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The recount: Republicans and the risk of Andersonization

Tom Emmer’s latest statement is that he “will not participate in using the law just to delay things” so that the next legislative session might start off with Tim Pawlenty still in office. “This process is going to be handled according the letter of the law,” Emmer said yesterday.

Of course, it would be legal if, after the recount process is completed, Emmer and the MNGOP decided to file an election contest, which is a court challenge to the result of the recount. And it would be legal to appeal the result of that contest. And if that happens, the court process will almost certainly not be completed by Jan. 3, the day the next governor is supposed to take over from Pawlenty.

“If there are honest issues that have to be addressed, we’ll have to wait and see,” Emmer said.

Emmer’s statement is pitch perfect for the moment. If something big and potentially outcome-changing surfaces during the recount and Canvassing Board process, then no one should fault the Repubs if they see the process through. Of course, views may differ on whether “honest issues” that are potentially outcome-changing have arisen, or whether Republicans are stalling. The “letter of the law” leaves that decision up to Emmer and the Repubs, but if they decide that “honest issues” have arisen, and the public doesn’t agree, the Repubs surely know they are sitting on a keg of political dynamite. Of course they know that.

It was well within the letter of the law in December of 1976, when Gov. Wendell Anderson, then the golden boy of Minnesota politics, resigned in the middle of his term so that his lieutenant governor, Rudy Perpich, could appoint him to fill the vacancy in the U.S. Senate created by the election of Walter Mondale to the vice presidency.

Wendell Anderson
Wendell Anderson

Anderson had been reelected as governor in 1974 by a margin of (hold your breath, we don’t get guv race results like this any more) 63-29 percent. It must have seemed reasonable to Anderson and his retinue that such a large and brilliant mandate made it fairly obvious who Minnesotans would want representing them in Washington less than two years later.

At least as I’ve always heard the story, if he had appointed a respectable DFLer caretaker to serve out Mondale’s term, Anderson would have been an overwhelming favorite to win the seat in 1978.

But he didn’t appoint a caretaker. He appointed himself and he never got elected to anything since the day he did that.

It was legal, but it was — quite understandably — perceived as arrogant and grasping, as showing insufficient respect for the people’s prerogative of deciding who should represent them. It was legal, but it was cheating, tricky, technicality-exploiting pettifogging.

I arrived in Minnesota in 1977 when the fallout from Anderson’s self-appointment still hadn’t settled. Plenty of people still felt he would be elected to a full term in his own right in 1978. Minnesota hadn’t elected a Republican senator for 20 years. And the backlash against the self-appointment was bound to blow over, wasn’t it? But Anderson was no longer any golden boy, and any discussion of his candidacy had to include a denunciation of the self-appointment.

Of course, other factors contributed to the 1978 election results that came to be nicknamed the Minnesota Massacre, but In the end, Anderson lost that Senate race to Republican Rudy Boschwitz by a margin of (hold your breath again) 57-40 percent. Perpich got beat too (soundly, 52-45, by Al Quie) and his role in the Anderson appointment obviously didn’t help him.

And it would be legal , in 2010-11 for Tom Emmer and/or the Minnesota Republican Party to file an election contest, even if after the recount they are trailing by thousands of votes.

I’m not saying they are going to. I actually expect they will not. So far as I’ve seen, no one in a position to speak publicly for Emmer has threatened to adopt a strategy of delay and Emmer has explicitly forsworn such a strategy. (I don’t know anything about the unnamed Republican operative who seemed to say so to the Strib on Wednesday.)

It’s quite possible that Repubs — whose hands are quite full preparing to take control of both houses of the Legislature — are spending a lot less time on the stall strategy than DFLers imagine.

But if the recount ends with Dayton still up by multiple thousands of votes, and the number of votes that could be switched in an election contest is small and the argument for switching them is weak, it would still be legal to file a contest.

But it would also be risky. And the risk to anyone who seemed to be exploiting such dilatory tactics could be called by a word that I just made up when I wrote the headline of this post: Andersonization.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Lora Jones on 11/12/2010 - 10:47 am.

