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Too much drama? MN GOP debates endorsement process in wake of court candidate troubles

Michelle MacDonald
Michelle MacDonald

Leaders of the Republican Party of Minnesota are performing some political triage in an effort to distance the party from the drama around state Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald, whose DUI charge was not revealed prior to her being the party’s endorsee to challenge Justice David Lillehaug.  

At a meeting last week, the state GOP executive committee debated changing the way judicial candidates are selected for endorsement. The group also signaled to delegates that support for MacDonald, an attorney, is limited after further revelations of unusual behavior inside and outside the courtroom.

The controversy began at the state party convention in May, when the 20-person Judicial Elections Committee offered MacDonald’s name for endorsement — but did not reveal to convention delegates that she was facing a DWI charge. At the time, the committee chair, Doug Seaton, wanted to offer a minority report revealing the arrest to delegates, but was voted down by the rest of the committee. 

“The minority wanted to disclose to the delegates her DWI, which would have provided the transparency that the delegates deserve,” said Bill Jungbauer, member of the state executive committee that took up the matter last Thursday.  “I’d want to know — damn straight.”

At the party executive meeting last week, the committee and party officers read two emails that further eroded MacDonald’s standing as an endorsed candidate. 

The first, purported to be from the Judicial Elections Committee, was addressed to convention delegates. And rather than backing down, it used the DWI charge as further justification of MacDonald’s candidacy to be a judge.

“A recent Star Tribune article erroneously claimed that our Committee was unaware of attorney Michelle MacDonald’s DWI charge,” the email began. “That claim is false. We knew a lot about it, and we are convinced that she is innocent.”

“In spite of a lack of evidence, a city attorney from Rosemount … threw the book at her, falsely charging her with a DUI and other spurious charges,”

 The email was signed by 17 of the committee members.

But committee chair Seaton has disputed that MacDonald’s email was an official committee document. In an email to Republican Party of Minnesota chair Keith Downey, Seaton wrote that the “decision to recommend endorsement of Michelle MacDonald was not unanimous and was opposed by several members of the [Judicial Election Committee].”

“Although the opponents of the nomination sought permission to present the minority report nonetheless, because of the gravity of the issues…the majority refused to permit this action,” wrote Seaton. 

So just who is this majority that didn’t want to reveal MacDonald’s arrest? By the rules of the state party, they are representatives of each the state’s judicial districts.  As a result, party insiders say, committee members end up being activists who often volunteer to be on a judicial committee because they feel they’ve been wronged by the justice system in the past — a microcosm of how party activists wield inordinate influence throughout the state GOP.

The executive committee quickly agreed to circulate Seaton’s opposing response to all party delegates. The email supporting MacDonald “came off as coming from the committee itself,” Jungbauer said.  “It was misleading on two levels. After the convention, the committee no longer exists. New members need to be named for the next convention.”

That may not happen at all, if some insiders get their way. Party leaders are acknowledging the judicial endorsement system needs to be changed, and privately are considering other ways of vetting judicial candidates.

Jungbauer, for one, has suggested that the party’s nominating committee handle all the vetting, a change that is gaining support but would require a change in the party’s constitution.  

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/21/2014 - 09:46 am.


    So the GOP is seeking to remove it’s members’ influence from it’s own endorsement process.


  2. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 07/21/2014 - 09:48 am.

    DUI Charge

    In my opinion a single DUI charge is not a big concern. Anyone of us who has ever been out to a bar with friends and had a few cocktails who has not had a DUI just has not been caught.

    Multiple offenses are another story.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/21/2014 - 10:07 am.

      A single DUI charge isn’t the issue here. Many candidates have run and gotten elected with DUIs on record.

      It’s the cover-up and lies that tell the true tale of the candidate and their supporters. Well, that and the bible-thumping.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/21/2014 - 10:40 am.

      By the way, what you wrote sounds like a tacit endorsement that drinking and driving is perfectly acceptable. I don’t think that’s what you were going for.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 07/21/2014 - 11:42 am.

      Please don’t

      When my trips to the bar with friends involve enough cocktails to get a DUI, I call a cab. I wish you would do the same.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 07/21/2014 - 12:56 pm.

      her behavior after she was stopped…

      is the issue. She refused to be tested contrary to the implied consent law. Then she had her own test done a day later when her blood alcohol level would have naturally been back to normal and now claims that proves her innocence. Since she refused the test she has no case unless she will be arguing constitutional issues at her dui hearing. That and the wheel chair story demonstrate that she feels free to not obey Minnesota laws when she doesn’t want to. Exactly how can a member of the state supreme court take that position? That the GOP chooses someone like that as their supreme court candidate demonstrates that they have no respect for our laws. Conservatives, to my mind, used to represent the position that you obey the law. Now they represent the most extremely selfish people who are willing to secede from our country rather than obey laws they disagree with. And they represent that as a “patriotic” position.

    • Submitted by Kenneth Adams on 07/21/2014 - 05:13 pm.

      Please stay off the road

      ..when drunk. I don’t want you aiming your car at me.

  3. Submitted by jody rooney on 07/21/2014 - 10:18 am.

    No Mr. Yankovic we just don’t drive

    So I would rethink your drinking and driving behavior.

    You can get as overly served as you want but don’t get behind the wheel. This is the 2012 data on the Department of Public Safety’s web site.

  4. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 07/21/2014 - 01:37 pm.

    Not the only issue

    Important to look at Ms MacDonald’s entire career especially in the courtroom.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/21/2014 - 01:42 pm.

    No, I think a single DUI is an issue

    This is Lawyer running to be a Judge, I think this more relevant than many other positions. A lawyer can be disbarred for criminal offenses. MOST people manage to get through life just fine without ever being arrested for anything, let’s not lower the bar here, especially for the State Supreme Court.

    This isn’t about chemical dependency, it’s about getting behind a wheel and endangering the public.

    Getting back to the GOP, basically the problem is very simple but very very very serious. The committee deliberately withheld information, this was dishonest, and stupid because the information was bound to come out anyways. This is so typical of a party that has been cultivating intellectual dishonesty and mediocrity for decades. It’s getting to the point where the Republicans simply won’t or don’t have the intellectual power to produce effective public policy or electable candidates, or candidates that can govern well if they get elected. These dunderheads decided to go ahead and make their own legal judgement about MacDonald (she’s innocent) and then use that judgement as justification for secrecy. This is simply stupid three ways from Sunday. And yeah, its a mess, you’re telling us that of all the republican lawyers in MN THIS is the best they could come up with? The only policy the GOP needs to considering is it’s policy of marginalizing intelligent people who understand facts and issues and are capable of sound judgement.

  6. Submitted by David Broden on 07/21/2014 - 03:00 pm.

    Judicial Selection Process

    Politics has no place in the selection of Judges at any level. The impartial Selection process evolved by a group of thoughtful individuals who have served the state over a number of years and in multiple positions offers MN the opportunity to be a leader in the quality of judicial selections. Opening the process to political ideology and process does not meet the objective standards in any way regardless of anyone’s political views. Citizens from all of MN should be outraged that a political party can hide background of a candidate and then endorse perhaps based on ideology rather that judicial discipline and expertise. Our judicial positions require unique qualities in the individuals, trust, integrity, rigorous approach and more. The MN GOP must recind the nomination and establish support for the Proposed Judgcial selection Process. PS– I have been a life long Moderate GOP and leader BUT for the future????
    Dave Broden

  7. Submitted by Sagrid Edman on 07/21/2014 - 03:17 pm.

    Judge candidate

    How does the selection committee get to decide if she is innocent or guilty? That is bizarre.

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