GOP coming apart at the seams?

For most of the Pawlenty administration’s tenure at the Capitol, the key to Republican success has been the ability to keep a caucus together, even on those occasions when individual members disagreed. It’s why the governor got virtually everything he wanted in last year’s session, even though the Senate and House were in the hands of DFLers.

Those days may be over.

On MPR’s Midday today, Rep. Kathy Tingelstad acknowledged she has given up her leadership position in the caucus because of her vote for the gas tax.

“I did give up my (leadership position) on bonding,” she said. “I was told going in that that would be the penalty of the vote … I felt like I made the right decision and I have to stand up with the retribution of what happens with the vote I took.”

“Is that a good way for the Legislature to operate?,” MPR’s Gary Eichten asked.

“No,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of time there are informal things that happen but overall Rep. Seifert is handling it as well as can be… We’ll live through it.” (Listen to the entire show here.)

Tim Pugmire’s story this morning said:

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R- Mountain Lake, voluntarily gave up his lead role on the agriculture committee. Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, lost his GOP lead spot on the K-12 finance committee. But Heidgerken said he didn’t get a choice.

“I was told that if I don’t fall in line, this is what is going to happen,” he said.

Rep. Marty Seifert, the Republican boss in the House, has a 2 p.m. news conference to clarify things. (Update: Seifert iced the renegade Republicans.) But the situation invites another round of questions about what politicians mean when they say the things voters want to hear?

But Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, is less optimistic. Michel predicted hard feelings will linger at the Capitol.

“I worry that this will poison our ability to work in a bipartisan fashion,” he said.

On Midday, Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, may have given voice to a larger problem of Minnesota politics when she said, “(for people in the middle) it’s hard to find a home in either party.”

All of those who voted with the DFLers may face Republican opposition at election time. Rep. Jim Abeler, Rep. Ron Earhardt, Rep. Bud Heidgerken won their re-elections in 2006 by an average of 26.6%. Their seats are considered safe.

Rep. Rod Hamilton won his last election by just 464 votes and Republican backlash against him could actually push the seat into the DFL’s lap. Rep. Neil Peterson won his re-election in 2006 by just 6.8% in a district that is trending more DFL. Tingelstad, however, retained her seat by just 8.8% in a district that’s in the 6th congressional district, one of the reddest in Minnesota.