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- Outdated technology.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.