The Fragging of Patrick Garofalo

Voting for a gas tax seems to be a political death sentence in House District 36B

If conservative Republicans emulated the Boy Scouts--beyond their mutual antipathy toward gay people, that is--and bestowed merit badges for noteworthy achievements, Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) would be a much-decorated partisan in their ranks. During his brief tenure at the Capitol, the 33-year-old freshman legislator has co-sponsored the conceal-and-carry gun-permit law as well as bills that would exclude family-planning grants for organizations supplying abortion services, establish a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and rename the State Office Building after Ronald Reagan.

Garofalo, whose non-government job is as a network engineer for Allianz Life Insurance Company, also notes that he was Tim Pawlenty's "computer guy" during the governor's successful campaign in 2002, and owns the domain names for both pawlentyforgovernor.com and pawlentyforpresident.com. He was the campaign manager for his Republican predecessor in House District 36B, Steve Strachan, who left office to become the chief of police in Lakeville. When Garofalo stepped up to run for Strachan's seat in 2004, he received the largest proportion of votes (62 percent) of any non-incumbent that year, outpolling both President Bush and Congressman John Kline in his district.

Yet despite this long list of bona fides, Garofalo has apparently been shivved by members of his own party--indeed, by a personal friend whose family has shared dinner in his home. "I don't have a lot of experience in dealing with betrayal," states Garofalo. "I have always been well equipped to fight those on the other side of the aisle, but I never thought in a million years that people in my own party--even the tiny, crazy wing of the Republican Party--would do this to me."

The terms of that betrayal are pretty straightforward. On January 6, Garofalo announced that he would seek a second term this November. Less than a week later, Chaz Johnson, the Republican Party chair of the Second Congressional District, a member of the Farmington Planning Commission, and a flight attendant at Northwest Airlines, made it known that he would challenge Garofalo for the party endorsement at the district convention on March 18. About a month after that, Garofalo announced that he was dropping out of the race. More recently, after former District 36 GOP chair Bill Callister announced he would lead a movement to draft Garofalo at the March convention, Garofalo said he would still accept the nomination if it was proffered.

So how did Garofalo get to be a state GOP pariah in the first place? He cites three votes that, in his view, stirred the ire of what he calls the "flat-earth wing of the party" and led some colleagues to promote Johnson's challenge: his votes on behalf of Northstar commuter rail, Tim Pawlenty's 2005 racino proposal to pull more gambling revenues into state coffers, and a transportation bill that included a 10-cent per gallon gas tax hike.

"Even the most conservative point of view would regard road construction as a legitimate function of government," Garofalo says. "When the people from the business community, the ones who create the jobs and actually sign the payroll checks in my district, tell me that a lack of transportation funding is hurting job creation, I listen to them. The Taxpayers League has never created a private sector job in its life."

In addition to Taxpayers League members, some of Garofalo's more conservative colleagues in the Legislature are rumored to have pushed Johnson to run--including District 36 Sen. Pat Pariseau (R-Farmington) and District 36A Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville). Johnson declines to go into specifics, but says, "Obviously I didn't just wake up on a Saturday morning and decide I was going to do this." He acknowledges speaking to both Pariseau and Holberg about the race but downplays the significance of their opinions. (Holberg declined to comment on the race; Pariseau did not return calls from CP seeking comment.)

"This is not personal. I like Patrick; I like his wife and I like his kids," says Johnson, who acknowledges that "strained friendship is probably a reasonable characterization" of his current relations with Garofalo. But he also demurs on citing specific issues or votes on which he differs with the incumbent, except to say, "I am a true believer that we do have an ample supply of money to take care of the business of the state without finding new and creative ways to tax the people of Minnesota."

Bill Callister, the leader of the movement to draft Garofalo, claims to be good pals with both Garofalo and Johnson. He adds that "Paul Hardt, who is also from Farmington, is also a friend of mine and a very intelligent man who is going to be a strong opponent. That is why I am supporting Patrick. I feel as an incumbent he has a big edge.

"We also have to recognize that Republicans alone don't elect people," adds Callister. "It takes support from independents and Democrats too. Ronald Reagan taught us that."

Garofalo may eventually decide to become one of those independents. "I do not plan on running in the primary and I do not plan on running as an independent," he tells City Pages. "But I reserve the right to change my mind."

 
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