Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Republican Party of Minnesota Needs to Back Michelle MacDonald

The endorsement of attorney Michelle MacDonald for Minnesota Supreme Court at the Republican Party of Minnesota's convention in Rochester a few weeks ago has caused some heartburn in Republican circles recently as revelations about MacDonald's checkered past with the Minnesota legal system have come to light.

We learned in the past few days that MacDonald is currently facing criminal charges related to a traffic stop related to alleged drunk driving. We also learned about a rather bizarre incident that involved MacDonald being removed from court, placed in handcuffs and a wheelchair, and then wheeled back into the courtroom.

Despite these revelations, the Republican Party of Minnesota needs to back Michelle MacDonald, and put the full weight of the party behind the effort to elect her.  MacDonald is the endorsed Republican candidate. She went through the same process that all other endorsed candidates went through, was endorsed by the same delegates as other statewide candidates, and should therefore have an expectation of an equal level of support as other endorsed candidates.

In the run up to the convention, we were lectured ad nauseum about how we need to "respect the will of the delegates." Several candidates made respecting the will of the delegates the central aspect of their campaigns. Candidates who were seen as not properly respecting delegates were repeatedly booed and heckled; their campaign volunteers spit on, their signs torn up.

Michelle MacDonald met with the committee that was set up by the Party to screen candidates for judicial offices. She was deemed qualified by that committee.  Despite Chairman Keith Downey's dubious claim that he was unaware of any issues with MacDonald prior to the convention, we now know that the issues related to her arrest (and the wheelchair incident) were brought up during her screening process. The nominations committee deliberated the matter and voted to find her qualified anyway.

At the convention, MacDonald's endorsement was the subject of a number of floor votes that were supported by the delegates who were present.  First we voted to keep the agenda item in place. Then we voted on whether or not to endorse any candidate. Then we voted to endorse MacDonald.  The first two votes required at least half of the delegates to approve, the endorsement vote required 60%.

I see a problem with the fact that 60% of the nearly 2000 delegates at the convention voted to endorse someone they knew absolutely nothing about, but that's the process we have. A few hours earlier 18% of the delegates present thought Philip Parrish would be a great US Senator. Delegates aren't required to be informed about the votes they make.  Nobody forced them to make an endorsement. They chose to.

Just prior to the convention Chairman Downey sent out an email telling party officers to support the endorsed candidates or resign. True this was in the context of races where there are primary challengers, but MacDonald has no primary challenger. Why should she not expect the same level of support from party officers as the other candidates who were endorsed by the same delegation as she was?

I was not aware that respecting the will of the delegates and supporting the endorsed candidates were edicts that came with the asterisk of "unless you don't like the result."

Michelle MacDonald was screened by the process set up by the party, overseen by a committee chair who was appointed by the Party Chairman.  She was approved by that committee by a vote of 14-3. The duly elected delegates chose to endorse her in the same way they chose to endorse Jeff Johnson or Scott Newman or Dan Severson.  And the party should now support her in the same way as they support the other endorsed candidates.

The alternative, of course, is to admit that the endorsement process is severely flawed, easy to manipulate, and a ridiculous way to choose candidates.  But that really steps on the narrative about respecting the delegates. You can't on one hand argue that the delegates got it right with candidate X, but got it wrong with candidate Y.

You either respect the will of the delegates, or you don't.  The Party can't have it both ways.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

MNSure: Where the Candidates Stand (Today)

In the Republican race for Governor, we have so far seen very few areas where there are substantive policy differences between the candidates.  One area where we have seen some distinction is on the topic of MNSure.

To be sure, all of the remaining candidates for Governor would prefer that we could scrap the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). But as the ACA is a federal law, there's very little a Governor can do to actually make that happen.

So, considering that the ACA will most likely be the law of the land until at least 2017, our next Governor will need to operate under the parameters of the existing law.  If Dayton is re-elected, the path is clear- we'll stay the course.  But what would the ACA look like in Minnesota under a Republican governor?

States are required under the law to either operate their own health care exchange, like Minnesota does with MNSure, or use the federal exchange, like the majority of states have done.  That means a Republican governor only has one of two options: 1) Ditch MNSure entirely or 2) Keep MNSure and tweak it.

Ditch It

The candidate who has the most defined position on MNSure is Scott Honour. In February Honour came out in support of the idea of shutting down MNSure and moving Minnesota to the federal exchange. 

Since February a number of states who originally opted to create state exchanges have chosen this path, including Oregon, Massachusetts and (kind of) Maryland. Nevada just made the move to dump their state exchange last week.

I said back in February that Honour's position clearly showed his background in business. Scrapping MNSure makes fiscal sense, and Honour's arguments that it's time to stop throwing good money after bad and that we should end the duplicitive efforts are what I would expect to see from a guy with a business background.  If MN were a business, getting out of MNSure would be a "no-brainer" decision for the CEO.

Honour's position is not without political risk, however. MN is not a business and Honour needs to get elected before he can implement his plan. Minnesotans (and specifically Republican primary voters) may bristle at the idea of joining a federal program. But if Honour can successfully sell his position as the best among our many bad options when it comes to MNSure, he could make some headway here.

