Friday, June 21, 2013

Is Liberty Minnesota the Real Deal? We'll See

Last night I attended Liberty Minnesota PAC’s first Liberty Laurels awards event, at which they gave out awards to members of the Minnesota Legislature who scored well on the PAC’s scorecard.  (You can see that scorecard here.)

Liberty Minnesota scored 14 key “Liberty” votes taken in the 2013 Minnesota Legislative session, and members were given a percentage grade based on how they voted on those 14 issues.  21 legislators, all Republicans, scored at 80% or better on the scorecard.

Liberty Minnesota is a new group, and this was their first major public event.

Overall, I have to give them credit for a well-executed and generally professional event.  They were able to attract about a dozen lawmakers, and about 50 total attendees.  While the event had a few hiccups, including a rambling and somewhat incoherent speech by host Bob Davis and a start time that was delayed by over a half-hour, this was a pretty impressive first effort.

I attended the event as someone who is sometimes openly critical, and generally skeptical of the so-called “Liberty Movement.”  My criticism of the movement has been focused on their disruptive impact on Republican Politics, and the sense that in general, people who self-identify as members of the movement have more interest in being destructive than productive.

So I was encouraged to see emerge what, from the outside, looked like it could be an actual productive and helpful professional organization that would advance the cause of liberty within Minnesota.

After last night, however, the verdict is out on whether that’s what Liberty Minnesota actually is.  I believe that it can be, but it would take a concerted effort to get there.

The Gerson Problem / Primary Challenges

Had I left a few minutes early, my review of the event would have been much more positive.  However, I didn’t, so I was present to catch Liberty Minnesota Executive Director Dave Wahlstedt describe David Gerson as a “driving force” behind the organization and praise his run for congress to cheers from the audience.  (I was told later that Gerson no longer has any official or formal ties to Liberty Minnesota, but was involved in the startup.)

Gerson, if you don’t know, is challenging John Kline for the GOP endorsement in CD2 this year.  This comes after he mounted an ill-fated last minute attempt to run against Chris Fields for the endorsement in CD5 in 2012. 

Gerson’s candidacy is the prime example of what is wrong with the Liberty Movement.  Gerson is a destructive candidate and a divisive force, running a quixotic and pointless campaign based on fringe issues.

But this issue goes beyond Gerson.  As was mentioned last night, no Democrat scored higher than 21% on Liberty Minnesota’s scorecard.  No Republican scored lower than 50%, and most were in the 65% or higher range.  Yet there was talk of finding primary challengers to Republicans.

If Liberty Minnesota wants to make a real difference in advancing their stated goals, they will focus on booting Democrats from office, and on educating and lobbying Republican lawmakers on their issues.  To embrace pathetically stupid primary challenges like Gerson’s would show Liberty Minnesota is interested in existing on the margins, rather than really making a measurable impact.

Professionalism and Messaging

Another area where Liberty Minnesota falls somewhat short is in their messaging and overall professionalism. 

I believe this is a direct result of the utopian “nobody’s really in charge, man” organizational structure that Wahlstedt explained last night.  This is typical of Liberty and Tea Party groups who apparently feel that any type of organizational structure is tyranny.  This also explains why Liberty and Tea Party groups have generally been so ineffective at getting real results.

Real organizations take leadership, and leadership means authority, expectations, and accountability.  Liberty Minnesota would do well to adopt a more traditional organizational approach, lest they share the same fate of so many well-intentioned but poorly executed volunteer organizations.

One area where they should act immediately is to clarify who is allowed to speak on behalf of the organization. If anyone who is loosely affiliated with the group can pop off on social media and insult people, the organization’s credibility will erode quickly. The group should have a limited number of official spokesmen, and should push back against others who purport to speak on their behalf.

In addition, messaging around the group and its stated purpose should be positive.  The About Us section of their website contains this bizarre aside, in what is an otherwise decent message:

We don’t visit the capital in order to cozy up to the Speaker of the House or the Governor.

And we are certainly not there to rub elbows with the special interest lobbyists that advance their cause with cocktail parties, luxurious dinners and campaign donations.

My conversations with others about Liberty Minnesota have focused disproportionately on this odd swipe, rather than the otherwise positive message contained on the rest of the page.  This is a failure of messaging.


I don’t know if Liberty Minnesota can ultimately succeed or not.  I hope it can. 

I believe that there is room for (and even a need for) an independent liberty-focused PAC in Minnesota to focus the efforts of a certain portion of the politically active.

But whether they have the resolve and skill necessary to become an influential member of the (gasp!) political establishment rather than another marginal fringe group remains to be seen.

Fingers crossed.