Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Michelle MacDonald was only part of the reason the Minnesota GOP changed its judicial endorsement process

Michelle MacDonald
Michelle MacDonald

When the Minnesota Republican Party got together for its state convention a couple of weeks ago, delegates voted to eliminate its judicial elections committee, a move that should shut off the spigot that produced unqualified or controversial candidates like Michelle MacDonald.

It’s also likely to result in a lot fewer GOP judicial endorsements in the future. 

“Very few judges ever seek endorsement, so the committee would either go recruit someone totally unqualified to run or try to endorse someone already running who didn’t want to be endorsed,” said one critic within the party. “Now that we have taken away the ability to create those two scenarios, I think endorsements will be very rare — and in only in cases where it is truly warranted and where the candidate actually wants party endorsement.” 

The change made at the state party convention doesn’t carry a deliberately moderate agenda. But it clearly marginalizes a faction of the party that’s been problematic since the GOP adopted judicial endorsements in 2000.

The 20-member committee (there are two members from each judicial district) frequently included members who used the vetting process to ensure a candidate would advocate certain issue positions, often anti-abortion or pro-gun. And it wasn’t uncommon for the committee to include members who had personal complaints about the judicial system.   

Most problematic was the committee’s track record, though. Not a single endorsed candidate has ever been elected as a judge. And in the last two years, only one candidate, MacDonald, even asked for an endorsement. 

It was that fiasco that finally pushed party leaders to alter the process. In 2014, the committee nominated MacDonald — knowing that she had been convicted in 2013 for refusing a blood alcohol test and resisting arrest. The larger group of GOP delegates that approved her endorsement, however, was not made aware of her arrest record.

In the wake of those revelations, party leaders, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, were forced to disavow MacDonald. She was barred from the GOP booth at the Minnesota State Fair and was physically ejected by bodyguards. MacDonald then claimed she received threatening phone calls from an attorney acting on the party’s behalf. 

When the judicial committee endorsed MacDonald this time, the wheels were already in motion to throw both MacDonald and the committee itself under the bus.

Attorneys David Asp and Harry Niska, former members of the judicial committee, successfully passed a resolution that moved judicial endorsement to the party’s nominations committee, which vets all other candidates for state offices.  Some members of the committee argued passionately on the convention floor to retain its functions, but the change passed with limited opposition.

“The judicial elections process seemed opaque,” Asp said. “The delegates [who must approve the nominations] never knew much about the candidates or how they were selected or who was even on the committee.”

The state GOP is not likely to follow the DFL and completely eliminate judicial endorsements, say even the strongest critics of the endorsement process. But many feel the change should produce more suitable judicial candidates, or at least limit the possibility that controversial ones will become a GOP distraction, embarrassment, or worse – a symbol of the party’s priorities.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/02/2016 - 11:48 am.

    Just to Clarify

    Ms. MacDonald was recommended for endorsement again in 2016, although she ultimately was not endorsed. This recommendation came despite the record of her 2014 candidacy, and all of the additional revelations about her conduct since then.

  2. Submitted by Joe Fleischman on 06/02/2016 - 05:28 pm.


    Not your best source for real news about the party that used to (?) pay her salary.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 06/03/2016 - 10:00 am.

      Long ago and far away from today…

      We know this, and take that into account when reading her. Cyndy is a straight shooter, as this article and others indicate to most objective readers. MinnPost management certainly takes that into account when selecting contributors. If Cyndy threatens predispositions, consider her space as opposition research, or simply don’t read her.

      Weird stuff from most any perspective should interest most people of perspective.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/03/2016 - 11:17 am.

      Well, Now

      I’ve always found Ms. Brucato’s reporting about the Republican Party to be fair.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 06/03/2016 - 12:02 pm.

      Completely disagree

      She is an excellent source for real news about the Republican party. Her pieces are always worth reading regardless of your political beliefs.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 06/04/2016 - 07:13 am.


      Ms. Brucato worked in the Carlson administration, as I recall, paid by the State and not the Party.
      No question about that.

  3. Submitted by Jim Million on 06/02/2016 - 06:52 pm.

    Thanks, Cyndy

    This is probably an important nuance in the overall scheme of Party politics. Based on RB’s notation, I don’t know if you offer encouraging words or not. I guess the one positive point regarding the Minnesota Republican Party these days is that their dysfunction stems from their grassroots approach to process, weeds and all.

    2016: The year the machinery finally wore out? Does the DFL suffer similar embarrassments? Anyone? I don’t pay much attention to either corporate operation, just particular candidates.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/03/2016 - 06:07 am.


    This is a pretty confusing story to me. Am I getting this straight? That the Minnesota GOP endorsed a candidate again whom they endorsed last time around who they then refused to support? I love nuance and deplore opacity as much as the next guy but even I fail to understand a process in which the Republicans repeatedly endorse a candidate who they then repeatedly fail to endorse.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 06/03/2016 - 10:48 am.

      Too true…

      Might be some of that old Independent Republican Party DNA confusing current genomes, or something, but that suggests science in politics (not to be confused with any “political science” I studied).

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 06/03/2016 - 12:45 pm.


    It does seem to be the case that we have seen innovations in the gradations of support that might be of interest to future generations of political scientists. Lately, in various raceswe have seen endorsement without support, support with endorsement, we have seen neither endorsement or support, but accompanied by promise to vote. We have seen commitments to the nameless as if one of our major parties was running Voldemort at the top of their ticket. And of course, we have seen just a lot of plain old running and hiding.

Leave a Reply