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GOP's saber-rattling Tony Sutton vows aggressive recount fight

Unhappy GOP representatives met with the press this morning: from left, Michael Brodkorb, Tony Sutton and Tony Trimble.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Unhappy GOP representatives met with the press this morning: from left, Michael Brodkorb, Tony Sutton and Tony Trimble.

Tony Sutton never minces his words. Never.

But this morning, the boisterous Minnesota Republican Party chair, with a twinkle in his eye and fire in his belly, did himself one better. He sliced, diced and filleted Tuesday's gubernatorial election, called Secretary of State Mark Ritchie names, said "we're not going to get rolled again" in a recount process — as if the GOP was rolled in the 2008 Al Franken-Norm Coleman saga — and otherwise blew his top at an opening-salvo news conference.


"The race for governor is not over," Sutton declared, 14 hours after the polls closed but weeks before we will know who the next chief executive of the state will be.

This was Day One of The Next Big Recount, and the Republicans aren't going to go gently after Tuesday's long election night.

For one, they're going national with their legal team. In 2008, Sen. Coleman oversaw his recount team and went local. This time, the state GOP is taking over the legal reins for candidate Tom Emmer, and they've hired Michael E. Toner. He's the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission under George W. Bush. He is highly respected by election lawyers nationwide. But Democratic sources told me they were unaware whether he has any extensive recount experience.

Minnesota Republican Party lawyer Tony Trimble, who was one of Coleman's chief lawyers, is also on the team.

For another, Sutton came out swinging, noting early and often at Republican Party headquarters today that "something doesn't smell right" about DFLer Mark Dayton's 9,000-vote lead while the GOP swept the Minnesota House and Senate and the traditional DFL stronghold of the 8th Congressional District fell to upstart Chip Cravaack.

Sutton made a big deal out of a reporting glitch by Hennepin County.

For a while Tuesday night, the county's website had counted votes twice for candidates. Quickly, the reporting error was fixed. Emmer picked up 60,000 votes in the process. Hennepin County elections director Rachel Smith is among the most knowledgeable and respected election officials in the state.

Still, Sutton couldn't contain himself. And, of course, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, the left-of-center elections chief who was re-elected Tuesday, was Sutton's favorite punching bag.

Sutton called the election process "quite frankly, a disgrace … I'm to the point now, I don't think it's any coincidence that Mark Ritchie is administering this process and here we stand today …We are going to be very, very aggressive through this recount process … We owe it to this state that this is done right and not a process that is dominated by an ACORN activist who happens to be secretary of state … We're going to put his feet to the fire. We're not going to get rolled this time."
 
Such is the climate of this recount in its opening hours.

To be sure, Sutton was invoking one of the first rules of a trailing candidate in a recount, especially if he's as far behind as Emmer: question the legitimacy of the election.

He also was rewriting history a bit: Ritchie had little to do with the key decisions that allowed Franken to win the recount and 2008 election. It was judges, most of whom were appointed by Republicans, who did that. But, whatever …

When you've got the chance to control the entire state political apparatus and the redistricting of congressional districts, you say what you can and do what's possible. Remember when the other side was so eager to get its 60th senator to Washington, D.C.? It was just two long years ago.

Ironically, this time, the current office holder stays in place. Minnesota had a vacant Senate seat for six months, but the Minnesota Constitution says that Gov. Tim Pawlenty would stay in office if this recount extends into 2011

That might be a pleasant event for Republicans as they now happen to control the state House and Senate, too. If Dayton can't get there soon enough, Pawlenty might oversee the start of the 2011 legislative session. Ponder that. Mr. Sutton is, we'd guess.

For his part, Ritchie said the election went well. Turnout was super-high. A few problems here or there, but nothing major. But the newly re-elected secretary of state seemed to slip in his own sleeplessness by saying this morning, "We in our office are planning to have fun with this recount this time around."

Fun wasn't on Sutton's or the GOP's agenda today. Won't be tomorrow.

