Embattled Sen. Satveer Chaudhary faces two DFL primary opponents: a former legislator — and himself

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary faces two big opponents in his suburban re-election bid in what may be the most interesting legislative primary race in the state this year.

There’s former state Rep. Barb Goodwin. Tough as she is, his bigger opponent may be himself.

A DFL committee stripped Chaudhary — a three-term senator, two-term House member and the state’s first Asian-American legislator — of its endorsement a month ago and bestowed it on Goodwin.

The action came after Chaudhary got his wrist slapped by a Senate ethics committee for quietly — in the last days of the session — arranging to add new walleye regulations to a DNR bill that would affect fishing on a Duluth area lake where he has a cabin.

Even more damaging headlines followed. The Duluth News Tribune reported that the senator owed $250,000 in taxes for the years 2007 and 2008.

Differing views of where things stand
So, given all that, how goes the campaign?

“I’m more positive than people think I would be,” said Chaudhary, whose Senate District 50 covers such north suburban communities as Columbia Heights, Fridley and New Brighton. “There are some people who are mad at me, but those are the people who were against me anyway.”

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary
Sen. Satveer Chaudhary

The “revocation” of his endorsement — a rarity in Minnesota politics — “has worked both ways.”

“From what I can tell, the larger base of DFLers didn’t feel it rose to the level where that should have happened,” Chaudhary said. “They’ve stuck with me. I’ve been so blessed by people who are coming out to support me.”

Since he lost the endorsement and faced the other negative headlines, he’s received endorsements from Minneapolis police and firefighters, Chaudhary says.

Goodwin, though, says she also is pleased with the amount of support she’s quickly picked up. She had said she would get into the race only if Chaudhary lost his endorsement.

The winner of the DFL primary will face the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate, Gina Bauman, a small-business owner and a two-term member of the New Brighton City Council.

Goodwin says that while campaigning, she frequently is being thanked for offering district voters an alternative, she said adding that people in the district are “embarrassed and angry” about Chaudhary’s problems.

A three-term House member who stepped down in 2006, she says even the recent negative headlines about her opponent don’t tell the whole story about Chaudhary’s political problems.

Goodwin says that the incumbent has weakened himself over the years by failing to doing the basics of politics. Her claims: He frequently fails to show up for meetings both during session, and, more importantly, back at the district. And he’s slow to return phone calls.

“I wasn’t shocked that he was in trouble,” Goodwin said. “It [political office] has been all about him.”

Chaudhary makes his case
Chaudhary denies he’s got St. Paul Fever, the affliction many legislators suffer after they’re elected. The disease includes such symptoms as a belief that the Capitol is the center of the universe, a loss of humility and an inability to listen.

Chaudhary says he’s been a model of “collaboration” both inside and outside the Capitol.

“Sometimes, when you help make changes, some people get upset because they want things done the way they’ve always been done,” Chaudhary said.

He points to his work in support of the Legacy Amendment and the citizens’ committee as examples of working effectively inside and outside the Capitol. Additionally, he said, he’s worked to bring together such disparate groups as ATV riders and bird watchers so that meaningful environmental legislation can be passed with support from a cross-section of Minnesotans.

It is his enthusiastic support of conservation and environment, he says, that led to the insertion of the Fish Lake walleye language in a bill that eventually was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“I accept responsibility [for taking shortcuts on the Fish Lake language insertion],” Chaudhary said, “but I’ll never apologize for fighting for conservation.”

It is that lack of a total apology — “I was wrong!” — that didn’t help his efforts in holding onto his endorsement.

But he likely will maintain at least much of the support of the outdoor organizations — hunters, anglers, ATVers and snowmobilers — he’s enjoyed in the past. It’s not so clear whether the environmentalists, who have supported him in the past, will stick with him on primary day.

In fact, he and Goodwin have similar stands on most issues.

Goodwin stresses her strengths
Goodwin, a member of the Columbia Heights Board of Education, is stressing her longtime community activism and her personal style as reasons to support her. She has a reputation as a strong legislator who is not afraid to tackle some unpopular issues. Goodwin, for example, was a critic of the high amount the state spends on consulting contracts.

She is well known on the east side of the district, which she represented, Goodwin said, and therefore is spending considerable time door-knocking on the west side. Given her late entry into the race, she says she’s pleased with the amount of financial support she’s been able to generate. Her lawn signs and literature are now distributed throughout the district.

