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.”