Thursday, August 16, 2012

Politics is Local

Here’s an indication of how sad and low times are for the Republican Party in Minnesota
by Charlie Leck

In blogs lately, I’ve been concentrating on the fascinating national political picture, but when I opened the papers on Wednesday morning (the day after the primary elections in Minnesota), I realized how significant the political story is right here in my own backyard – and in my own state.

The Republican Party in Minnesota was once a truly grand old party – really, it was. Democrats and Republicans here used to have wonderful, meaningful and substantive debates about issues.

Lately, however, the Republican Party here has taken some broadside hits by the crazy rightists in the state, including the Tea Party movement, and the Party is wounded and spiraling out of control. Over the last two years the Minnesota Republican Party has hit bankruptcy status. It’s blown all its money on stupidity and idiocy – especially during that period when it was controlled by the ignorant Tony Sutton.

Sutton is a Minnesota native, born in St. Paul and educated at Hibbing High School up on the Iron Range. He began his tenure heading the state’s Republican Party in July 2009. In a period of two and one-half years, he brought the party to its knees, broke and broken. Instead of working as an administrator, Sutton became too involved in the political direction of the party and caused great divisions in it, driving some long-time and highly esteemed patrons from its ranks. Sutton simply shrank the size of the tent and made it far less inclusive. It was “his way or the highway.”

For generations, the Republican Party here could count on the general support of the Minnesota business community (a vague classification, I know) and the wealthiest of Minnesota’s citizens. Lately, that has not been the case and Sutton would be the first to admit it.

Sutton not only allowed the Party to be taken over by political interests on the far right of the issue spectrum, but he encouraged it. He was there himself! The nail in the coffin was sunk and counter-sunk when he pushed the Party into a recount of the votes in the 2010 Governor’s race results. Sutton has publically admitted he should have backed away from that recount rather than spending the millions he did on it.

Many of those Republicans who held elected positions in Minnesota recoiled at the heavy hand Sutton used in trying to control them. Those who questioned Sutton’s leadership, even legendary standard bearers in the Party, were pushed outside Sutton’s organization – including former U.S. Senator David Durenberger and former Governor Arne Carlson. The segregation of such people from the organization would come back to haunt Sutton.

Now the Minnesota Republican Party has been kidnapped by the Tea Party
The hard right is now in control of the Republican Party in Minnesota. It’s the equivalent of saying that “the inmates are now in charge of the asylum.”

One needs present no more evidence than the Tuesday primary election results to illustrate it. I’ll concentrate on my own, local region of the state. Minnesota’s current longest serving legislator, a moderate Republican, Steve Smith, was thrown from office by Tea Party candidate Cindy Pugh, who claims she’s been inspired by Michele Bachmann (oh, brother!). Then the obvious moderate Repubican for the local State Senate seat, Connie Doepke, was beaten back by angry, crazed Republicans led by David Osmek. Doepke was hit hard at the very last minute by a sleazy, four-color piece that claimed Doepke was an Obama ally who favored the Obama health care plan. The mailer, sent out by Americans for Prosperity (AFP), was absolutely false; yet it doomed Doepke to defeat. One gets a good picture here of just how far down into the gutter (or is it the sewer) that Minnesota Republicans are willing to go. AFP is a political action group started by oil billionaire David Koch that heavily fuels Tea Party activity across the nation. Koch funds many groups that work against progressive and Democratic initiatives and against international climate talks. A 2010 article in The New Yorker Magazine said that the Koch groups are active in "creating slippery organizations with generic sounding names... that... make it difficult to ascertain the extent of their influence in Washington."

The sad thing is that there is virtually no chance that the Democrats can put up a challenge to these two candidates in this very conservative district. So, very likely Pugh will be my representative in the Minnesota House and Osmek in the Senate (barf!).

The retirement of a number of state legislators left 19 seats open for this year’s election of State Legislators. There is a chance, given the Republican Party’s current lack of organization, and a good run by Democrats, that we could gain 4 seats in the Senate to take over that wing of the legislature. To do the same in the House we’d need to gain 6 new seats and that seems a stretch. It would be great to win control of at least one of these institutions of government.

And, it would cause great celebration around here (in my house) if we could knock off Osmek and Pugh.

Now, with the state’s GOP in disarray, is the time to do it!

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