Is GOP Chair Keith Downey repeating Tony Sutton’s mistakes with ad campaign?

Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt and Senate Minority Leader David Hann were in the loop about the new ad campaign being run by the Republican Party of Minnesota urging lawmakers to return the entirety of the state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus to taxpayers. 

“We were very transparent,” about the ad, said Party Chair Keith Downey. “We’ve been talking to legislative leadership. They understand the party has a job and role different than theirs.”  

Yet that hasn’t prevented some disgruntlement among some legislators — many of whom have their own spending priorities — over the campaign. 

“I’ve heard a little,” said former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. “You’re definitely going to get the ‘Don’t tell me what to do’ response,” she said. “Individual legislators are going to be worried about their district concerns or about using some of the surplus for transportation, specifically.” 

Koch should know. In 2011, she was on the receiving end of a message from then-party chair Tony Sutton — a letter to legislators urging Republicans to “resist any revenue enhancement proposals … that not only violate our principles but are bad politics and bad public policy.”

Is the Republican Party ad similar to the Sutton letter?  “I don’t know that it does differ,” said Koch.

Certainly, the reaction of DFL Party Chair Ken Martin hasn’t changed. When asked about the Sutton letter in March 2011, Martin told MinnPost: “It’s not up to the chair of the party to control what happens at the Legislature.”  

“The fact is that Chairman Downey should do his job of building the party to win elections and focus less on taking positions such as this which are squarely at odds with the highest ranking elected Republican in the State of Minnesota,” Martin said yesterday in response to the GOP’s “Give It Back” campaign. 

The more things change, the more they remain the same. The DFL maintains its juggling act of accommodating its liberal and conservative wings, while the Republicans try to balance legislators’ different interests while maintaining allegiance to core principles, especially lowering government spending. 

Tony Sutton
Tony Sutton

According to Koch, Republican Party leaders tend to be activists, and “Keith has definitely thrown himself into the activist role by putting himself in the ad,” referring to Downey’s role as the ad’s narrator.   

But the GOP ad differs in one significant aspect from the Sutton letter.  The latter was an ad hominem warning that came in the spring of 2011, just a few months after the Republican Party had banished a group of moderates for not supporting gubernatorial candidate (now U.S. Rep.) Tom Emmer. 

“Our message is directly to the people, not to the legislators,” Downey said, pointing out that the party didn’t need to spend $150,000 to reach Republican legislators directly.    

Downey said the ad is simply making the case that taxpayers deserve a break when a $2 billion tax increase in 2013 resulted in a nearly $2 billion surplus in 2015.  

Still, legislators watch TV and go online too. Will this ad pressure them indirectly?  

Downey acknowledges it could.

“The House leadership comes out with their budget targets on March 23 and that will be the outline of their budget proposal, “ he said. “Our hope is that shining a light on this issue broadly to the public will have an impact on the debate that occurs from there.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/12/2015 - 12:20 pm.

    Forget the ad…

    He repeating the same mistakes Ventura and Pawlenty made. First give out a $300 check. Then you end up taking $2 billion from the schools because you’ve created a big budget deficit.

  2. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 03/12/2015 - 12:39 pm.

    It is idiotic to spend $150,000 on a message to do something that would cost Minnesotans closer to millions to do. How far in the hole are Republicans now? Double down on idiocy is what we expect, I guess.

    Further, it would benefit the people of Minnesota more to fund what we need government to provide at levels that are more than the niggardly and ineffective levels imposed during the Pawlenty administration.

    If the Legislature can’t find a reasonable mix of funding while keeping a healthy revenue reserve for a rainy day, members should just go home and find something they can do without screwing things up as badly as they have this state of ours.

    • Submitted by Danny Bredahl on 03/12/2015 - 12:58 pm.

      It is even more idiotic when you don’t have the money to pay for it. Or when you are stiffing other vendors who you owe money to pad the pockets of the local TV stations. Including one owned by the biggest GOP benefactor in MN.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/12/2015 - 01:27 pm.

    Ad hominem?

