Guest column: A course correction in Minnesota politics


Guest Columnist

Over 40 years ago, the issue for Minnesota Republicans was “survival” as post-Watergate party supporters in the state registered in the single digits.

Most of the former Republicans had not become DFLers but had chosen to identify as political independents. Those who left the party continued voting for Republican candidates on the ballot but were inactive in backing with their time and treasure what looked to be a failing political party.

Things turned around by 1977-78 as the newly coined Independent-Republicans of Minnesota captured an additional Congressional seat, the governorship, two U.S. Senate seats and control of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Thus is the flow of the two-party system that has undergirded the American political system since the late 18th Century days of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Republicans cleaned up in 2016. Nationally, Republicans in Minnesota and throughout the nation cleaned up in the general election last year and now control 33 of the 50 governorships and 67 of the nation’s 99 legislative governing bodies of the states.

Congress in Washington, D.C., is controlled by Republicans in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate as Republican Donald Trump has completed his first six months in office.

The Minnesota House and Senate are now in Republican control as DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is serving in the final two years of his second term of office.

Today, it is Minnesota and national Democrats who seem to be scrambling to find a message that broadly appeals to the electorate to inspire voter support for what appears to be a moribund party.

Meanwhile the new Minnesota Republican Party Chair, Jennifer Carnahan is finding out there remain problems in her party as well.

Carnahan, a Korean-American whose active political career is less than two years old, won a surprising fourth-ballot victory this past spring in St. Cloud, over three more experienced male opponents also seeking support from the 340 member central committee.

The GOP has been unable to win a statewide office since 2006 when incumbent Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty defeated DFLer Mike Hatch by less than 1 percent.

Carnahan, 39, views her election as an opportunity to change perceptions by bringing a fresh face (the first woman and person of color to be elected to the post), 20 years of hands-on business experience including ownership of her own small business, and, shared values of independence and self-reliance.

Carnahan’s issue focus for the Republicans, she says, is sounder economics and reliable health care with less emphasis on the more divisive “social issues.”

In her first two months, Carnihan has found a vexing, inherited state party debt of $1 million — dating to the 2010 election — that will be a challenge to recruitment of staff and volunteers in addition to the vetting of effective candidates for U.S. senator and governor and other offices.

Republican voters, however, seem to be more negative than ever regarding their federal and state governments — local government remains more favorably viewed — with polls suggesting the vast majority want the nation and state’s welfare placed far above political partisanship.

It was not so long ago that most Minnesotans backed the longstanding bipartisan vision that equalized funding of K-12 public schools, supported both public and private higher education and offered up consistent tax dollars for maintaining roads, bridges and transit. At least in Minnesota, the majority of us believed in our national reputation for clean and honest “good government.”

My advice to Carnahan and anyone else in either party seeking to build the respect of the voters is to foster effective political parties working together in a cooperative, lawmaking manner that places the interests of the citizens well ahead of political gamesmanship.

Minnetonka resident Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. He was state chair of the Minnesota Republicans during the Watergate years. He can be reached at [email protected]