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Candidates for state GOP chair agree the party’s a mess

In a debate, each offers different plans to pay the party’s bills and turn the GOP around.

GOP chair candidates Bonn Clayton, Bill Paulsen, Keith Downey, and Don Allen participated in a debate Thursday night.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

At a debate Thursday night in Eagan, the four candidates for chair of the Minnesota Republican Party were in solid agreement on one issue: Their party is in a sorry state.

To reverse the course, each offered a different answer to the overriding question of the night: How to pay off the party’s $1 million-plus debt and make it a force in the 2014 elections.

Former Edina legislator Keith Downey insisted that the next chair needs to implement a new plan on day one. “It’s critical we have a plan,” he said. “I was the number one fundraiser when I ran for the House and Senate and I will spend over half my time fundraising.”

Don Allen, a Minneapolis activist and owner of the on-line Independent Business News Network, suggested that donors won’t give until they see Republicans offer new ideas. “There’s a need to change the attraction to the party,” he said.

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Bill Paulsen, an engineer at Seagate Technology, rejected the need for big dollar donors. “We’ve got to strengthen the party and energize and empower the grass roots,” he said.

Bonn Clayton, a Carver County activist who has just been fined $1,200 for misrepresenting the party’s position on judicial endorsements (he supports them, the party does not), maintained the state GOP should return to the fundraising strategies of the ‘70s and ‘80s. “We need a grass roots fundraising plan,” he said, “like the Century Club and neighbor-to-neighbor.”

On other issues like retaining the caucus system, streamlining the party’s platform and accepting candidates who differ with the party’s policies, only Allen advocated reform.  “You will continue to take traumatic losses until you change,” he told the crowd of nearly 100 who packed a room at the Eagan Community Center.

This weekend, the candidates continue their ground campaign of wooing delegates who will be part of the party’s state central committee, the group that will elect the new chair. The first, third, fourth, and fifth Congressional districts hold their conventions on Saturday. The state central committee meets April 6 in Bloomington.