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The Minnesota Republican Party is facing eviction for nonpayment of more than $111,000 in rent at its longtime headquarters near the Capitol.
Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge tried to assure party faithful on Monday that he expects the party will keep its home office, but acknowledged that the party has not paid a full month's rent for a year.
"We're not going to be evicted," Shortridge said, although the eviction matter is due to be heard in Ramsey County District court next Tuesday. He added that the party is "continuing to negotiate on the back payments as well as on a lease that better fits both our space needs and our budget."
The possible eviction is the latest blow for a state Republican Party that is swamped with debt and financial problems. The party, $2 million in arrears on bills and debt related to the 2010 gubernatorial recount, is being investigated by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board for inaccurate campaign reporting.
Shortridge notified GOP activists late last week that the landlord filed an eviction summons in Ramsey County court.
Hub Properties Trust, the Maryland-based owner of the building, said in a court filing that the GOP has not made a full $6,881 rent payment since last April. The party made a few partial payments on the 7,340-square-foot office and call center and then stopped paying rent completely in August.
Republican National Committeeman Jeff Johnson, who has helped lead state party officials through the financial rebuilding, said he was surprised and disappointed by the eviction filing.
Johnson said party executive committee members learned of the full extent of debt and unpaid rent in December.
It was those problems, along with revelations about sloppy bookkeeping, that prompted former GOP Chairman Tony Sutton to resign that same month. Sutton defended the debt at the time, saying it was accrued in pursuit of having Republicans win control of the Legislature for the first time in 40 years.
But the eviction notice highlights how much Sutton and his top deputies were operating without scrutiny from the executive committee -- and how far the party must go to dig out.
Johnson said GOP officials didn't know that the party had stopped paying rent when the executive committee agreed to begin paying Sutton a $100,000 annual salary in August.
"That certainly would have been a red flag," Johnson said.
Since Shortridge took over nearly five months ago, the party has slashed staff and expenses. Shortridge is not taking a salary.
"While this is a situation none of us wants, it's part of the rebuilding process," he said. "No one ever said it would be simple or easy or without bumps along the way."
The GOP has a few other, smaller creditors they haven't been able to negotiate a settlement with, but Johnson said those debts are not of the scale of the unpaid rent. He would not name the creditors, but said he remains hopeful agreements can be worked out.
Johnson and Shortridge dismissed talk by GOP activists that the party might be better off dissolving and not paying creditors, which could be a financial relief as the party heads into a demanding election cycle.
"There's been no serious talk of bankruptcy," Johnson said.
In terms of paying down the debt, Johnson said, "We will get there. It's going to take awhile, but we will get there."
In addition to facing eviction, the GOP leadership is fending off a political insurrection within its own ranks.
College Republicans in St. Cloud, where the party is scheduled to hold its state convention this summer, is going ahead with an event this week featuring controversial minister Bradlee Dean. Minnesota College Republicans have threatened to void St. Cloud's charter and Shortridge has said St. Cloud State College Republicans will not be welcome on campaigns this summer if Dean is allowed to speak.
GOP leaders urged the St. Cloud chapter to cancel plans to have Dean speak at a GOP event on Tuesday.
Dean is a self-styled, fiery pastor who is a vocal critic of homosexuality. Last year, he opened a Minnesota House floor session with a prayer questioning President Obama's faith. The prayer prompted House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, to denounce Dean, saying, "that type of person will never, ever be allowed on the House floor again."
In March the Southern Poverty Law Center designated Dean's You Can Run But You Cannot Hide ministry an "anti-gay hate group."
GOP officials told St. Cloud College Republicans that if they go ahead with their plans, it would severely jeopardize their chances of getting hired for GOP political jobs.
"Sometimes young people need to have better judgment in who they invite to things under the Republican banner," Shortridge said. "If you are going to do dumb things ... it might have some consequences."
But Abbey Gooch, chair of the St. Cloud chapter, said they plan to proceed with the event.
"I have been praying and praying and praying and just saying, 'Lord I don't know what to do any more,'" she said. "I am sticking with my guns and going through with it."
In addition, Shortridge has been working quietly to appease supporters of libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul. The firebrand's adherents have won a large majority of delegate spots to the Republican National Convention, locking up 20 of the 24 spots so far. Paul supporters, who long have disdained the GOP leadership's close ties to more establishment candidates, are nibbling away at state party leadership.
Paul activists stunned Republican leaders when they booted executive committee member Joe Westrup and replaced him with a Paul supporter during the party's convention this past weekend
"We just want to be integrated with the party," said Marianne Stebbins, chairwoman of Paul's 2012 Minnesota campaign. "We want to be participants."
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044