I should also note that if elected, Honour would most likely have some trouble pushing a repeal of MNSure through the legislature. However, a GOP-led house combined with a few nervous DFL Senators may ultimately make a repeal possible.

Keep It

Kurt Zellers and Marty Seifert are both firmly in the "Keep it/Fix it" camp on MNSure.  Again, this shouldn't be interpreted as an embrace of MNSure, but both Zellers and Seifert argue that since we are required to have an exchange, Minnesota is better off with a state-run exchange than with the federal exchange.

This is a position that is not shared widely among sitting Republican governors.  The only state with a Republican governor to adopt its own exchange in 2014 was Nevada, and as I mentioned above they are now abandoning that plan.

Seifert told the Austin Daily Herald this week that "The bottom line is you have to have MNsure." In February, Zellers told the Associated Press that he was not "running to be Scott Walker-lite or Rick Perry-esque" when asked about other GOP Governors using federal exchanges.

Seifert has mentioned some specific changes he would like to see to MNSure including "some dramatic changes to how its board is set up and how the agency’s budget is allocated."

Zellers has been less specific, but has mentioned he wants to open MN up to more insurance companies in the hopes competition would drive costs down.

Seifert's tweaks to the board and budget would face the same challenge as Honour's repeal, in that they would have to make it through the legislature, so securing a GOP-led house is crucial to any efforts for reform.

The ? Position

While Honour, Seifert and Zellers have been clear about their MNSure intentions, Jeff Johnson has been less so.

In February Johnson criticized Honour's position in a Facebook post, so you may infer that he holds the "Keep it/Tweak it" position. (link via Politics.MN)

However, on his website, Johnson says he "will work to eliminate MNsure". It's unclear if Johnson has changed his mind and now favors the "Scrap it" position, or if he is just making a generic argument against MNSure.

A request for clarification from Johnson's campaign was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not returned.

The Bottom Line

All of our candidates for Governor would prefer to have a healthcare system that is free from federal intervention and mandates, but that's not reality.  There are only two positions that candidates for MN Governor can hold on MNSure: they either want to keep it and work to fix it, or end it completely.

I'm glad we have some clarity from (most of) the candidates on where they stand on this important issue.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Rumors of the Death of Marty Seifert’s Political Career Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I attended the Republican Party of Minnesota’s State convention in Rochester this weekend, both as a delegate, and as a blogger.  I hope to get around to some more post-mortem analysis, but I want to focus first on the convention’s biggest controversy- Marty Seifert’s exit.

There were four candidates competing for the endorsement: Dave Thompson, Jeff Johnson, Marty Seifert and Rob Farnsworth. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was not (and am still not) backing a particular candidate in the Governor’s race, but had earlier ruled out supporting Johnson.

The endorsing contest for Governor was supposed to start early in the day on Saturday, but the endorsement in the US Senate race ended up being continued from the night before.  As a result, the first ballot in the Governor’s race didn’t happen until about 4PM.

Seifert came in third place on the first three ballots.  After the third ballot Thompson dropped out and threw his support behind Johnson.  It was then that Seifert took the stage to make a speech.

In his speech Seifert released his delegates and told them they could go home.  The move was an attempt by Seifert’s campaign to block the endorsement of Johnson.  Endorsement requires 60% of the votes that are cast, but that number needs to be more than 50% of the delegate count at the time of the last credentials report.  So if enough people leave, it becomes impossible (or very difficult without some crazy rules wrangling) to obtain an endorsement.

Many delegates who were present in the morning had left by the time that the first ballot for Governor was cast, and even more had left by the time Seifert gave his speech.  Seifert’s campaign claims that he was most affected by the late start to the endorsement process, because the majority of the delegates who were supporting him were from outstate MN, and had longer drives to get home.  I don’t have enough information to know whether this is true, but it is certainly plausible.

After Seifert released his delegates the Outrage Machine went into overdrive. Delegates screamed at Seifert that he had no integrity. Delegates tore Seifert signs off the wall and ripped them in half. One Jeff Johnson supporter accused him of cheating. Others reportedly shoved and spit at Seifert staffers.

Several activists declared this the end of Seifert’s political career. Others, including a radio host and the convention’s chief teller, promised to make sure that happened.

Color me skeptical.  What Marty Seifert did by releasing his delegates to go home was a classic convention strategy.  In fact, it’s the same one that was used by Betsy Hodges at a DFL endorsing convention in 2013. She’s now the Mayor of Minneapolis.

Hodges bought her supporters pizza and got them to leave the convention in order to block the convention from endorsing. The two big differences between what Hodges and Seifert did were that there wasn’t any pizza involved, and that Hodges actually pulled it off.  That the convention was able to successfully endorse a candidate on the next ballot makes the outrage at Seifert even more confusing.

We are going to have a primary for Governor, and it’s possible that Marty Seifert could win it. If he loses, it’s probably safe to say that his career in politics is over. If he wins, the State Central Committee will get together and endorse him and he’ll go on to the election in November.

If I could give a little unsolicited advice to the endorsement die-hards out there, you may want to spend a little more time propping up your endorsed candidate and a little less time lashing out at the guy you may end up having to support in the fall.

See you at the primary.