DFL, GOP avoid shooting themselves in the foot

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

Minnesota’s Republicans and Democrats decided to confab simultaneously last weekend, the Republicans in Rochester and the DFL in Duluth. As near as one could tell, neither side shot itself in the proverbial foot.

Republicans had the greater opportunity to do so, being the party out of power. All the DFL had to do was re-nominate all of its incumbents, and allow Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to retire.

The biggest threat to DFL unity was swept under the rug. That is the split between organized labor and environmentalists about whether or not to allow mining of copper and nickel in northeastern Minnesota. Since the party didn’t take a stand, it appears that the strategy is to let Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Rick Nolan hem-and-haw past the election. The only way copper-nickel will hurt the DFLers is if they are forced to resolve the issue.

The party chose state Rep. Steve Simon of Hopkins as its choice to replace Ritchie. He’ll face Republican Dan Severson of St. Cloud and an Independence Party candidate in November.

A few days later, both parties were handed a lesson on when to schedule their state conventions: Don’t hold them in the middle of the candidate filing period. Three days later, former DFL gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza filed to run against incumbent state Auditor Rebecca Otto.

Had the convention been held the following weekend, Entenza’s sneak attack would have been trumped by the endorsement of Otto.

Now she’s in for a political fight. Entenza is banking on his past name recognition and the fact that of late, voter turnout in primaries is running around 18 percent. That means that, if half of them vote in the DFL primary, Entenza needs only 5 percent of the electorate to win the primary.

As I mentioned, the Republicans had greater opportunity to screw up their convention. They had several viable candidates competing for the endorsements for both governor and senator.

In the end, they chose Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson to be their endorsee for governor. Businessman Mike McFadden got the GOP blessing to run against Franken.

However, it took multiple ballots for each, and after the smoke cleared, it didn’t look like it would be much of a bump for either Johnson or McFadden.

Johnson, in particular, will have his hands full because three of the viable alternatives, businessman Scott Honour, former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert and former House Speaker Kurt Zellers all decided to continue on to the primary.

If Entenza can win a nomination with 5 percent of the electorate, it will take only 3 percent to choose the Republican nominee for governor. Honour has the money and Johnson has the endorsement. Seifert, from Marshall, is billed as the outstate candidate and Zellers has held the second most powerful position in state government, so take your pick. They will be splitting the hairs on the elephant’s tail to come up with that nominee.

McFadden got off a little easier. Among the viable alternatives, all but state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka quit the race. Abeler is a Republican moderate, and is hoping that McFadden’s venture capitalist background will do as much for Mike as it did for Mitt Romney.

However, McFadden does have plenty of money, so he may be able to force Franken to take positions on important issues like health care, foreign policy and the partisan IRS, instead of focusing on getting the federal government more involved in the school lunch program.

Kids shouldn’t go hungry at school, but who do you want running that program, the state of Minnesota and local school districts or the folks who also run VA health care?

I have to admit that I was secretly pulling for one other candidate in the Senate race, but not for any good reason.

Chris Dahlberg, a St. Louis County commissioner, came within a whisker of winning the endorsement. He led all through the first day of balloting, and it took overnight arm-twisting for McFadden to wrest the endorsement away.

Dahlberg was interesting to me only because I did a story on him nine years ago when I worked in Duluth. At the time, I had no idea that he was even thinking about a political career. He had just returned from a year with the Army in Iraq, and was trying to restart his small law practice. I wanted to talk to him about Iraq, and he had some really interesting insights.

His job there was community development. Before your eyes glaze over, think about the challenges of trying to direct grants for infrastructure improvements in a war zone in a nation that had been run by a brutal dictator and where bribes and corruption were a way of life as long as most Iraqis could remember.

He told me one story about a woman who was having an argument with a neighbor over water rights. The neighbor had diverted water so the woman’s crops did not have enough. Dahlberg asked her what she was going to do. She replied something to the effect, “What else can I do? I’m going to get my gun and kill him.”

With no other recourse, such as the rule of law, that’s how Iraqis settled disputes. It gave Dahlberg a new appreciation for what we have in this nation.

I suspect you will be hearing more from Dahlberg in the future, but first you will be hearing plenty this summer from those continuing to run. Stay tuned.


Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at tom.west@mcrecord.com.