Campaign puzzler: Emmer’s lack of response to DWI attacks

At a recent meeting of the Senate District 41 Republicans, right in the heart of Edina at Calvary Lutheran Church, a meat loaf dinner was followed by politics for dessert.

Michael Brodkorb, deputy chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, was rallying the troops. This is a good time for conservatives, he said, because we are a party united while the Democrats are fractured. True. Even as Brodkorb was speaking, Democrats were meeting to discuss how to keep their voters away from Independence Party Candidate Tom Horner.

But there was a hint of fracture as well in the reliably Republican Senate District 41.

Michael Brodkorb
Michael Brodkorb

The first question for Brodkorb came from a woman who offered that many of her friends said they didn’t like Tom Emmer because of the DWIs on his record and that they knew other Republicans who shared their concerns and were voting for Tom Horner.

In a crowd of 40 or so, hers was the only comment along that line but it wasn’t the first time Brodkorb had heard it. His response revealed an almost equal measure of concern. Everyone involved in this campaign takes the matter of drunk driving very seriously, he said. And it was clear he meant it. But, he added, advertising from opposition groups “tried to turn Emmer into a monster” and that as Emmer makes his campaign appeal to all Minnesotans, “I don’t think the campaign is going to be decided by a driving record.”

Still, it’s the puzzler of this campaign. Emmer’s driving record was public record before his endorsement. Any political operative would have assumed that the opposition would hit him with a negative ad before the confetti was swept off the convention floor. Why weren’t they prepared? Why didn’t the Emmer campaign create a TV ad from this YouTube video in which Emmer appears to offer real contrition?

Party insiders acknowledge their frustration at the lack of response which made Emmer seem aloof to the problem of drunk driving and the severity of its consequences. There’s also the matter of mystery. Why weren’t all of Emmer’s key supporters aware of the issue (even if the charges were 30 and 20 years old)? Someone once told me that every campaign needs a priest, the person who knows all the secrets.

In the end, Brodkorb’s assessment is correct. Voters will make their choice based on issues that may more directly impact their lives. Unless that voter is a Republican whose life has been touched by a drunk driving tragedy.

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Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Joe Hanson on 10/01/2010 - 04:41 pm.

    Voters forgave Ted Kennedy for driving drunk off a bridge resulting in the death of a young woman. Voters will probably weigh Tom Emmer’s DWI’s in that context.

  2. Submitted by scott gibson on 10/02/2010 - 12:26 am.

    Repubs always trot out Ted Kennedy. He’s gone now and if you think Emmer has any of the charm that Kennedy had in Mass. you’re sadly mistaken. I won’t speak to Ted, but Emmer shouldn’t get a pass on the DWI issue, especially in light of TWO former campaign managers with recent DUI-type arrests following Emmer around as well. He hasn’t done much to disavow this. (Before someone else posts, I fully recognize that Dayton’s history of alcoholism and depression are due consideration as well. It’s too bad these are our choices.)

  3. Submitted by William Pappas on 10/02/2010 - 05:48 am.

    I doubt many voters will be thinking of Ted Kennedy or any other politician with a string of DWI’s when worrying about Emmers’s driving record. What they’ll worry about is Emmer’s ideological rigidity that indicates an unwillingness to participate in the legislative process, much the same as our last governor and to the great detriment to the state. Broadkorb’s rediculous statement that republicans are now united is wildly off the mark. Emmer can’t even attract 60% of hard core republicans because they think he’s too radical. Moderate republicans are deserting the state Republican Party in droves to support the more socially liberal Horner who articulates a more rational conservative approach to the budget and economy. Meanwhile the DFL’s weakest candidate, Dayton, enjoys solid support within the core of the democratic party with much fewer party defections to the ultra economically conservative and corporate lobbyist, Horner. By the time this election is held the state Republican Party will be in open civil war wringing their hands at a lost opportunity to retain the governor’s office in a blue state. That’s Republican unity?

  4. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 10/02/2010 - 06:01 am.

