Sunday, February 21, 2016

I'm Starting to Think This Jason Lewis Fellow Is Not Ready for Primetime

When Jason Lewis first entered the race for Congress in MN's second district last year, he was the instant front-runner for the Republican endorsement and ultimate nomination.

Lewis began the race with near universal name ID, plenty of goodwill among Republicans, and that plus his previous national radio platform should have equated to the ability to fundraise.

His one big liability was his years on the radio, where he had inevitably said some outrageous things, as radio people are wont to do. In an environment where Donald Trump seems to be teflon coated, it was unclear exactly how much Lewis' past would hinder him. Plus, Al Franken was able to be elected in Minnesota despite his portfolio of rape jokes.

Lewis also brought some life into the race in CD2, which had previously been unusually boring for an open seat in one of the few real swing districts in the country.

The open question in all of this was whether Lewis would be able to make the transition from radio personality to political candidate.

That question seems to have a clear answer at this point.

Despite his allegedly national following, Lewis raised an embarrassingly paltry $100,000 for the race in 2015. Nearly 2/3 of that cash was raised from large donors including many of the familiar names among those of us who regularly review MN campaign finance reports- Bob and Joan Cummins, Bill Cooper, Bron Scherer, Harold Hamilton, Brian Sullivan, etc.  That leaves only about $35,000 which came from the type of small donors that you would expect would make up contributors from a radio audience.

When you remove the fundraising advantage Lewis was supposed to have, all you're left with is a guy who maybe said some outrageous things on the radio in the past.

Yeah, well about that.

The first of what will be many stories about "dumb things Jason Lewis said" broke this week with a round-up of some of his comments about women- comments which prompted some of his GOP rivals to call on him to jump out of the race.

More concerning, however were Lewis' comments about the Civil War (or as he likes to call it "The War Between the States") and slavery, which came from an updated version of his audio book, which was released after he declared his candidacy for congress.

In response to criticism, Lewis has 1) lashed out at the press 2) laughed it off (literally laughing about it on TV today) and 3) doubled and tripled down on his past statements.  Lewis discussed on KSTP TV this morning that President Abraham Lincoln "exploited" the issue of slavery, citing author Thomas DiLorenzo, who advocates for demolishing the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

(Good thing this news broke after the recent MNGOP Lincoln/Reagan Dinner, otherwise things could have gotten a bit awkward...)

Jason Lewis likes to think of himself as a deep thinker, unafraid to tackle important issues, and unwilling to run from his controversial past. That's nice and all, but it's not a recipe for winning a Congressional District.

Nuanced arguments may work on talk radio, but "Jason Lewis Not Sure Civil War Was Worth Fighting" will be pretty damning when it comes on a postcard in your mailbox.

If Jason Lewis is the GOP Nominee in the Second Congressional District, he will lose, and he will likely hurt other candidates down ballot.

The DFL knows this, which is why they are silent on Lewis. Remember, Ken Martin and the DFL were able to turn around a fauxoutrageous press release reacting to a joke tweet about the closing of Old Country Buffet in a few hours. They have yet to release anything on Lewis. The DCCC mentioned him once in passing in a generic "Republicans All Suck" press release that isn't even worth linking to.

The DFL wanted people talking about Jason Lewis' past comments- but they wanted this conversation to happen on August 10- not now.

In April 2008 Jason Lewis was on Sean Hannity's TV Show discussing the race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. In response to criticism about something Franken had written, he had this to say:

Well, I've got one word for you Sean, macaca. Can you imagine if there were George Allen who was drummed from the presidential race for saying something much less offensive. You know, not only the Asian stereotypes but the vulgarity of the language is clearly unbecoming of a would-be senator.
So a lot of people around here, I think, are starting to wonder whether Al Franken is not quite ready for primetime to use a pun.
After that heaping dose of irony, I'll end where I started - I'm starting to think this Jason Lewis fellow is not ready for primetime.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

UPDATE: SD35: The Canary in the Coal Mine?

