -- 25. But Thissen said only a few of them were because of campaign activity. He said most of the 25 were a result of legislative work he was doing at the same time a floor session was taking place.
"I don't think you would take from this that I'm neglecting my legislative duties to be out running for governor," said Thissen.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, another gubernatorial candidate, didn't vote six times. But she says she abstained from four of those votes because the legislation involved the Minnesota Historical Society, where her husband works.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who's running for governor, missed two votes.
Rep. Randy Demmer, R-Hayfield, a congressional candidate, missed 24 votes. But he said a majority of those were because he had to attend transportation meetings in his legislative district.
Demmer said he also missed votes because he didn't make the trip to the Capitol on the day after Easter break. Demmer is running for Congress in the 1st District against incumbent Democrat Tim Walz.
Like many of the other legislators, Demmer was excused for missing his votes. Speaker Kelliher says most House members get permission to miss votes.
"It's actually fairly typical that when a member wants to be excused, and they're asked to be excused, that the presiding officer, whether it's me or someone else as Speaker Pro Tem, will excuse them," said Kelliher.
While some candidates are careful not to miss any votes for fear of facing the voters' wrath, others have intentionally missed votes.
Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, said he stayed off the board on purpose three times. Severson, a candidate for secretary of state, said he deliberately withheld his votes as a protest against the bonding bill and a spending bill. He contends that sometimes not voting sends a stronger message than voting "yes" or "no."
- All Things Considered, 04/22/2010, 5:23 p.m.