Michele Bachmann’s recent announcement that she will not seek reelection to the U.S. House has already enticed half a dozen Minnesota Republicans to consider running—or officially declare—for her open seat in Minnesota's very conservative 6th Congressional District. These potential successors aren't quite on the level of claiming that vaccinations cause mental retardation or wantonly accusing brown people of terrorism links, but together, they have paternity over some of Minnesota’s most virulent legislative fights. Here's who might follow in Bachmann's footsteps.
Dean, a member of the Minnesota House, announced his interest in Bachmann’s seat the day she said that she wouldn’t seek reelection. For childcare workers attempting to unionize, he added extra hurdles to paying union dues. He co-sponsored a 2012 ballot measure to add a strict photo ID law to the Minnesota Constitution, which went before voters but failed. In 2009, then-Governor Tim Pawlenty approved language Dean co-authored banning some stem-cell research on the scientifically baseless premise that this counted as human cloning. Dean worked on Bachmann’s state Senate campaign, backed her proposal to ban same-sex marriage in the state, and supported Pawlenty’s decision to reject $1 billion in health care funds provided by the Affordable Care Act.
Dean was also was the majority house leader during the 2011 Minnesota government shutdown, in which the state stopped paying for critical services like road repair and ventilators and feeding tubes for nursing home residents. Yet, during the shutdown, the only major relief bill Dean backed was to keep the state’s beer supplies stocked. When Democrats voted the measure down, Dean accused them of trying to make Minnesotans miserable until they caved to higher taxes.1
Kiffmeyer, who expressed interest in Bachmann’s seat in late May, is a state senator better known for her activities as secretary of state, a position she held from 1998 to 2006. Evaluating her tenure, a fellow Republican said, “She sees black helicopters everywhere she looks and she wants to put up as many barriers to voting as she can.” Specifically, Kiffmeyer ruled that college students could not use utility bills to prove their identities and held that the tribal identification used by thousands of Minnesota’s Native population was not an acceptable form of voter ID, leading to about 200 of them being turned away from the polls in 2004. On Election Day in 2004, Kiffmeyer’s office circulated fliers warning voters of possible terrorism threats. To spot “homicide bombers,” the fliers read, voters should look for cars “riding low on springs,” and individuals with “shaved head or short hair” in baggy clothes.
Kiffmeyer has continued her hunt for voter fraudsters since losing her seat in 2006, forming Minnesota Majority—a group that circulated unproven estimates of voter fraud, a graphic of a man in a mariachi outfit and a black prisoner in line to vote, and an article positing that Sweden experiences lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. because it is “racially pure,” a phrase Kiffmeyer defended. In the House, Kiffmeyer wrote the voter ID ballot measure.
As senator, she voted against a same-sex marriage bill because it would not protect employers who discriminated against same-sex partners—discrimination being something she considers a First Amendment right. Her husband, Ralph, was a state representative for one bizarre term in the late ’90s, time he used to try to ban sex toys. Kiffmeyer pressured corporations invested in the state to drop their support of groups providing abortions, and she has reportedly said that the five most destructive words in America are “separation of church and state.”
Former State Rep. Krinkie, who lost a race for the 6th Congressional District in 2006, is thinking of trying his luck again. Known as “Dr. No,” his opposition to government spending is so vehement that the Star Tribune called his 2007 vote for 3/8 percent sales-tax increase a “rarely seen spectacle.” In 2006, rather than approve a new tax on cigarettes to end a partial government shutdown, he resigned as chair of the tax committee.
A Democrat until the 1970s, Krinkie began to oppose taxes and spending after he was handed control of a $4 million-a-year heating and cooling company. As a junior lawmaker in the ’90s, he organized opposition of small-bore items like school desegregation and the redistribution of dollars for impoverished school districts. He displayed a plush pink pig, Mr. Piggy, on his desk for emphasis, and proudly called himself “cheap.”
Occasionally, Dean has rooted out real government waste—he uncovered abuses in the bidding process for a state light-rail project. But his opposition reliably veers into the absurd. He sought a moonlighting ban to stop then-Governor Jesse Ventura from announcing at a one-off World Wrestling Federation event and collaborating on a musical about his life. Since giving up his House seat to run against Bachmann in 2006, Krinkie has served as president of the Taxpayer’s League, offering, in that position, wisdom like this: “If the University of Minnesota can have 200 students in a classroom, why can’t your high school?”
Emmer, a former state representative who took a failed shot at the governorship in 2010, is the only candidate to have officially declared for Bachmann’s seat. The laundry list of Emmer’s hyper-conservative principles is well known. It includes support for chemical castration of sex offenders, a bill to let pharmacists refuse contraception prescriptions, and an amendment allowing the state to pick and choose which federal laws to follow. Emmer also had ties to Dean Bradlee, a radio host and the founder of a rock group and ministry called You Can Run But You Can’t Hide. After Bradlee implied his support for the execution of gays and lesbians, Emmer called the group a “pro-traditional marriage group” made up of “nice people.”
Since narrowly losing the race for governor in 2010, Emmer has gone into lobbying, reversing positions according to the needs of his employers. But he has maintained his anti-gay bona fides, recently writing for a radio site, “If you really believe the fight about the definition of marriage is about a state law that discriminates … why would you propose to pass another law that, in theory, will discriminate? … What will you say to the polygamist who believes that marriage should involve multiple spouses?”
Molly Redden is a staff writer for The New Republic. Follow her on Twitter @mtredden.
Fun facts: In 2011, Dean criticized the Twin Cities regional library system for paying sci-fi author Neil Gaiman $45,000 to speak to approximately 500 people, calling Gaiman a “pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the state.” He and his wife live in a home that once belonged to Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.