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Tom Scheck, MPR News 90.3 FM, Published February 20 2014

Voting for same-sex marriage may cost Minnesota GOP legislator

St. Paul, Minn. – For most of his political life, state Rep. David FitzSimmons has been a vote counter. His number crunching helped secure the endorsement for many of Minnesota’s Republicans, including Tom Emmer, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2010.

FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, also worked for Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign in Iowa.

But as voters in District 30-B prepare to decide who to send to the Legislature next year, the first-term legislator’s political future may come down to two votes: the one he took last May to legalize same-sex marriage and the one party delegates will cast on Saturday.

Fitzsimmons, who bucked his party and public opinion in his district last year when he voted to legalize same-sex marriage, said that vote may cost him the party’s endorsement. If that happens, he worries it will damage the party, which he said has to move past the same-sex marriage debate.

“A lot of people talk about my ability to assess the situation and know where it’s at, but it doesn’t always mean that I’m all powerful in being able to change the situation,” he said. “I could count them, but the count doesn’t always come out the way you want.”

FitzSimmons has been defending his vote to Republicans in his legislative district that includes Albertville, Otsego and St. Michael. He doesn’t regret the vote and said he decided to back same-sex marriage only after the House approved his language aimed at protecting Minnesota churches that don’t want to perform same-sex weddings.

As he campaigns, FitzSimmons has tried to highlight other legislative work, including his efforts to secure highway funding for the district. But the expert vote counter said his endorsement will likely come down to the comfort level the 200 delegates have with his same-sex marriage vote.

His opponent, Eric Lucero, is using the vote against FitzSimmons.

“David FitzSimmons broke the platform, violated his word and voted against every single precinct in this district,” Lucero said in a speech to delegates on caucus night earlier this month.

Lucero said FitzSimmons deceived voters.

“All of the work you’ve been doing, David FitzSimmons, for the last decade you demoralized and erased in a single vote,” Lucero said then. “What are you going to do in the future to undo what you’ve done?”

It’s not clear whether Lucero, who declined an interview request, would push to repeal the marriage law if he is elected.

Autumn Leva, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Family Council, said that isn’t even on the council’s agenda at this point. But the group has been highlighting FitzSimmons’ stance on marriage to voters in the district.

“Traditional marriage is within the GOP party platform, and to vote against traditional marriage in the Legislature, that’s a very socially liberal vote,” Leva said. “I think that’s a strong record against his claim that he’s a conservative.”

Leva said there are no efforts yet to challenge the two other Republicans who voted to legalize same-sex marriage and are running for re-election.

FitzSimmons said if he is denied the endorsement, GOP candidates across the state would be forced to answer questions about same-sex marriage. That could hurt them, especially among younger and suburban voters who are more inclined to support it, he said.

“People are going to have to decide whether continuing to fight this issue is worth losing on every other issue that Republicans believe in,” he said.

FitzSimmons said he declined offers by Tom Emmer and other well-known Republicans to help him. He said the endorsement comes down to how delegates view his record.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said 40 House Republicans signed a letter supporting FitzSimmons. He also said delegates should look beyond one vote, since the law is unlikely to be repealed.

“If there isn’t an opportunity at least in the immediate future for that issue to come up again, I hope that his delegates can see beyond that one issue and appreciate the good work that he’s done for his district,” said Daudt, R-Crown.

FitzSimmons said he does not intend to run in a primary if he loses on Saturday. But if he wins his party’s endorsement, the debate over same-sex marriage could continue in the district.

On caucus night, Lucero wouldn’t say whether he would challenge FitzSimmons in a primary.