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Juhnke, Seifert relationship strained

ST. PAUL - Two western Minnesota legislators may not be as close as they once were after an indirect heated exchange the past few days.

It started when House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, wrote a column decrying a series of tax increases that would total $4 billion Democrats propose.

It escalated when Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, sent an e-mail to 300 to 400 people about Seifert's column: "This is one of the most laughable, putrid, inane, bizarre, out-to-lunch, out-of-touch, inaccurate, misleading, untruthful pieces of prose I have seen in a long, long time."

The two briefly talked in a committee hearing Monday, but did not smooth over the divide. In the past, they had been able to work together, despite being from opposite parties; both say that will be harder now.

Seifert penned a column for release last Friday spelling out a series of tax increases individual House Democrats proposed. Those Democrat-Farmer-Laborite proposals range from a $1.2 billion income tax increase to a 790 percent increase in beer taxes, Seifert wrote.

"The new Democrat-controlled Legislature is obsessed with tax increases on you," he added.

Seifert indicated Democrats were not using common sense.

The column upset Juhnke, who shot back on Saturday by sending an e-mail to 300 to 400 people he regularly updates on political issues.

"Can you believe a supposed caucus leader would actually write such dribble, much less send it out to papers or actually stop into media outlets and try to convince educated journalists that this is true?" Juhnke asked.

On Friday, Seifert stopped by Juhnke's hometown newspaper, the West Central Tribune, which printed an article about the Republican the next day.

Juhnke said Seifert - whom he used to like - went too far.

"It certainly is not going to help Marty move forward on any proposal he may have," Juhnke said in an interview.

Juhnke said that even when he was an assistant DFL leader, he refused to attack Republicans, despite pressure from higher up to do so.

"I do not believe that is how you get things done," he added.

Juhnke said he does not remember a political caucus leader who has said anything in public as harsh as Seifert did in his column.

In an e-mail to the Tribune, Seifert responded: "I have documentation for everything in the column, including authors, file numbers, etc."

While Juhnke said Seifert will not be as successful after his column, Seifert said something similar about Juhnke: "I still like him, but think that this hurts his credibility by being overly nasty."

In an interview, Seifert said that in his time as a legislator, he has never seen comments as harsh as those from Juhnke.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.