Expect Tony Sutton to announce sometime this week that he will seek re-election as the state Republican Party chair.
Sutton, who goes after DFLers and moderate Republicans (sometimes known as “quislings”) with equal gusto, indicated in an interview last week that changes in his personal business life will give him “more flexibility” to deal with the rigors of staying on in the unpaid position atop the party.
Sutton is stepping down as the chief executive officer of Baja Sol restaurants in the metro area. His wife, Bridget, will take over as CEO.
This change comes at a time when the Suttons have closed their two full-service restaurants, victims of the slow economy, he said. But they’re still operating their 11 counter-service restaurants, with plans to open a 12th, in the state.
“People [in difficult times] trade down,” said Sutton of the problems his full-service restaurants have faced. “The fast-casual restaurants are doing well.”
With less responsibility for his restaurant business, Sutton said he will have more time for what he considers his public service commitment, party chair.
If anything, it appears that Sutton’s role in politics could be even greater in at least the near future.
When he stepped down as restaurant CEO, Sutton announced he was forming a political consulting company, Winning Strategies, a one-man shop (for the moment) that will be working closing with Public Affairs Co., a Minnesota-based “government relations” company which is trying to raise its profile in Minnesota.
Currently, Public Affairs Co., which tilts Republican in its advocacy, does only about 8 percent of its multimillion-dollar business in Minnesota, according to CEO Steve Knuth. He said Sutton’s “understanding” of the new Republican legislative majority will help attract more Minnesota clients to his company.
“We will be able to pitch many potential clients together,'” said Knuth, who was a longtime Republican Party activist before forming Public Affairs. “We offer a marriage of his understanding of the Republican majority and our ability to get things done.”
Knuth’s company does not do direct lobbying. It plays a more subtle role in the legislative process.
“We engineer public support” is how Knuth describes the ever-expanding role of advocacy companies such as Public Affairs.
If, for example, you own a pharmaceutical company and a political issue comes along that will affect your business, you hire a company such as Public Affairs. That company will see to it that there are health care providers lined up sympathetic to your point of view.
Knuth said that in our age of instant communications, legislators are more sensitive than ever to “constituent pressure.” Companies hire companies to create that constituent pressure.
Sutton sees all of this as a positive in our political evolution.
“This takes it back to the grass roots,” Sutton said.
He said that if he were to decide to run again for party chair, he could see no conflict-of-interest problems with holding that position.
Given the Republican success in November, it’s unlikely that Sutton would face serious opposition if he decides to run again.
The DFL Party, meanwhile, will be getting new leadership. Ken Martin is considered the likely successor to Brian Melendez, when the DFL party leadership gathers next month to select its new chair.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.