The twists and turns in the relationship between the Republican Party of Minnesota and their endorsed candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court, Michelle MacDonald, is starting to have the feel of a daytime soap opera.
Last month, the Star Tribune reported that MacDonald was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and resisting arrest in 2013. MacDonald’s trial is scheduled for September.
MacDonald’s arrest was known by numerous Republicans, including members of the Judicial Election Committee, but some in leadership positions of the Republican Party of Minnesota claim they were unaware.
After the news broke about MacDonald's pending criminal trial, members of the Republican Party of Minnesota’s Judicial Election Committee publicly stood by their decision to recommend MacDonald be considered for endorsement by the Republicans at their state convention for the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Days later, the leadership of the Republican Party of Minnesota announced they would continue to support MacDonald.
Late this afternoon, the Republican Party of Minnesota sent an email to activists statewide, which attempted to clarify an email sent by MacDonald's campaign earlier in the week.
This week Republicans leaders have cooled on MacDonald's candidacy, a change from their previous full-throated support. Confused? This story is as clear as mud.
I hesitated to post a link to MacDonald's email, because I believe it inaccurately and unfairly portrayed the original story in the Star Tribune about her arrest on suspicion of drunk driving and resisting arrest. Facts are stubborn and sometimes ugly and there is no way to put a positive spin on a political candidate for statewide office facing a criminal trial in an election year.
Rather than finding a way to contain the controversy surrounding MacDonald's candidacy, the flurry of emails only draws additional media attention to a political food fight. Stay tuned, as it is going to get messy.
Picture source: Republican Party of Minnesota
It was almost 16 years ago, on November 3, 1998, when Jesse Ventura "shocked the world" and was elected governor of Minnesota. Back in 1998, I was working for the Republican Party of Minnesota as a field staffer and I remember how Ventura's candidacy took everyone by surprise.
Ventura, the actor and former professional wrestler, was not considered a credible candidate for governor. His only previous political experience had been serving as mayor of Brooklyn Park.
Ventura served one-term as governor, deciding not to seek re-election in 2002. Ventura's time as governor was less eventful than I expected, but he certainly cemented his place in Minnesota history as our most colorful governor.
Ventura's election as governor certainly "shocked the world", but he saved his most bizzare and shocking behavior for until he left the governor's office.
Ventura has provided conflicting statements if he believes Vice-President Dick Cheney was aware of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 before they happened. Ventura said America was "a fascist country", language which draws references to Nazi Germany. Ventura, the former Navy SEAL, also said he would "never stand for a national anthem again."
In 2009, Ventura decided to use his credibility as a former governor to address important issues facing America: conspiracy threories. Ventura hosted a television show, Conspriracy Threories with Jesse Ventura, which aired for three years. Ventura reported on conspiracies such as world leaders who were actually shape-shifting lizards and the potential theft of the Great Lakes.
Ventura is currently suing the estate of former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle over claims he was defamed in Kyle's book "American Sniper," and in media interviews by Kyle. Kyle was killed in 2013 at a shooting range in Texas. Ventura had initiated his lawsuit before Kyle was killed, but Ventura decided to add Kyle's widow to the suit as a representative of the estate after Kyle was killed.
Yesterday afternoon in the courtroom, after court recessed for the day, Ventura was asked by someone observing the trial if he would show them his tattoo of the SEAL insignia on his chest. Randy Furst of the Star Tribune captured the moment, writing that Ventura "undid two or three buttons and briefly opened his white dress shirt to reveal the tattoo on his chest. One of his lawyers pulled on his shoulder and Ventura turned away, closing the shirt."
Like a stunt man who keeps performing the same old trick, people just aren't excited anymore by Ventura's tired act, regardless of how much he tries. The credibility Ventura gained when he was elected governor has been washed away in the years since he left office. The world can't be shocked anymore by Jesse Ventura.
Picture source: Jesse Ventura, November 3, 1998, WUSA.
An election year in Minnesota is usually exciting. As an observer of all things political, I have found this election cycle to be one of the most lackluster I have ever experienced. For example last week, I watched a debate between the Republican candidates for governor three times and I found nothing other than a cure for insomnia.
Minnesota has a long history of vibrant, dynamic campaigns that have more ups and downs than a rollercoaster.
But so far, Minnesotans have been lulled to sleep with a campaign season that has less energy than an election for student council. I was elected to the student council in high school, so I know how such a contest can fly under the radar.
But for those politicos wishing for an exciting campaign in Minnesota, hope is on the way.
Until recently, Minnesota's U.S. Senate race has been very quiet. The expectation was that incumbent U.S. Senator Al Franken's re-election battle in 2014 would be a marquee race, since Franken was elected with just over 300 votes.
But businessman Mike McFadden's unexpected endorsement for the U.S. Senate at the Republican Party of Minnesota's state convention in May has started to generate some buzz with the national media.
