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Minnesota GOP will choose new state chair from rival factions still at war

With the contest for a new chairman, the Republican Party of Minnesota is headed for another power struggle between two blocs of activists — the Ron Paul supporters who have taken over much of the party’s grass-roots structure, and traditional conservatives who lost their hold at the state convention last spring.

Marianne Stebbins
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Marianne Stebbins

Two of the key players in this competition are Marianne Stebbins, not a candidate for chair but the chief organizer of Paul supporters, also known as the “liberty” wing, and Keith Downey, a former state representative with a business and legislative résumé, who is a candidate for party chair.

The victor will determine nothing less than whether the Republican Party can return to dominance. Each group believes it has a vision that will lead the party back to financial solvency and organizational effectiveness that, in turn, will lead to the broad voter support that the party lacked in the 2012 election. For Stebbins, that means a radical retrenchment of party ideals.

“We looked at the last election and  the party just showed that it was genuinely out of touch,” she said. “They weren’t talking about the economy,  they were talking about the constitutional amendments.” For Downey, the party’s principles are not the problem, but he believes they got lost in the translation to voters.

“The basic Republican message of relying on Minnesotans and not bigger government is an appealing one,” he said. “If we can animate the  activist base and make people understand we do care, we can excite the public.”

Meetings in February

The selection of party chair is an inside job. In February, Republicans will attend meetings in their Senate district, also called a basic political organizing unit or BPOU. Each BPOU elects delegates to the party’s state central committee. The central committee then selects the party chair.

As an indication of how tough a job the party chairmanship will be, the state central committee has approved a budget that includes a salary for the party chair. Downey has not indicated whether he’d take the salary, which current chair Pat Shortridge has turned down.

Ron Paul supporters promise an effort to take control of the state central committee. Contrary to claims that Ron Paul supporters were interested only in making a statement in the 2012 presidential race, Stebbins says they are a force at the local level.

“These folks are still very active and working together, meeting and discussing organization,” she said. “They will still come out to the BPOUs, maybe more in some areas than others. It’s a self-propelling movement to a large degree.”

The liberty wing hasn’t endorsed a candidate for party chair publicly, but has mentioned support for businessman and activist Corey Sax and former state auditor and national committeewoman Pat Anderson.

Downey to stress the future

Keith Downey
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Keith Downey

The BPOUs give Downey an opportunity for retail politics where he says he will stress his message of moving forward.

“We’ve got all kinds of things you can look at and analyze to death, but what we really need is somebody who can take our party forward to the future,” he said. “In my mind, the essence of that is remembering that we Republicans are here to provide leadership for our state and the betterment of our people.”

Downey and Stebbins also split on how many Republicans can fit under the big tent.

As far as Downey’s concerned, all Republicans, be they social conservatives, Ron Paulites, or traditional conservatives who tend to be social moderates, are necessary to move the party forward. 

Stebbins implies litmus test

Stebbins is not so sure about that and implies there will be a litmus test for future candidates to get the liberty wing’s stamp of approval.  “We’re not interested in electing any Republican that runs,” she said.  “We want to choose a candidate that has principles.”

Neither the Paulites nor the establishment activists can claim any high ground based on the results of the 2012 election. Ron Paul supporters succeeded in winning the Republican endorsement for U.S. Senate for high school teacher Kurt Bills, who went on to lose to Sen. Amy Klobuchar by the widest margin in state history.

As to why, Stebbins explains, “Nobody was going to do well against Klobuchar. He [Bills] got started late and his campaign was run by the establishment Republicans.”

A focus on communication

Meanwhile, the establishment Republican Downey, who was co-chair of the Bills campaign and ran unsuccessfully for the Minnesota Senate, was one of the defeated Republican candidates who returned the Legislature to DFL control. Women and minorities led the anti-Republican tide. Downey insists that “the Republican approach is absolutely the right approach. [But], do we need to communicate that in a way that appeals to all kinds of Minnesotans? Absolutely.”