"You know what, it's our turn. It's our turn to overturn every stone looking at the votes," said Sutton of the Franken legal team's successful harvesting of wrongly rejected absentee ballots in 2008.

Despite Sutton's dramaturgy, Trimble, the lawyer, provided the most poetic quip of the day. Referring to the Democrats' savvy use of voter data during the 2008 Senate recount, Trimble said. "This situation is reversed. They're trying to stop the train. We're the train."

Recount: The Sequel is coming full steam ahead, right at you.

In other tidbits:

* The Canvassing Board that will oversee the final tallies and, perhaps, make decisions on challenged ballots was named. All four judges were appointed by Republicans. But there are two especially interesting figures: One is Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, an election law expert, who was a vocal judge from the bench during Franken-Coleman arguments; the other is Hennepin County District Court Judge Denise Reilly, who was one of the three judges who oversaw the Coleman-Franken election contest. Supreme Court Justice David Stras and Ramsey County Judge Gregg E. Johnson are the other board members, along with Ritchie.

* The timing: Beginning Friday, county canvassing boards will begin meeting to certify results in their precincts. Because of new state laws, the Canvassing Board won't meet until Nov. 23. If the margin remains less than one-half of 1 percent, a hand recount statewide will begin.

* Ken Martin, of the progressive WIN Minnesota PAC, which helps fund the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, attempted to monitor the Sutton news conference. He was politely escorted out of Republican headquarters. Martin is going to work on the Dayton recount effort.

Meanwhile, although Dayton said today he had no legal team in place, it seems as if Minneapolis lawyer Charlie Nauen, who was instrumental in Al Franken's absentee ballot hunt in 2008, will head up the Dayton legal recount effort. Also, former Minnesota U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug is expected to be on Dayton's legal team. He was Franken's lead locally based attorney during the 2008 event.

Dayton is scheduled to meet the media at 2 p.m. today.

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Comments (33)

GOP's Tony Sutton has my vote for drama queen of the year. Randy Moss and Brett Favre sit down. Mr. Sutton wins hands down.

Seriously, Mr. Sutton hyperbole and "saber rattling" can threaten the people's confidence in our system. Does he forget that the Democrats won every statewide seat yesterday despite the legislative landslide.

I commend Senator Dayton for understanding the importance of confidence in our electoral process in maintaining our democracy.

My prediction is that the Minnesota voters/general public will soon tire of GOP whining about this election. The voters of Minnesota elected a substantial number of GOP candidates, but they also seem to like having a governor and legislature controlled by different parties, and they want to have the election over. The GOP risks losing whatever good will they have. Being sore winners is not a various gracious way to govern. The Minnesota GOP should stop campaigning, move on and graciously accept the role Minnesota voters have given them in this election cycle.

I have not been so furious this cycle until I read this piece. It is an incredible disgrace to the Republican Party as well as the people of Minnesota that Tony Sutton will so blatantly lie to his own supporters and the media about our political system for his party's gain. He did this with Franken too.

I hope the media calls him out on his lies and inaccuracies more often this time around. What a complete disgrace to our political system.

Jay, the Hennepin County Elections officials explained, and MinnPost headlined, that the temporary "glitch" in their results last night was a reporting glitch, not a tallying glitch. That is, the votes were correctly counted, but for a short time were incorrectly reported to their website and to the Secretary of State's site. The Republican Party will want to broadcast this mistake as a deliberate attempt to commit elections fraud - let's not help them do it!

What an unpleasant contrast with the Dayton news conference with respect to the recount process.

Mr. Sutton has some serious anger management issues. His hyperpartisanship and willingness to accuse others of malfeasance without a shred of evidence reveals a dark soul in the grip of too much animosity. It can't be healthy for him

It will be better if politically active people would try a higher level of civility. We are all on the same side - Minnesota's. We are all Americans.

Just slapping the word "Analysis" doesn't mean many people don't see that MinnPost is just a DFL mouthpiece. Where is the other side of issues? Why no conservative counter-balance to the non-stop liberal columns and "news" articles?

