Redwood County township official and conservative activist Tammy Houle is challenging six-term state representative Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, for the Republican Party nod at an online endorsing convention Monday night.
Houle has ties to the Dorr family, who have built a small midwestern empire around conservative political activism, though their GOP rivals say they are grifters. Houle is president of the Dorr family-administered Minnesota Firearms Association, doing business as Minnesota Gun Rights, and her challenge to Torkelson may demonstrate the strength of the Dorrs’ grassroots Republican activism in rural Minnesota.
Her challenge to Torkelson could also presage the GOP’s future in rural areas, especially should President Donald Trump lose in November. The vacuum at the top of the party will likely set off an internecine battle between long serving figures like Torkelson and insurgents led by the Dorr family and others like them.
The Republican Party of Minnesota and its two legislative caucuses declared the Dorr brothers’ Minnesota Gun Rights group a “scam,” unleashing a website called “Minnesota Scammers Exposed,” though the focus there was on the Dorr family, rather than Houle.
Houle, a longtime Redwood County resident, has not registered her committee with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, but she has spoken about her candidacy at Republican county conventions.
“Yes, I am actively seeking the endorsement of the Republican delegates in House District 16B and will most definitely be on the endorsing convention virtual meeting Monday night,” Houle wrote in an email to the Minnesota Reformer.
If she doesn’t win the endorsement, Houle told the Minnesota Reformer, “I am reserving the right to go on to the primary.”
Houle touts the conventional conservative agenda on issues like gun rights, abortion and sex education.
In Torkelson, she’s challenging a candidate who received 63% of the vote in 2018, making him the best vote getter of any of the district’s candidates in a partisan race.
Torkelson declined an interview request.
Houle cites her experience in local government: “I have served as an elected official in my township for 28 years. I have lobbied for the interests of rural Minnesota citizens at the Capitol many times.”
She also has some party leadership under her belt, though not just as Republican. She was chair of the Constitution Party for six years.
Jailed on her wedding day: Houle’s record of anti-abortion activism
As a young woman, Houle was involved in anti-abortion activism but often targeting other anti-abortion activists, including Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life in letters to the editor like this one in 2006. (MCCL launched its own broadside against the Dorr family in early 2020.)
But little of that activism rivals the civil disobedience that delayed her planned 1991 wedding. In a 2015 article, the Redwood Falls Gazette reported her saying, “I was at a pro-life protest in Fargo, North Dakota, and got 75 days jail time.”
While her jailbird status may seem melodramatic, Fargo was in fact the focus of protest actions by Operation Rescue and the splinter group Lambs of Christ; according to the New York Times, Redwood Falls Police Chief Michael Gerrety was part of the protest. The Gazette reported he was fired “for his part in an illegal anti-abortion protest in Fargo.”
Via email, Houle confirmed that she was one of the Lambs of Christ activists arrested in Fargo:
Besides Fargo, I was also incarcerated in Sioux Falls, St. Paul, Omaha and Washington, DC for PEACEFULLY, prayerfully, physically blocking abortion facilities in those cities along side priests, a bishop, and other dedicated pro-life activists. The only time with Fr. Norman Weslan’s Lambs of Christ was in Fargo.
Paul Dorr has written extensively about Houle’s involvement in his anti-abortion actions, including Houle pretending to be pregnant to test the anti-abortion bona fides of a Christian crisis pregnancy center.
Houle remains unabashed in her pro-life positions. Torkelson is anti-abortion as well, though he’s not been known to go undercover at crisis pregnancy centers.
What may have consequences for her bid for Republican endorsement is her opposition to Trump’s 2016 bid. In October 2016, the Montevideo American News (and other venues) published a letter to the editor from Houle in which she advocated voting for Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party.
No to Trump? That might give Republican voters pause.
Is there a rebellion on the right brewing in Brown, Redwood and a slice of Renville Counties? Do folks just feel the need for something new? Much ado about nothing?