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GOP family feud erupts over racino proposal

A dispute between Deputy Party Chair Michael Brodkorb, right, and just-elected national committeewoman Pat Anderson illustrates the hazards of party platforms.

Political party platforms are tricky documents. They usually contain positions on issues that even the most loyal party member do not always support. So, when a Minnesota Republican Party officer publicly bucks the platform by taking on a new client, the result is a high profile spat that illuminates the political pitfalls of wearing several hats.

Newly elected national committeewoman Pat Anderson has registered as a lobbyist for Canterbury Holdings to promote racino, casino-style slot machines at the track — running headlong into the GOP position against expansion of gambling.

Deputy Party Chair Michael Brodkorb minces no words about how he perceives Anderson’s conflict: she should resign as national committeewoman or drop her client. “Ultimately she’s going to have to choose,” he said.

Pat Anderson
Pat Anderson

But the only conflict, Anderson says, is within the platform itself. “One of the platforms in the party is to support free markets,” she points out. “Another is opposition to the Indian casino monopoly.”

As for conflict, she says it’s Brodkorb that will find himself in the cross-hairs as he negotiates his volunteer post as deputy party chair with his day job as senior staff of the Senate GOP caucus. She notes that Senate President Michelle Fischbach, the Republican from Paynesville, “and Michael’s boss,” is supporting a larger gambling proposal than racino. “Is he planning on kicking both of us out of the party?” she asked.

‘It’s going to be difficult for her’
Brodkorb is having none of the semantics. In fact, he is characteristically blunt. “She is a party officer, she sits on the executive committee,” he said. “There is an expectation she will support the party platform. Plus the timing of this and how she has handled this, it’s going to be difficult for her.”

Brodkorb says Anderson should have made her position on gambling clear when she was running for the national committee post.

But Anderson, a former state auditor and gubernatorial candidate, maintains she has, well, a clear track record on her support of racino and that “a majority of Republicans in the state have a similar position.”

This sort of political family squabble would never make it outside of a convention hall except that an expansion of gambling looks more and more likely to be part of the legislative solution to the state’s budget gap.

“We have a thriving gambling business in Minnesota but most of it is not taxed, and that’s bad public policy,” says Anderson. It’s also tempting to Republicans who need to find more revenue without outright tax increases.

Michael Brodkorb
Michael Brodkorb

A dozen Republican committee chairs have signed on as co-sponsors of racino which, according to Anderson, would net the state $200 million every two years.
If, at the end of the session, political realities trump political idealism, Anderson predicts “a month from now, the party and the caucus will not have same position on every issue.”

But Broadkorb insists, “The issue isn’t about hypotheticals that happen at the end of the session. A national committeewoman is a very important role inside our party. There is an expectation of working with others. I’ve spoken with some activists who really disagree with how this was handled.”

Disconnect with party platform
Anderson says she too has spoken with GOP activists. “I was talking to a bunch of people at the Freedom Club dinner last night who were all supportive.” She says it was those activists who pointed out the disconnect between the platform and legislation supported by Fischbach.

For his part, Brodkorb says he has a clear conscience when it comes to maneuvering the bumpy road of end-of-session deals. “The activists all knew I was an employee of the Senate when they elected me twice for deputy chair,” he says.

Ultimately, Brodkorb says, it’s those party insiders — the grass roots precinct and district organizers — who will decide what the party does next. In other words, with respect to the Republican Party and its support or opposition to gambling, don’t place any bets just yet.