Smart Politics recently conducted an exclusive interview with Minnesota House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (District 21A). Seifert was first elected to the legislature in 1996, and has been a formidable, vocal opponent of the House DFL agenda, becoming a media favorite for his quick wit, consistent political message, and colorful, memorable quotes.
Smart Politics: You have sometimes commented that Governor Pawlenty's veto pen will 'run dry' this session, rejecting many DFL-backed legislation. Is there any piece of DFL legislation in particular that you are most concerned about fellow GOP House members drifting to the DFL's side to override a gubernatorial veto?
Rep. Seifert: I think that our caucus will stay together. We don't need to be unanimous, but just hold the threshold below 90 votes to over-ride. Most observers would argue that a 5-cent gas tax might be vulnerable, but I would argue that we will stay together on each veto.
Smart Politics: You have railed against many of the tax increases proposed by the DFL this session, claiming they are out of step with both the wishes of the average Minnesotans and what the DFL promised in Election 2006. Other than taxes, what piece of legislation do you feel, if passed, would be most damaging to the DFL in their bid to keep the House in 2008—that is, what other issues are they trying to push through that you feel are also out of step with the average voter in the Gopher State?
Rep. Seifert: The proposals to repeal welfare reform are very unpopular. Work requirements, reasonable limits on eligibility and keeping Minnesota in line with welfare attractiveness are important. My guess is that 80% or more of Minnesotans disagree with the DFL on their repeal of welfare reform.
Smart Politics: You represent an out-state District (21A) but work in a media market arguably dominated by coverage of Twin Cities issues. Do you think the Twin Cities media puts extra pressure on legislators in St. Paul to address metro concerns, and, if so, does this make your role as Minority Leader and Representative of District 21A much more difficult?
Rep. Seifert: I don't sense any undue pressure. The media has been very friendly to me and I think pretty fair. Generally, a Minority Leader does not get much attention for views of his caucus and I don't see any bias or problems in media communication.
Smart Politics: As a follow up, what issue(s) do you feel present the greatest challenge for you to hold out-state and metro area Republicans together as Minority Leader?
Rep. Seifert: There's always some issues relating to local government aid, nursing home spending and transit/roads. However, the DFL has done a great job of uniting my caucus, the Senate Republicans, the Governor and most Republicans with the tax, spend, regulate agenda they are promoting.
Smart Politics: Contrary to conventional wisdom, historical election trends in recent years show that lower voter turnout in Minnesota is actually correlated to greater DFL success in House elections. Since Watergate, in the 6 elections in which voter turnout has fallen below 60 percent in the state, the DFL has won or kept the House in 5 of them (with the GOP and DFL deadlocked at 67-67 in 1978). What factors are you hoping will come about in 2008, other than it being a presidential election year, to insure high turnout in the state generally, as well as to bring out your GOP base?
Rep. Seifert: There's no doubt that turnout will be driven by the presidential and to a lesser extent, Senate races. I believe firmly that the Democrats will nominate Hillary Clinton for President and Al Franken for U.S. Senate. This will be one of the worst top of the tickets for the Democrats in Minnesota for years. This is the key factor that will help. My best hope is that our positive agenda will drive turnout in our favor, but it's tough to drive it in lower-ticket races.
Smart Politics: Your major at Southwest Minnesota State University was political science. What book, political theorist, or statesman do you feel has had the greatest impact on you in your now decade plus years service as an officeholder in Minnesota government, and why?
Rep. Seifert: Surprisingly, I'd say Calvin Coolidge and his autobiography. He was willing to serve, quiet and never eager to be a "climber" or as ambitious.
Smart Politics: You can have 1 ticket: the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, or the Wild—which do you choose?
Rep. Seifert: Probably Vikings, because that's what my wife and family would love the most.