Former State Rep Jim Abeler won a contested primary election for the SD35 Senate seat on Tuesday against Republican endorsed candidate Andy Aplikowski.

The result of this election should not have surprised anyone, but it apparently did.

Abeler represented half the district in the state house for 16 years, had nearly universal name ID, and was (and clearly still is) popular.  For example, in 2012, Abeler took 58% of the vote.  As a comparison, Mitt Romney came in with 52%, Kurt Bills 34%, Michele Bachmann 48%, and State Senator Branden Peterson 50.46%.

Additionally, Abeler raised significantly more money than Aplikowski did.  So why the surprise that the better funded, more well known and well liked candidate won?

Aplikowski was always facing an uphill battle, but he did have some advantages that were supposed to be an equalizer. He had the Party's endorsement, the support of the Senate Republican Caucus, the backing of the well-funded Freedom Club, and support from many big names inside the party including Congressman Tom Emmer and former House Majority Leader Matt Dean.

Aplikowski was the candidate of the Republican establishment, and the establishment's candidate lost.

Immediately following the loss, the pitiful yet familiar event of the post-election clamber away from responsibility began. Republicans pretend to be the party of personal responsibility, but that mantra has always had an exception for election results.

The Senate Republican Caucus trotted out staffer Bill Walsh yesterday to clarify that the loss shouldn't reflect on them because the Caucus didn't spend any money on the election. This despite the fact that Caucus staffers and several Senators were heavily involved in the campaign effort. Walsh even sought to re-write history claiming that Senate Minority Leader David Hann never endorsed Aplikowski, despite the fact that Aplikowski claimed he had Hann's supportWell sure he supported him, but he didn't "endorse endorse", if you know what I mean... wink wink.

It's unclear why the Caucus thinks that it makes them look better that they said they would support Aplikowski but failed to do so, but that type of doltish excuse making and abdication of responsibility is fairly typical within the Senate GOP Caucus these days.

Speaking of abdication of responsibility, chalk up yet another loss for the Republican Party of Minnesota, which failed to drag their endorsed candidate across the finish line. However, at this point the Republican Party of Minnesota failing has really become more of a dog bites man story, hardly worth noting.

Perhaps the most peculiar development in this election was the emergence of State Senator Dave Osmek (R-Obscure) as chief anti-Abeler spokesman for the Freedom Club.

Osmek created a website (which, as an aside looked like a time portal into the internet circa 1998) called  The site was apparently modeled on his own campaign website and sought to expose Abeler's RINO tax-loving record. Sadly, the website is down now, but the disclosure on the website indicated it was prepared and paid for by the Freedom Club State PAC, the same group that funded anti-Abeler, pro-Aplikowski radio ads featuring Osmek's voice.

Osmek could be heard at Aplikowski's election night gathering muttering about how it was all the fault of the unions that his guy lost, a sentiment he repeated on Twitter the next day.

Clearly Osmek's hedonistic tactic of throwing money away on a amateurish website and radio ads to target GOP Primary voters wasn't the problem- it was those damn dirty unions.

Aplikowski has made two Facebook posts since the election, and both indicate that he had perhaps been mislead into thinking his victory was imminent.  In one he says that the election "didn't work out like people told [him] it would" and in the other he mentions that he is "ashamed that so many people let me down."

He hasn't let on (yet) who told him the results would be different, or who let him down, but I think it's pretty clear that the Republican Party of Minnesota, the Senate Republican Caucus, and the Freedom Club all own a share of this loss.

2016 will be an important election year for the legislature in Minnesota. All seats in the House and the Senate are up, and the House has a tenuous hold on the majority.

What we saw in SD35 was a dry run of the election operation that the Republican Party of Minnesota, the the Senate Republican Caucus, and the Freedom Club have put together for 2016.  It's a losing operation, and nobody who was responsible for the loss has stepped up to take responsibility, or even acknowledge there is a problem.

The fact that Republicans will remain a minority in the Senate is a foregone conclusion, but it's quite possible that these feckless groups could drag down efforts of the House Caucus to retain their majority.

