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Minnesota lawmakers seeking 'refuge' forge new Republican caucus

State Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa tells reporters Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, that he might support online voter registration, but will not know unless the Legislature examines the topic. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL — Four Minnesota lawmakers announced plans to part ways with the House Republican Caucus this week, citing a desire to seek refuge from a politically polarizing environment.

Republican state Reps. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Tim Miller of Prinsburg, Cal Bahr of East Bethel and Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal said they'd start their own cohort, called the New House Republican Caucus, in an effort to work more directly for their constituents.

It's a move that's unlikely to impact the success or failure of major legislation in the House of Representatives, where Democrats are set to take over the majority, but it fuels tension between GOP groups weeks before the 2019 legislative session is set to begin.

“We’re all doing this because it’s the right thing to do for us and for our districts,” Munson said.

Drazkowski and Munson on Tuesday, Dec. 11, said the move wasn't based on a split over issues, but rather over the way caucus leaders interact with members.

"That hyperpolitical approach over in the other caucus is something that ends up in marginalization and muting of members who have different ideas, so that’s what we’re going to seek refuge from," Drazkowski said.

Drazkowski said the new group likely would vote with the GOP minority most of the time. He said its four members would oppose efforts to hike taxes, but having a new title could free them up to support rule changes or legislation unpopular with their former peers.

“There are some things that we’re going to agree with the majority on that in the other caucus, because of politics, there will be pressure from the leadership to get everybody else to fall in line,” Drazkowski said. “We’re now not going to have to worry about if we buck the trend and fall in line with (incoming Minority Leader Kurt Daudt's) wishes or not.”

Daudt, a Crown Republican, in an email to his caucus members on Friday said the news was a surprise but likely wouldn't change much at the Capitol.

"We expect this to have little impact on the session and when Democrats push to increase taxes on gas and increase government control of our health care, we expect there will be 59 votes opposing those efforts," Daudt wrote.

House Speaker-designate Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, on Tuesday said she was working to accommodate both Republican caucuses. She said members of both groups would be seated together on the House floor.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com