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While Mark Ritchie hosts the nation’s secretaries of state, Minnesota GOP attacks

Tony Sutton, Michael Brodkorb
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
State Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton, left, and Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb today announced a radio ad campaign criticizing Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

It was the most civil and visionary of mornings but the most partisan and business-as-usual of afternoons.

Today offered a tale of two approaches, both seeking change in extremely different ways.

As Minnesota’s Secretary of State Mark Ritchie played host to the grass-roots National Civic Summit at the Minneapolis Hilton and prepared to welcome his colleagues of the National Association of Secretaries of State, the Minnesota Republican Party pulled out its political cannons in St. Paul. Then, the party officials aimed them directly at Ritchie while he was in the national spotlight among his peers.

GOP Chairman Tony Sutton announced the launch of an anti-Ritchie radio ad campaign that is set to begin Friday and run through next week. The GOP also has created a new anti-Ritchie website.

GOP targeting Ritchie in 2010
They’re the first steps in Republican efforts to unseat Ritchie in the 2010 election. Ritchie, the state’s chief elections official, oversaw the Al Franken-Norm Coleman recount and is a leading national figure in election reforms.

“We wanted to take advantage” of the other secretaries of state being in town, Sutton admitted. “We believe Minnesota needs a new secretary of state.”

Sutton added later, in response to a question: “It’s not about embarrassing the secretary of state. It’s about informing the voters.”

But it clearly was embarrassing. The GOP’s 1 p.m. news conference came as many of Ritchie’s colleagues from around the country were arriving for their summer convention. It came four hours after Nate Garvis, Target Corp.’s governmental relations vice president, spoke to an audience of about 100 leaders of civic organizations on the importance of “common ground and common good.”

“Loud is only bad when it’s noise. Loud is good when it’s music,” Garvis said. “Are we going to give in to the voices of anger?’’

Garvis called for a change in politics and policy to one in which bipartisanship is rewarded. He called for “moderates” to define themselves by what they are and not by what they’re not.

It was a call to reason. It was a sermon to a choir of civic-advocacy, good-government, election-reform and scholarly leaders.

Twelve minutes into Garvis’ speech, the GOP emailed an alert to journalists about Sutton’s upcoming attack news conference. Irony isn’t a strong enough word.

In the radio ad, set to air on stations of the Minnesota News Network and WCCO-AM, the GOP claims that Ritchie “lied about using state resources for political purposes” in 2007.

That charge, made then by Republicans, that Ritchie misused public resources for campaign purposes was shot down in 2008 by Legislative Auditor James Nobles. As for “lying,” the legislative auitor’s report never asserted that; it criticized Ritchie for “his failure to provide a complete and timely response” to an original request for information. Here’s the link to Nobles’ report.
Ad blames Ritchie for ‘recount mess’
The ad claims Ritchie “helped create the recount mess” by not properly training election officials statewide.

While there was inconsistency in some counties and precincts on how some absentee ballots were evaluated, in most quarters, the recount was considered a model exercise. A three-judge panel and the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the recount results.

The ad claims that “under pressure from members of his own party,” Ritchie “switched his position on which ballots to count.” The main GOP point is that Ritchie allegedly changed his position on whether previously rejected absentee ballots in the Coleman-Franken recount should have been included.

But a Star Tribune report from the day the State Canvassing Board discussed the issue states that it was Ramsey County District Court Judges Kathleen Gearin and Edward Cleary who were most assertive in including those previously rejected votes in the count.

Ultimately, the entire Canvassing Board agreed to encourage the state’s election officials to sort the ballots. Eventually, Attorney General Lori Swanson, a DFLer, offered an opinion that these rejected votes could be included. But it was the Minnesota Supreme Court that ordered certain ballots be counted.

Ritchie was one member of the State Canvassing Board, which, for anyone who watched the Board, was clearly led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson.

What also irked the GOP was an op-ed piece that Ritchie wrote in today’s Pioneer Press congratulating the state on the recount and suggesting some reforms. (All of his reforms were passed by the Legislature this year but vetoed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.)

At the GOP news conference, Sutton said, “Our intention here is not to rehash the recount campaign and relive that battle.”

GOP ‘raw rage’ over recount process

But GOP Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb, who also attended the news conference, said, “There is a great deal, I think, of raw rage and frustration out there amongst Republican activists for this recount process and how there was inconsistent standards . . .”

Sutton said he expects GOP candidates to emerge shortly to take on Ritchie. The DFL-held attorney general and state auditor posts also will be hotly contested, he said.

“This isn’t your grandpa’s Republican Party,” said Sutton, who, along with Brodkorb, was elected to the party’s top posts last month. “We’re not just going to sit back and wait for things to happen . . . We’re going to be very aggressive in talking about people’s records.”

As for Ritchie, he bit his tongue as best he could. Speaking from the Hilton where his fellow secretaries of state were convening, he told MinnPost: “I’ve been very careful throughout this entire [recount] process to not comment or react to political attacks, and I’m going to continue with this policy, but it does strike me that this is a signal that next year’s re-election campaign may be marred by these kind of attack ads and gutter politics … I’m hopeful we can avoid that. I plan on running a very positive campaign.”

