Despite big election victories in November, the Minnesota Republican Party may be heading for a change of leadership.
An announcement by party chair Keith Downey that he will not seek a third term is another sign that Republican activists see change as part of their response to the election of Donald Trump and the new GOP majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate.
“It is not my intent to run for another term as party chair but I will make a final decision by year-end,” Downey wrote in an email to GOP activists.
In an interview, Downey said the email was meant to serve as a heads-up. The election of a new party chair takes place in the spring. “In fairness, it is to give those who might run time to make a decision,” he said.
He also indicated that he could run again under certain circumstances. “What I said is, it’s not my intent to run but I also said that it wasn’t my intent to run the first time or the second time,” he said with a chuckle.
During Downey’s four years as the head of the party, his job has been focused on internal governance. He replaced antiquated technology, shifted party headquarters from St. Paul to the heart of Minneapolis, and, most significantly, reduced the party’s more than $2 million dollar debt by half.
But party mechanics were of little interest to voters in 2016, Downey said, referring to a statement that Congressman Tom Emmer made in MinnPost.
“I don’t think America voted for Republicans,” Emmer told reporter Sam Brodey. “I think America was sending a very strong message that we don’t like the way things are going… We want some changes.”
Downey agrees. “The voters spoke,” he said. “We could say Republicans were the benefactors, but now we need to govern. We need to show we’re going out of Washington and St. Paul to take what they voiced and deliver.”
That sounds like Downey could still be the right man for the job of party chair. But the GOP activists I’ve talked to so far say this is not the moment for status quo.
There’s no short list yet as to who would succeed Downey. And should he choose to move on, even his supporters acknowledge it could be a good move. The consensus on the GOP inside is that, as much as anything, the party needs to send a message that new blood trumps a portfolio of experience.