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

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.

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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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/02/2012 - 02:24 pm.


    Brodkorb’s views on a nicer future for the MN GOP are still based on the same ambition, and so will fail. What the MN GOP needs is a gigantic reality check. I’m just hoping that the MN voters wake up sooner rather than later to give it to them. I think more Minnesotans would like to vote Independent, but because the MN GOP has become a horribly loud-mouthed bully, many of those that would have loved to have voted for you, Mr. Horner, didn’t because Emmer was a terrible consolation prize. Not that Dayton turned out to be the Devil the MN GOP warned us he’d be.

    Until the words and concepts of “compromise,” “moderate,” and “liberal” stop being bully words, Brodkorbs MN Nice GOP will never come to fruition. Too bad for all of us.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/02/2012 - 03:58 pm.

    Thank You, Mr. Horner

    For your close to insider perspective on your former political party, but I must disagree with you on education, where I fear you miss the mark a bit.

    First of all, our Republicans seem to have three primary forms of resistance to adequate public education for all students:

    1) the reality that facts and truth seem to have a decidedly liberal bent, in comparison to the very limited worldview held by those “conservative” bullies who have taken over the the Republican Party for the past thirty+ years,…

    means that far too many Republicans do not actually want their children and grandchildren to receive adequate education. Given the opportunity, these folks, would (and have, in many places, earnestly tried to) turn public education into something more akin to outright indoctrination into their own favorite perspectives.

    Teachers, are disliked and denigrated, as often as not, not because they’re not doing excellent work, but because they work diligently to teach verifiable truth to their students as well as accurate and honest history,…

    because they steadfastly resist the efforts of “conservatives” to turn school into centers for “conservative” indoctrination,…

    because they refuse to be intimidated,…

    and because, in all honesty, they’re often a good deal smarter than their critics (which, of course, gets them branded and dismissed as “elitists,” because all our “conservative” friends KNOW you should never, ever trust anyone who is smarter than you).

    Our “conservative” friends dislike Education Minnesota because it, together with the legal framework that supports it, provides teachers, even in small, isolated, rural schools, the means to resist the efforts of local conservatives to bully the school system into indoctrinating local kids into the “conservative” point of view to the exclusion of all others.

    2) There are those within the business community who believe less well-educated students would be more likely to willingly work for slave wages and less likely to know and assert their rights (limited as those rights, currently are). Politically, less well-educated people are far easier to manipulate (hoodwink) into doing what conservative politicians would like them to do,…

    even to the extent of allowing themselves to be sufficiently distracted by hot-button social issues to ignore that those who claim to share their views on those issues also have in the past, and will in the future, put in place government policies which will have the effect of impoverishing their own supporters in order to enrich themselves.

    Less well-educated people are far more likely to allow themselves to be distracted by the lie that “liberalism” and “big government” are their enemies, and far less likely to take notice of the reality that the source of their problems over the past thirty+ years was and is far more likely to be the private taxes charged them (“profits” extracted from them) by big business and big banking/finance.

    3) Finally the most ardent desire among today’s “conservatives” is that education should be, always and forever, CHEAPER. Such people would NEVER scrimp on what they spend for their own pleasure and amusement in all its many and varied forms, but somehow, for them, the most important attribute for something so vital to our society, our economy, and all of our lives as the adequate education of all of our students must be accomplished by spending as little money as possible.

    In the end, I’m forced to conclude that, since these folks in the rest of their lives are well aware of the truth that “you get what you pay for,” I can only assume that the TRUE desire of the current Republican Party for education in the state of Minnesota is that it should be second or third rate (or lower). They can and will make up any plausible-sounding lies necessary to convince the unwary and the unwise that they have some other, more constructive, agenda, but the reality is, they just want to tear public education to shreds, then declare it a “failure” so they can stop paying for it.

    They’ll all be sending their own kids to private schools, anyway, so they don’t care what kind of education the rest of our kids get, the worse the better (less competition for their own better-educated kids).

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/02/2012 - 11:31 pm.

      Did you read Tom Friedman’s column in the Strib yesterday?

      He went back to his boyhood town of St.Louis Park where 85% of residents don’t have kids in public schools. Apparently St. Louis Park is virtually all Republicans, or President Obama is a big supporter of open enrollment since the piece was meant to show how much better off Minnesota is since it is controlled by Democrats.

  3. Submitted by Chris Bonnell on 11/02/2012 - 04:15 pm.


    Many of us, based on the courage of our convictions, did vote for Mr. Horner without giving thought to the consolation prize, but rather on the basis of his ideas and leadership ability. Until such time when the moderate majority are willing to stand up to the far right, and the far left, we will continue to have to vote for the most acceptable “consolation prize.”

    Today, we talk of seeing a transformation in the Republican Party of Minnesota, which is obviously needed. But in the not to distant past it was the DFL on a journey of reformation. Imagine a Minnesota that trended to the center, and encompassed a 60% + tent. Maybe that would cure our history of having to split the three branches of government, leading to gridlock.