    Eric, I hope you’re right that the Repugs will behave rationally, and in the interests of the state, and forgo an election contest if the margin is still in the 9,000 vote range. Unfortunately, this past election cycle saw so much ginned up fear and anti-government, anti-democracy demagoguery, rational behavior starting in December, 2010, would require a u-turn.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/12/2010 - 11:14 am.

    I have never been listed among Tom Emmer’s biggest fans. But I will not assume that Tom Emmer would litigate election issues in bad faith, unless he gives me good and proper reason to and he has given none so far. Tom conducted what I regard as an honorable and issues oriented campaign which quite frankly raised my opinion of him as a person, if not as a policy maker. In this post election period, everything he has done has been entirely within his rights. He has asked questions that need to be answered. He has said responsible things.

    It’s just that I have this half superstitious belief that if you assume the worst in people, that’s what you are likely to get. In any event, that mode of thinking, that the guy you disagree with is a bad guy, is a style of thinking for which my patience has been completely exhausted.

  3. Submitted by Glenn Gilbert on 11/12/2010 - 11:52 am.

    The shadow of the Wendy Anderson fallout SHOULD loom large over this recount.

    When a non-winning candidate or party begins to question the itegrity of the process itself (i.e. J. Miller in Alaska) they damage the system for everyone in future elections.

    What is really sad is the campaigns today seem to be more about discrediting their opponents than promoting themselves. And failing that, to use that same tactic to undermine confidence in the system itself.

    Maybe I’m naive, but I would rather hear a discussion of the issues and policies in a way that respects the other candidates, respects the people working for a fair election, and respects the ability of the electorate to make informed decisions.

    When the votes are counted (again), let’s hope it’s over.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/12/2010 - 11:57 am.

    Ok, I get it. Republicans winning an election = irrational behavior to you people.

    What are you people afraid of? We’ve had one-party rule in Washington for two years now and that hasn’t upset anyone here. What’s the big deal if Pawlenty has to hang around another few weeks? (heh)

  5. Submitted by Craig Westover on 11/12/2010 - 12:11 pm.

    Thank you, Hiram.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/12/2010 - 12:21 pm.

    A good example of Republican ‘reasonable grounds for challenging a ballot’:
    I just read that one of Joe Miller’s people challenged a ballot for Lisa Murkowski on the grounds that “Lisa” was written with a cursive “L”.

  7. Submitted by Christa Moseng on 11/12/2010 - 12:37 pm.

    Subdivision 1.General.

    Any eligible voter, including a candidate, may contest in the manner provided in this chapter: (1) the nomination or election of any person for whom the voter had the right to vote if that person is declared nominated or elected to the senate or the house of representatives of the United States, or to a statewide, county, legislative, municipal, school, or district court office; or (2) the declared result of a constitutional amendment or other question voted upon at an election. The contest may be brought over an irregularity in the conduct of an election or canvass of votes, over the question of who received the largest number of votes legally cast, over the number of votes legally cast in favor of or against a question, or on the grounds of deliberate, serious, and material violations of the Minnesota Election Law.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/12/2010 - 02:34 pm.

    Thanks for the legal reference Christopher.

    So now we know that ANYONE in the state can file an election contest. No doubt someone will.

    BUT it’s also quite possible that given the margin of votes, and the very straightforward, well-documented election, canvassing and recount process in Minnesota, such a contest would be tossed out pretty quickly as having no basis in fact for its assertions, especially after the changes put in place this year for how absentee ballots were accepted or rejected.

    I can’t help but think that, when it comes down to it, our Republican friends in the legislature would prefer NOT to have any period when they could, theoretically do anything they wanted with King Timmy there to sign it all.

    To have such a period would put them in the position where their base would be LIVID if they didn’t pass the most complete prohibition of abortion imaginable, tax cuts for the wealthy, and spending cuts so draconian as to cause massive layoffs of government workers including law enforcement, fire protection, judicial system, and teachers, not to mention the bankruptcy and closing of many nursing homes and small hospitals.

    This would deepen the recession across the state to near depression levels even while their cuts forced massive property tax increases or massive decreases in such routine things as plowing snow, patrolling streets, responding to accidents, etc. all of which would leave the general public OUTRAGED.