Barb Goodwin
Barb Goodwin

Chaudhary says his tax problems — and they seem huge — are the result of his wife’s “wrongful termination” from a biopharmaceutical company, Celgene. A complaint has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

That termination, the senator said, forced him and his wife to make some complex transactions in order to exercise some stock options. The couple, he said, has been working closely with the IRS and that the problem soon will be resolved.

“I love the IRS,” Chaudhary said.

He has had an extraordinary career. Born and raised in Fridley of parents who emigrated from India, he’s accomplished a number of political firsts among people of Indian descent. U.S. citizens of Indian descent have strong national organizations that have been strong financial supporters of candidates such as Chaudhary. He said he will continue to receive that support.

Chaudhary also noted that with the retirements of two Hmong legislators from St. Paul (Sen. Mee Moua and Rep. Cy Thao) if he loses the primary, the Legislature could be without any lawmakers of Asian heritage.

“That’s an important thing to consider,” he said.

He believes that one reason he was stripped of his endorsement is because he didn’t originally play the party game in supporting House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the DFL’s endorsed candidate, for governor. Initially, he backed Mark Dayton but switched to Kelliher before the committee meeting where his own endorsement was re-considered.

He made that switch, he said, because “Dayton had distanced himself” from him when Chaudhary’s ethics issues started making headlines.

His feelings toward the DFL now?

“I’ve always been a free-thinking DFLer,” Chaudhary said. “I’ve never considered myself an arm of the party. But I am a living, breathing part of DFL principles.”

But so is Goodwin.

“People worried that voters [in the district] would be disgusted with the whole party,” she said, “and that we could lose the seat. But I don’t think that will happen. Originally, he had some diehard support, but I believe that is coming over. It’s a wild and crazy ride, but I feel good about the way I’m being greeted.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/20/2010 - 09:04 am.

    I don’t blame Chaudhary for feeling slighted.

    Poor guy looks at Senator* Franken and sees the scary smart, reality based community tripping over it’s feet to forgive his past and provide on-going, full service apologist services.

    Since this is a Democrat issue, you just *know* someone is going to cry racism sooner or later.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/20/2010 - 09:23 am.

    Oops…too late:

    “Chaudhary also noted that with the retirements of two Hmong legislators from St. Paul (Sen. Mee Moua and Rep. Cy Thao) if he loses the primary, the Legislature could be without any lawmakers of Asian heritage.

    “That’s an important thing to consider,” he said.”

    Sure it is.

    How can anyone believe the state could function unless the skin color balance of our politicians is carefully maintained?

    “…I am a living, breathing part of DFL principles.”

    You can say that again, Satveer.

  3. Submitted by Roy Everson on 07/20/2010 - 10:40 am.

    Yes, Satveer is indeed running against himself. In a recent email he sent to recruit campaign volunteers he alluded to being “smeared”. Well, knowing only what I have read in the papers and Minnpost, I was taken aback because it looked to me as if his problems have been his own creation.

    So I challenged him to identify those behind the smear. Just who is smearing you, Satveer? I got no response. No response to someone who has doorknocked for him many times over the years! If that’s the line he is using to his diehard backers– that he is the victim of a smear campaign– then it is no wonder that he finds many “have stuck with me.”

    The flip-flop on his guv endorsement is also rather strange. Didn’t seem to be based on who would be the best governor, what else is there?

    BTW, Mr. Swift, you are disgusting in your implication that there is any racial edge to this story. Besides the initial pride we District 50 voters had in electing the first Indian-American legislator in the nation, there is no ethnic meaning in considering Satveer’s reelection. He’s had a good run and a long time to learn the ropes, but he doesn’t know how to avoid political suicide. I’m hoping he figures out other ways to contribute to the public good once his legislative career is finished.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/20/2010 - 11:15 am.

    Roy opined “there is no ethnic meaning in considering Satveer’s reelection”

    Unfortunately, Satveer disagrees with you, Roy.

    Perhaps you missed the thrust of his statement, allow me to provide it again, for your closer inspection and consideration.

    “Chaudhary also noted that….if he loses the primary, the Legislature could be without any lawmakers of Asian heritage.

    “That’s an important thing to consider,” he said.”

    He’s a “living, breathing part of DFL principles”, Roy.

