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Seifert concludes 14-year House career

Published (4/15/2010)
By Kris Berggren
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Finishing his seventh term as a House member — three serving as House minority leader — Rep. Marty Seifert is running for the governor’s chair. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)Fourteen years ago, a 23-year-old high school teacher ran for public office to serve his rural southwestern district in the House of Representatives. Today, Rep. Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) is about to finish his seventh term in that office, including three years serving as House minority leader.

Seifert ran for the District 21A seat in 1996 hoping to repeal the Profile of Learning, a controversial set of K-12 education standards authorized in 1992.

“As a classroom teacher,” recalled Seifert, “I felt there were people who had no idea how to teach telling teachers what to do,” he said. “I felt the bureaucracy in St. Paul was telling teachers how to teach, farmers how to farm, small-business people how to run their businesses, parents how to raise their children.

“So what do you do? Run for office.”

Despite his youth, Seifert wasn’t intimidated the first time he entered the House chamber, but he was “very humbled, to walk in and realize I am here serving the people.”

Within the year, he would become the first lawmaker to sponsor a bill to repeal the Profile. That 1997 bill didn’t make it past the education committee; but six years later, Seifert’s goal was realized when Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who had also campaigned on a promise to get rid of the Profile, was in office, and the Senate was persuaded to support the repeal, as the House already had.

Seifert would still like to change the way things are done in St. Paul, so he’s running for office again — the governor’s office.

One might assume Seifert’s gubernatorial aspirations preceded his decision not to run for an eighth term, but that’s not the case.

“I was going to go back to Marshall and grow my property management business,” Seifert said, a decision he made with his wife, Traci. “I assumed Gov. Pawlenty would run for re-election.”

In some ways, Seifert said, campaigning for governor is easier than serving as minority leader, a position he held from 2007 until stepping down last June after deciding to seek the chief administrative office.

Serving as minority leader “is a very time consuming position. … You have 134 candidates to recruit, traveling around the state, fundraising and a caucus full of members with issues to help resolve.”

Seifert doesn’t think the current House climate is any more or less partisan than when he first arrived, though he believes expectations of government have increased.

“The budget deficit is the biggest political dynamic that has changed,” Seifert said. “When I came in, there was a lot of surplus.”

Limiting state government’s scope while honoring priorities has been a hallmark of Seifert’s legislative career. He is proud of his 2005 role as chairman of the House State Government Finance Committee, when, despite a partial government shutdown that year, his finance bill came in on time and on budget, with overall savings to the state but a record increase for veterans and military spending.

He also sponsored a law to allow non-violent offenders to pick up roadside trash, and another authorizing prisoners to receive two meals instead of three on weekends, which he estimates saved $3 million. Opponents warned it would cause prison riots, said Seifert; instead, wardens have found that prisoners don’t mind “brunch and supper” and the chance to sleep later.

He is also known for last year’s Brandon’s Law, which allows law enforcement to begin searching immediately for adults who have gone missing under dangerous circumstances. Seifert said it’s considered a national model for missing adult laws and that he’s been contacted by several states interested in passing similar legislation.

Seifert said he will most miss his colleagues and the “fantastic” staff. He values learning from the diversity of perspective from lawmakers from all parts of the state, and the lifelong friendships he’s made in his job.

However, perhaps his favorite part of politics is local. Seifert said he’s proud of having been the top Republican vote-getter in his district of all candidates for any office in each of the seven elections he’s been on the ballot, winning many votes cast by non-Republicans as well as his own party faithful.

He truly enjoys the personal ways he is present to the people of his home district, for example, by helping someone with a licensing problem, or attending an Eagle Scout ceremony or high school graduation.

“Those are fun and, I think, very honorable things to do,” he said.

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