Last year, the Republican Party of Minnesota unveiled a new logo which proclaimed the Republican Party of Minnesota was the “GROWTH & OPPORTUNITY PARTY”. After today, the Republican Party of Minnesota should shelve the logo, because “growth” and “opportunity” is no longer a credible message coming from the Republican Party of Minnesota.
The endorsing convention for House District 30B in Buffalo today will be a watershed moment for Republicans in Minnesota. . . .
It’s foolish for anyone to think what occurred at Buffalo High School this afternoon won’t tarnish the image of the entire Republican Party in Minnesota. Republicans can learn from it, or hide behind their new logo. They can speak up or remain silent, or as the Chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota Keith Downey did in Wright County today, they can ignore the elephant in the room: Representative David FitzSimmons.
It's rhetoric like this that makes Bluestem's editor and proprietor happy that she spent time at the Ozarks Famous Writers School in Fayetteville, Arkansas, studying at the knees of James Whitehead, Heather Ross Miller and other cranky Southerners than warming a seat in a political science class.
There's quite a herd of elephants carrying that prose: the brokeback elephant, the symbolic elephant in the logo, and the 800 pound elephant who is David Fitzsimmons. But as the late sonnet master Whitehead used to insist in that booming voice, "Goddam it, Sally Jo, don't just free associate, use tenor and vehicle properly." Is the image of the elephant a vehicle for a broken party, a logo, or a legislator?
At times like these, the mentors at the Famous Writers School might suggest looking at the underlying logic of the comparisons in an effort to sort things out. Let us go then, you and I, into the material that yesterday's Wright County Convention provides.
One of these is not like the other: FitzSimmons, Garofalo, Daudt and Loon
Bluestem had hoped that Representative FitzSimmons was endorsed again yesterday; while we agree on very little, he's a capable leader. Eric Lucero seems to have a whiff of religious mania about him, but that's not a disqualification from office under the Constitution.
Nor was FitzSimmons' vote for the freedom to marry taken in isolation. While FitzSimmons offered an amendent that assured that the law covered "civil marriage" only, Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington); Andrea Kieffer (R-Woodbury); and Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) also voted yes.
"I would say that would have been the most compelling reason for me to run again," said Kieffer, a two-term representative from Woodbury. She was one of five legislative Republicans to support legalization earlier this year.
Kieffer said that no Republican had filed against her because of the vote and the reaction to her vote in May has been positive. Last year, her suburban district voted against the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, making her one of 33 Republicans who won last year in a district that rejected the amendment.
FitzSimmons' district voted for the amendment, as did that of Pat Garofalo by only a 2 percent less percentage (53.09% vs 51.48%), who was endorsed without contest yesterday:
Thank you 2 Republican delegates of House District 58B for your unanimous endorsement! Im honored 2 continue to serve you in St Paul. #mnleg— Rep. Pat Garofalo (@PatGarofalo) February 22, 2014
Garofalo serves as the minority lead on the House Energy committee.
Deputy Minority Leader Jenifer Loon also faces no opposition for party endorsement next month. As is the case with the Kieffer district, her constituents voted down the marriage amendment. According to the Pioneer Press, Loon is one of the House Republicans lead recruiters of candidates for this election cycle.
Moreover, Fitzsimmons wasn't the only Republican challenged yesterday; Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who voted against marriage, won endorsement on the first ballot.
The notion that Fitzsimmons' retirement represents a party-wide elephant barn cleaning over the marriage issue is dubious at a best; rather, marriage equality opponents at the Minnesota Family Council out-organized Fitzsimmons' supporters. Former Taxpayers League president and faltering congressional candidate Phil Krinkie took one parting shot at CD6 frontrunner Tom Emmer by helping to knockout his rival's close associate. Though crass, it's one way to announce his own retirement from politics.
House of Cards: The Freedom to Marry Four vs. the Override Six
Nor did Republican leadership in the House or the state party punish the Freedom to Marry Four--in sharp contrast to an earlier cohort of Republican defectors in 2008.
Even before last May's vote, James Nord reported at MinnPost that GOP leaders rule out reprisals against caucus members who vote for gay marriage. Loon and Garofalo didn't lose their leadership positions; indeed, Loon has recruited new candidates to run in swing districts across the state as the Republicans aggressively strategize to take back the Minnesota House.
As the August 1, 2013 legalization of marriage equality neared, RPM state chair Keith Downey told ECM reporter T.W. Budig:
Republican Party officials suggest they’ve set the issue aside.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of merit to raise that up (same-sex marriage) as an election-year issue,” Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey recently said. “It’s more or less water under the bridge — at least for now.”
While much has been made of Downey supposedly not mentioning Fitzsimmons' name at the Wright County Republican convention yesterday, it's unlikely that specific praise would have changed the outcome.
