The Potluck

Mortensen was the sole vote against light rail audit; he also got donations from its project manager  

By: - July 13, 2022 9:17 am

A cyclist rides past the almost-complete 21st Street Station in Minneapolis. Part of the Southwest Light Rail project to extend today’s Green Line 14 miles to Eden Prairie via the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and Minnetonka, completion of the line was recently delayed to 2027 due to challenges building along the chain of lakes. Photo by Henry Pan/Minnesota Reformer.

State Rep. Erik Mortensen was the only state lawmaker to vote against a bill to audit the Southwest Light Rail green line extension, which is four years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

He also received $3,300 in donations from a Prior Lake man (and his wife) who is project manager for the troubled project.

The $2 billion Metropolitan Council project to expand the passenger rail line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie was supposed to be done next year, but now is expected to open in 2027 and cost up to $2.7 billion.

Nearly all of Mortensen’s Republican colleagues have opposed the project and used the cost overruns and construction delays to pummel the Metropolitan Council, which is another favorite target of Republicans. 

Mortensen, a right-wing firebrand from Shakopee, was the only House member to vote “no” on the bill in March. Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law.

Last year, Mortensen received $1,650 in campaign contributions from Michele and Dale Even, who has been described as project manager for the light rail project. He works for Lunda Construction Company, which is helping build the tunnels, stations, bridges, retaining walls and other concrete elements of the project.

The couple also donated $1,400 to Mortensen in 2018, during his first House race, and Michele Even donated $250 in 2020. Even did not respond to a request for comment.

The House bill included a legislative audit of a proposed deal in which the Met Council would pay the contractors $240 million to settle disputes and cover added costs.

Mortensen didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Action 4 Liberty, a right-wing group that supports him, portrayed his “no” vote as part of a pledge to return a state surplus to taxpayers rather than spend it. The House bill used surplus funds to pay for the estimated $200,000 cost of the audit.

Even appears to be a political ally of Mortensen. He serves as spokesman for the Scott County Republican Party, which recently alleged Mortensen’s primary opponent, Bob Loonan, put out an untruthful flier saying the party endorsed him. Neither Mortensen nor Loonan was endorsed for House District 54A during their March GOP convention, so they’re duking it out in a primary.  

Even has accused Loonan of committing a campaign crime and “fraudulently claiming our endorsement with his damaging and illegal behavior of deceiving Republicans.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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