    If I were Michael Brodkorb at this event I would have asked the person asking the question when Emmer’s DUI arrests were. She probably didn’t know. Then ask here where she got her information from. Then ask if she was involved in or had donated to either to either the Dayton or Horner campaign. Then perhaps ask her name.

    I would then make a U-Tube type video with the womens face blurred out if she didn’t know the 30-20 year answer. Post on U-Tube and send out an email press-release. Technically, anything at a public meeting could be used but I would only ID if she lied about involvement/donations to the other campaigns.

    Conservative talk radio and blogs would have a field day with this with tie ins to Daytons alchohol relapse and the psychiatric medications Dayton is allegedly now using. (and that “energy drink” that Dayton is allegedly using copiously which, in it;s unpasteurized form contains up to one-half of one percent alcohol.

    That said, issues like jobs, taxes and welfare will be far more important to voters.

    A public forum is well, “public”.

  5. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 10/02/2010 - 07:48 am.

    Is there something way out-of-place here…three campaign spins written somewhat simplistically from an ‘insider’s view’; a political operative telling the reader what happens behind the scenes in a last chance attempt to improve the Emmer profile, by redressing the Emmer image?

    Sidebar in similar mode:
    Combine that with the soapy in-a-family-way clips by the LaHammer trilogy on Almanac last night and two more to come to watch in our living rooms soon – the politician’s living room to ours – the personal and the private exposed initially to titillate the uncommitted voter by revealing everything but Emmer’s Fruit-of-the-Loom; boxers or otherwise?

    I bet Dayton or Horner may not look much better after the last two LaHammer series are revealed.Cameo-Ophra coverage is overkill…but that’s just my opinion. Others will certainly think otherwise.

    Back to Brucatto:
    No fan of Emmer, but I do find more than a wee bit of sympathy for him after Brucatto and fellow party dressing tailors get done with him, creating a cardboard cut-out that does not stand alone without a cardboard prop I assume, and arouses only momentary curiosity.

    Why some guy would allow himself to be primped and molded in order to fit a more acceptable image…for whom?

    Does the voter really want to know that Emmer was born in a cabin in Edina…didn’t fare too well in spite of parents with ‘upper-crust’ roots when most Minnesotans are trying not to survive the present recession/Depression, whichever? How is that going to improve his image?

    All I can say is, enough of trivia and molding the man; what’s left of him,…where are the issues?

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/02/2010 - 08:04 am.

    I understand that MN has one of the highest levels of binge drinking in the country. And that our percentage of DWI per-capita is quite high as well. From a political point of view, Rep Emmer has a built in constituency with regards to excessive drinking and DWI’s.

  7. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 10/02/2010 - 08:24 am.

    Just wondering …. is Cyndy Brucato on the staff of MinnPost or is Brucato & Halliday paying MinnPost for the space to pitch Emmer as Governor?

  8. Submitted by Stephan Flister on 10/02/2010 - 08:35 am.

    Ms. Brucato says “Unless that voter is Republican whose life has been touched by a drunk driving tragedy.”

    Why is it so commonplace that Republicans need to be “personally touched” (e.g. gay relative) before they can understand how their ideological policy positions affect peoples’ lives? Just how hard is it to see that the harm caused by drunk drivers is tragic? Do they need to hit themselves with a hammer to know it will hurt?

  9. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 10/02/2010 - 08:40 am.

    I’d expect Brodkorb to call his purged and abandonded party “united” because spin is his job.

    However, a reporter doing her job wouldn’t declare his statement to be “true.”

  10. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/02/2010 - 09:19 am.

    It IS a good question: Why has Emmer’s campaign not been better prepared for criticism of his driving record?

    That said, I thought the campaign video very effective. If his DWI convictions had been in the past year or two, it would be easy – and probably accurate – to dismiss what he has to say as political spin, but for events that happened 20 and 30 years ago, well, there’s still some spin involved, but I agree, he sounds convincing and contrite.

