Friday, May 29, 2009

MNGOP leadership debate highlights problems, introduces candidates

It wasn't much of a debate.

Last night's event, billed as a "debate" among the candidates for chair and deputy chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, was really more of a forum to discuss what's broken about the state party out-of-power, and what party leadership can do about it. There was more agreement than disagreement on these points, so the issues were beside the point, although I thought that it was refreshing to finally hear these issues aired out in a public forum.

The evening did provide an unprecedented opportunity for State Central delegates, BPOU (local affiliate) activists, DFLers, and outside-the-party conservatives to meet and size up the candidates, up close and personal. It was also a great warm-up for next week's follow-up event in Maple Grove (more on that later).

So what was the consensus of the candidates on what's wrong with the Minnesota GOP?
  • The party has strayed from its conservative roots, exacerbated when certain legislative candidates became incumbents(!).
  • Lack of "customer service" to the BPOUs and Congressional District organizations; too much command-and-control.
  • Outdated technology. Worst offender: the RNC-driven Voter Vault voter data base.

Starting with the deputy chair candidates, how would each candidate address these issues?

Bob Swinehart, a retired physicist from 3M, would apply his years of experience managing scientific and engineering departments, as well has his experience as an activist in the MNGOP (his is a current BPOU chair). He understands that the party needs to reach out to younger voters.

Dorothy Fleming, current MNGOP deputy chair, has certainly paid her dues, has a statewide network of activists, and knows party operations inside and out. Yet I didn't hear Fleming make the case for why, as an incumbent in the Ron Carey administration, she isn't part of the problem.

Michael Brodkorb, activist and (to say the least) blogger, would bring his familiarity with party workings, tech savvy, and outspoken articulation of conservative vision to the party. I wanted to start calling Brodkorb "Mr. Customer Service" for the number of times he emphasized the party's need, and his own devotion to, customer service to the BPOUs and Congressional district organizations.

As for the chairperson candidates, Carrie Ruud would bring her 360-degrees of experience as a grassroots activist, candidate, and legislator to the table.

Some in the grassroots I have spoken to are quick to dismiss Tony Sutton, current party Secretary/Treasurer as "more of the same," but as he pointed out last night, when he was executive director of the party in the 1990s, Republicans won majorities in the Legislature, which in turn served under a Republican governor. Life was good — so good that the late 1990s/early 2000s became the heyday for "moderate Republicans" who felt so free to stray from the platform and even party discipline that the name Republican became a name only.

Radio host and attorney Dave Thompson may be the dark horse of the field. Although his conservative credentials and skill as a broadcast personality are beyond question, he has no previous experience as an elected official or party boss.

I am not a State Central delegate this year, so I won't be casting a ballot in these elections, but after last night I would give the edge to Thompson and Brodkorb. I think that this duo would make the strongest statement to friend and foe alike that the Republican Party of Minnesota is committed to the transformative, high-velocity cultural change that will be needed to overcome the DFL in the elections of 2010 and 2012.

Your next chance to evaluate the candidates in person is next Thursday, June 4 at the Minnesota Republican Party Leadership Forum at Maple Grove Junior High School.

The most encouraging thing about these events is that they are not official MNGOP events. They are grassroots-driven, after-the-TEA-party efforts, which shows that the conservative movement is not only alive and well, it's gaining in strength and numbers. It appears that all of the candidates for state party leadership have taken notice.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Liveblogging the Minnesota GOP leadership debate

9:00 pm: Wrapping up, thank you, good night.

8:57 pm: Question 9: How would you work with BPOUs and Legislative caucuses? Ruud: communicate with the caucuses, do not interfere with the BPOU selection and endorsement process. Thompson: Ditto. Sutton: Ditto.

8:52 pm: Question 8: What improvements would you make in technology and how? Sutton: Voter Vault: replace with a Minnesota-grown data base, as the Second Congressional District has shown us in 2008. Devote one staff member to social networking, blogs, Internet technologies. Ruud: Voter Vault needs to be replaced. Web sites need to link the BPOUs, the state party can assist. Web meetings to bring outstate BPOUs into the process. Thompson: use the technology to win elections; tailor the communication medium to the voter (demographic). But let's remember that we must use technology efficiently to win elections.

