The education of Tom Emmer: Working to be more disciplined

Rep. Tom Emmer: "I think most [fellow legislators] will tell you that I don't shoot from the hip."
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Rep. Tom Emmer: “I think most [fellow legislators] will tell you that I don’t shoot from the hip.”

I had my first face-to-face with Tom Emmer, Republican candidate for governor. Yep, he’s tall. “Six-one, maybe a little more,” he tells me, seeming a little startled by the question about his height. But like his physical presence, Emmer’s equally large personality plays a role in his candidacy. And that personality, by his own admission, could use a little self-control.

Call this the education of Tom Emmer. In a ten minute interview, there were no sound bites, no acid-tipped quips ala Sarah Palin. Instead, a reflective candidate defended his experience and his ability to be a good governor. “I was told by attorney Ron Rosenbaum, ‘You’re a lot smarter than people give you credit for.’ In my mind I interpret that I’m a lot smarter than he thought I was.”

Behind the scenes at the Minnesota Legislature, Emmer gets generally high marks from lobbyists who seem bemused at Emmer’s Papa Grizzly image. Emmer brings up the subject himself.

“You talk with the people that I worked with in the Legislature for the past six years, I think most of them will tell you that I don’t shoot from the hip, that I actually know what I’m doing,” he said.

But, he acknowledges, the transition has been rough from a legislator serving 30,000 people and a lawyer talking to a jury of 12 to a candidate wooing millions of voters. “I talk in front of juries. I know how the jury is gonna be instructed before I talk to them,” he said. “That’s a completely different forum from what we’re doing right now.”

Emmer gave a nod to Cullen Sheehan, campaign manager by his side during the interview. “I’ve learned from people who’ve been doing this for a long time to maybe be more disciplined,” he said. “But I also know who I am and I think what I’ve learned over the past several months is the personality that I have — that’s the thing I have to be more disciplined about so my personality doesn’t overwhelm somebody before they receive and process the message.”

But the message itself remains untouched by campaign cosmetics. “Don’t over think it,” Emmer says about how to be a good, conservative leader (although he dismisses “conservative” as a confining label).

Emmer communicates his principles with gusto and even that trademark thump of a fist. “Nobody ever said it was about no government. It’s about the government that’s supposed to deliver certain things and then it’s about putting, empowering the individual. It’s that simple.”

Yes, but getting this done is not so simple as his budget proposals have revealed. Can Emmer recruit the best and the brightest to help facilitate his agenda? “Yeah,” he replies, emphatically. “And that goes beyond party persuasion. That goes based on the best and the brightest.”

Emmer gives off just a whiff of bi-partisan cooperation in these remarks. “My belief is it’s not about the party, it’s about those principles I gave you, and you can find all kinds of people that are incredibly educated and gifted within public policy, you can find the same within the business community. You can be talking with both.”

And then Emmer slips from statesman to the common man. “You know — John Kerry I watched this morning as I was running. It’s a commonly held belief by a lot of the career politicians that people don’t understand what’s good for them. People understand what’s good for them better than the guys that are elected. It’s that political arrogance that frankly people have had enough of. I give people credit.”

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/01/2010 - 09:57 am.

    Too bad his education didn’t include how much waiters and waitresses actually make, or how many cities get LGA, or whether not states can ignore federal law, or how to treat people with different priorities or sexual orientation with dignity and respect instead trying to turn them in to second class citizens. Since he’s a smart guy one can only assume that these are not “mistakes” but rather deliberate disregard for factual accuracy. His intolerance is likewise deliberate. It’s his integrity not intelligence that’s at issue. His “size” is not the problem.

    Of course it’s not about the party, it’s about HIS principles, it’s called megalomania.

  2. Submitted by Bruce Hope on 10/01/2010 - 11:11 am.

    Cyndy, Why do a fluff piece on Emmer? I know your resume, but still this was a chance to introduce yourself again. Give me a reason to read your work.

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/01/2010 - 11:11 am.