There is common ground for Stebbins and Downey and the Republican activists they represent. It’s the deep concern about what happened to their party in the last election cycle and the willingness to reevaluate its political purpose. And no one thinks it will be easy. Downey offered an assessment that gets no argument. “We have a lot of work to do,” he said, “if we are going to be the GOP the state of Minnesota needs.”

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 01/14/2013 - 10:33 am.

    Republican’s choosing a leader

    Don’t expect anything in your sense of the term “leader” to be chosen. The Republican’s are into ideological zealots right not, not leaders. How long will it be before the Republican’s are going to make meaningful changes that will stop their losing streak. I suspect it will be more good news for the Democrats coming out of the Republican “leader” selection. It will be another zealot from the fringe of the party. That is unless some Republican moderates develop a backbone and take their party back.

  2. Submitted by David Broden on 01/14/2013 - 11:12 am.

    A Minnesota Moderate Progressive GOP Vision Forward

    The evolution of the Mn GOP is certainly remaining focused to current internal divisions and if that continues the result will be to continue the downward direction–Lack of a real Minnesota vision is building a coalition of Luddites determined to become extinct.On the other hand the Minnesosta political landscape continue to be even with demographic changes a moderate progressive and very independent population.If leadership that can link back to the leadership and vision of Stassen, Elmer L. Anderson, LeVander, Quie,, Carlson and congressman such as Erdahl, Frenzel, Nelson, Stangland etc. and legislative leaders such as Popham, Duxbery, France, Gage, and more we have much to build on. The GOP party political leader must be a person who leads by focus on Good Government for all of Minnesota and achieving that thru bi-partisan teamwork. Establishing common vision for Mn across Mn and debating GOP vs. DFL differnce only on how things can best be done for Mn. Poltical leadership is not about ideology or power it must be about Good Government and citiizen participation and desire to advance the common good. Minnesota has had politicall party leaders like this in the past in both parties and we can again if those who select the leaders will step forward beyond power and focus on doing the right things.

    Dave Broden

    • Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 01/15/2013 - 12:00 am.


      The current GOP has actively and forcefully rejected traditional Republican leaders like those mentioned and decided that those stalwarts of traditional Republican values are “Republicans In Name Only (RINO). They were practitioners of “good government” and were comfortable with compromise – neither of which is valued any longer in the curent GOP.

      Being labled a “moderate” or worse, a “progressive”, is an insult to most GOP activists.

  3. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 01/14/2013 - 11:27 am.

    I will give them one point.

    The MN GOP is largely a motley group of beggars, tramps and thieves of late. They’ve almost become equivalent to the democrats in its all about how much they can get, how much pork can be pushed, and all this. Fiscal restraint has been tossed out the door because like the democrats, becoming a politician is a persons dream. Lots of public events, parties, wealth, fame, etc. We seem to be nearing a tipping point where we’ll need to come back to a starting point once again. The money is no longer holding much value and the tricks aren’t worth it anymore.

  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 01/14/2013 - 12:49 pm.

    Looks like a perfect circular firing squad

    I love the concept of Republican principles and even better that they’re to be based on Ron Paul’s out-of-touch beliefs.

  5. Submitted by Rich Crose on 01/14/2013 - 12:53 pm.

    Two Farmers, One Pig

    It’s like two farmers looking at a pig and trying to figure out what to do with it.

    Downey wants to put lipstick on it and try to sell it. Stebbins wants to gut it and sell pork chops.

    Neither one wants to admit that the real problem is that they’ve been stuck with a sick pig.

  6. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 01/15/2013 - 12:09 am.

    Coverage of Republican Party

    Ms. Brucato covers GOP politics as a fan, not as a reporter. No questions asked, nothing probed, no digging, just the spin and some cheerleading. MINNPOST can do better.

    • Submitted by Tim Walker on 01/15/2013 - 07:52 am.

      Amen to that

      It’s really striking how her “reporting” stands out as being nothing more than PR, in stark contrast to the other MinnPost reporters, who actually practice journalism.

