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While GOP leaders defend amendments, some losing candidates disagree

Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers, right, with House Majority Leader Matt Dean
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
GOP Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers, right, with House Majority Leader Matt Dean, defended the marriage amendment at a news conference the day after the election.

While Republican legislative leaders choose their words carefully and defensively to explain how they lost their majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate, some of their candidates are not so hesitant.

“The constitutional amendments may have been an overall factor,” said Terry Jacobson, a first-time candidate for House seat 49B in Bloomington and Edina.

“It was a big effect,” said state representative Larry Howes, who lost his eighth bid for a seat representing Bemidji and Walker. “They were so easy to campaign against; we spent all our time explaining why it wasn’t bad. We were on defense the whole time.”

“You look at the state government shutdown. You look at the two amendments.  Were any of these three things part of this?” speculate Ted Daley, who lost his bid for a second term from Senate District 51 in Eagan. 

Marriage amendment

Leadership treads carefully on the role of the amendments. GOP Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers defended the marriage amendment at a news conference the day after the election. “We put it on the ballot because a majority of legislators believed it was the right thing to do,” he said

“I think it’s kind of mixed,” said David Hann of Eden Prairie, who led the Senate Republican election team and will be the caucus minority leader. “There are some in greater Minnesota who feel the amendments were helpful. There are some who say they were not helpful.”

Count Howes in the latter group. Although he voted for the marriage amendment, he believes his caucus erred in putting it on the ballot. “The fact that they had two amendments and they wanted to do four,” he said. “Some of us that were more moderate wanted to stop.”

Howes, like Jacobson and Daley, was hit with tens of thousands of dollars in negative mail, radio and on-line advertising. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota alone spent more than $28,000 against Jacobson, more than $33,000 against Howe, and more than $32,000 against Daley. Republicans, who lobbed their own rounds of negative ads, were outspent almost two to one.

Yet Howes, Jacobson and Daley, with varying degrees, say they had a positive campaign experience.

Newcomer Jacobson was especially enthusiastic. “I had a wonderful campaign team,” she said. “Going out door knocking, I absolutely loved it. I think people were really excited about me as a candidate.”

“I knocked on thousands more doors this time,” said Daley. “The website was stronger. Facebook and Twitter presence was stronger. I had far more physical, person-to person connections. They were good conversations.”

'Get off my property'

Except when there wasn’t a conversation at all. “There were a few people who slammed the door in my face before I could get the words out my mouth,” Daley said. He said that when asked about his party affiliation and he answered Republican, occasionally the response was: “Get off my property.”

Howes, too, describes bittersweet moments. “I still met a whole lot of new people,” he said.

Howes identified a number of factors for his loss.  “It wasn’t the fact that I wasn’t known. It was just the Obama factor.”

Also, for Howes, it was the relative weakness of the rest of the ticket in District 5A.  “Obama, Klobuchar, Peterson, Nolan,” he ticked off. “Why would you split the ticket? And Romney got hammered up here.”

Daley wonders why Republican polling didn’t factor more accurately the DFL get-out-the-vote effort.

“The polling I received, unofficial polling, sounded like things were getting better,” he said. But “I started doubting our polling; I questioned our folks. The results are two things -- the down ticket effect and turnout. I lost on both accounts.”

Directly and implied, the three candidates shared concern that the Republican Party was taking a bruising for its image. “What I heard was, the Republican war on women. We need to do something to address that,” Daley said. On Republican attempts in the last legislative session to pass restrictions on matters like contraception, Daley said: “You can’t do that kind of stuff.”

But that kind of stuff provided fodder for the negative ads that weakened otherwise strong suburban candidates like Daley and Jacobson. 

Hann sounded frustrated. “There is no mean-spiritedness on the part of the Republican Party agenda,” he said. “The tactic has been to portray that. That’s the thing we have to be better at overcoming.”

Noting Republican losses in the suburbs, Hann acknowledged they would be battle grounds for the foreseeable future. “The contested districts will still be the same contested districts the next election,” he said. “We’ll be back.”

And so will some of the candidates who lost this round. Daley, an Iraq and Gulf War veteran with a West Point degree, is looking for a leadership job in public-private policy development. Will he run again? “The quick answer is yes,” he said.

Jacobson said “absolutely” she would run again. “I am very concerned about the fiscal issues we will face in our state and nation,” she said. “This is more of concern for me that personally losing the election.”

Howes said he will not run again. But he leaves legislative life with advice for both parties: “When Republicans took control of both bodies, they didn’t know why. And if you don’t know why, you venture on a course that isn’t a true course. Hopefully, the Democrats know why they won.”

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Comments (18)

I highly encourage the

I highly encourage the Republicans to repeat the same message in the next few campaigns. Repeat it louder and louder, I'm sure it'll win the majority in 2014 and 2016. Push for a couple more amendments--the voters love them especially when they limit rights.

