There have been few political operatives as combative and ornery as Tony Sutton. He eviscerated political opponents and lambasted those in his own party who didn’t follow every line of the party script. He once called major donors to the Republican Party “quislings,” a reference to World War II traitors.

In many ways, Sutton became a caricature of himself, a localized version of Karl Rove or James Carville. For a City Pages profile, Sutton posed with a baseball bat. It was an image he relished, the tough guy who liked to tell everybody to suck it up and take responsibility.

Sometimes it takes a hard fall to humanize somebody. Whether it will also humble Sutton is hard to say. As reported Monday, Sutton has filed for personal bankruptcy, owing creditors more than $2 million. This comes after running his party into a $2 million hole.

My gut instinct is to have sympathy for Sutton and certainly for his family. He is likely a guy in a lot of pain right now. If he’s like most people who get into a bad place, it’s partly self-inflicted and partly circumstantial.

But as the top spokesman for the Minnesota Republican Party for several years, Sutton was the voice of its philosophy. That philosophy is contained in scores of Sutton’s rants over the years. If you search the newspaper database for the words “Sutton” and “financial responsibility,” you get scores of references. If you search Sutton and “compassion,” you get zero.

In reading his personal bankruptcy file, I learned that Sutton had a dog and owned a trumpet, drove a 10-year-old Lexus, gave money to his mom. But it’s also clear he lived a life completely contrary to the life he preached.

Once, at the State Fair, Sutton staged a bit of street theater, putting people in long lines to symbolize the impact of the new health care act. In other words, providing health care to everybody was bad.

In going after Tim Walz, Sutton once remarked: “We’re going to wrap the public option around his neck.”

One wonders whether Sutton wouldn’t mind a little of that public option now. The court filing shows he has no health care. Not coincidentally, he also owed money to several hospitals, including Abbott Northwestern and Children’s Hospital. Now, Sutton will wrap his lack of responsibility for his own health care around the necks of the hospitals and those of us who pay for insurance.

The company he touted as a political strategy firm, by the way, was “largely a fiscal conduit for accepting state government money from a nonprofit organization to help care for the Suttons’ autistic son,” according to the Star Tribune report.

People like Sutton liked to dismiss the foreclosure crisis as something created by losers who took out second mortgages on their homes and wasted it, then watched as their home values plummeted. Sutton even called for defunding a group that counseled people whose homes had been foreclosed.


According to the bankruptcy filing, the Suttons owe $51,000 more on their Inver Grove Heights home than its current assessed value. Why? Because they took out a second mortgage for $80,000 that they gambled away on something called Sutton Enterprises, one of many failed businesses registered at his address.

The family-values mantra Sutton touted? The Suttons are now in the midst of divorce proceedings.

Sutton used to boast of his business accomplishments, including investing with TCF Bank President Bill Cooper in the restaurant chain Baja del Sol.

Sutton’s role in the business disintegrated long ago. He does, however, keep a checking account with TCF. Court documents show it contains $10.36.

I’m glad Sutton got money to help care for his son, and I’m glad he lived off unemployment for part of last year. Sometimes people mess up and need a hand.

Even tough guys like Tony Sutton.