    • Submitted by Rich Crose on 01/15/2013 - 08:28 am.

      I Disagree

      I enjoy reading her reports but read them with the same skepticism that I read Mr. Black’s reports. Without them, MinnPost would circle the political block in a counter-clockwise direction –the familiar view out your window would grow stale.

  7. Submitted by Mike Downing on 01/15/2013 - 09:51 am.


    M. Stebbins has clearly shown she is a Paulite/Libertarian and not a Republican.

    I can vividly recall the teenage excitement in her voice and facial expressions when she announced the delegate count for Paul and boredom with announcing the Romney count. It was sad to see and hear a delegation chair be so out of touch with the MNGOP.

    Stebbins would destroy all the already fractured MNGOP!

    • Submitted by Joe Steel on 01/16/2013 - 10:30 am.


      While Marriane is far from perfect and she is a work in progress I side with her statements on this 100% and she has a plan as do many of us which unlike the old guard isn’t repeat what’s failed or appeal to big money interests and throw the grassroots under the bus. U got to learn that or the MNGOP will be like the mnWhigs

  8. Submitted by David Broden on 01/15/2013 - 12:56 pm.

    Comments on Comments-Lets have Postive GOP Revival View

    It is interesting that I wrote the only perspective of why the Mn GOP has a truly moderate base and core that remains and need the focus of leader who understands good government policy and principles in Mn. Why whin about the reporter, why whin about the two announced candidates why not speak to the issue and opportunity. Lets revive Mn GOP in its strong tradition with a 21st century twist of pragmatism and vision. There are those who can do this if we all stop whin about how bad it is and get to the message of it can be done and it will help both parties be better representative of the citiizens of Minnesota.

    Dave Broden

  9. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 01/15/2013 - 05:49 pm.

    The electorate is waiting for positive Republican changes

    The Republicans have to stop putting forth candidates from the fringe of the party. If there are any moderates left, they need to step forward and start leading. The last two years the party had the chance to lead in a responsible manner and they chose to only work Republican social engineering projects, legislation that served only a small segment of the population, and sexual escapades. This last election the voters told the Republicans, loud and clear, they are not what we want. Even Republicans are leaving the party. The Republicans can’t move forward now and can’t expect big changes from the electorate if their plan is to take the Republican platitudes, restructure the sentences, and present them all over again. The electorate is looking for real, substantial changes in the party’s direction before they look at them as being a viable party again. I agree we need two strong political parties. They must, however, work together, compromise, and come to the best solutions that will serve all Minnesotans not just a special few. So far in the new Minnesota legislature the Republicans have shown nothing but a continuation of their past contempt for anyone who doesn’t think like them, which isn’t going to improve the Republican political fortunes. It is the Republican leadership’s move. Make it a positive move.

  10. Submitted by Joe Steel on 01/16/2013 - 10:28 am.

    New GOP leaders

    All the opinions expressed sound like their coming from party operatives who care about keeping the status quo which has been corruption, slush funds, scandals, losers, and ignoring the the only thing growing the party. Liberty/Tea party types have to be accepted by the GOP and the old guard Dinosaurs-Rinos-Rockefeller wing, has to realize their age is done. They need to accept we played by their rules and they lost. instead of overturning the game board, sucking thumb and blaming the new people who out organized them.

    A new GOP chair has to be that new and not part of the big Money slush fund cabal which the Ebensteiner/Carey/sutton gang were, and the ex-Enron guy Shortridge who was supposed to be a “big fundraiser” failed miserably. Tony sutton failed to deliver squat for Kurt bills but Tony acquired much $$$$ as did Ben Golnik and others from “consulting” while they kept dipping in, Brodkorb kept screwing us, and they ask us to payback the MNGOP’s debts bull! They can clawback after past leaders for that. Either we start fresh and flush this proverbial toilet or u can continue to wallow in the sewage that’s flowed from the MNGOP for the last 20 years or so. I for one plan on voting for a liberty/Tea party candidate like Pat anderson or Brad Brandon and think principles not rhetoric matter!

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