    Rep. Emmer does a very good job representing the GOP party base that chose him to be *their* candidate for governor. Whether those core concepts resonate with the vast majority of voters in the middle is quite a different question.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/01/2010 - 11:35 am.

    So was this piece journalism or the work of a political strategist? Seems more the latter, to me.

  5. Submitted by Randi Reitan on 10/01/2010 - 11:47 am.

    The idea of Tom Emmer as Minnesota’s governor is downright scary. It has nothing to do with his size but it is who he was as a state legislator, his radical right wing politics, his personality and his intolerance on social issues. My parents were loyal Republicans for many years … Tom Emmer is not a Republican they would support.

    One of the headings for this piece by Brucato said…
    “And that personality, by his own admission, could use a little self-control.”

    I hope the Republicans see Tom Emmer as the extreme candidate in this race. May they also use a little self control and vote for someone else.

  6. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 10/01/2010 - 12:01 pm.

    Does Emmer ever NOT have that “gazing into the distance” look on his face?

    And what is the deal with adding Cyndy Brucato to MinnPost? Needed a token conservative? Is Katherine Kersten busy or just too wacky?

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/01/2010 - 12:32 pm.

    //”You talk with the people that I worked with in the Legislature for the past six years, I think most of them will tell you that I don’t shoot from the hip, that I actually know what I’m doing,” he said.

    Yes, he knows exactly what he’s doing when he distorts information and misleads (some call it lying), that’s the point. The question isn’t whether or not he knows what he’s doing, it’s whether or not cares if he’s doing the right or wrong thing.

  8. Submitted by Mohammed Ali Bin Shah on 10/01/2010 - 01:16 pm.


    Welcome ann Nice work. Many here will give you grief for not doing an attack piece on Representative Emmer. Don’t let them get to you – it’s just that they have been used to RedStar journalism for so long that they do not understand balance.

  9. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/01/2010 - 01:28 pm.

    So the politician who once called into question the patriotism of all Democrats now says “My belief is it’s not about the party?” How much coaching did it take to get him to say that?

    This interview is more synthetic than a warehouse full of leisure suits.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/01/2010 - 01:44 pm.

    Ms. Brucato,

    I demand RedStar journalism! Give it to me now!

    As far as I know Ms. Brucato is a fine journalist and I’ll not disparage her integrity. She’s not required to write the article I would have written, that’s the whole point of having a comment section as far as I know.

  11. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 10/01/2010 - 02:19 pm.

    “Red star” journalism? I haven’t heard that phrase for a long time, probably because the star trib has been consistently moving to the right. It’s not just in the columns of Krauthammer and Kersten; it’s in the selection of news and what part of it is published. I read a story a couple of months ago, for example, about the possible passage of the credit card reform. The article listed 5 reasons the bill was bad–and 0 about its benefits, which are considerable. An AP story. More and more articles are coming from AP with its distinct bias.
    I didn’t see anything of substance in Brucato’s piece. Her bias will make itself evident in what she writes.

  12. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 10/01/2010 - 02:30 pm.

    What? Was Joel Kramer afraid Republicans don’t like him enough? What was the point of this Emmer press release? To shame David Brauer, Eric Black, Beth Hawkins, etc., who do real work?

  13. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 10/01/2010 - 02:55 pm.

    Just curious – I was wondering why Brucato is allowed to campaign for Emmer here. Are others campaigning for Horner or Dayton? Brucato has written two things so far, and both read like PR releases from the Emmer campaign.

  14. Submitted by chuck holtman on 10/01/2010 - 02:56 pm.

    Statesman, common man. Smart, but in a common sense way, like that guy driving the F-150 on TV. Strong of will, almost overpowering. And so tall! Sounds almost like it was written by a Republican PR flack. (Nice photo, too! When does the sale on men’s suits end?)

  15. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 10/01/2010 - 03:28 pm.

    I believed Emmer more when he shot from the hip. This article shows the developmental process of talking from true conviction towards disciplining and pasteurizing his message.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/01/2010 - 04:05 pm.