    I say that, by the way, as someone who would not vote for Tom Emmer for any position, down the the level of City Councilman. His driving record has nothing to do with it. I’ve lived long enough to know that 20 years is a very long time in a human life, and if there haven’t been any repeat performances over those 20 years, I don’t see why we shouldn’t take him at his word about “learning a lesson” from those episodes.

    One of my favorite lines in this context is from Roger Ebert, the film critic, writing about a film several years ago: “We are quick to forgive our own trespasses, slower to forgive those of others. The challenge of a moral life is to do nothing that needs forgiveness. In that sense, we’re all out on parole.”

    What Emmer has to say in the campaign video not only makes him seem more human, it makes him seem a better human, and I give him props for that. However, his learning some genuine and valuable lessons along life’s path doesn’t persuade me to vote for him. Tom Emmer is running for Governor of Minnesota, and it’s his LEGISLATIVE record and his public statements about public policy that will have me casting a ballot for someone else on November 2nd.

  11. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 10/02/2010 - 09:23 am.

    SD41’s dinner meetings are open to the general public. DFLers were holding a meeting at a secret location the night of the SD41 dinner meeting Cyndy’s talking about.

    …and why is it a big deal to question Emmer’s past DWIs? Sounds like a responsible thing to do to me.

  12. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 10/02/2010 - 09:27 am.

    I think David Letterman got it right when he said after we elected Jesse Ventura governor in 1998…. “This proves Minnesotans are more than just social drinkers.”

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/02/2010 - 09:40 am.

    My only complaint is that I actually started reading this article just to find out there is no story here. These pieces aren’t really telling us anything about Emmer. What have we learned over the course of three articles? He’s a lawyer, he’s big, and he’s not pro DWI. Am I missing something here?

  14. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 10/02/2010 - 11:33 am.

    The Democrats have nothing to say, no program to revive the economy, except Obama’s “faith based recovery”. So what do they do? They copy the Swift boating of John Kerry by Rovian operators in 2004, based on allegations/alligators dredged up from 25 – 30 years ago. Hey, it worked for Bush, why not Dayton. The Republican strategy is to stay on their limited message campaign, and let the Democrats self destruct under the Obama Bus. What the entire campaign shows is the openly cynical attitude of both parties to “score points” rather than save the Nation with any visionary programs. Bumper sticker seen in Nasa store recently: 1962: JFK – We are going to the Moon; 2010: Obama – We are going Nowhere.

  15. Submitted by Dagny Train on 10/02/2010 - 01:44 pm.

    From what I hear, both parties have serious problems with candidates and operatives who need to get a handle on their drinking. This is no surprise, since many Americans need to get control over same.

    The question about the ad almost certainly boils down to money. Using the campaign website and YouTube to distribute video is almost free. Probably the campaign chose not to put that one out as a broadcast video because they had other messages to which they wanted to devote their limited resources.

    What is completely mystifying is why Emmer’s campaign would have any tolerance for drinking and driving. It should have been understood by all staff that if they wanted to keep their jobs, they’d need to completely forswear the practice. It’s more a commentary on the foolishness of our society than on Emmer’s campaign that that would need to be said at all.

    One last thing … Teddy Kennedy had charm??? Sorry, you must be remembering him from decades ago. People under 40 only remember the grossly overweight guy with watery eyes and the grossly swollen nose, whose eyes suggested such dissipation it made me want to look away in embarrassment.

  16. Submitted by Fluffy Rabinowitz on 10/02/2010 - 01:58 pm.

    Is he Sober? That is the burning issue that Emmer, nor his handlers want to answer. Has he gone thru CD TX, does he attend AA, how long has he been Sober?

    Chemical Dependency is a disease and until Emmer addresses the current status of his chemical health the voters will not consider him for office.

    I am underwhelmed by Cyndy Brucato and her articles on Emmer!

  17. Submitted by Pat Igo on 10/02/2010 - 02:00 pm.

    Me wonders also if Mark Dayton would have had any DUI’s if he hadn’t had a chauffer all these years?

  18. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/02/2010 - 02:36 pm.