8:49 pm: Question 7: Would you take a salary, why or why not? Thompson: I would take a salary, Chairman would be my first priority. Sutton: I would not take a salary, a volunteer organization should be led by a volunteer. "I am one of you." Ruud: I would take a salary, otherwise you limit who can serve if you don't pay a salary.

8:46 pm: Question 6: What BPOU experiences are needed in the paid staff of the MNGOP? Ruud: paid staffers should come from BPOU ranks and experience. Thompson: BPOU/CD experience is fine, but it depends on the needs of the job position. Sutton: if I am elected chair, the era of East Coast outsider staff is over. Activists expect a resource with experience, seasoning.

8:41 pm: Question 5: Do you believe that the state party has too much control over the BPOUs and congressional districts, and if so how would you fix it? Sutton: yes, and I would put the BPOUs back in control, and support the BPOUs like we did "back in the day" [my paraphrase]. Been there, done that. Ruud: Greater Minnesota needs more support from the party. Thompson: there is a sense that the state party isn't sensitive to the BPOU needs -- it's about attitude.

8:38 pm: [Back after network connection problems.]

8:29 pm: Question 3: What is your number one priority for the party? Sutton: elect more endorsed Republican candidates, to help change our state and country. "See my plan." Ruud: Build infrastructure, win elections, ensure a consistent conservative message. Thompson: elect candidates who will vote the platform, vote our values.

8:25 pm: Question 2: what attributes do you bring to the position of Chair, and why are you the best candidate? Thompson: I can inspire people to rally to the party by communicating the conservative vision of the party, all across the state. We have to stop allowing the Democrats to define us. Sutton: I understand how to run large organizations, I won't need "on the job training," I have a published plan of action. Ruud: I have a broad base of experience of running a BPOU, running as a candidate, being a legislature, running a private business.

8:22 pm: Question 1: What is the role of the Chair, and what should it be? Ruud: to service the BPOUs, give them the tools they need to elect their local candidates, to serve as a liaison to the national GOP, uphold the Constitution and platform. Thompson: communicator-in-chief, communicate the conservative vision. Sutton: set the strategic vision, operate the party to service the grassroots.

8:12 pm: Opening statements (3 minutes). Ruud: I have the grassroots experience and work ethic to help get Republicans elected. Thompson: I understand how to communicate the conservative vision and execute successful campaigns for candidates who will in turn implement the conservative agenda. Sutton: when the MNGOP had a conservative vision and was well organized (when I was MNGOP executive director), we won elections. I have the skills and experience to help us do it again.

8:09 pm: Chair candidates introduced: Carrie Ruud, Realtor, former legislator. Dave Thompson, radio personality, attorney. Tony Sutton, MNGOP officer and activist.

8:07 pm: Deputy Chair debate is concluded. Brief intermission while the stage is rearranged.

8:02 pm: Question 9: How would you repair the relationship between the state party and the "local affiliates" (BPOUs)? Flemming: transparency, decentralize, share "who we are," communicate. Swinehart: the state should lead the effort to share best practices among the BPOUs. Brodkorb: invite activists to become part of the process; leadership summits.

7:59 pm: Question 8: How would you handle conflicts of interest with your "day job," etc.? Brodkorb: Open executive committee, meet in every Congressional District in the state, more transparency. Flemming: I have no potential conflicts. Swinehart: I have no potential conflicts (I am retired).

7:56 pm: Question 7: Would you take a salary, why or why not? Swinehart: would accept expenses only. Brodkorb: would not take a salary, but salaries for Chair and Deputy Chair should be disclosed and tied to roles, responsibility. Flemming: would take a salary, because salary = accountability.

7:51 pm: Question 6: What do you believe is the role of the Deputy Chair in getting Republicans elected to state and local offices? Flemming: encourage candidates and volunteers. Swinehart: provide candidate training and support tools. Brodkorb: what we're doing isn't working, some incumbents don't want to run again, they are not getting the tools to win.

