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Bipartisan spirit earns Garofalo major award, but irks some Republican Party faithful

Freshman state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, won the support of House District 36B in November, 2006, five months after state legislators needed a 10-day special session to agree on a bill to fund state government. During the campaign, Garofalo pledged to voters that if elected, he would work for compromise at the capitol.

Garofalo will have an easier time backing up that pledge in this year's election. Politics in Minnesota, a public-affairs news service, named Garofalo and the other House members elected in 2004, the publication's Freshman Legislators of The Year, citing their "refreshing willingness to work with members of the other party."

Garofalo, whose district spreads from Farmington east to Welch, encompassing Vermillion, Hampton and Miesville, was one of eight members of the class of '04 who Politics in Minnesota cited by name in its awards article.

"One of my goals was to try to change the tone in St. Paul," Garofalo said. "It's a very closely divided legislature, and we need more people who are willing to bridge the gap between the two sides."

Examples of successful bipartisan initiatives in the House this spring, according to Garofalo, are the eminent domain bill and a bill that will align public- and private-sector accounting techniques.

Bucking the party

Of course, not everyone was pleased to see Garofalo reach out to legislators across the aisle.

Garofalo found himself at odds with his own party's platform on more than one occasion during the 2006 session. He supported efforts to install a "racino" at Canterbury Park despite his party's opposition to expansion of gambling. He also voted to increase the gas tax and designate the proceeds to transportation projects.

"Right now, transportation is under-funded in our area," Garofalo said. "My preference would be that we redistribute from other areas of government and use those savings to pay for more transportation funding, but there's not a majority in the legislature to do that.

"What I support is solving the problem. What I am opposed to is doing nothing, because it's cheaper to solve the problem than to ignore it."

As a result, in part, of his voting record, Garofalo was one of just a handful of incumbent legislators challenged at their district nominating conventions.

Chaz Johnson, Republican chairman in the 2nd Congressional District, withdrew his bid for the party endorsement in 36B after the first ballot at the local convention March 18. Johnson received 50 votes to Garofalo's 71.

"There were some people who disagreed with me," Garofalo said. "I think that there are some that think I'm elected to represent the Republican Party.

"I disagree. I believe I'm elected to represent the people of our district. I think the people of our area respect having an independent-minded legislator at the capitol."

2006 election

With the 2006 legislative session - and his party's endorsement - in the books, Garofalo has turned his attention to retaining the seat he won in 2004.

"I'm trying to stay in close contact with the members of the townships and cities of rural Dakota County," he said.

The DFL-endorsed candidate for House District 36B is Paul Hardt, a resident of Farmington.