MINNEAPOLIS -- Sen. Terri Bonoff was known as a moderate Democrat during her 11 years in the Minnesota Senate.
The Minnetonka lawmaker belonged to the legislature's "Purple Caucus" and the national organization known as No Labels. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Twin West Chamber of Commerce endorsed Bonoff in her state senate campaigns, in part because of her pro-business stance.
But now Bonoff is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Eric Paulsen in Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District. And in this race it's Paulsen, the four-term incumbent Republican congressman, who has garnered Twin West Chamber's endorsement.
Paulsen has gone negative in a major campaign ad buy that attempts to redefine Bonoff as someone who likes taxes. It's an effort to sway those who aren't familiar with her voting history and reputation at the State Capitol.
"Who is Terri Bonoff?" the ad's female narrator says, "She's a 10-year state senator who voted to turn a big state surplus into a massive $6 billion deficit."
That line is plainly misleading.
The staggering deficits Minnesota faced in 2009 and 2011 were caused by the housing crises and the recession, both of which caused huge shortfalls in tax revenues. In fact, Minnesota lawmakers are barred from passing bills that would intentionally create a deficit.
The ad goes on to say that Bonoff "voted for a billion dollar tax increase, higher sales taxes, even a tax on nursing homes."
The fine print in the ad cites the omnibus health and human services bill from the 2009-2010 biennium. The nursing home section of that bill would've changed payment formulas, in an effort to shift more of the cost from the state to the federal government. It also included surcharge fees to help recover the cost of state health inspections of facilities.
The bill was vetoed by then-Governor Tim Pawlenty because he objected to many parts of the bill.
The tax increase claim refers to a vote lawmakers took during the 2009 session. Sen. Bonoff did indeed side with fellow Democrats on a "pay-as-you-go" budget balancing plan, offered as an alternative to Gov. Pawlenty's plan that relied in part on delaying state aid payments to local schools, and restraining healthcare spending.
But the larger context is that Pawlenty had already promised to veto that measure, along with any other bill containing a tax increase. The proposed tax hikes were an effort to demonstrate what DFL leaders considered an "honest" approach to erasing the projected budget deficit.
By contrast, in 2013 Bonoff voted against the income tax increase that actually became law.
That year the Senate voted to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans -- knowing full well that Gov. Mark Dayton would sign the bill because he had campaigned on a "tax the rich" theme. Bonoff that day joined the Republicans in the Senate, voting "no" on the 2013 tax bill.
The Paulsen ad then uses an excerpt from an August debate, in which Bonoff states, "I have repeatedly been willing to vote for unpopular taxes."
The ad uses the clip twice, but it takes Bonoff's statement out of context.
She made the remark as part of a larger point about transportation funding, and how lawmakers raised fuel taxes in 2008 in the wake of the Interstate 35-W Bridge collapse. The Minnesota Chamber of commerce actually favored that plan at the time, which raised revenue dedicated solely to roads and bridges and transit.
"I have repeatedly been willing to vote for unpopular taxes—this is the one area where I voted for tax increases, and that is taxes that fund our infrastructure and our transportation system," Bonoff told the debate audience.
So, while the Paulsen ad has some elements of truth, it largely takes Bonoff's voting history -- and her own words -- out of context. It also includes lines that would clearly mislead voters who haven't followed the state legislature.
When contacted by KARE, Paulsen's campaign spokesperson said Bonoff's words speak for themselves, and the campaign stands by the ad.
(© 2016 KARE)