7:48 pm: Question 5: What would your role be in relation to the BPOUs? Brodkorb: customer service, providing to the BPOUs & CDs as I did as a MNGOP field staffer. Flemming: did not directly answer the question, but cited the desire of activists to engage on issues. Swinehart: deliver the tools needed by the BPOUs.

7:44 pm: Question 4: Would you change anything about the platform, and why? Swinehart: The platform could benefit from some "simplification." Brodkorb: I think we need to preserve the path that activists have via the caucuses to modify the platform. Flemming: The people we elect should follow the platform.

7:40 pm: Question 3: What would be your number one priority as Deputy Chair and how would you make it happen? Flemming: get high school students involved, "fix" Voter Vault (voter data base). Get information out to party activists. Swinehart: embrace all demographics (not just "people who look like me"). Talk to your neighbors on the issues. Brodkorb: Build the party, win elections. Win back majorities, retain governor. Help activists feel valued and included.

7:37 pm: Question 2: What attribute to you bring to the party? Brodkorb: technology expertise, communicate, bridge the technology gap. Flemming: I love being with people, listening to them, networking, writing. Getting people involved. Swinehart: management experience.

7:36 pm: Flemming: I enjoy traveling, listening to BPOUs, appearing on radio shows, getting out the message.

7:34 pm: Brodkorb: the party needs to better define the roles and responsibilities. I believe that customer service (for BPOUs and Congressional districts) should be the focus.

7:31 pm: First question: What is the role of the Deputy Chair, and what should it be? Swinehart: No strong opinion, since the by-laws are vague, but the Deputy Chair and Chair should be in agreement on it. I can lead teams, listen; cheerleading, not so much.

7:28 pm: Flemming: The party needs to get better at communication: talking points, putting the "party" back into the Republican Party. (Mentioned the local Red, White & Brew social networking gatherings.)

7:20 pm: Opening statements by each candidate. Swinehart: I have a different background than the other candidates (technical management at 3M). That's what I bring to the party. Brodkorb: The party needs to be in "customer service" mode. The party needs transparency. Committed to serving as a volunteer Deputy Chair. Recognizes the importance of (contact) list development.

7:17 pm: Introducing Deputy Chair candidates Bob Swinehart, retired 3M physicist, MNGOP activist; Michael Brodkorb, activist, blogger; Dorothy Flemming, current Deputy Chair.

7:14 pm: Meeks: Campaign 2010 begins now. Morrissey: We're hoping for change back to conservatism.

7:13 pm: My quick headcount: 125-150 in the seats.

7:10 pm: No questions from the floor. All questions from the stage. Order will be at random. Moderators Annette Meeks and Ed Morrissey being introduced.

7:04 pm: Derek Brigham from SD 45 is calling the evening to order. Most are still in the lobby noshing and hobnobbing. Sharing a table with @noahkunin (Twitter handle).

6:59 pm: Meet & greet underway in the lobby. Cameras & PCs getting set up in the auditorium. Talk amongst yourselves on Twitter, search for #mngopdebate.

6:58 pm: Set up in the press area at the debate!

Visit North Star Liberty tonight at 7:00 pm CDT for my liveblog of the Minnesota GOP Leadership Debate. I will also be monitoring Twitter @mattabe and #mngopdebate for your comments.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The land of the free, because of the brave

American Legion Post 118, Heritage Park, Wayzata, Minnesota, May 25, 2009American Legion Post 118, Heritage Park, Wayzata, Minnesota, May 25, 2009

I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

—The American's Creed, by William Tyler Page (1917)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Education and Health and Human Services funding levels are unsustainable

Part 1 of a 3-part series

By Brian W. Grogan

Minnesota is faced with the deepest budget deficit in the state's history. Its outcome will impact our state for the next generation. Education and Health & Human Services (HHS) account for over 75 percent of State budget. If we do not adequately address the future obligations of these two entitlement programs today, then by 2025 the continued projected growth of two programs combined will literally bankrupt our state.

The need to communicate honestly to all Minnesotans about the reality of our commitments is urgent and reform is critical. Unfortunately, neither our governor nor the DFL party is aggressively tackling this monumental problem or our ballooning state budget. Did you realize that our state budget is projected to grow by nearly 8% in 2010? Minnesota is facing the largest deficit in its history and our state legislators want to grow government by 7.7%.