MinnPost is so disappointing to those looking for real analysis and full, balance, fair reporting. We had such high hopes.

#4 Susan, thanks for the catch. We have corrected.

John, sometimes reality has a liberal bias. There's no apparent other side to this issue. It's simply a fact that Sutton is lying and comparing the situation to a race that was thirty times closer. And while it may not be explicitly a fact, I would be astonished to hear that anyone found this behavior defensible. It is what it is.

It's all about fund raising for the recount which will run into millions of dollars. There will be a national appeal to the party base in order to fund this effort. This is the GOP creating a narrative and trying to control the debate. Truly a pitiful effort.

And it could just have been that Tom Emmer is a deeply dislikable person ... and will lose.

Republicans will unleash the attorneys from their favored law firm: Lye, Cheet and Steele.

Sutton is right. It smells bad, the problem was CANDIDATE SELECTION

I would like to take this moment to announce that I have no affiliation with the law firm of Lye, Cheet and Steele.

The fatuous blather of Tony Sutton is priceless. May the Republicans keep him on for a long, long time - who better to be their voice?

Mr. Sutton says something doesn't smell right, and he's correct - there is a stink about - and it seems to be following him.

Mr. Sutton conveniently forgets to mention that the governor's race was a TEENY bit different from most of the two-person races for Minnesota house and senate -- there was a strong third party candidate, Tom Horner, in the hunt, too. And he garnered 11.9% of the votes, 251,504 in all. It's not at all implausible to think that he may have taken more votes away from Emmer than from Dayton.

John Candy, aka Tony Sutton, is a typical Republican bully. Call his bluff. Sic the Republican MN Supreme Court on him, like Franken did.

I recall Coleman asking Franken to concede the election and it was much closer. Contrast Republican behavior with the Democrats. BTW, don't anyone start calling Sutton fat, he is just stuffed with Emmer ballots.

It is rare that I react by turning my radio off completely; I usually just change the station. I was listening to
MPR this morning and heard the Sutton/GOP news conference. The point at which I turned off my radio was after his C.Y.A. remark. (I hope I'm not violating MinnPost standards in referring to that!)

I'm not in agreement with the all of the
MN electorate in this election, but perhaps Mr. Sutton isn't getting the message that the electorate is willing to have a Democratic governor with the Republicans in charge of the house and senate, a reverse of the situation at present. If they're saying make the best
of a difficult situation to the two parties, it's time to put forward the
best effort for the people of this state.

call me snarky - but this is just another example of how 'values voters' have become performance artists. . Sutton is the very picture of Republican manhood..

I find the comments of Tony Sutton extremely offensive. He really does need to get over himself! Mark Ritchie is an amazingly honest person and Sutton does not seem to be interested in collaborative work within or outside his party!

There are many reasons why it is possible to have Republican wins in many races and an Emmer loss.

Maybe people don't like Emmer.

Maybe people thought Emmer's approach to the budget problem was delusional.

Maybe people realized that a "cuts only" approach was not really workable.

Maybe they were put off by his secessionist 10th amendment fantasies.

Maybe they thought his immigration approach was wrong.

Maybe they were put off by his "family values" put to a lie by the despicable behavior of one of his children (not just underage drinking).

Maybe they were not impressed by his grasp of fiscal issues as demonstrated by his personal finances.

Maybe people knew that there was something seriously wrong with the concept that waiters typically made over $100K a year.

Just some things to think about. The idea that personality, approach to governing, and world-view don't matter.

Otherwise, we would now have a witch in Congress.

Howard (#6) wrote: "Mr. Sutton has some serious anger management issues. His hyperpartisanship and willingness to accuse others of malfeasance without a shred of evidence reveals a dark soul in the grip of too much animosity."

Actually, Sutton is just channeling the late Senator Joe McCarthy when he accuses others of malfeasance without a shred of evidence.

McCarthyism has been in the GOP Playbook ever since, well, ever since Ol' Joe brought his particular brand of performance art to the U.S. Senate back in the 1950s.

