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.