What is our history? Minnesota’s State General Fund budget since 1960 has had an average growth rate of 18.6%. That’s 18.6%! Our total state budget in 1960 was $250 million. In 2010 the budget will have grown to over $17 billion. If we look out 15 years and assume an 18% growth, our State’s budget will have grown by 2025 to over $225 billion. If we can somehow slow down State government growth to 7%, our state’s annual budget will grow to nearly $50 billion. Is this sustainable over the long term?

The drivers fueling this dramatic growth are Education and Health and Human Services (HHS). In fact, according to Governor Pawlenty’s Budget Director, Tim Stinson, HHS is projected to grow from 28% today to over 80% of our State’s budget by 2025.

There are concrete steps we can begin to take now to address this unsustainable growth, but our legislators will need to make difficult choices. This is their role and why we have elected them. It is their duty to watch out for all Minnesotans and the future of our state.

Brian Grogan, Minnetonka, was the Republican-endorsed candidate in state House District 43B in 2008.

Friday, May 15, 2009

We still have a $6.4 billion deficit, but at least they saved our pets from cocoa bean mulch

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (d), a person who sells a product containing cocoa bean shell mulch at retail must post the notice in paragraph (b) in a manner clearly visible to a consumer examining a product containing cocoa bean mulch offered for sale.

(b)The notice must be in 36-point type or larger and state:

The ingestion of cocoa bean shell mulch that has not been processed to be nontoxic is poisonous to pets. If a pet has eaten unprocessed cocoa bean shell mulch, you should immediately contact a veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

—HF1306/SF122, 86th Legislative Session (2009-2010)

I was very disappointed that some bills which are not needed are getting to the floor while we have a big deficit to solve. For example, today much time was spent on a bill that would require retailers to post a sign in 36 [point] type print to warn dog owners that cocoa seed mulch is harmful to dogs. The bill initially failed by two votes and then the board was re-opened and kept open for the longest of any bill this year to muscle it through by the barest votes needed (68 votes). Once again, I would urge the folks in charge of the legislature to focus on the priorities of getting finance bills done, get the budget balanced and focus on the economy versus bills like this one.

—Rep. Marty Seifert (R-Marshall), in a May 5 e-mail to constituents

No shutdown, no special session, no new taxes

Governor Pawlenty, after inaction by the DFL Legislature to close the state's $6.4 billion budget deficit, which they are required to do by law, took bold action yesterday to declare that there will be no government shutdown, no special session, and no new taxes. The 2009 Legislative session will adjourn on Monday at midnight.

The DFL was caught flatfooted by the announcement. Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis) appeared visibly shaken during the DFL response to the governor's announcement. A special session was apparently a part of their strategy all along, otherwise why send bills with tax increases to the governor in spite of his promise to veto any and all tax increases?

With DFL majorities in the Senate and House, the governor is the only man standing between the people and the DFL's massive, job-killing, family budget-busting tax increases for all Minnesotans. Pawlenty has the power of the line item veto and unallotment to protect the taxpayer, and he plans to use it if necessary. Bully for him. Stand strong, Governor Pawlenty, for government that lives within its means.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Asset or liability?

Last week, the Candie's Foundation announced at a media event that Bristol Palin is their new "ambassador." The organization was founded to raise awareness and discuss ways to combat teen pregnancy after the fashion company, as the New York Times put it, came "under fire from critics who accused [Candie's] of dressing high schoolers like tarts." Meanwhile, Candie's product spokesmodel Britney Spears is promoting, well, you probably already know what Britney Spears is promoting.

All well and good — unless maybe your mom may want to run for President of the United States someday.

As any politico as experienced as Sarah Palin surely knows, either your children are off limits to the press and public, like the youngster Obama girls, or they step into the spotlight and takes their chances, like the adult Meghan McCain.

