A request by the leadership of the Republican Party in Minnesota's Second Congressional District to have the Republican candidates for Congress sign a loyalty pledge is generating controversy.
Currently, three of the four Republican candidates running for Congress have agreed to abide by the endorsement process of the Republican Party in Minnesota's Second Congressional District: David Gerson, Jason Lewis and Pam Myhra.
John Howe, who has abided by the Republican Party's endorsement process when he previously ran for public office, is waiting to make a final decision of whether to abide until the field of candidates is set in the race.
A loyalty pledge was sent to the Republican candidates last week to sign and commit to supporting the endorsed candidate of the Republican Party if they fail to receive the endorsement at next year's convention.
The pledge would also require the candidates to "not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate" nor will they "seek or accept nomination for U.S. Congress from any party or run in the Republican primary election."
Matt Kowalski, chair of the Republican Party in the Second Congressional District, said the loyalty pledge is modeled after the pledge recently signed by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and other presidential candidates at the request of the Republican National Committee.
Kowalski's goal is to increase the importance of the party's endorsement and he acknowledged "it will make it harder for [candidates] to get the endorsement if they don't sign it."
Kowalski said Keith Downey, chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, contacted him last week and communicated his concern that the loyalty pledge was "inducing the candidate not to run without endorsement" and could be a possible violation of Minnesota Statutes, section 211B.10.
Minnesota Statutes, section 211B.10, subdivision 1a, prohibits a political party from attempting "through imposition or threatened imposition of any fine, sanction, or other penalty, to "coerce" a candidate who does not have the party's official endorsement "as a means to prevent the individual from filing as a candidate for office."
Kowalski said he disagrees with Downey's interpretation and does not believe the loyalty pledge is a violation of any laws. "A pledge is a voluntary statement by the person running," said Kowalski, who added there is no fine, sanction, or penalty if the candidate does not sign the loyalty pledge.
Downey also contacted some of the Republican candidates for Congress in the Second District last week to raise concerns about potential legal issues with the loyalty pledge, according to multiple candidates. Downey did not respond to a request for comment for the story.
Gerson's campaign spokesman Jackson Harvey said this afternoon Downey did not contact their campaign, but that Gerson signed the pledge last week and returned it to Kowalski.
Lewis, who announced during last Friday's candidate debate that he would abide by the Republican Party's endorsement for Congress, said today he will not sign anything until the legal issues surrounding the pledge are resolved.
"I said I was going to abide by the endorsement, that is what I am going to do," said Lewis. who added, "but I don't want to validate a process that may be illegal. Until this thing is resolved, I am not going to sign anything."
Myhra said today she has committed to abiding by the endorsement and is reviewing the loyalty pledge sent by the leadership of the Republican Party in the Second Congressional District, but she has not signed it yet.
Howe said today he is focused on winning the endorsement of Republicans in the Second Congressional District, but he has not signed the pledge.
Sue Moravec, chair of the Minnesota DFL Party in the Second Congressional District, said the Democrats will not be sending a loyalty pledge to the Democratic candidates running for Congress to sign.
"I am not there to strong-arm a process," said Moravec. "I am there to protect a clean process and to let all of our candidates shine until the caucus attendees and the delegates make a decision," added Morvec.
Two Democratic candidates, Angie Craig and Mary Lawrence, have both announced they are running for Congress. Craig has publicly committed to abiding by the endorsement of the DFL Party in the Second Congressional District.
Lawrence is leaving open the possibility of running in the primary if she does not win the endorsement.
Picture source: David Gerson for Congress, John Howe for Congress, Jason Lewis for Congress, Pam Myhra for Congress