    On the whole, I think not responding to the drunk driving issue is the best choice for the Emmer campaign. Voters looking solutions to the problems we are facing now, they have no interest at all in Emmer’s long, long ago DWI’s.

    In my opinion, the children at A Better Minnesota have been doing a Emmer a real service here, because to the extent they are able to shift the focus to Emmer’s problems, they also implicitly raise the issue of their own candidate’s much more recent problems in these areas. A interesting example of the lack of self awareness that often afflicts the young, and the self righteous. The other problem is that, if successful, their campaign would push Dayton off message.

  19. Submitted by Joel Gingery on 10/02/2010 - 04:34 pm.

    Is MinnPost a credible, objective news source? If so, it has been suckered by Ms Brucato and the Emmer campaign into publishing free advertising for the GOP candidate. Will MinnPost give equal space (3 ads disguised as “news” articles) to the DFL and Mark Dayton? Are there any former TV personalities who own a PR company that strategizes for Democrats?

  20. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/02/2010 - 09:08 pm.

    Since this appears to be a non-issue in the campaign, Joel (#18) raises a good point. I’ll be interested in the response…

  21. Submitted by David Willard on 10/02/2010 - 09:33 pm.

    Joel G. how is this an “ad?”It brings up a subject that Emmer probably would not want brought up repeatedly and takes him to task for not being ready to face it. How is this positive coverage?

  22. Submitted by Sue Jeffers on 10/03/2010 - 03:25 pm.

    In one of the first debates Emmer’s response to a question about the 20-30 year old driving offenses was ‘if that ad stops even one person from drinking and driving, keep running it.’ Enough said.

  23. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/03/2010 - 03:44 pm.

    Whenever I see an “A Better Minnesota” commercial, I mutter to myself, “This is what comes from letting the children get too near the checkbook.”

  24. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/03/2010 - 04:26 pm.

    Sue and Hiram have it about right. Sue with regards to Rep. Emmer’s response to the ad. And Hiram’s point that A Better Minnesota’s monies could have been *Better* spent elsewhere….

  25. Submitted by Tim Larson on 10/03/2010 - 09:04 pm.

    //Is MinnPost a credible, objective news source? If so, it has been suckered….

    You must be new here.

    Credible yes. Objective, most of the time.

    You’ll get your “balance” closer to election day.

  26. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/04/2010 - 09:06 am.

    When a candidate pitches his past as prologue, he’d better expect the opposition to add anything he omits. Emmer gave us his best spin on his life, including his youth. In doing so, he made his DUIs fair game. Some will take issue with those regardless of their age. I’m less concerned about the 30 year old ticket than the 20 year old ticket (at age 30) and more concerned than either with who he is today. That is more than scary enough for me.

    Emmer’s personal history is relevant in that it provides some context for his sponsorship of legislation which would have repealed Minnesota’s implied consent law and otherwise modified DUI laws, more so than his law practice appears to do. According to online court records, Emmer has appeared as counsel of record in only 6 criminal matters in the last decade, two of which were alcohol related (one involving an apparent relative).

    Perhaps his failure to prepare to meet the issue was simply denial. In any event, his record and his subsequent sponsorship of legislation that would have gutted enforcement of our DUI laws do directly affect all of us who are at risk of injury or death from drunk drivers. Blithely dismissing its importance, as was done in this piece, is disressing.

  27. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/04/2010 - 11:04 am.

    There is nothing unfair about talking about Emmer’s troubles, or for that matter, Dayton’s. The voters get to decide what’s important, and if coverage of those issues influences them, so be it. But as a matter of political strategy, it’s my own opinion that voters don’t care about those issues with respect to either Dayton or Emmer, and any entity like the amateur wannabes down at “A Better Minnesota” are making a critical tactical error in focusing on them.

    My dad used to tell me that during WW II, the barracks with the highest VD rate each month would have a sign posted out front reading, “Hitler’s little helpers”. I would like to see a sign posted in front of A Better Minnesota’s headquarters reading “Emmer’s little helpers”.

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