What does a legislative purge look like in the Republican Party of Minnesota? We needn't look back beyond the fate of the "Override 6," in the Minnesota House who voted to override Governor Pawlenty's veto of the gas tax hike. In March, 2008, MinnPost's G.R.Anderson wrote in The 'override six': Chastised by GOP leaders, they're feeling confident about re-election:
.. . In fact, much has been made about the so-called "override six" — Abeler, Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, Ron Erhardt of Edina, Kathy Tingelstad of Andover, Neil Peterson of Bloomington and Bud Heidegerken of Freeport — all Republican House members who disregarded their caucus' wishes and the GOP governor's veto stamp. Minority leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, made a show of stripping the six of their respective party leadership positions, and many angry Republicans have warned that the wrath will come election time in November.
What were the electoral consequences of the purge?
Of the six, Abeler defeated Don Huizenga in a 2008 primary race in which neither was endorsed and was re-elected in 2008, 2010 and 2012. He's now seeking the GOP U.S. Senate endorsement, although it's uncertain if he'll run again if he's denied endorsement for the federal race, as seems likely.
Rod Hamilton was able to portray himself as a victim who sold his vote for pork on Highway 60, only to be double-crossed by DFLers, although by 2010, the construction to improve the highway was underway. Hamilton continues to whine about rural needs never being met by cold-hearted urban Democrats.
Anderson notes that then state party chair Ron Carey promised to leave Override 6 endorsement battles in local hands, but helped snatch the endorsement from Kathy Tinglestad, his own representative:
According to GOP state chairman Ron Carey, the party will not actively work against the overriders in their districts, at least as far as endorsements are concerned.
"The party process is local control, a guiding Republican principle," Carey said. "We totally respect the right of the voters to make their decisions on their candidates."
Still, Carey worked against Tingelstad at her endorsing convention, successfully getting local Republicans to postpone endorsing. But he points out that Tingelstad's district is in his home Senate district.
. . . Carey made his feelings on the override clear. "Virtually all Republicans in the state believe it was a mistake to override the governor's veto," he said. "Our internal polling shows that most Minnesota Republicans are opposed to the gas tax."
Tinglestad retired at the end of the 2007-2008 session and now serves as a lobbyist for Anoka County. DFLer Jerry Newton took the seat by beating Jake Cimenski in 2008. Newton was defeated by Branden Petersen (who ran for Senate in 2012, then became the only Republican state senator to vote for marriage equality). Newton returned to office in a newly redistricted 37A in 2012
Anderson reports that Neil Peterson lost his endorsement to rival Republican, Jan Schneider; later, he unsuccessfully primaried Schneider. Schneider lost to Paul Rosenthal, who, like Newton, in turn lost in the Republican wave in 2010, only to take the re-jiggered district back in 2012.
As for Heidegerken, MinnPost's Doug Grow reported in Taxpayers League happy to take credit for knocking out four of the 'Override Six' that the Freeport representative retired at the end of the session. The cafe owner, teacher and coach had originally run as a DFLer in the 1988 election, losing by 153 votes, then switched to the Republican Party for a successful bid in 2002. Paul H. Anderson, now in his third term, took the seat in 2008.
Grow reported that Erhardt ran as an independent in 2008, losing to Keith Downey in a three-way race. In 2010, he switched parties but failed to get the endorsement, and regained the seat running as a Democrat in 2012. Downey, for his part, ran for Senate in 2012, in arguably the most expensive state legislative race in Minnesota that year. He lost, then won the party office in April 2013.
What to make of this?
For all the online mopery of Republicans who stood with FitzSimmons, Bluestem thinks that the FitzSimmons retirement and Lucero endorsement shouldn't be a cause for complacency among DFLers and marriage equality supporters.
With two pro-equality Republicans remaining in leadership roles, and the Republican Party's message focused on MNSure glitches and the party's economic message, the unfortunate fate of Dave FitzSimmons may remain localized to a district where even a Redbone Walker could win election if handlers tie a trunk on his snout and call him a Republican. Statewide, the Republican Party will survive.
DFL control the House may depend fate of suburban swing districts--where marriage equality is a winner--and rural wing districts where courageous Democrats like Joe Radinovich, Jay McNamar, Tim Faust and Andrew Falk voted for equality in 2013 while their districts voted for restricting the right to marry in 2012. It's a contradictory calculus, in which the marriage issue poses opportunities and pitfalls for both sides of the fairly settled debate and an each party.
Bluestem suspects in the absence of any data that voters are rather fatigued with the question. We hear more from our neighbors about the paucity of bees and butterflies and the need for high paying jobs in greater Minnesota than whether cute boys marry each other.
Photo: The Scary Winter of Our Discontent. Photo by Stacey Burns.
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