Struggling to recover from nearly $2 million in debt, the Republican Party of Minnesota on Saturday elected political pro Pat Shortridge as its new chair.
Shortridge, a political consultant with long experience in Washington and Minnesota, won the election with 220 votes, or two-thirds of the votes at the Party’s Central Committee meeting in St. Cloud.  Terry McCall, a Ron Paul supporter and local chairman in the 2nd Congressional District, finished second with 103 votes, while Todd McIntyre, a newcomer to party politics, finished third with 9 votes.
“It’s about reinvigorating and galvanizing our activists … to restore their confidence in what we’re doing,’’ Shortridge told the roughly 450 people at the meeting. He also said it is important “to let our donors know their money’s going to be spent wisely.’’
Shortridge takes over immediately and said he will work without pay and finish the term of former chair Tony Sutton, which extends to spring of 2013. His election followed a somber recitation of the party's financial state, which includes nearly $1.3 million in debt and another $719,000 in legal fees resulting from the 2010 gubernatorial recount.
After his election, Shortridge said fixing the debt was "pretty simple -- raise more, spend less." He said the party must "walk and chew gum,'' meaning it must both begin to retire the debt while raising money for the 2012 election cycle. "We have to pay down our debt at the same time as we invest in critical programs,'' he said.
"Sometimes your the right man for the right job at the right time,'' said Shortridge. He said the party must stand up for its principles, which millions of Minnesotans support. "If the Republican Party implodes, if the Republican Party can't do that, I think our state's going to go into decline, and we're going to end up like Illinois, and California, and the rest of these basket cases.''
He was asked if he believes party members want him to take action against Sutton and other former leaders due to the financial mess they left behind.
"Most of our party is not interested in trying to drive ahead  looking in the rear-view mirror,'' he said. "I think we've got to learn what happened. I think we've got take a very careful and thorough look at the facts, and how did we arrive where we arrived at. Follow that trail where it goes.''
He cited the way the Republican National Committee has worked its way out from under a heavy debt load while continuing to help win elections.
"You can't just say we're going to put all our resources into retiring debt,'' he said. "First and foremost, our job is to win elections.''
He said of critical importance is retaining majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate, holding onto four congressional seats now held by Republicans and "take advantage of opportunities' like the four congressional seats held by Democrats and the 2012 U.S. Senate election. Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar faces re-election in November and Shortridge, who managed Mark Kennedy's losing campaign against Klobuchar in 2006, has not emphasized that race.
He said he wants to focus on "blocking and tackling," which he described as improving the party's ability to identify likely Republican voters, to put forward a unified and strong message and to provide opposition research on Democratic opponents. "Our values, our principles, our beliefs are strong, and we don't need to re-evaluate those,'' he said. "We do need to re-evaluate almost everything else in terms of how we operate the party."
 Shortridge said he will continue to do political consulting and is currently advising candidates in Florida and Nebraska.
As the meeting began, members of the party's Central Committee heard from Jeff Johnson, the party's national committeeman, and Mike Vekich, a businessman. Both were involved in reviewing the party's shaky finances, and they told delegates about nearly $1.3 million in debt and another $719,000 in legal claims.
"Where was that $475,000 found and how did you find it?'' one delegate asked party leaders, referring to unreported debt that Vekich and Johnson disclosed. Delegates flocked to the microphones in the St. Cloud Civic Center to ask how the debt accumulated, who was responsible, whether any illegal acts were found, and if the previous party leaders could be held responsible.
The leaders said they had thus far found no evidence of illegal activity and were not sure about the responsibility of former leaders. They said they believe now that all of the party's financials have been thoroughly reported, but some activists suggested a fuller audit might be in order. They were not clear on how this great an amount went unreported, and they admitted that the party might face further federal fines.
Delegates gave the leaders standing ovation for their report.

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