The Minnesota Republican party appears to be serious about changing the way it handles endorsements of judicial candidates, a move precipitated by the political circus created around Michelle MacDonald’s bid for the state Supreme Court last year.
In a survey taken at the party’s state central committee meeting last weekend, 68 percent of the delegates indicated they wanted a change from the current procedure, which bypasses the party’s nominating committee in favor a special judicial selection committee.
The survey offered the delegates four options: no change; requiring judicial candidates to go through the traditional nominating committee; making judicial endorsements at the congressional district level; or eliminating judicial endorsements altogether.
The largest vote getter — 26 percent — was actually in favor of eliminating, which would align the GOP with the DFL’s policy of not making judicial endorsements.
The seeds of discontent with the Republican selection process were planted a year ago at the state convention in Rochester. Along with an endorsement for governor and U.S. Senator, the convention endorsed a Supreme Court candidate, attorney Michelle MacDonald.
Unbeknownst to the delegates, however, was MacDonald’s legal history, which included an arrest for drunk driving and an incident of forcible removal from a courtroom during her defense of a client.
Yet the twenty members of the judicial selection committee did know of MacDonald’s record when they offered her name for endorsement, but a majority of the committee voted to withhold the information from the convention floor.
What followed was a political mash-up worthy of the Keystone Kops. The Republican Party did not rescind the endorsement, but it quickly distanced itself from MacDonald, including banning her from the party booth at the State Fair. MacDonald showed up anyway, making sure the media was in attendance as she was removed from the premises.
U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, who earlier had pledged allegiance to endorsed candidates, were forced to disavow MacDonald.
MacDonald, meanwhile, claimed to receive threatening phone calls from a party insider asking her to step aside. She filed a complaint against the Republican Party, that was ultimately dismissed.
As for the drunk driving arrest, MacDonald was eventually found guilty of refusing to take breathalyzer test and speeding, but not the charge of drunk driving.
In November, MacDonald lost the Supreme Court race to David Lillehaug by seven points — but remains a heroine to many in the party who are convinced the judicial system is stacked against them.
As first reported by Michael Brodkorb, MacDonald has applied with Gov. Dayton’s office to be appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Alan Page.
The Republican Party is taking to steps to ensure that its next political celebrity is known for less controversial reasons. Although the survey of central committee delegates is only advisory, it’s highly likely that the party’s by-laws on judicial selection will undergo a change the next time Republicans gather for a state convention, which could be as early as this fall.