    I think of Tom as very much the trial attorney. He’s smart but the intelligence you see is the intelligence of the quick study, a quality that makes him a capable cross examiner, something that he displays on the floor of the House. I don’t know that his understanding of issues goes very deep, I suspect that it doesn’t. His quickness is well suited to winning debates, but that can be quite different from being right.

  17. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 10/01/2010 - 04:16 pm.

    Tricks Or Treats?

    According to the story here, Emmer slips out of his “Grizzly” suit…then realizing he’s smarter than himself; or whom he assumed he was…becomes “the statesman”…and not over yet; one “disciplined” downsizing again…to become the “common man”…?

    I am left to wonder…what’s he gonna’ wear for Halloween?

  18. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/01/2010 - 04:25 pm.


    Minnpost’s readership get really upset when people not like themselves come to play in their sandbox, don’t they?

    “Celebrating diversity” ends in the scary smart, reality based community where political indoctrination starts, I guess.

  19. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 10/01/2010 - 05:37 pm.

    Ms Brucato, by her own definition, is a “strategic communicator.” (The bit about her being a “journalist and political strategist” is a joke; the two things are mutually exclusive).
    In my humble estimation, strategic communicators have no business pretending to be journalists, and MinnPost has no business giving a valuable forum to strategic communicators who would, in most circumstances, no doubt, be happy to PAY for such a venue.

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/01/2010 - 08:15 pm.

    //”Red star” journalism? I haven’t heard that phrase for a long time, probably because the star trib has been consistently moving to the right.

    Actually you haven’t heard for about 19 years because that’s when the Soviet Union collapsed. Apparently it takes about that long for some Republicans to become confused about the difference between a liberal and communist.

  21. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/02/2010 - 07:17 am.

    I have been thinking about this and talking about this. I don’t know Tom except to shake hands with so my impressions are at best second hand. As I noted earlier, Tom’s very much the trial attorney. When he is briefed, he knows his brief well. But his knowledge of government doesn’t go beyond what lands on his desk, something made clear earlier in the campaign when it was run by one of his cronies who had the same weaknesses he does.

    Cullen Sheehan, I think, has made a huge difference in Tom’s campaign. He has made sure that Emmer understands that he cannot go off message, that if he doesn’t know something, he needs to revert to his talking points. And he has fleshed out just enough to persuade the media that Tom has met some sort of minimal level of responsiveness.

    In St Paul, people often asked themselves, does Gov. Pawlenty really believe any of the stuff he says? The consensus answer around the capitol has always been no, that the governor simply would say anything he needed to say to advance his political career. The same questions is often asked of Emmer, and there I think the consensus is that he really does believe that nonsense. But I just think that prompts the next questions which is how deep do those beliefs go? Would Tom Emmer’s crazy notions really influence his governorship, or would he put his personal beliefs in a closet somewhere, and govern with the often brutal pragmatism of the trial attorney he is.

  22. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/02/2010 - 09:24 am.

    Nick Coleman has always had the ability to generate anger about the strangest things. It’s one of the things that makes his columns and other writings so enjoyable.

    Like Nick, I am also pretty humble. I am just not that great in making categorical distinctions. If somebody’s got an opinion, I am willing to hear about it and think about it. In this case, Cyndy Brucato has been around for a while in a lot of different capacities, and I am always glad to hear what she has to say. And I don’t think the value of her remarks is at all dependent on what box someone else tries to put her in.

    When I am not engaged in ill informed babbling on the internets, I spend a lot of time talking to other people. One of the things I get told a lot is that the experts have failed us; that the advice the well credentialed and supposedly smart people have given us has turned out to be disastrously wrong in a number of different ways. I have a very hard time telling people who say that to me, that they are wrong. I humbly admit I ran out of good ideas a long time ago, and am currently running short of bad ideas. I guess at this point what I want to say is that not only am I willing to listen to Cyndy, I will listen to anybody.

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