    Clearly entering such a period would mean being proverbially “caught between a rock and a hard place.”

    Even without such a period, they are now going to be in a position to have to propose ACTUAL SOLUTIONS to the budget deficit they so willingly helped create by supporting King Timmy up and down the line against the more responsible solutions proposed by the Democrats.

    Considering the state of the economy, any solutions they propose, though very popular with their base (30% of voters, more or less), will be very UNpopular with the general public and will be seen as tin-eared, tone-deaf efforts to further damage the state’s economy and quality of life at exactly the time when the government should be doing everything it can to help those who are struggling.

    Gov. Dayton, in opposing them at every turn will seem, to the general public, to be a hero standing between the public and a dysfunctional legislature bent on destroying the state and the lives of its citizens.

    After all, the vast majority of voters voted for a candidate who would be willing to raise taxes as part of whatever solution is devised to deal with our massive deficit. Considering the financial stress so many regular folk are under, the legislature’s unwillingness to return taxes on the richest of the rich to where they were prior to the Swiggum/Moe/Ventura budget compromise, in other words to restore us to greater tax fairness, will turn the public against our Republican friends very quickly and for a very long time to come.

    Indeed, they’ve taken power in the legislature exactly when it’s becoming clear that their favorite approaches to our state’s problems, the only approaches King Timmy was willing to accept, have very negative long-term effects and don’t improve anything except for the bank balances of their wealthiest supporters.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/12/2010 - 03:39 pm.

    While any eligible voter may legally contest an election, I believe that they must pay the (considerable) costs.
    If Gov Timmy does it as a private citizen, he’s got to come up with the cash.

  10. Submitted by John Ferman on 11/12/2010 - 04:39 pm.

    I think the strategy of the Rs is no be able to ram-rod their stuff through the Lege with Pawlenty in caretaker place. The incoming Rs do not have to lift a finger in the recount game; other R monied folks are doing that. Why should they care about 2012 when winning now is all that matters. Besides even if a bum smell arises, two years is a political eternity and stink & slime ads are proven to win and the Rs have the money for that by the bucket full.

  11. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 11/12/2010 - 05:51 pm.

    Isn’t time for all concerned to let the recount process to quickly proceed with all due dispatch?

    Eric Black’s article about the MN politics of doing political machinations that are out of sorts should be a warning to all. There are consequences to political missteps. Politicians take note.

    Can’t all the political malarkey, posturing, prognosticating, second guessing, and just plain ambiguous hot-air expulsion that is being put forth to all of us normal folks be stopped. Let the recount do its thing and officially tell us Mark Dayton is Governor won by a few thousand votes.

    Unless you had 10,000 illegal aliens, ineligible felons, deceased persons, or the Chicago mafia stuffing Minnesota ballot boxes or hacking into the electronic voting data tallies then let the process take its course. There are more pressing social and personal life issues to deal with!

  12. Submitted by David Willard on 11/12/2010 - 08:28 pm.

    What a nice, caring bit of advice given to “Repubs” by an impartial journalist. I bet the Repubs will thank you for the sage guidance, Mr Eric Black

  13. Submitted by Aaron Vehling on 11/13/2010 - 03:10 pm.


    You overlooked a better analogy: Elmer L. Andersen. His story is a bit better example of “Andersenization.”

    There isn’t a direct parallel because Andersen was an incumbent and Emmer isn’t, but Elmer did accept the results of an independent recount panel and proceeded to cede his seat to Rolvaag.

    The margins were a lot slimmer in that race (within about a 100 votes), but the precedent is there: Don’t drag Minnesotans through un-necessary legal hassles.

  14. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/15/2010 - 06:36 am.

    Concerning tin eared proposals, the often unmentioned thing is that the public is willing to pass tax increases in certain situations. The public will pass school referendums raising school levies if the case is properly made or at least made well. A couple of years ago, the state passed the Legacy Amendment, resulting in a significant tax increase, which I thought was terrible policy. Still the public was willing to increase taxes when they understood and approved of where the money was going. “Tin-eared” is not the adjective I would have chosen for those politicians who put the Legacy Amendment on the ballot. It would be more fairly applied to me, I think, as one who strongly opposed it.

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