  5. Submitted by Eric Larson on 07/20/2010 - 11:39 am.

    Is Chaudhary a racist? I keep running his words over in my mind and taking out ‘asian’ and inserting ‘white’. I keep seeing the liberal leaning activists protesting his house on a Sunday afternoon with the full assist of channel’s 4-5-9-11. How says you?

  6. Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/20/2010 - 11:41 am.

    Call it racism if you must, but Chaudhary’s remarks seem to be politics as usual to me: get those Asian voters out in your district.

    There isn’t a political party in the country that doesn’t target ethnic and racial groups in its campaigns.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/20/2010 - 01:24 pm.

    I’m not a leftsit James, and I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone is attracted to their agenda, so I won’t attempt to comment on Democrat campaign tactics.

    But I have to wonder if persons of _______ (fill in the blank) skin color really appreciate being judged an attractive demographic by virtue of their skin color.

    Speaking as a conservative, I’ve always found traits over which someone has absolutely no control to be a poor measure by which to judge a person….but then again, as I say, I’m not a leftist.

  8. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 07/20/2010 - 06:55 pm.

    The Primary will be decided by the voters of that district.
    I don’t understand a right wing blogger continuing to stir the pot.
    He must have a very boring life.

  9. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 07/20/2010 - 07:53 pm.

    #7 -“Speaking as a conservative … then again, as I say, I’m not a leftist.”

    ?? Why define or constrain yourself or your ideas ?? If you present your thoughts boldly and without any covert agenda, readers will not have any prejudicial disposition toward you. But, from what you say, the important thing about what you say seems to be the announcement that you are a conservative and not a leftist.

    A long time ago, journalists asked Charles de Gaulle where he was on the political spectrum. He said that he was neither to the left nor to the right. He said he was ‘above’ [Je suis au-dessus!] A very wise man, although he was very tall!

    Oh, and by the way, who are those “scary smart, reality-based community [people]” about whom you continually rail? Say, are they evil?!

  10. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 07/20/2010 - 08:05 pm.

    “I’ve always been a free-thinking DFLer,” Chaudhary said.

    Er … from what I have gathered so far about this fellow, he seems to also be one of those free-wheeling politicians. They are the sort that feel entitled; and they have no qualms about taking advantage of situations even when morally wrong. One common trait with such types: their excessive self-confidence. A recent example is the infamous ex-Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/20/2010 - 10:34 pm.

    Oh good Machiavelli, I was afraid we’d go an entire blog w/o Mr. Swift trotting out the argument that we’re on the precipice of total socialism, anarchy, communism and the eternal death of sliced bread if we don’t vote right.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/21/2010 - 08:09 am.

    Intéressant.

    Faced with blatant examples of the passive-aggressive racism upon which their ideology has thrived, it appears that many leftists find themselves incapable of addressing themselves to within 100 feet of the subject.

    Although he never said so directly, I believe this cognitive dissonance to be a prime mover of the slow moral decay America is undergoing which Robert Bork illustrated so brilliantly in “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”.

  13. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 07/21/2010 - 02:02 pm.

    Could we please stick to the topic, keep our feet to the ground, and maintain some degree of independence, relevance and credence?

    Both the left and the right are equally oppressive and intolerable, in my view. And I don’t much care for those who spout off some precanned rhetoric about the evils of this or of that. In person, they sound like they have swallowed a recorded tape message that somebody else activates with a remote control. In print (as commentators on MinnPost), they come across as people who cut and paste, and don’t have anything original (of their own) to posit.

    Mr. Swift: You don’t sound like your own man. It is very obvious that you are only interested in hurling your animus from your side of the pond. You forget that there are monsters on both sides of the pond. Two mustachioed examples in recent history are Hitler and Stalin.

    The safe place to be is in the middle of the pond on a boat of reason and not hysteria.

  14. Submitted by Polly Philblad on 07/22/2010 - 06:30 am.

    “free-thinking DFLer” ! NOT! As a past member of SD50 DFL central committee, I can guarantee you, Mr. Chaudhary is not free! This respectable body has endorsed and heavily funded Mr. Chaudhary in the past. I know personally of many meetings he did not attend, but when he did, he just said he needed money, and money was given. I am a past supporter of Mr. Chaudhary. I have door knocked and put up signs for his re-election. To accuse me of being “against you anyway” is an insult to my intelligence. My ethics did not change, yours did. I am against you now, because of your actions. Yes, your actions! Time to step down Satveer.

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