I'll give the Republicans one thing: They've done a good job of making a mountain out of a molehill, with partisan and increasingly strident attacks against Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Republican operatives have even called for his resignation, resorting to such overheated rhetoric as accusing him of a "betrayal of trust." The press has taken the bait. But let's examine the facts.
What Ritchie did was extremely common: His campaign accessed public data from the secretary of state's office, which is both legal and appropriate. Not even the Republicans have suggested that any law or rule was broken. The Republican Party and its candidates, from the governor on down, obtain voter data from the secretary of state's office. It would be against the law for the secretary of state to withhold public data from a campaign that requests it -- even his own.
And when Ritchie misspoke about how his campaign accessed the data, he promptly and voluntarily corrected the record, and accepted responsibility for his mistake. The matter should have ended there.
So what's really going on? Two things.
First, if a vacancy occurred, the Republican governor would appoint a new secretary of state -- and would certainly appoint a loyal partisan, perhaps even Mary Kiffmeyer herself. But Minnesota voters ran Mary Kiffmeyer out of office because they rejected her agenda of voter suppression. Minnesotans want a secretary of state who will help people vote, not keep them from doing so. And on Ritchie's watch, the Republican agenda of keeping voters they don't like away from the polls just won't fly. Republicans didn't like the election results, so they're creating a phony crisis as their way of undermining those results.
Second, and much more troubling, the Republicans are seizing upon a gaffe by Ritchie to divert attention from gross incompetence and mismanagement in the Pawlenty administration. Just this week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty manipulated the timing of a budget forecast, delaying until the weekend the release of bad news that indicts his something-for-nothing budget and tax priorities. (Last year, he likewise delayed bad news about public education until just after the election.) And this week, the legislative auditor issued a stark report on mismanagement in the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the department in charge of our roads and bridges. But to hear the Republicans, you'd think the legislative auditor should be spending all his time on Ritchie, instead of rooting out actual mismanagement and incompetence.
Ritchie is cooperating fully with the legislative auditor. His office has already pledged to implement the auditor's recommendations, no matter what. Meanwhile, the Pawlenty administration is stalling and stonewalling legislative inquiries about the Department of Transportation's operations.
Ritchie stumbled, as we all do, but he took responsibility for his stumble. Meanwhile, a bridge fell down, a top manager was missing in action, and we're still waiting for Carol Molnau's apology. Minnesota is bleeding jobs because of the governor's failed economic policies; our schools are shutting down options for our children because the governor won't fund first-rate public education; our property taxes are skyrocketing because the governor raided local-government aid, and our roads and bridges are crumbling because the governor vetoed a transportation bill. But we're still waiting for Pawlenty to take responsibility, or to hold anyone accountable.
Ritchie has taken responsibility for his actions. When will Pawlenty and Molnau take responsibility for theirs? Let's demand accountability where it matters.
Brian Melendez is the chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.