Politically, the pertinent question about the 18-year-old Bristol's new spokesperson status is: would it be an asset or a liability to a future Palin for President campaign? Would Bristol perhaps had as much or greater effect on teens had she mounted a lower-profile statewide campaign to her fellow Alaskans, under the national media radar? What were the identified political risks of Bristol's signing on with Candie's? Strictly from a brand management standpoint, what would George W. Bush or Barack Obama have done under similar circumstances?

Like it or not, every move by every Palin family member, from her guy Todd to little Trig and into the outer branches of the family tree, is being and will be examined by the opposition (outside and inside the Republican Party) for possible political advantage. If she hasn't already, Gov. Palin may face a Carrie Prejean moment, in which she must decide which is more important: making a statement or winning the crown (and then making the statement).

As the New York Times demonstrates, all the media has to do is cast doubt: "But when a teenager goes out on this kind of mission, you have to wonder where her parents’ heads were. What does this say about Sarah Palin’s judgment? Although we’ve sort of answered that question before."

Cross-posted at Sarah's Web Brigade.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stone knives and bearskins

There is a moment in one of the most popular episodes of the original Star Trek series, "The City on the Edge of Forever," in which Spock explains amidst a tangle of wires and vacuum tubes from 1930s Earth that he is "endeavoring, Madam, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins."

This quote eloquently captures the state of Minnesota GOP communications in the age of micromarketing, mobile phones, and social networking. Many of our party's chairpersons and officers, God bless them, have volunteered countless hours to successfully build the GOP and win elections in the 20th century using the same tools I saw in an old 1960s black-and-white Ronald Reagan GOP training film: phone banks and direct mail.

Our current leaders long-ago earned their delegate seats at the conventions, and leadership posts from the BPOUs to the national committee, with these tools. But the young upstart campaign volunteers of Democrat Party campaigns have grown ever more sophisticated in their use of technology to spread their message, persuade, and win elections, even as that technology evolves at an increasingly dizzying pace. These efforts are peer-produced and decentralized.

It's not technology for technology's sake; it is, pardon the cliché, part of the under-30 population's DNA. Facebook and cell phones are as much a part of my teenage kids' lives as television was integral to my growing up. First-time caucus goers from the 2008 election cycle are still wondering why they never received a single e-mail or Facebook friend invitation from their BPOU, or even know what a BPOU is. The party that dismisses or refuses to understand mobile tech, e-mail marketing, streaming video, podcasting, and social networking is the party that forfeits the future to the party that gets it.

Surely there are social marketing experts and web developers who would be willing to apply their talents and knowledge to bring the Minnesota GOP into the 21st century. So what's stopping them?


The elections of 2006 and 2008 will be showing in reruns in 2010 and 2012 unless the Republican Party of Minnesota finds a chair and deputy chair who get it. Grassroots activists who have spent the months since November 2008 creating and using their Facebook, Twitter, and Ning accounts, blogging, attending issue events at Trocoderos, and organizing the April 15 and May 2 rallies at the state capitol, already get it. So do Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee supporters. But the state party will be stuck with stone knives, bearskins, and minority status without a chair and deputy chair who are ready, willing, and able to lead the party into 21st century technology — at warp speed.

Minnesota GOP Leadership Debate
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Mixer: 6:30 pm
Debate: 7:00 pm
Moderated by Ed Morrissey, and AM 1280 The Patriot and
Annette Meeks, Freedom Foundation of Minnesota
Hosted by SD45 Republicans
Robbinsdale Hopkins High School [map]
10635 36th Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55441

Carrie Ruud, Tony Sutton, Dave Thompson, candidates for State Party Chair
Michael Brodkorb, Dorothy Fleming, candidates for State Party Deputy Chair
Other candidates to be announced

Monday, May 04, 2009

The taxman cometh

Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) reports that the DFL House tax omnibus bill (HF2323) contains a laundry list of tax increases, all of which Gov. Pawlenty has promised to veto.

"If you earn over $16,000 in income, your taxes are going up," said Anderson in an e-mail to constituents. "Starting at $30,000 in income, there are more losers under this bill than winners. Most people don't think of $30,000 in income as being wealthy."

