By Ron Walters
Teresa Collett is making a leap of faith. Collett’s decision to run as a Republican in the historically-Democratic Fourth Congressional District cost the law professor her health insurance, which was provided through the University of Thomas. After Collett announced her candidacy earlier this year, St. Thomas–consistent with its policy concerning political candidates–placed her on unpaid leave while she fought to unseat incumbent Betty McCollum. According to Dean Thomas Berg, Collett will be welcomed back to the University if she loses the election. When asked about St. Thomas’s response to her candidacy, however, Collett declined to comment.
Until now, Collett’s teaching post St. Thomas has served as an effective platform for her anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage advocacy work. While at the university, Collett has authored numerous law journal articles, testified before both state and national legislatures, represented parties before the Supreme Court and has started a pro-life advocacy center devoted to overturning Roe v. Wade.
Collett has put her academic career on hold to run an uphill race in the Fourth. The district hasn’t elected a Republican since 1949 and no challenger to Betty McCollum has come within twenty points of defeating McCollum in the last four elections. When asked about what caused her to run now, Collett answered, “It was the health care bill. And not merely the health care bill, because, frankly, if I was in Erik Paulsen’s district or John Kline’s district there would be no question about what I’d be doing. I’d be teaching my classes. I’d be finishing [a research project that the pro-life advocacy center recently received funding for].”
When the early drafts of the health care bill provided federal funding for abortion, Collett called Congresswoman McCollum’s office to voice her concern. According to Collett, the staffer that fielded her call was “dismissive” and it was that lack of responsiveness that caused Collett to open conversation about running against McCollum with her husband.
Collett believes that the current health care bill-formally titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act-exceeds Congress’s constitutional authority under the Commerce Clause and she supports the litigation challenging the bill.
“I think there’s a lot of ways in which the government has exceeded its constitutional authority,” said Collett. “We can begin with the individual mandate contained in Obamacare. The idea that the federal government can require an individual simply by being born in this country to purchase a product from a private provider would outrage the Founding Fathers, I think. And we see a lot of instances where the federal government, who does not have general police powers is reaching into the lives of Americans in a way that is quite remarkable.”
While Betty McCollum may be difficult to unseat, Collett’s small government and fiscal responsibility message is definitely resonating with voters. Late this summer, Collett was invited to speak before an enthusiastic group of local Tea Party activists, who cheered her commitment to return the federal government to what Collett called its “constitutional size.” And in the opening salvo of a recent, standing-room-only debate in the Wilder Auditorium some of crowd applauded Collett’s promise to vote to repeal the healthcare bill and shouted in protest when Betty McCollum said that the health care bill “is not a government takeover.”
In the closing days of her campaign, Collett has tried to take advantage of recently-surfaced video footage of Betty McCollum leading the pledge of allegiance on the House floor and omitting the words “under God.” Though the footage is eight years old, Collett released a radio ad in response in which she recites the Pledge in full, inviting the audience to join along. The hubbub caused McCollum to release a statement on her website and post a series of more recent videos in which she recites the Pledge including the words “under God.”
Betty McCollum isn’t the only Fourth District candidate trying to explain her past, however. On June 16, 2010, an article appeared in the Star Tribune about Collett receiving a pair of alcohol-related driving offenses in 2006. Collett quickly posted an explanatory video on her website in which she attributed the arrests to the side effects of Effexor–an anti-depressant she was then taking for menopause-related migraines.
The video was taken down almost as quickly as it went up. When asked why, Collett explained, “We don’t think that this is an issue in the campaign. I accepted the judgment of the court. I completed the required penalty. It has not recurred. I am much more interested in talking about how were going to get jobs for law school graduates and other folks out there, high school graduates, college graduates, and so far, that’s what the people on the Fourth District are more interested in.”
When asked whether she still stood by the statement in the video, Collett answered, “No. My position is that when you drink while you are taking prescription drugs you need to be very cautious about that but I take full responsibility for getting in the car after having too much to drink.”
Voting for the Fourth Congressional District takes place today.