The GOP must get back to basics and return balance to state leadership.
Steven Schier recently wrote ("New era or new error?" Dec. 30) that the DFL Party is in position to dominate Minnesota's political scene for the foreseeable future. As Schier outlined, states on both coasts (California and New York) have suffered the consequences of Democratic-only rule.
For Republicans in Minnesota, the question is not simply how did we get here but how can we turn things around to bring balance back to state government?
In the last two years, Republican majorities in the Legislature successfully led efforts that turned a $6 billion state budget deficit into a $1 billion surplus without raising taxes. This was a major accomplishment. Republicans in the Legislature also chose to put two controversial constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2012.
As the 2012 campaign season intensified, it became apparent that the presidential race in Minnesota was not a top target of either campaign. In addition, the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was virtually uncontested. Essentially, the top of the ticket for Republicans in Minnesota became the marriage amendment.
Rather than leading on the core issues that unite Republicans and attract independent voters, Republicans appeared to be leading with a controversial constitutional amendment that drove the political news cycle. Incumbent Republican legislators realized their success story of fiscal responsibility with the state budget was quickly drowned out by the marriage amendment.
In a state that leans Democratic, liberal turnout was accentuated in a presidential year. Additionally, independent-minded voters in the suburbs (who tend to be conservative on fiscal issues and moderate on social issues) were turned off from the Republican brand.
Some argue that the inclusion of the marriage amendment was solely responsible for Republicans' electoral demise in November. However, in several rural legislative districts, the amendment passed by a large margin and DFL candidates won legislative seats. In the metro suburbs, the marriage amendment was defeated in most areas, yet Republican candidates won legislative seats.
The presidential race provided a better indicator in 2012: In the metro area, only three Republican candidates (all incumbents) won legislative districts carried by President Obama.
The Obama campaign and DFL Party employed dozens of full-time paid staffers working in all corners of the state to build a turnout organization. Meanwhile, the Republican Party, mired in more than a million dollars of debt, was forced to rely on hardworking volunteers, who did not enjoy the same financial and organizational resources as the Democrats.
Additionally, outside efforts benefiting Democratic candidates were coordinated by the year-round political group Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which was largely funded by Gov. Mark Dayton's former wife and various labor unions. In contrast, the groups helping Republican candidates started relatively late and were not coordinated nearly as well as those aiding Democrats.
As the legislative session starts this week, Republicans in Minnesota will be well-served to hold Dayton and the DFL leaders in the Legislature accountable. Will Democrats stay true to their campaign promises of focusing only on bread-and-butter economic issues? Will they reform state government or resort to across-the-board tax increases?
With Democrats' one-party rule, Dayton will finally fulfill his wish of raising taxes on the "wealthy." With this wish granted, Minnesotans will likely see a continued increase in outmigration of taxpayers from Minnesota. For each of the last 10 years, Minnesota has seen more taxpayers leave the state than enter the state. Older Minnesotans are moving to Florida and Arizona. Younger Minnesotans experience higher-than-average unemployment, and many leave the state to find work.
While holding Democrats accountable, Republicans in Minnesota must lead on the core issues that will bring Republicans together and attract independent voters: smaller, more-efficient government; a reformed tax structure, and more personal freedom. Republicans must advance their ideas that will benefit the lives of the vast majority of Minnesotans.
Campaign mechanics cannot be overlooked, and Republicans must play catchup on the technology front. In 2012, Democrats were using iPads and Republicans were using the political equivalent of Commodore 64s. The Obama campaign and Democrats used social media expertly to aid their get-out-the-vote efforts. Republicans must commit significant resources to these areas to bring their turnout operation into the 21st century.
With the "Citizens United" Supreme Court ruling (which allowed political contributions and activity from unions and corporations), outside groups will play a much more prominent role going forward. For years, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota has served as a well-heeled front group for the DFL Party. It is imperative that a group emerges on the right that will operate year-round to hold elected officials accountable and drive the conservative message of responsible government.
History has demonstrated that the off-year elections of the second term of a presidency are challenging for the ruling party. In 2014, Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken should face competitive races. Republicans need to win just six state House seats to regain the majority.
While it is impossible to predict the future, one does not need a crystal ball to see that we Republicans face inevitable electoral defeat if we do not learn from our mistakes and make a concerted effort to provide Minnesotans with a compelling alternative to what the Democrats' one-party rule has to offer.
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Ben Golnik is a political and public-affairs strategist. He was executive director of the Minnesota Republican Party from 2005 to 2007.
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