And certainly don't listen to the idea that the Republican platform is "mean-spirited". You just need an attractive messenger and the message will win. Maybe Ann Coulter is just the ticket.

Yes, as Mr. Hann implies, this loss is merely a PR problem...

...and if the GOP could only mouth the right message, all their problems would go away.

Then too, I guess it would help if that liberal media bias could be exposed, and if all that evil liberal money's undue influence on politics could be explained better. It would probably take a good sized bankroll from the Koch brothers and a series on Fox News to really set the record straight.

I say to Mr. Hann, Zellers, and the whole GOP leadership gang: You're right, oh so right !! Don't change !!

It's the leadership, stupid

Unfortunately, some of the MN GOP candidates paid for their leaders' lack of foresight and forceful ideological purity. Don't wage a war on women--Daley gets that. Figure out what your "mandate" is--Howes gets that. But the party leadership took their power and used it to do nothing. If Daley and Howes got it, why didn't they march to the drummer their constituents assigned instead of jumping to the whip that the GOP Machine cracked? The mandate was jobs--where where the jobs (not that there aren't more jobs, no thanks to the legislature)? The mandate was to get our fiscal house in order--how do two socially directed amendments and a government shut down fit into that?

Politicians seem to forget that they reign at OUR direction, not on whatever they feel like doing once the election is over. That being said, the public had to be naive to believe that the MN GOP or the GOP in general had a solution. Or that they wouldn't pick up their anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-intellectual crusade where they left off the last time we booted their butts to the curb. "But they didn't run on union busting. But they didn't run on birth control. But they didn't run on..." Give it a rest. Their actions haven't changed--given the rope, they'll hang us all. The Republican party isn't the one that governed with an even hand in the 70's and 80's (or even the 90's).

"mean spirited"

Hann still does not get it. Women don't want your policies, regardless of the spirit of your intentions.

Hann's response

Hann sounded frustrated. “There is no mean-spiritedness on the part of the Republican Party agenda,” he said. HA, HA, HA, I have been a Republican all my life. This time my wife told me if I voted for those women haters, I need to find a new place to live. I can't count the number of times she said,"I can't imagine any women voting for a Republican." They should tell the women they aren't mean spirited.

GOP war on women

I'm glad to see that there are at least several Republicans who seem to realize that the GOP "war on women" is not simply a matter of rhetoric. It is real, and women sense that. And women voted for Obama.

All I've seen since Tuesday from GOP folks on that issue is that they will have to learn to tone down the rhetoric, use more "delicacy" when they speak about women (do they realize what that phrase says about their attitude toward women?), and not say things like labeling rape legitimate or illegitimate, or that God wills a pregnancy that results from rape.

Until Republicans stop thinking about women in antedeluvian terms, women will recognize the caveman attitude, and vote Democratic.

Good Government First--Then Politics --Reverse Does not Work

The article about why GOP lost control sets the stage well for a good dialogue. For the past several elections Mn parties both GOP and DFL but particularly the GOP have placed political ideology ahead of "good government'--this is the core of why the GOP lost control of the legislature and the result is appropriate action by the voters of Mn. Legislators are elected not only to carry the party banner and themes but to represent all the people-- the GOP did not understand that in many ways during the sessions and in the campaigns. First the elected officals need to understand the citizen views (all citizens)--listening and considering all views must be first. Second the reference to what did the polls say-- most likely the GOP asked questions that were not questions but were questions that when answered would support their actions-- not real polls. Throughout the sessions and campaigns it was clear that the GOP had no vision for the future of Mn--education first-- jobs-- health care-- transportation--- tax reform for the 21st century-- voting NO on every new idea does not interest the public. This clearly suggests no real stategy -- clearly there was no one in the GOP who had any strategic picture of how Mn should move and thus no clear message other than no, no , no and attention some issues that do not reach to people. All these comments get back to the need for parties and candidates to focus first on "Good Government" processes and decisions and when that is done good,clean, and meaniingful politics will follow.

Dave Broden

Well

Said

If the Republicans want my vote,

they'll need to put up a candidate I can at least consider voting for. That would be someone who is not inclined to legislate by amending the Constitution, who does not equate freedom with freedom from taxation and who agrees with me that our most fundamental freedom is the freedom of conscience.

The Boston Tea Party was not abour taxation per se, but taxation without representation. We have representation in abundance. We also, in my opinion, operate under a system which permits government to do what the people wish it to do, provided only that government's actions do not infringe directly upon our individual freedoms.

Freedom of conscience is the freedom to think, believe and speak as I see fit, free from government proscription or sanction. It includes freedom of association. It precludes enacting laws based solely on one group's religious or metaphysical beliefs.