There's still time to turn things around, but that would take personal responsibility, something that's in short supply among the so-called leaders in the Party and at the Senate, and entirely absent within the Freedom Club.

When the DFL takes back total control of MN government in 2016, remember that SD35 was the canary in the coal mine.

P.S. Let's put a stake in the heart of the idea that turnout was particularly low in this race. About 400 more people turned out for the special election primary in 2016 than turned out for the 2014 primary when there was a contested race for both US Senate and Governor. This turnout number should also put to rest speculation that it was OMG UNION CROSSOVER DFL VOTES that won it for Abeler. Turnout was what turnout always is in that district. Look elsewhere for excuses.

2014 August Primary: 4200 votes in SD35 for the US Senate election that featured Abeler
2016 January Primary: 4600 votes in SD35
* Counting GOP Voters only

UPDATE: Via Facebook, Freedom Club mailers in SD35 hit mailboxes... today.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tomorrow's Endorsement Today: A Strib Parody

Earlier today, the StarTribune announced on Twitter it would be endorsing in the special election in Senate District 35.  I responded with a series of tweets predicting what the inevitable endorsement of Abeler would look like, and said if I had the time I'd expand it into a full post so we could compare my notes to the real thing.

Since we didn't quite get the snowmageddon that was predicted, I found an extra 10 minutes and came up with this. Check back when the real endorsement is issued to see how close I got.


The Minnesota Legislature lost a future lion when State Senator Branden Petersen announced last year he would resign his seat before the end of his term.  Petersen’s tale was all too familiar to long time legislative watchers – he cited financial burdens in his decision.  This page has long advocated for a raise for our legislators, who work at an increasingly full time gig with very part time pay.

Petersen was one of the few independent voices in the Republican Party, willing to stand up to the extreme wing of the party on social issues.  He was the only Republican in the Minnesota Senate to vote in favor of gay marriage, and one can’t help but wonder if his penchant for strong individualism contributed to his need to seek an early exit.

Petersen will leave shoes that will be difficult to fill. Fortunately, a former legislator with an all-too-rare track record of seeking true bipartisan compromise has stepped up to fill those shoes.  Former Representative Jim Abeler of Anoka is seeking a return to the legislature, but this time to the greater chamber instead of the people’s chamber.

This setting would befit Abeler nicely.  Republicans in Minnesota are in desperate need of an elder statesman who can guide their party through the seas of turmoil that are all-too-common in today’s divided legislature, and Abeler can play this role aptly from his seat in the upper chamber of Cass Gilbert’s masterpiece.

Republican activists narrowly endorsed fellow activist and bombastic blogger Andy Aplikowski for this seat, which shows that he is in touch with a certain wing of the party. But while Aplikoswki has shown progress since his days of bomb throwing, he would benefit from greater civic engagement beyond partisan politics to show that he is truly a statesman in waiting.

By returning Abeler to the legislature to replace Petersen, the voters of District 35 will get a competent and even handed bipartisan coalition builder.  One may even say, a lion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For 2016 MN GOP Caucus, Why Not an Express Lane?

Precinct caucuses, the biannual arcane and exclusive process that Minnesota political parties use to organize, are scheduled for March 1, 2016.

The Republican Party of Minnesota has seen dramatic drop-off in caucus attendance over the past few election cycles - caucus attendance fell almost 60% from 2008 to 2012, the last 2 presidential years.  I propose a new idea that could help turn that trend around- institute an "express lane" for caucuses that allows people to stop by the caucus location, cast a vote in the presidential preference poll, then leave.

The current caucus process is designed to trap people in small rooms, usually in a local middle school without human sized desks, clustered by precinct, so that you can browbeat one of them to volunteer to be a "precinct officer", a position they will promptly forget they have after they leave the building.

As if that's not enough, caucus participants also get the pleasure of listening to a handful of very passionate people argue endlessly about platform resolutions, which will then be argued again by other groups of people, who will then either kill the resolution, or add it to the party platform, so it can be promptly ignored for the next two years until the cycle repeats.

