Tom Emmer talks about his campaign, the media and running again

Tom Emmer
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Tom Emmer

Few people who lose an election, even a close one, draw much attention after the concession speech. But one year after he lost the governor’s race to Mark Dayton, Tom Emmer quoted a line from his favorite movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”: “I’m not dead yet.”

Far from it. Emmer has earned his own billboards as co-host of the KTLK morning show. “I say I have radio ministry,” he says.

For three hours each morning, Emmer holds forth on the fiscally and socially conservative principles that provided the high- and low- lights of his gubernatorial campaign. But now there’s more nuance and consideration in his comments, reflections of the candidate who emerged with a few bruises and hard-earned lessons.

For example, on the biggest job a governor has to do, balance the state budget, Emmer today would be more flexible than Emmer the candidate. “I’ll compromise,” he says. If the choice were to “cut four billion or two billon, I will compromise with going between two and four.”

On the budget deal that was reached last session, Emmer maintains neither the Republican majority in the Legislature nor the governor were happy. In fact, he says he called former Gov. Arne Carlson and told him: “If this was going to be the deal, they should have done it your way.” Carlson advocated some revenue increases rather than the borrowing that was used to bring the budget in balance.

On the question to be placed on the ballot in November 2012 that would define marriage in the Minnesota Constitution, he says: “I believe marriage is defined as a man and a woman. Now that it’s on the ballot, you need to show up and vote your beliefs. The issue is really being able to talk about it and have different points of view.”

Core views
But Emmer hasn’t changed his core thinking. Government spending must be reduced “or we are going to fall off a cliff,” he says.

He’s still critical of Dayton’s tax-the-rich-plan, which, he claims, ultimately is a “tax everybody” plan because it’s not indexed for inflation.

He’s proud of his legislative proposals like mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients, a plan ahead of its time, he says, with Florida just passing similar legislation. Another proposal — castration for habitual sex offenders — is therapy, he says. “You should see all the letters that I got from people whose family members have struggled with this issue.”

Still, Emmer is a man who’s made adjustments. “Have my viewpoints changed or evolved? The answer is yes. There’s a certain humility that comes with going through the political process. Comprehend this; understand this. Then figure out where you fit best.”

He continues to hold the classic candidate grudge against the media. We made him a caricature, he says.

“You get painted a certain way through the prism of the media — primarily print media. It was usually an angry look [in the pictures that they put out]. It’s almost self-perpetuating. But if you listen to the radio show, you think, ‘I like this guy’s sense of humor.'”

He’s far more generous with his political challengers. Of Mark Dayton he says: “I gave him credit then and now. He said who he was throughout the campaign and he was a true gentleman to me and [wife] Jackie.”

Arne Carlson
Arne Carlson

Arne Carlson was “very gracious. I talked to Arne and asked him to sit down and talk about the campaign. He had five pages of notes, and we went through the entire campaign from beginning to end. But at the end, he said you have to leave open the option to raise revenue. That’s where we parted ways.”

As for Carlson’s public endorsement of independent candidate Tom Horner, “Arne is pro-business but not necessarily pro-Republican.”

Presidential race
Emmer exercises similar diplomacy when discussing presidential and state Republican politics. He supported Tim Pawlenty in his presidential bid, has respect for Michele Bachmann, thinks Mitt Romney will definitively be one of two survivors for the GOP nomination, and believes the Tea Party will continue to grow as an ideological force.

He has muted concerns about the Minnesota Republican Party, with its $500,000 debt and bills still outstanding from the gubernatorial recount. “It looks like everybody is abandoning Tony [Sutton, party chair], but he’ll figure this out,” Emmer says. “Right now, he needs friends, and it seems some of the closest around him are jumping ship.”

As aware as Emmer is of party insiders, party insiders are equally aware of him and the image he is projecting both on the radio and off. With the painfully close loss in the governor’s race, can Tom Emmer polish up enough to turn another candidacy into victory? The question, in the speculative stage for the next governor’s contest in 2014, has more urgency for November, 2012, if Congresswoman Michele Bachmann does not run again in the 6th District, Emmer’s home base.