I think the "McCarthyism" section in the GOP Playbook comes just after the "Southern Strategy" chapter.

Emmer's apparent loss, by fewer than 9,000 votes, is not in and of itself evidence of any problems with the election. Horner took 12% of the vote, some 250,000 votes. The majority of these likely came from moderate Republicans who rejected some of Emmer's more extreme positions. (Witness the endorsements Horner received in the weeks leading up to the election.) Minnesota sent all but one of its federal delegation back to Washington and in Oberstar's case the margin was even smaller than in this race, as I recall. Voters seemed to be saying "DC may be corrupt and ineffective, but not my guy or gal."

It's obvious that many Minnesotan's split their votes, as we often do. From where I sit, Mr. Sutton's simply trying to spin air into gold. Good luck with that, but be aware that Minnesotan's aren't going to accept another months long delay in the process. 2008 was enough for all of us.

I think Tony Sutton needs to be ignored, and quickly. His comments about moderate Republicans (Quislings rant) obviously cost his party the governorship. He is solely responsible. If the fool does not realize coalitions are fundamental to winning elections, he has no business being a political boss.

Especially after reading these comments, I am convinced Minnesotans have no taste for a long, drawn-out battle using lawsuits and court challenges to hold things up.

Watch out, here it comes ..... "Did you hear that they just found a bag of uncounted ballots in the trunk of Phyllis Kahn's Saab 990?". Loved that one in 2008.  Sorry Jay.

Where are the journalists with enough courage to politely stand up and ask Mr Sutton to quantify his outrageous statements? "Mr Sutton, you said there was massive fraud involved in this election. What kind of evidence do you have to support that statement?" Or, "Mr Sutton, just how exactly did the Republican candidate get 'rolled' in the last recount? Do you think the State Supreme Court, or any other body involved in the recount acted unfairly?"

Honestly, all of you journalists out there, could you just cobble together a little courage and stand up and challenge these ridiculous statements?

I suppose it is unkind to comment on a person's weight, but Tony Sutton is the eptiome of a "fat cat." Furthermore, as the cliche goes, he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he should have many knives in his restaurant empire. If Democrats won the state constitutional offices of attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state, it should not be a surprise to anyone that they also would win the gubernatorial spot. I think that a lot of Republicans who did not want to vote for a right-winger voted for the other Republican, Mr. Horner.

Talk about being a sore loser. As far as I can tell there is not one iota of evidence to support any claims of impropriety. Since the mechanisms are in place for a recount let them proceed without the saber rattling.

It is easy for Mr. Sutton to look reality in the eye, and deny it.

It's frustrating enough for ALL Minnesotans that we have to endure another recount process, yet so soon after the last one. But to have Mr. Sutton screaming and stomping like a petulant two year old is rather embarrassing, ungracious and uncivil, given the breadth of the Republican wins Tuesday night. Please at least try to act your age. My two and half year old god daughter is better behaved than this.

How does Mr. Sutton figure that it's not possible that a governor could be elected from one party and the legislature from the other? it's happened before - just one election ago!!! What good does it do to inflame people all over again?

Aren't we all tired of inflammatory rhetoric? Let the state-proscribed procedures take place. Nine-thousand is substantially more than a couple hundred. Either way, no one can claim they were elected by a mandate ... So, please can we all start acting like CIVILIZED, RATIONAL adults again?

It's likely that many voters went in and voted straight DFL at the top of the ticket, and let the chips fall where they may for the rest of the races, perhaps out of apathy or anger. Hence, the Democratic losses in the house and senate.

It's unlikely that voters would overwhelmingly vote DFL for Secretary of State, Auditor and AG - and then vote for Emmer for Governor.

Norm Coleman held the U.S. Senate hostage after the 2008 election - when Patient Protection should have passed early and easily with Al Franken in the Senate. This would have allowed the Administration to better focus on, and communicate, what was happening with the economy.

Minnesotans beware. Tony Sutton and the GOP will employ this same strategy in our state if we let them.