He added: “I find it a reminder of the importance of the message from Nate Garvis this morning, which is that whenever the ugly head of toxic gutter politics rears up, it’s important for citizens of good intention to speak out and articulate the necessity of a real vision, a real picture of where we want to go.”

Sutton was asked if he had plans to attend the Civic Summit, which continues Friday.

No, he said.

“We’re not going to pretend this is Lake Wobegon, [where] we just got a couple things we got to fix,” said Sutton. “We live in the real world. My favorite part of DisneyWorld is Adventureland, not Fantasyland.”

DFL fires back
Not to be outdone, DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez fired back in a statement this afternoon accused the GOP of “playing the divisive politics of the past — tactics that voters have overwhelmingly rejected” and accused Republicans of “spinning out their smear campaign.”

Just hours earlier, Garvis who helped Ritchie put the Civic Summit together, railed against citizens “self-identifying into ideological ghettoes … Dogma is a tool people use to stop learning.”

Such was the divide on a day that began on a note of common ground, only to erode into business as usual rhetoric and, finally, end with the opening of a window into the inevitable battles of the next 16 months.

Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Matt Linngren on 07/16/2009 - 05:34 pm.

    Way to stay classy MN Republicans!

  2. Submitted by Eric Schubert on 07/16/2009 - 06:09 pm.

    This is so gross . . .And I’m not just talking about the art of photography being wasted on two Minnesota Limbaugh-wannabees.

    I think I’m going to do the same play acting on my way home this evening and stop at Tony Sutton’s Baja Sol restaurant in Inver Grove and call a press conference at Happy Hour about the mouse I found in my tortilla chips. (Of course it would be a bit of a stretch, I didn’t find a mouse, not even a human hair . . . in fact, i absolutely love their tortilla chips).

    The sad thing is . . . these guys actually believe this is the way to grow the Republican brand.

  3. Submitted by Grace Kelly on 07/16/2009 - 07:10 pm.

    Nice article!

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/16/2009 - 08:20 pm.

    “That charge was shot down in 2008 by Legislative Auditor James Nobles.”

    Well, the charge that was “shot down” was that Ritchie used public resources for political gain, not that he lied about it.

    That charge was upheld, not only by the Auditor, whose report noted “Mr. Ritchie did not fulfill his legal obligation to make a full and timely response to a request for information from the Legislative Auditor.”, but by everyone that read Ritchie’s not one, but two untruthful commentaries in the Star Tribune wherein he claimed complete ignorance of the whole scheme.

    Ritchie didn’t violate the letter of the law, but his lies prove he knew he had violated the spirit of the law, as well as his campaign pledge to “remove partisan politics from the office of the SOS.

    Many Minnesotans are outraged over Ritchie’s involvement in their disenfranchisement, it is not only perfectly acceptable to remind them of his history, but as the Pioneer Press said in an editorial at the time, it is a public service to do so.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 07/16/2009 - 08:58 pm.

    Oh, Tom… YAWN. Ever determined to pile on to the bandwagon from which is being played whatever tune the leadership of the Minnesota Republican party has cooked up in their tortured, fevered imaginations this time around.

    Trouble is, this isn’t a band wagon. Out here where I live, it’s called a Honey Wagon and the Republicans are spewing all over the countryside exactly the same substance.

  6. Submitted by Wally Carr on 07/16/2009 - 11:08 pm.

    Thomas Swift,

    All the Republican members of the Canvassing Board, the Election Contest Court, and the Minnesota Supreme Court have agreed that your claim of disenfranchisement is unfounded in fact and law.

    Are they also Democratic Partisans?

  7. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/16/2009 - 11:25 pm.

    The recount was a model of accuracy and transparency, as even Sarah Janecek noted.

    However, it looks like there is no secretary of state in the country the GOP wants to get more than Ritchie. Since they already make these baseless charges the senate election was stolen, pretending there weren’t two courts that looked at everything and came up with unanimous rulings, I feel safe making a prediction. Not only will the state party try to get Ritchie, but I predict an independent expenditure swiftboat campaign against him. It will be the most expensive secretary of state race in the country.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Edman on 07/17/2009 - 06:37 am.

    So Sutton warns us that ‘this isn’t your grandpa’s republican party.’ Sounds right. My grandpa was an adult who could think straight and taught me not to lie.

  9. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 07/17/2009 - 07:29 am.

    If only Ritchie had the power that the GOP claim over elections. No Republican would ever win…

  10. Submitted by Don Medal on 07/17/2009 - 09:54 am.

    Minnesota GOP needs to put this election behind them and get on with the future. They managed to take a historically close election and convince 65% of the voters that Coleman should give up. The recount was scrupulously fair and transparent, and the MSSC ruled unanimously that it was right. This is a classic case of knowing when to quit when you find yourself digging a hole. There are good things about the Minnesota GOP. Now would be the time to be showing those, and to be working towards the center.

