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GOP leader Dave Thompson breaks on Republican strategies, but keeps the faith

The new state Senate assistant minority leader rejects two key pieces of the Republican’s re-election strategy.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dave Thompson speaking to members of the Republican Seniors of Minnesota in Bloomington on Tuesday.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

On the eve of a state budget forecast that could provide the platform for major DFL changes on spending and social issues, new Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dave Thompson rejected two key pieces of the Republican’s re-election strategy.

In comments after a meeting Tuesday of the Republican Seniors of Minnesota, Thompson said that GOP candidates’ insistence that there was a budget surplus and the push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage had, in effect, backfired.

“When people wake up and read the paper and they see deficit, deficit, deficit, deficit, and then the one person comes out of the woodwork to say there’s a surplus, it looks like you’re being disingenuous, especially when it’s self-serving,” he said.

As for the wisdom of the marriage amendment, Thompson, who voted in favor of it, now says: “With the benefit of hindsight, politicians, policy makers need to respond to some perceived problem and I don’t think your average voter perceived that marriage in Minnesota has a problem.”

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Thompson’s criticism may seem surprising from the man celebrated and reviled during the last legislative session for his passionate support of conservative principles and his efforts to undermine the influence of government employee unions. But the Lakeville Republican is a blunt political instrument and offered no words of comfort at the Republican seniors’ meeting.

“I’ve been looking hard for four weeks for a silver lining, but I’m not seeing one,” he told the group of about 50 gathered at Poor Richard’s Commonhouse in Bloomington.

He painted what he considers a dismal and unacceptable post-election future for the state under the DFL Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.  “I think you are going to see a broadening of unionization. You are going to see an incredible shift against building roads and toward transit,” he said. “I think you are going to see an incredible level of increased spending.” 

But as he rued the state and national shift to the left – “I think it’s possible that 30 years from now we see that 2012 was the year America decided to be a western European social democracy” – he did not let Republicans off the hook. “I’m not here to defend Republicans,” he told his solidly GOP audience, who responded to his remarks with applause. Republicans were weak, he said, in their choice of Mitt Romney for president, their poor get-out-the vote effort, and their message.

“I take some responsibility,” he said. “I’m too willing to say no. The electorate has not responded well to ‘no.’”

After his speech, Thompson elaborated:  “I think what we have to focus on is not only the damage that I believe is done by a larger government, but the benefit that comes from less government.  The benefits of making your own life decisions.”

Pressed by the Republican seniors for some practical recommendations, Thompson offered an approach that hewed to conservative beliefs but incorporated the new voter reality.

“We have to find a way to legitimately criticize the policies the Democrats put in place,” he told them. “And you need to help nominate the most conservative candidate that can be elected.  We can’t do it without the votes.”