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.
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.