Would he make another run? “Right now, radio is where I fit best,” he says. Still, “I will not say no, but you’re not gonna hear me say yes. If I’m ever the right person at the right place at the right time, I’d consider it.”

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 11/08/2011 - 08:40 am.

    If anyone has second thoughts about whether Emmer was qualified to be governor, you can put them to rest by listening to his morning radio show for a couple of hours, if you can stand it.

    He displays his shallowness, ignorance, and meanness as if they are peacock feathers. (His co-host doesn’t do him any favors, other than compete with Emmer for the cluelessness title.)

    Emmer somehow managed to clean himself up during the campaign and showed am uncharacteristic degree of restraint and discipline, but Emmer’s loutish, demagogic rants on the radio should provide a treasure trove of ad materials for any candidate against whom he choses to run.

  2. Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 11/08/2011 - 08:52 am.

    Good Lord, Emmer, please don’t burden the state of Minnesota or the Republican party with another bumbling attempt to run for office.

    No one wants to watch that.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/08/2011 - 09:56 am.

    When the “party of ideas” can attract candidates that are obviously intelligent people who can entertain the possibility that others (peoples and parties) can have good ideas too, then they perhaps will deserve consideration. Until then, they fail.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/08/2011 - 10:14 am.

    If the election were held today, he’d win.

  5. Submitted by Tony Cuppacalucci on 11/08/2011 - 11:09 am.

    Had then-state representative Laura Brod run I believe she would have become Minnesota’s first female governor. Now a member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents and no longer an elected official, I hope she will consider a run in the future.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/08/2011 - 11:11 am.

    If the election were held today, he’d win in a walk-over.

  7. Submitted by Jim Roth on 11/08/2011 - 11:47 am.

    Dream on, Dennis.

  8. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/08/2011 - 11:50 am.

    Re: #4…

    I don’t think so.

    That is, of course, why we have elections in the first place.

  9. Submitted by Josh Williams on 11/08/2011 - 12:47 pm.

    Says Emmer:

    If the choice were to “cut four billion or two billon, I will compromise with going between two and four.”


    “But at the end, he said you have to leave open the option to raise revenue. That’s where we parted ways.”

    That doesn’t really sound like compromise to me. It sounds like the same position he staked out long ago.

  10. Submitted by scott gibson on 11/08/2011 - 12:47 pm.

    Emmer is the reason Dayton is governor. Republicans chose to think their vote was somehow coopted by Horner’s candidacy. It was not. Many, such as myself, considered voting for Horner first, but checked ourselves when it appeared it might insure that Emmer would be the ultimate winner. Both Dayton and Horner would still be preferred to Emmer.

  11. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 11/08/2011 - 01:27 pm.

    He’s “proud” of his legislative proposals. Wow! Drug testing for welfare folks and castration for sex offenders!

    A wingnut really would be proud of proposals for those divisive and inflammatory social issues. Those proposals are designed to throw red meat to the extreme partisans in the GOP. They have been proposed elsewhere, in other states, for decades; they are not new ideas. It’s the same thing with the anti-gay amendment and voter ID. They’re just recycled wedge issues, sometimes designed to get certain voters to the polls.

    Mr Emmer, that is not leadership. Rather, that is a total and complete failure of political will and reasoning.

    It has been found that the drug testing costs way more money than it saves. But hey, I suppose if you kick 12 people off welfare, it’s a moral victory for the GOP, regardless of the real cost.

    Just 9000 votes separated Minnesota from becoming the completely crazy circus going on in Wisconsin. Think about that. Emmer and Scott Walker are cut from the same cloth. They’re both mean-spirited, spiteful, revengeful men who seek only to exact pain and suffering on the vast majority of their citizens.