At some time during that process, but never soon enough, the person in the front of the room, called the convener, who likely has no training whatsoever, will ask the people in the room to cast ballots on small slips of paper so they can be tallied for the statewide presidential preference poll (or straw poll).

In past years, Republican Party leadership would then ignore the votes of the caucus attendees, and embark on a different arcane process of getting delegates to the national convention elected through a series of conventions.

But this year, thanks to the RNC and no-thanks to MN GOP leadership, Minnesota will be forced to bind their delegates to the results of the straw poll.  This means that the vote held on caucus night will actually be meaningful and impact (in a small way anyway) the selection of the next presidential candidate.

So, instead of punishing people who just want to cast a ballot for their favorite presidential candidate, like the citizens of the 40 or so other states that get that privilege, why not allow them to stand in a special line, put their name on a list, cast their ballot, then leave?

The others, who want to run to be delegates or debate resolutions, can participate in the full caucus experience.

It's really a win-win. The party still gets the data on the participants that they would otherwise get (which is the real purpose of caucuses anyway), but you could likely (with a good PR strategy) increase the universe of participants.  The hardcore attendees can still do their caucus thing, but they will only be annoying each other, instead of the poor unsuspecting souls who just want to vote.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Binding Caucuses: MNGOP's Loss is Minnesota's Gain

A few months ago I wrote that the MNGOP should give up it's silly quest to get waivers from RNC rules that would require it to bind its delegates to the 2016 RNC convention.

I predicted back then that the RNC would ultimately deny the request, and MNGOP would have to get with the program anyway.  Instead of embracing the new way of doing things as almost every other state (including Iowa!) had done, MNGOP and their useless executive committee chose to carry on the useless fight, ultimately accomplishing little except wasting time.

Today, news came down that the RNC denied MNGOP's request for waivers.  The only person shocked by this news is de facto MNGOP spokeswoman Cyndy Brucato's anonymous "party leader"- you know, the one who was so certain waivers would be granted that they wouldn't speak on the record.

MNGOP's loss on this issue is Minnesota's gain.

As I've written before the caucus system is outdated, archaic, and guarantees that Minnesota is flyover country during the presidential nominating process.  While our neighbors to the south long ago figured out a way to oversize their relevance, Minnesota always seemed content to be a non-factor.  I thank the RNC for fixing that for us.

I'm not predicting that Minnesota will immediately become North Iowa.  I wouldn't expect to see the top contenders here too often, save for the occasional trip to the ATM known as the Freedom Club. But binding delegates to the results of the straw poll will make the straw poll less useless, and make the prize of Minnesota delegates worth at least nominally fighting for.

The really good news is that it should only take a bound caucus or two before people finally give it up and embrace a true presidential primary.

By adopting a presidential primary, Minnesota would be instituting a modern and equitable process that doesn't disenfranchise the elderly, working parents, people who travel for work, and active duty military members, like caucuses do.  This would take bipartisan action by the legislature, and hasn't scored high on anyone's priority list lately, but here's hoping that the gentle nudge in the right direction the RNC delivered today gets some people thinking.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Setting The Record Straight(er)

Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey sent out an email to State Central delegates today that attempted to "set the record straight" on what Downey calls "(mis)information" that is being sent out to delegates.

Downey is running for re-election this Saturday, and has seen two challengers step up in recent days.  Both challengers have been critical of Downey's management of party finances, and specifically the party's lingering debt.

Despite the title, Downey's email misses the mark, and is intentionally misleading.  Downey supporter Andy Aplikowski posted a copy of Downey's email on his website.

In addressing the debt, the email states:
Since its high of $2.2 million after the problems of 2011, Party debt is now just over $1.4 million.  It reached a low of just under $1.3 million in early 2014 before the strategic decision was made to give it all we had and put our financial resources into the election, starting with the state convention and then on to the primary campaigns, statewide victory program, early/absentee ballot program, and general election campaigns.
This paragraph it problematic, in that is uses an irrelevant figure as the benchmark for the debt.  While MNGOP debt may have been at $2.2 million at one point, the debt when Downey took office in April of 2013 was $1.6 million, as illustratred in the party financial documents below.

