Star Tribune board chair: ‘I’m not backing’ Horner — or any gubernatorial candidate

This morning, political insider, businessman and occasional MinnPost contributor Blois Olson had dropped this little tidbit in his “Morning Take” newsletter:

Two big names we keep hearing that are supporting IP nominee Tom Horner are Star Tribune Chairman Mike Sweeney and former Wells Fargo President Jim Campbell.

This is newsworthy on my beat not just because of Sweeney’s Strib involvement; he sits on the paper’s editorial board that will ultimately make a gubernatorial endorsement.

At least one partisan, Minnesota Democrats Exposed’s Luke Hellier, is making hay out of this, noting Sweeney’s history of giving to Democrats, pronouncing, “It seems as Mark Dayton becomes more and more extreme, Democrats will flee from his campaign and support Tom Horner.”

Hellier elides Sweeney’s full giving record. I looked into Sweeney’s contributions in January, and here’s what I wrote:

…his contributions were also bipartisan, though more Dem-skewing.

Sweeney gave $250 to Democratic Senate incumbent Paul Wellstone in 2002, and $1,000 to Democrat Ford Bell in the 2006 election, won by Amy Klobuchar. Sweeney gave $2,000 to Democratic challenger Mike Ciresi in late 2007, but in January 2008, donated $500 to the Republican Ciresi was trying to oust, Sen. Norm Coleman. (Ciresi didn’t drop out of the race that Al Franken won until March.)

Also in the 2008 cycle, Sweeney gave $1,000 to liberal DFL 3rd Congressional District House candidate Terri Bonoff (later bested for the nomination by Ashwin Madia), and $1,000 to conservative 2nd District Rep. John Kline. He also donated $5,000 to the Democratic National Committee in October 2007.

…Yet Sweeney’s state-level giving is tilted Republican, at least monetarily. His biggest single contribution, $2,000, went to anti-tax Republican Brian Sullivan in 2002. Sullivan later bowed out in favor of Tim Pawlenty. Sweeney later donated $250 to DFL nominee Roger Moe. In 2005, Sweeney gave $250 to Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson for the 2006 governor’s race, but in 2007, after Pawlenty was re-elected, he gave $250 to Republican governor.

So in the last two gubernatorial elections, Sweeney has given the most money to Republican candidates, and among 2006’s finalists, gave to everyone but the Democrat (Mike Hatch).

However, Hellier missed one donation that helps his thesis: in September 2009, DFLer Matt Entenza’s campaign reported a $500 donation from Sweeney. This was right around the time Sweeney was named to the Strib’s board, as the paper was emerging from bankruptcy. Entenza finished third in last week’s DFL primary.

Now, Entenza is the husband of former United Heath exec Lois Quam and was generally considered the most pro-business Democrat. I think the fairest thing you can say about Sweeney’s giving is that it is all over the map.

In January, Sweeney told me he would no longer make political donations. This morning, I asked him if he was a Horner supporter. Here’s what he replied:

I am not backing any candidate. Perhaps this came up because I have publicly said that I believe this is a legitimate three way race and that voters will have three very distinct candidates to choose from.

Olson says he’s talked to more than one source who has talked to Sweeney, and “they tell me that his personal preference is Horner.”

Now, were I a betting man, I’d wager the Strib will endorse Horner come November; after all, he’s the only remaining candidate the paper anointed in the primary. On the DFL side, editorialists picked Margaret Anderson Kelliher, lambasted Entenza and pointedly criticized Dayton’s tax plan. Although conservatives might not accept it, the tax principles noted in the DFL edit reflect perennial editorial-page beliefs.

Of course, there’s always the question of how much endorsements matter. Editorial page editor Scott Gillespie has made it clear the picks are designed to educate, not tell voters how to vote — and voters apparently agree. Just ask former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman or Anderson Kelliher.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 08/18/2010 - 01:39 pm.

    I always love when Luke and his fellow Republicans try to play the “extremist” card. Luke, ask Arnie or Dave Durnenburger about YOUR boy!

  2. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 08/18/2010 - 06:03 pm.

    I think the most likely option is missing. I wouldn’t be surprised in the STrib endorsed no one for governor.

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