    Sorry, I can’t let this one go by any more.

    “Ad hominem” is not a communication addressed to a specific person or group. The term really describes a type of logical fallacy based on personal characteristics that have nothing to do with the veracity of an argument (e.g. saying that Rush Limbaugh is wrong because he’s overweight, rather than the fact that he’s wrong).

    • Submitted by Bill McKinney on 03/12/2015 - 05:12 pm.


      This is why I read the comments on MinnPost! Thanks for explaining a term I’ve probably used incorrectly for my entire life!

  4. Submitted by jody rooney on 03/13/2015 - 09:51 am.

    Spending isn’t the same as investment

    and while I think the GOP party’s message was wrong I don’t think it is wrong to have a discussion about what would be the best way to spend the a surplus

    Throwing more operating money at schools may not be the best strategy. Fixing infrastructure might be a better choice. While the GOP would argue that to return it to tax payers is good for growth I would argue that repairing public goods (I think schools need to be repaired but I don’t know that it’s a money issue) that increase our productivity would be a better investment at this point. I really would like to see a discussion on the bigger issue of strategic investment in the state rather than a plethora of bills spending the money or giving it back.

    Thanks RB Holbrook I leaned something too.

  5. Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/13/2015 - 09:54 am.

    The party of fiscal responsibility

    “maintaining allegiance to core principles”

    “resist any revenue enhancement proposals … that not only violate our principles but are bad politics and bad public policy.”

    “More Than $1 Million in Debt, GOP Spends $150,000 on New Ad Campaign

    “Coming soon to a TV near you, Minnesota GOP Chair Keith Downey stars in his own commercial lobbying to spend the state’s $2 billion surplus on a $350 check for every Minnesotan.”

    “Dangers of ‘Give It Back’—Remember Jesse Checks?

    “The ‘Give It Back’ Act is reminiscent of the heady days of 1999 to 2001, when state policymakers responded to a string of state budget surpluses with a string of tax cuts, including two large income tax reductions, sales tax rebates (remember the ‘Jesse checks’?), and the elimination of the general education property tax.

    “The aftermath of these policies left the state with insufficient resources to cover its long-term commitments, resulting in recurring budget deficits over the next several years. Because anti-tax leadership could not fathom the notion of state tax increases to counteract the problems caused by the state tax cuts of 1999 to 2001, the only available option was a string of spending cuts that led to large real per pupil cuts for K-12 education, increasing class sizes, soaring higher education tuition costs, cuts in local government budgets combined with perennial property tax increases, and a disinvestment in state infrastructure needs. In short, the last time state policymakers ‘gave it all back,’ the outcome was not what anyone predicted or desired.”

    I’m genuinely curious as to what those who consider themself a conservative Republican think about this one.

    Should the legislature/governor give it all back?

    If lawmakers don’t advocate and vote for that (as in putting together a “Taxpayer Surplus Relief” bill and running it through the committee process, calling for “roll call” votes at every step), are they violating core conservative principles?

    Is not giving it all back bad politics and bad public policy?

    And, if so, should Minnesota voters not vote for those that violate those core principles and engage in bad public policy?

  6. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 03/13/2015 - 10:17 am.

    Is it right?

    The arguments always seem to be that we get a budget deficit soon after giving money back. That’s because we keep government on autopilot and when there is more money, the autopilot is jacked even higher. This money is not the government’s money. It is our money.
    DFL Chair Martin is trying to characterize this as GOP being bad money managers. The MN GOP being in debt does not help their cause. But this is an issue of our state taking more money than it was set up for. Martin will always want the case that we spend more. It’s always easy to spend other peoples’ money and he never addresses the premise of what he would do with the money. It is obvious he wants to punt it to those elected and let the DFLers do what DLFers normally do, spend more money.
    The GOP just wants to make people think what is the balance because the money belongs to the people. Even Bakk says programs first, tax cuts second. Just more proof that no matter how you sling it, the DFL wants their babies taken care of first over all the family budgets in our state.

Leave a Reply