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Revved up for recount, MNGOP Chair Sutton won’t buy ‘Lake Wobegon syndrome’

Revved up for recount, MNGOP Chair Sutton won’t buy “Lake Wobegon syndrome”

On the secretary of state’s website, with 100 percent of precincts now reporting, Mark Dayton leads Tom Emmer in the race for governor by 8,775 votes. On a percentage of total votes basis, it’s 43.63 to 43.21 percent, or a margin of 0.42. By law, a margin of 0.5 percent or less triggers an automatic recount. Dems should not be blaming Repubs for the recount. Unless there are changes when the figures are rechecked that create a larger margin, the recount will proceed, at public expense.

If at any point, the Repubs appear to be stalling to intentionally extend Gov. Pawlenty’s hold on the office and  create a period when he and the new Repub majority in the Legislature could rush through actions that would otherwise be vetoed by Dayton, that will be another and much more serious and questionable matter.

Leading the recount charge at the moment is the voluble Minnesota Repub Chair Tony Sutton, who can alternate four or five times within a single sentence between the reasonable argument (it’s mandated by law, there’s a process to be followed and make sure no mistakes were made) and the less-reasonable and far more questionable implication that the election has been stolen by fraud.

“I don’t know if I’m suggesting fraud or incompetence,” Sutton said yesterday at a media event covered by MinnPost’s Jay Weiner. At the same event, he called the Minnesota election system a “disgrace,” although neutral observers generally find it to be one of the best, if not the best, in the country.

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“I don’t want to fall for the Lake Wobegon syndrome that everything’s great in Minnesota,” Sutton told me just now on the phone. Fine. Not everything’s great in Minnesota (and I would have to say that a proper description of the Lake Wobegon syndrome would be that everything’s “pretty good” in Minnesota. Lake Wobegon doesn’t cotton to people who consider themselves great).

But one thing that Sutton keeps saying every time he gets wound up on the subject bugs me because it is illogical or unmathematical or mostly just ahistorical. Every time he says that something “doesn’t smell right” about the current state of the Dayton lead over Emmer (and he did it again when we just spoke) he points out that the Repubs just took control of both houses of the Legislature, knocked off longtime Dem Congressman Jim Oberstar in the forever DFL-leaning 8th District and it just doesn’t seem possible that on such a night, the DFL candidate for guv could beat the Repub.

Here’s the problem (I suspect you can see it coming): It’s absolutely normal in Minnesota for at least the prevailing plurality of voters to divide power between a governor of one party and a Legislature of the other party.

The Minnesota Senate was under DFL control continuously since 1973, during which period Republicans won the governorship  five times. Did the results of those guv races smell funny to Sutton? Control of the Minnesota House has jumped around more than control of the Senate has, but not in any way that would tend to support Sutton’s insistence that it’s strange, bordering on suspicious, for the Minnesota electorate not to install the same party in control of the legislative and executive branches.

The last time a gubernatorial election coincided with an election involving every seat in the Legislature was 1990, when the voters installed a new Republican governor (Arne Carlson) while returning the DFL to majorities in both houses. Anything fishy there?

Sutton also makes much of the fact that Mark Ritchie, whom he considers a very partisan and far-left DFLer, was secretary of state this year when the state (tentatively may have) mysteriously divided power between a DFL governor and a Repub legislative majority by a very narrow margin. Funny thing though, in the last race for guv, the Republican (Tim Pawlenty) won by a less-then-1 percentage point margin, even as the state simultaneously voted the Repub majority out of power in the House. Does Sutton suppose that this result was engineered by the (some would say) highly partisan far-right Republican  secretary of state at the time Mary Kiffmeyer? (If so, it would be strange that Kiffmeyer didn’t engineer herself a new term, since she lost that year to Ritchie.)

Anyhow, I know I’ve gotten carried away. Once I started looking this stuff up, I couldn’t stop (but I will now). I’m just kinda biased toward history, logic and consistency, and the claim of an inexplicable/suspicious (but really quite normal) divided result of an election started bothering me right away on Tuesday when I first heard Sutton make it. So now I’m sure he’ll cut it out.