Put up a candidate in my district who values these things as I do and I can consider voting for that candidate. Put up a candidate who believes government is an evil, that taxation is something to be avoided, but that this same government has a place in my head, heart and bedroom, and I'll be forced to vote against him or her every time.

Neal we are in complete agreement

Unfortunately that strategy seems to work well for Rep. Bachman, coupled with "pseudo" data of course.

Judy, several facts abut the

Judy, several facts abut the Bachmann/Graves race:

Bachman won by 1.18%---a pretty small margin in any election contest. It looks even smaller when you consider her national footprint and Graves initial anonymity and considering that Bachmann had raised $20.7 million and spent $19.3 million versus Graves' $2 million raised and $1.5 million spent (a 10 to 1 ratio).

And there is a good argument that there is strong strategy in having an outspoken example of troglodytism in front of the camera.

Reagan

I think it's amusing how the only two wall pictures I can discern in that photo are of Ronald Reagan.

By all means, the GOP should continue flogging Reagan. People are turning 18 every day, and people for whom Reagan's presidency was relevant either die, don't remember Reagan, or don't care.

Living in the past is at the core of the Republican platform. I don't know when the party will be irrelevant at the presidential level. In 2008 we said it would happen by 2012. It didn't totally happen. It may not even happen by 2020; there are enough aging white males to keep them in power for a little while longer. But it WILL happen. And they will have no solution.

Favorite moment in the article

I can't help but admire the complete lack of self-awareness when Mr. Hann says that there is "no mean-spiritedness on the part of the Republican Party agenda," especially when it is framed in such a bumbling, inarticulate manner (memo to Mr. Hann: "mean spiritedness," if that is in fact a word, would be a human quality that an "agenda," an incoporeal inanimate thing, cannot possess).

On the other hand, we have the self-portrait in political courage offered by Mr. Howes. He didn't think the marriage amendment should be on the ballot, but he courageously defied his own conscience and voted to put it there. What statesmanship!

Larry Howes was fortunate

to have served 7 terms. His tenure never really represented the majority citizens of the district he ran in. Until this year he really never had a quality candidate running against him. Others either came in late or were weak and not a viable option to Howes. Howes lengthy run in the House just validates the need for term limits.

Representing the people not the parties--Change Can Occur

If we are all serious about responsive good government over political power we as citizens committed to civic involvement and postive impact on deciison related to the future of Minnesota then we all need to open the candidate selection process and expand citizen participation. Revising the candidate selection process to remove the precint caucus and related endorsement lock and open it up to citizen decisions through open primaries--perhaps even the approach in California where alll the candidates of all parties are on one ballot and the top 2 go to the general regardless of party. The open primary will remove the ideological and special interest lock and get to real issues. Linking in ranked choice voting would go a step further to challenge todays status quo and lock of party power hungry folks. The comment by Hann is reflective of lack of understanding and listening to the public. Arrogance has no place in either party or in our civic discourse-- focus on positive change in the Mn tradition while also being senstive to th demographic influences that are evolving -- the 21st century is change and we need to be change agents innovating as we move ahead -- liivng in the past will make many people a Luddiite--I do not plan to be a Luddite nor do the citizens of Minnesota.

Dave Broden

Voters, watch for real Republican changes.

The Republican's lost the elections locally and nation wide in just about every category you can mention. They however are demonstrating why they are bound to keep on losing. They are still defending their losing positions after election night routs. What they think doesn't matter. All that matters is what the voters think and the voters have spoken very loudly and very clearly. They don't want any of the Republican messengers or any of their messages. Republican's, it is time to retool. Playing musical chairs with your current positions won't do it. You need to make real changes that will appeal to more of the population. The part of the population you have chosen to tick off with you lousy Republican message. You need a message that will serve all Minnesotan's and not just the special few at the top. You need to get rid of the old white guy leadership that is leading from the 50's. Minnesota and America are both diverse, your party needs to be just as diverse, not just a token person here and there. Republican's, remember the voters get another chance to weed out non-performers in two years. Elections prove Non-performance has consequences. The word "Compromise" needs to enter your vocabulary, the fringe element needs to be brought in line, and you need to listen to the voters. Voters you made the right choices in the last election, except for Bachmann.

Retire Reagan

Time for the GOP to start flogging Bush. Either one will do.

They were told.....

Matt Dean & Kurt Zellers were told that the marriage amendment was a BIG mistake before passage during the 2011 Session. They were told it was a generational issue where older voters and rural voters would vote for it but the young and urban voters would vote against it. They were told that it would be like Prohibition, i.e. it may pass but would be repealed in 4, 8 or 12 years simply due demographics. They were told they would lose seats in the House. Unfortunately, they went ahead with it due to a few large GOP donors irrespective of the strategic mistake.

Matt Dean & Kurt Zellers caused irreparable harm to the GOP. Unfortunately, the GOP must repair the damage done to the GOP brand with young voters.