Here is a peek at some of the "revenue enhancements" proposed by the DFL:
  • Increases taxes overall by $1.5 billion

  • Increases sales tax by .5 percent through county adoption

  • Eliminates mortgage interest deduction from income taxes

  • Eliminates property tax deduction from income taxes

  • Eliminates education tax credit

  • Eliminates long-term care insurance premium credit

  • Eliminates child/dependent care tax credit

  • Eliminates JOBZ economic development tax credit

  • Reduces the Market Value Homestead Credit for homeowners

  • Eliminates organ donation deduction from income taxes

  • Eliminates charitable giving tax credit

  • Imposes tax on digital downloads such as iTunes, books, etc.

  • Imposes sales tax on boats, snowmobiles, and ATVs sold by an individual

  • Increases taxes on cigarettes

  • Increases taxes on beer, wine, and liquor

  • Creates 4th tier income tax bracket increasing taxes on small job providers

  • Eliminates gas tax credit for the poor that was created just last year

  • Increases property taxes by lifting levy limits on cities (county limits are lifted in 1 yr)

  • Imposes new tax on heating fuels for homes of a certain size

"The money won't go to schools, public safety, or veterans," said Anderson. "Last week a bill passed giving $50 million for the St. Paul RiverCenter hockey arena. Another bill passed spending $200,000 on a new program called the Indigenous Earthkeepers that will educate certain kids age 15 to 19 years on the environment. Lastly, legislation passed extending welfare benefits to illegal immigrants."

Click this link to urge your legislators to solve our budget deficit responsibly, without raising taxes.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Tim Pawlenty, Jason Lewis address Tax Cut Rally

Tax Cut Rally 2009 (photo: North Star Liberty)
Thousands gathered Saturday afternoon at the Tax Cut Rally at the Minnesota State Capitol, many for the second time in as many months, to hear speakers, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty and nationally syndicated talk radio host Jason Lewis, speak out against tax increases and excessive spending. They also visited exhibitors that included sponsors from the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Minnesota Majority, and 100.3 KTLK-FM.

Tyranny Response Team (photo: North Star Liberty)
Pawlenty pledged to veto any tax increase reaching his desk. Lewis commemorated the tenth annual Tax Cut Rally and vowed to fight for freedom and lower taxes. The Legislature, in session during the rally, was admonished more than once to "live within our [the state's] means."

The event had an added dimension compared to the April 15 Tea Party: a conservative issues fair, with over thirty organizations as large as Borders Books, the Libertarian Party, and the National Rifle Association, and many small organizations.

State Capitol (photo: North Star Liberty)
The crowd was peaceful and even festive. One of the booths was set up with laptop computers for attendees to electronically sign a petition to Pawlenty, urging him to veto any tax increase sent to him from the Legislature. Another of the booths was set up as a "Freedom Shrine" with copies of historic documents and portraits of American founders. Minnesota Majority gave away free printed booklets containing the text of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Food booths from barbecue to cheese curds to ice cream served long lines of customers.

We Are The Majority (photo: North Star Liberty)

Friday, May 01, 2009

SD 43 online

My Senate District BPOU, SD 43 Republicans, has launched its new and improved web site at I have had virtually no time to devote to help work on this site, so kudos to the SD 43 web team for a beautiful start.

With this central contact point for SD 43, I hope that the BPOU can build its volunteer base for the 2010 elections and beyond. SD 43 has changed over the past several cycles after the last redistricting, going from Republicans in the Senate and both House Districts to a Republican (Sarah Anderson) in the House 43A seat and DFLers in the Senate seat (Terri Bonoff) and HD 43B seat (John Benson).

Frankly, we no longer have the luxury of running things on cruise control, with the majority of the contact with volunteer activists happening after the precinct caucuses. Our future rests with young voters, who are more likely to be online or mobile rather than sitting at home answering a land line or reading direct mail lit. SD 43 will have to figure out its current demographics and tailor its strategies accordingly.

My friends in SD 45 provide an example worth emulating. They hold periodic informal "Chili and Chat" events, with good food and speakers such as Republican legislators. They raise some money for the BPOU, but more importantly build relationships and enthusiasm to fuel campaign activity during the election cycle.