    Thank god Emmer lost. THANK GOD.

  12. Submitted by Barbara Skoglund on 11/08/2011 - 04:43 pm.

    Why is Minn Post having GOP poster girl Brucato writing fluff pieces on her GOP friends? What kind of thoughtful approach to news is this?

  13. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/08/2011 - 05:12 pm.

    That’s a little unfair. The article is fluff, but that doesn’t mean she’s a GOP poster girl. Thought, for someone who titles herself as “hard hitting” in her Wikipedia article (I have to assume that she or someone who idolizes her wrote it), you’d think that a sentence like “still, Emmer is a man who’s made adjustments” would have been followed by evidence, not Emmer’s own words (“Have my viewpoints changed or evolved? The answer is yes. There’s a certain humility that comes with going through the political process. Comprehend this; understand this. Then figure out where you fit best.”)

  14. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/08/2011 - 09:26 pm.

    #12 – Barbara – So you believe that the almost daily “attack articles” against Michele Bachmann by MinnPost equals “high quality journalism?”

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/08/2011 - 10:17 pm.

    “Arne is pro-business but not necessarily pro-Republican.”

    I’m glad Mr. Emmer pointed out what made Governor Carlson such a successful Governor. Good policy does not need party affiliation.

  16. Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 11/09/2011 - 08:54 am.


    Quoting Michelle Bachmann and fact-checking her assertions does not constitute an “attack article”.

    Your umbrage at honest journalism being directed at Bachmann just goes to further show the classic GOP allergy to facts and truth.

    Had Brucato done any actual journalism on this piece, maybe we would have a better insight as to the methods of implementation and implications of Emmer’s policy positions, rather than a few fluffy quotes and a nice plug for his radio show.

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/09/2011 - 09:26 am.

    “Had Brucato done any actual journalism on this piece, maybe we would have a better insight as to the methods of implementation and implications of Emmer’s policy positions, rather than a few fluffy quotes and a nice plug for his radio show.”

    Right, plus maybe a few well chosen bits of ad hominum, snarky commentary and awkward innuendo.

  18. Submitted by Barbara Skoglund on 11/09/2011 - 09:52 am.

    Not a GOP poster girl?? She’s worked for GOP administrations for years AND for Hubbard who is a major, major supporter of the GOP.

  19. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 11/09/2011 - 10:48 am.

    “If the election were held today, he’d win in a walk-over.”

    Really, Mr. Swift? Let’s hope that Mr. Emmer runs again against Governor Dayton in 2014 should Dayton choose to run for re-election.

    Mr. Emmer is living proof of the Peter principle and has risen to that level as a radio talk show host – a Rush Limbaugh wannabe. Not exactly the best position from which to launch another gubernatorial campaign.

    And of course you do remember that after this “close” election not even the Republican apparatchiks would punch his sinecure ticket.

    As Minnesota Conservatives [sic] put it:

    “Today the Republicans in Minnesota redeemed their mistake in endorsing Emmer last year by refusing to grant him the RNC position for which he was neither qualified nor entitled. Today Tom Emmer’s political career died. MC wishes him well as he pursues other opportunities.”

  20. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/09/2011 - 03:36 pm.


    Did you see the MinnPost “crop art” pictures of Michele Bachmann?

    True Journalism!?!

  21. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/09/2011 - 04:01 pm.

    And now you know why the term RINO was invented.

  22. Submitted by Peter Tharaldson on 11/11/2011 - 10:53 pm.

    In talking about Carlson’s endorsement of the Independence candidate: “Arne is pro-business but not necessarily pro-Republican.”

    Wow…guess we know which group really is pro-business in this state.

  23. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 11/16/2011 - 02:35 pm.


    Interesting read and some points I was not aware of. I do hope Emmer runs again. The liberal machine has largely damaged anyone who staunchly plants themselves as democrat any longer and have a sneaky suspicion the 2012 cycle is going to be a mad house.

    Keep up the good work girl!

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