  11. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 07/17/2009 - 11:18 am.

    Good strategy, Sutton. Let’s keep reminding people about Mark Ritchie and the recount; about how it was a model for the country. How he managed to stay above the fray and involve people from all sides. Let’s remind people that every court ruled that it was well done and not a single justice criticized a single thing. Then let’s remind people why this last election was about – 8 years of utter failure by the GOP in EVERY facet of government – state and federal. We’re losing jobs. We’re patching up the worst diplomatic mess in the country’s history. Students are strapped with enormous college debt. The last time the Republicans were in control we spent countless hours talking about non-existent flag burning and Terri Schiavo. Let’s remind that the party of so-called family values can’t seem to keep their pants zipped up. Let’s remind them that the Senate lost eight Republican senators in a single election and 12 in four years. Let’s remind people that Minnesota used to have a Republican House of Representatives that is now virtually impotent. Keep it up. With enemies like this, who needs friends?

  12. Submitted by Colin Lee on 07/17/2009 - 12:03 pm.

    As a third party candidate in 2008, Mark Ritchie was a breath of fresh air to us. In past campaigns I have worked on, Mary Kiffmeyer’s Secretary of State office was downright obstructionist to third parties. She made it difficult, if not impossible, to determine if you’d correctly met petitioning requirements for gathering signatures for ballot access.

    Mark Ritchie was not only clear and transparent about petitioning instructions to those third parties which tend to draw left-leaning voters, but he had his staff even let them know before the end of the petitioning deadline whether they had gathered enough valid signatures. He doesn’t sound like the same, fierce partisan secretary of state which the Republican leaders are describing.

  13. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/17/2009 - 03:39 pm.

    “Mark Ritchie was not only clear and transparent about petitioning instructions to those third parties which tend to draw left-leaning voters,…”

    Just to point out something, as a DFLer, Ritchie had a partisan reason to interfere with the parties that compete with the DFL for left-leaning votes, and help the ones that might compete with Republicans. Yet apparently he didn’t. Why is it so hard to admit he’s working hard to make elections run more smoothly instead of looking for problems to create, like his predecessor? Disagree with him on his proposed reforms if anyone wants to, but be honest about it.

  14. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/17/2009 - 05:20 pm.

    When Mark Ritchie spoke to a national gathering of secretaries of state last year — people who were no doubt following the whole Coleman/Franken affair very closely — he was given a standing ovation by his peers, people who know an honest, committed-to-democracy secretary of state when they see one.

    Minnesota’s Republican leaders seem not to have noticed that Karl Rovian tactics are passe. They helped gain power for the radical right wing, but many of those who fell for the distortions, lies and innuendo now know better than to fall for the same stuff again.

  15. Submitted by Wally Carr on 07/17/2009 - 08:25 pm.

    Mark Ritchie got the office by out-working Mary Kiffmeyer. When you come right down to it, Franken won by out-working and out-campaigning Norm Coleman. This was especially true in the recount and trials, where Franken’s team was just plain better prepared.

    The moral: the “not your Grandfather’s GOP” just doesn’t seem to feel that they have to EARN it. Just tell the right lies, use the right “newtonian” nasty language, and victory falls into their well-padded laps. Kind of like a reverse Andrea Dworkin effect.

  16. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 07/18/2009 - 06:31 am.

    “This isn’t your grandpa’s Republican Party,” said Sutton, who, along with Brodkorb, was elected to the party’s top posts last month. “We’re not just going to sit back and wait for things to happen . . . We’re going to be very aggressive in talking about people’s records.”

    Certainly not my Grandpa’s GOP. My Grandpa was inspired by the principles of Abraham Lincoln, and the leadership of Dwight Eisenhower.

    I wonder if the Sutton – Brodkorb duo has learned anything new from their timing of this ‘campaign.’ Like when you launch you salvo in front of a national audience, you inspire contributions to the Campaign to Re-elect Mark Ritchie from 49 other states and the District of Columbia.

    Mr. Sutton, you may be aggressive in talking about people’s records. Aggressive is a good trait when you’re a junkyard dog. Will you be talking about Mary Kiffmeyer’s record as Secretary of State also? Voters might be paying more attention to information than aggression, so you might want to arm yourself with information.

    If you’re trying to tell us that Secretary Ritchie has made mistakes, Mr. Sutton, that is old news. Every human has committed a few, so we’ll find no incumbents or no candidates that are ‘without transgressions’ if we are looking at people with life experience. Secretary Ritchie has many achievements that have obtained national attention, so to concentrate on a small negative in an attempt to overshadow many well known achievements seems like a waste of GOP resources in Minnesota before any GOP candidates to challenge the incumbent have even stepped forward.

    And whoever does step forward needs high boots, because you’ve set up a cesspool for them to step into. So they are already disadvantaged before they even get out the gate on this race.

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