Below is a summary of recent articles that mention Franken vs. McFadden as the race to watch in Minnesota:
National Journal: Franken vs. McFadden The "New Sleeper Race Of 2014," Says Democrats Conceding Race Will Be Closer Than People Expected. "Welcome to the new sleeper race of 2014. Investment banker Mike McFadden, who won the state party endorsement in May to effectively clear the GOP field, has the personal wealth to at least partially self-fund a campaign—a necessity for a contest otherwise off the radars of most national donors. Even as they remain resolutely confident of Al Franken's chances, Democrats are quietly conceding that this is a race that could end up closer than most people expect.” Source: "The Senate Seats Most Likely to Flip: Hotline's Race Rankings," National Journal, June 25, 2014
NBC: Franken vs. McFadden One Of "The 10 Most Overlooked Races of 2014" "The race bears watching because either 1) it becomes more competitive in the fall, which could signal a potential GOP tsunami come November; or 2) it doesn’t become competitive, which would be AMAZING considering that Sen. Al Franken won this race by about 300 votes in 2008 -- and that was after a months-long recount process. Franken most likely will take on businessman Mike McFadden in November." Source: "The 10 Most Overlooked Races of 2014," NBC News, July 2, 2014
Politico Says Franken vs. McFadden On "The Watch List." "The Watch List There are three lower-tier races Republicans hope will become competitive if the climate is right, provided their first-time candidates raise enough money to keep pace with well-funded first-term senators: businessman Mike McFadden against Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby against Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie against Virginia Sen. Mark Warner." Source: “2014 Senate rankings: Map favors GOP," Politico, July 7, 2014
Roll Call: Both Parties Say Franken vs. McFadden Will Be A Close One. "Just months ago, many operatives predicted Franken would coast to re-election without a serious challenger. Both national and local media outlets noted several high profile Minnesota Republicans took a pass on the race. Now, multiple strategists from both parties predict a 2-point race by Labor Day. The shift is mostly due to McFadden’s surprise win at his party’s endorsement convention a month ago. His most serious primary challengers dropped out of the race after that — months before the Aug. 12 primary — making McFadden the de facto GOP nominee earlier than anticipated." Source: "Déjà Vu in Minnesota Senate Race?" Roll Call, July 7, 2014)
I'm not advocating for mud-throwing between the candidates, but rather an interesting campaign to watch. This election cycle in Minnesota has been rather tame, so regardless of which candidate you are supporting, let's all hope for a spirited contest. Boredom is very tiring.
Picture source: Office of U.S. Senator Al Franken and Mike McFadden for U.S. Senate.
Here is some breaking news: presidential visits are political theater. But the spectacle created by a visit doesn't make them less important.
I was active in Republican politics when President George W. Bush made numerous presidential visits to Minnesota. While Republicans expressed frustration that Obama's visit to Minnesota was highly regimented with a structured itinerary, let's not forget: Obama is the President of the United States of America. It is naive to think the schedule of the president would not be structured.
Obama attended a private fundraiser, just as Bush did when he visited Minnesota. Obama held an invite only town hall meeting, just as Bush did during some of his visits to Minnesota. Obama's team worked hard to ensure he delivered the message the White House wanted and they used the best Minnesota has to offer to accomplish it.
The reality is that presidential visits are choreographed and scripted scenes of political theater. There was nothing unusual about the orchestration of Obama's visit. Even unannounced stops by a president are scripted and controlled. Remember, it is the president.
Obama had lunch with Rebekah Erler, who was described by the White House, as a "36-year-old working wife and mother of two pre-school aged boys." In March, Erler had written a letter to Obama about the economic struggles her family faced.
The biographical details about Erler released from the White House didn't disclose she previously worked as a field worker for U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington. Obama served with Murray in the U.S. Senate before he was elected president in 2008.
When the news was reported that Erler was a former field staffer for Murray, Republicans pounced and criticized the White House for the meeting with Erler. An official with the Republican Party of Minnesota said, "In Minnesota, we value an honest debate about the facts, not slick, choreographed stunts like this."
There is a long bipartisan tradition of "choreographed" presidential visits in Minnesota and neither Republicans nor Democrats should be crying foul.
I do believe Erler's past political work should have been disclosed, but the fact that she once worked for a Democratic U.S. Senator doesn't change the message of Obama's visit. Rather than criticizing Erler's past work, Republicans should have embraced her message.
Erler's letter to Obama was about the frustrations she had with the economy. The opportunity for Republicans during Obama's visit was to offer solutions for Erler and so many other families struggling. Obama's lunch with a frustrated working mom wasn't born from a fan letter from Erler, but rather a plea for assistance.
But in a rush to attack Obama for meeting with "a former Democrat campaign staffer" Republicans missed the opportunity to provide solutions to many Minnesotans, just like Erler.
Picture Source: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Barack Obama is traveling to Minnesota today for a two-day visit, which includes a town hall meeting, fundraiser, and speech tomorrow on the economy at Minneapolis’ Lake Harriet Band Shell. Presidential visits always dominate the news, but this visit by President Obama will offer the media and Minnesotans extra visuals and photo opportunities. President Obama will also be spending the night in Minnesota, his first overnight visit as president.
The Star Tribune is publishing a live blog of Obama's visit, offering details about every aspect of his visit, including specifics on the "VIP" flight restrictions for airplanes in the Twin Cities and what the president watched on TV as he traveled to Minnesota.
Events like a visit from the president is where the media really shines and you don't have to be anywhere near the crowds to experience the controlled chaos of a presidential visit. For most Minnesotans, the best seat to watch President Obama's visit will be provided by the media. Stay inside, stay cool, and follow the Star Tribune's live blog.