So the debt was $1.6 million when Downey took office, and is $1.4 now, after reaching a low of $1.3 in early 2013.

Delegates who are judging Downey's financial performance should note that the total net debt paid off under Downey's two year term was about $200,000, or about $8,300 per month.  Apparently about half of that amount ($110,000) has happened since January 1 of 2015.

The total paid off since the high water mark is about $800k, but much of that happened under chair Pat Shortridge, before Downey took office.

It is disingenuous for Downey to start with the $2.2 million figure in his calculations, but when you see how unimpressive the real numbers are, it's easy to see why he would use the higher figure.

Downey starts his section on the debt with the statement "To be clear, the State Party still carries too much debt."  I couldn't agree more.  I guess on Saturday we'll see if the delegates agree.

 RPM A/P Aging Summary Dated March 31, 2013, a few days before Downey was elected.

April 16, 2013 memo about party financials

Monday, March 9, 2015

GOP Should Tell MN Tea Party Alliance to "Go to Hell"

Let's get this out of the way right away. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of a Tea Party.  I've never been to a Tea Party meeting. I don't even drink tea. I know many people who have been involved with the Tea Party in one way or another, and many of them are fine people who care about their country, but choose to show it in a different way than I do.

But then there are the others.

Shortly after the Tea Party came to prominence in 2009, a number of opportunists rushed to take advantage of a new flood of people into the political process. At the national level, old groups like FreedomWorks wrapped themselves in the Tea Party label and started raising boatloads of cash.

At the local and regional level, scores of groups popped up, taking advantage of the fact that the Tea Party movement was intentionally decentralized, with no real national leader.

Here in Minnesota, two opportunists in particular have done a great job of establishing themselves as self-appointed "leaders" of the Tea Party movement, they being Jack Rogers and Jake Duesenberg of the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance.  They have a sweet URL that makes them seem extra legit, and they operate the MN Tea Party PAC.

Jack and Jake haven't been as successful as the guys from FreedomWorks, only raising $8,200 in 2014. They spent $8,900. The irony of the deficit spending is probably lost on them. A total of $0 was spent to support the election of any candidates. They did spend $1,300 on a wi-fi hostspot, $1,110 on Facebook ads, and just shy of $1,000 to Constant Contact for emails.

Over $1,700 of their expenses (an atypically high 19%) are unitemized, probably either because of their overwhelming commitment to transparency, or because it's none of the government's business how they spend their money. Just guessing on that last part.

Credit where credit is due, Jack and Jake may not raise a lot of money, but they have perfected the art of over the top symbolic gestures as a way to generate media coverage.  As just one example Jack was behind an aborted attempt in 2014 to orchestrate a meaningless show vote of "No Confidence" in then Minority Leader, now Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt.  A quick search of the Star Tribune archives shows Jack has been mentioned in 12 recent stories, Jake, sadly, only 6.  In most of these stories you can find Jack and Jake bad mouthing Republicans. About the only candidate they seemed to like in 2014 was Jeff Johnson. Take from that what you will.

Jack and Jake's most recent stunt was an over-the-top tantrum aimed at notorious RINO Tom Emmer.  Emmer, you see, chose to attend an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma.  Or as Jack put it: "a parade in Alabama."

You see, Jack and Jake would have preferred that Congressman Emmer instead attended a small gathering of local Republican activists, so those activists could yell at him about how he is a sell-out who hates the constitution or something because Emmer didn't commit career suicide in his first vote in Congress by voting against John Boehner for Speaker of the House and/or didn't think gambling with the safety of the nation was a good strategic move.

During the 2014 US Senate campaign Jack and Jake infamously told US Senate candidate Mike McFadden to "Go to Hell" during a meeting.

I think it's high time Republicans say the same thing to Jack and Jake.  No serious candidate for office or elected official should attend any event sponsored by the MN Tea Party Alliance.  The group seems to exist for the sole purpose of promoting Jack and Jake.  It's time other Republicans stop playing along.