By Catharine Richert
DFLer Tarryl Clark frequently criticizes Michele Bachmann for neglecting the needs of the 6th district.
Case in point: In an Aug. 20, 2010, letter to her supporters, Clark pointed out that her Republican opponent failed to bring home money to help repair a local bridge.
"Despite this threat and the lessons that should have been learned from the I-35W Bridge collapse, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann refused to secure the funding needed to replace the Highway 23 bridge, a critical transportation artery in our community," Clark wrote.
Clark's claim is essentially correct. But there's a bit more to the story.
In 2007, after the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, a flurry of bridge inspections occurred across the state. To cover emergency repairs **and fund other transportation projects**, the Legislature overrode Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a massive transportation funding bill in late February of 2008. The measure included $600 million in bridge repairs.
On March 20, the DeSoto Bridge in St. Cloud - the bridge Clark is referring to - was shut down because of structural deficiencies.
The next day, Bachmann pledged to forgo earmarks, money that's set aside during the congressional appropriations process for local projects. And shortly thereafter, she told government and transportation officials that she would not renege on her promise. Instead, she said she would find other sources of funding to help rebuild the bridge.
While some area leaders expressed concern about Bachmann's "no earmarks" pledge, it appears that the Minnesota Department of Transportation wasn't so keen on federal help in the first place.
In an April 16, 2008, letter from Bachmann to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Bachmann reiterated her resistance to earmarks for the project. But she wrote that during a conference call with the transportation department, one official "noted that [the department] does not want any congressional earmarks through the Fiscal Year 2009 federal appropriations process to finance replacement of the DeSoto Bridge. In fact, the official noted that the use of federal earmarked dollars would actually slow down the accelerated replacement plan for which our community is so desperate."
The next day, in an interview with the St. Cloud Times, transportation department spokeswoman Lucy Kender confirmed that waiting for federal funding would likely slow the rebuilding process.
Ultimately, the state relied on the transportation funding bill passed earlier in the year.
Though Clark glosses over the fact that the Legislature had already set aside funding for bridge repair projects, her claim is basically accurate.
Tarryl Clark for Congress, email to supporters, Aug. 20, 2010
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, Highway 23, St. Cloud, accessed Sept. 2, 2010
Minnesota Public Radio, St. Cloud dedicates new Granite City Crossing Bridge, by Ambar Espinoza, October 26, 2009
Minnesota Independent, Bachmann will forgo earmarks for Desoto bridge, by Andy Birkey, March 31, 2008
Website for Rep. Michele Bachmann, Bachmann Takes Pledge Against Pork, accessed Sept. 2, 2010
The Associated Press, Bachmann Defends 'No Earmarks' For Bridge, April 25, 2008
The St. Cloud Times, A vow for bridge funds, by Lawrence Schumacher, March 29, 2010 (subscription only)
The St. Cloud Times, MnDOT rules out earmarks, by Lawrence Schumacher, April 17, 2008 (subscription only)
The Minnesota Transportation Alliance, Minnesota's Transportation System: A Guide to the Essentials, 2008
Rep. Michele Bachmann, letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, April 18, 2010
Interview, Carrie Lucking, spokeswoman, Tarryl Clark, Sept. 1, 2010
Interview, Margaret Donahoe, Executive Director, Minnesota Transportation Alliance, Sept. 2, 2010
PoliGraph is a regular series of reports that checks the veracity of politicians' claims. It is a collaboration between Minnesota Public Radio News and the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.