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Note to Brodkorb: A few tweaks won’t fix the Republican Party

Reforming and expanding the Republican Party will take more than process improvement. For starters, it should drop the anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric.

Who knew Michael Brodkorb would find new life as Lesley Gore? Nearly 50 years after Gore hit the pop charts with her song of teenage angst, “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To,” Brodkorb is singing the same refrain about Minnesota Republicans.

Tom Horner
MinnPost/Jana Freiband
Tom Horner

Brodkorb argues that the GOP should reform an endorsement process that produces candidates who can’t win statewide offices. He also calls for repitching the old Republican Big Tent. In particular, says Brodkorb, it’s time to let bygones be bygones and patch the differences with those who were once the party’s stalwarts.

“One organizational advantage I see the Minnesota DFL has over the Republican Party of Minnesota is the cohesiveness between Democrats of different generations,” says Brodkorb. “All political families have disagreements, but I’ve noticed over the last few years how Republicans have repeatedly cast aside those Republicans who have fallen out of favor because of policy positions … We can be a political party which includes the ideas of Tom Emmer, Al Quie, Jim Ramstad, Norm Coleman, Tom Horner, Tim Pawlenty, Arne Carlson and Kurt Bills.”

I strongly disagree with and even resent the politics of meanness that Brodkorb raised to an art form, but I long have acknowledged that he is an insightful analyst of Minnesota politics. To his credit, Brodkorb doesn’t duck responsibility for the role he has played in defining today’s GOP. If Minnesota Republicans aren’t made in his image, many at least are defined by his image-making.

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So his admonitions to the Republican Party shouldn’t be dismissed. But neither should they be accepted without challenge. I didn’t leave the Republican Party for reasons that can be fixed by a few tweaks. Perhaps Brodkorb is stalking for a 2014 candidate who can’t win an endorsement from a GOP convention, or maybe he has had a sincere epiphany. In either case, reforming and expanding the Republican Party will take more than process improvement. The challenge isn’t just to put a more inclusive face on the Republican Party; it is to make the Republican Party a more effective voice in creating opportunities for prosperity for all Minnesotans. To that end, some suggestions:

  • Drop the no-new-taxes and anti-government rhetoric. Minnesotans aren’t anti-government. We aren’t even anti-tax. Given the opportunity, Minnesotans in overwhelming numbers are willing to tax ourselves at higher levels (the 2008 Legacy Amendment and the high approval rate of school referenda, to cite just two examples) for programs that are valued. Yet, too often, the Republicans make the fight over how much government spends. Yes, that fight rallies some, but it ultimately cedes the agenda to the spending crowd. The challenge isn’t smaller government, it is better government. Give Minnesotans a vision for creating a government that produces better outcomes, and Minnesotans will join in eliminating unnecessary government.
  • Stop being the party of simple-minded solutions. Take health care, for example. Obamacare may turn out to be an expensive and ineffective expansion of government entitlements. But access to affordable, high-quality care is a real issue, one that will be a drag on economic competitiveness if it’s not resolved. The empty rhetoric of “marketplace solutions” is not a viable alternative. During the height of the recession, Minnesota was the only state in the nation to have a significant increase in the number of uninsured children. That’s unacceptable. It also sets the stage for even more expensive solutions as unhealthy children become unhealthy – and unproductive – adults. And it’s not just health care. The Republican legislative majority over the past two years has given Minnesota another budget based on cooked books; constitutional amendments that treat our most important governance tool as an instrument for political leverage; and a tax system that doesn’t make the state more competitive, it makes property taxes more burdensome.
  • Quit blaming Education Minnesota for all the ills of public schools and stop offering taxpayer-funded choice as the only solution. Choice is good and the teachers’ union is a barrier to meaningful reform. But the fixes to public education don’t stop there. Be bold. Hire and train excellent principals, then have the courage to put them in charge of schools. Give them the power to hire and fire teachers, then hold the leaders accountable. Integrate technology into learning – not just by putting a white board in every classroom or giving iPads to students. Create a model of learning in which students own the interaction with information. Self-directed study – under the guidance of effective, creative teachers – is the model in a  few innovative schools and it’s working. 

Ultimately, Brodkorb’s musings are those of a person who still believes in political parties that are geared toward one thing: winning elections. Republicans of the past rallied around candidates who could govern. There’s a big difference.

Tom Horner is a public affairs/public relations consultant and was the Independence Party candidate for governor in 2010.

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