    Hopefully, should the opportunity arise again, more will take a leap of faith toward positive government, rather than settling for consolation prizes.

  4. Submitted by Stu von Wald on 11/02/2012 - 09:29 pm.

    I second Kapphahn…

    I like Mr. Horner but Mr. Kapphan is right. An additional concern I have with what Mr. Horner proposed is that principals (as well as most government officials) are selected through cryonyism rather than merit. The ‘powers above’ who are usually put in place by those in political power at the time of their appointment, ‘coach’ those vying for promotions to tell the interviewers what to say to succeed. It is tantamount to giving test-takers the answers to the questions ahead of time. That is where unions (as pathetic as some have become) can attempt to demand some accountability in the process. Most teachers and government employees I know are very intelligent, caring individuals who are open-minded enough to try new ideas and are committed to ‘best practices’ or ‘better outcomes’ or whatever you want to call it. Take away the cronyism and other b.s. in hiring practices and you’ll find plenty of “effective, creative” teachers (as well as other government employees) providing services that would satisfy a tea partier. Okay, a bit overstated, I admit, but you get the gist 🙂

  5. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 11/03/2012 - 07:40 am.

    No Mention of Religious Zealots?

    It seems that Horner has missed one big factor in the craziness of the IR. No matter…Mormon, Muslim or Catholic, Evangelical, etc….the IR needs to stop pandering to the “factless faithful” and start dealing with the realities of secular society.

    The IR reliance on God and the free market may doom them….not sure that is all that bad!

  6. Submitted by jody rooney on 11/03/2012 - 09:13 am.

    Mr. Horner thank you

    As an economist I like data and evidence that something is effective (it achieves the goal) and then let’s make it cost effective or efficient. Governance should be about evidence based decision making not rhetoric.

    I would love to see the Republican party do an about face and embrace the philosophies of Horner, Quie, and Carlson and the other good people who were sensible about measured progress but I don’t see that happening soon. But by I wish you all the luck in the world. The sooner the folks like Bachman, Dean and others are out of office the better.

  7. Submitted by David Broden on 11/03/2012 - 09:14 am.

    Minnesota Poltical Party Vision

    Tom Horner definitely has the vision required for politcal party effectiveness and discourse in Minnesota. As a former long term GOP activiist, campaign manager/strategist, and advisor I will add a few other comments. First GOP candidates and the party MUST learn to connect with Minnesota citizens not seem to be the arrogant isolated group. GOP must realize that the tradition of progressive government in Mn continues and was lead for years by GOP in many areas of the state. The state is not GOP or DFL — the 30+% independent group drives the decisions– both parties need to pay attention.Party leadership has not only become ideological but also “Power Driven” — Both the GOP and DFL had focus on good government when the leaders were focused to positive legislation and not just seeking power Recall the years of Forthyse and Thiss, Slocum etc. in GOP and Farr and Spanus in DFL.The party retoric starts with the leadership. There is a need for INNOVATION in Mn for government ( we have done it before with Metro Council, fiscal dispartiy, Regional government format); we need other incentives for business and jobs similar to the taconite amendment–(there are ideas for this but not discussed); education must be our strength and innovation has been suggested but can move faster. There needs to be party lead dialogue on these topics not only on spending and shrinking government. We have a tax system for the last century — we need a new tax system that works in the economy of today. This list can continue but the real need is to shift from Power and retoric to real solutions and make the dialogue between parties on the how of solution not whether the change is needed. If this begins we will see a return of dialogue and the entry of a different group of qualified candidates willing to be in poltiical process> i want to be part of the catalyst to make this happen.

    Dave Broden

  8. Submitted by mark wallek on 11/03/2012 - 09:43 am.

    Thank You Mr. Family Values Guy

    After your torrid liason on capitol hill you really think anyone wants what is so clearly a worthless opinion?

  9. Submitted by Dick Bernard on 11/03/2012 - 10:46 am.

    I third Kappahn and others …

    … about Tom’s back-handed swipe (“barrier to meaningful reform”) at Education Minnesota.
    There’s always more to add. Succinctly, I was MEA/Education Minnesota staff representing public school teachers for 27 years; before that a classroom teacher for nine years; before that the child of two career public school teachers; today, parent of a middle school principal and grandparent of eight kids in Minnesota public schools. Etc.
    Public Education is far too complicated to be reduced to a soundbite, but a soundbite is what it has become, a hate word for its enemies (apparently not including Mr. Horner, but he still succumbs to the apparent need to toss in a gross generalization.)
    I would guess that Principals, to which Horner would give great power, are silently grateful that they don’t have to be solely responsible for cleaning house.
    The Union serves a useful function, and always has.
    I don’t favor everything Education Minnesota does, but public education employees should be very grateful for it.

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