ST. PAUL -- State Auditor Judi Dutcher said today her switch from the GOP to the DFL was a culmination of events, including the Republican Party's decision last year to endorse conservative Gary Bauer for president.
A second major factor she cited today was the party's support for a losing Minneapolis School Board candidate who described Africans as violent, lazy and drunken heathens.
''Those two events solidified my decision,'' she said.
Dutcher publicly criticized the party last year for endorsing the woman. Party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner apologized and said activists weren't fully aware of the woman's positions when they endorsed her.
Dutcher announced her move to the DFL in a letter Monday to supporters, making her the second high-profile Republican to switch within a week. Last Wednesday, former GOP Senate Minority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar went to the DFL.
The two offered similar complaints, that the GOP leaders had gone too far from the mainstream and were too conservative.
The auditor also was upset that she wasn't given a bigger role in developing Republican policy, as the GOP's top-ranking elected official in the state.
''When you're excluded from shaping policy and discussion as the ranking Republican, I think something's terribly wrong,'' she said.
For example, Dutcher said she was never invited during her five years in office to meet with the House GOP caucus. She wants to take a bigger role in the DFL.
''I'm hoping that my voice will be listened to, that I will be able to discuss those issues that are important to me outside of being state auditor,'' she said. ''I want to feel that I'm part of a party that shares my priorities.''
One of those issues is abortion rights.
In her letter, she acknowledged that many in the GOP do not share her views on some issues, mentioning her support for abortion rights and her opposition to private-school vouchers. She said it was ''particularly disturbing to find party leaders increasingly unwilling to engage in any dialogue on these and other topics.''
A question now is what Dutcher will do next and what role she will take on in the DFL Party.
The second-term auditor has said she doesn't plan to seek re-election when her term is up in 2002. She could be eyeing a U.S. Senate or gubernatorial bid.
''I have absolutely no plans right now to run for any other office,'' she said today.
As a Republican, her support for abortion rights would have made an endorsement extremely difficult if not impossible. DFL activists overwhelmingly support such a stance.
She was wooed by Gov. Jesse Ventura to join the Reform Party but decided against that, in part because the party could wind up endorsing either Pat Buchanan or Donald Trump for president.
''That would give anybody pause,'' Dutcher said.
Dutcher, a 37-year-old lawyer and former assistant Minneapolis city attorney, was the first Republican and the second woman elected independently to a statewide office. She was elected in 1994 and re-elected in 1998. As auditor, she has developed a reputation as a prepared, pragmatic and knowledgeable watchdog.
She led an investigation into funeral services practices and will ask the 2000 Legislature to close loopholes allowing unscrupulous businesses to prey on vulnerable consumers. She uncovered severe fiscal mismanagement by Cambridge city officials.
Although she didn't face GOP opposition in her 1998 re-election bid, delegates to the state convention considered refusing party funding to any candidate who supported abortion rights. The party ultimately didn't adopt the position.
Those in control of the state GOP have ''moved it further and further to the right," she said.
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