House GOP members split from caucus
State Rep. Steve Drazkowski and three other GOP House members have split off to form their own caucus, saying the breakaway group will allow them to work in a "much better climate."
State Rep. Steve Drazkowski and three other GOP House members have split off to form their own caucus, saying the breakaway group will allow them to work in a "much better climate" than the one that exists under House Speaker Kurt Daudt.
Drazkowski said ideology wasn’t the principal motivation for the move but rather concern and frustration over an unpleasant, "sometimes hostile" work environment in the GOP caucus. He said GOP members willing to challenge conventional thinking or vote contrary to leadership’s expectations face unpleasant consequences, including a "kind of marginalization and bullying."
"We don’t need to be subjected to that in order to do the best job representing our people," said Drazkowski, a Mazeppa Republican.
The other three founding members of the New House Republican Caucus are Tim Miller of Prinsburg, Cal Bahr of East Bethel and Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal.
Drazkowski also suggested the decision wasn’t irrevocable and that he would be willing to return to the fold if the old GOP caucus had different leadership.
"I can think of 15 or more of the old House caucus members who would make great caucus leaders," Drazkowski said. "And if that happened, I would very likely be with the old team."
Speaker Daudt directed questions about the matter to his deputy director of public affairs, Andrew Wagner. Wagner declined comment. But in a letter the speaker sent to House GOP members, Daudt said the four members’ defections would likely lead to additional layoffs of GOP staff and a reduction in committee slots.
"Nevertheless, we expect this to have little impact on session and when Democrats push to increase taxes on gas and increase government control of our health care, we expect there to be 59 votes opposing those efforts," Daudt said.
The four renegade House members announced their decision to separate from the GOP caucus on Friday. It comes more than a month after Republicans lost their majority in the state House in last month’s election.
Rep. Nels Pierson, a Republican from Stewartville, disagreed with Drazkowski’s characterization of how Daudt and House GOP leadership have operated. He said he has been able to express his concerns to Daudt or GOP Majority Leader Joyce Peppin when they’ve arisen.
"Have I been able to get everything I’ve wanted every time?" Pierson asked. "It’s just not the nature of the Minnesota Legislature. But I’ve always felt like I’ve been heard."
Pierson also noted that Drazkowski is chairman of a House committee, and that if Daudt wanted to be punitive, he could have removed him from that post.
"I think the accusation does not align with the actual procedural things that were available to the Speaker of the House," Pierson said.
Drazkowski said that since their decision to separate, the new caucus members have been punished by Daudt. Soon after notifying the speaker of their decision, they learned from their legislative assistant and researchers that they were not to provide any services to them.
He was also told by his former caucus members that Daudt has warned them that the new caucus is out to recruit and field candidates to challenge incumbent Republicans in primaries and endorsement contests.
Drazkowski calls the claims "completely, patently false, made up of whole cloth, but it is very evident of the type of manipulative, coercive, one-group-against-the-other hyper political activity that the leader has engaged in."