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Norm Coleman’s advice to GOP: Be more than anti-government

Then-Sen. Norm Coleman addressing the 2008 RNC
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Then-Sen. Norm Coleman addressing the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

Norm Coleman is stepping up his presence in the Twin Cities. Starting next month, the former U.S. senator and chairman of the Minnesota Action Network, a think tank that advocates for conservative causes, will have an office at the new Minneapolis branch of Hogan Lovells, the law firm he joined in 2011.

Coleman will also take part in the Minnesota Action Network’s grassroots activities in the state, leading up to the 2014 elections. But, in an interview, Coleman, a Republican, made it clear that more visibility is not part of another run for office. Here are edited excerpts from that interview:

MinnPost: Why did you say now you're not running in 2014?

Norm Coleman: I wanted it to be very clear that the work I’m doing at the Action Network is not for my own political ambitions. I think if you care about center right positions, we have to be out there now, to improve the terrible position the center right is in in the state. We have to be doing grassroots. I didn’t want there to be any question; this is not about personal ambition.

MP: Minnesota Action Network did a poll last month of 1,660 Minnesotans. What were the findings?

NC: It showed that Minnesotans supported limited government but they are not anti-government. People define themselves as economically conservative and socially liberal. They do believe government has gotten too fat, wasteful and inefficient. The quality that most cite as admirable is the ability to compromise and get things done. So, it is not enough for Republicans to be anti-government. 

The top quality that people associate with Republicans is that they are negative about everything, not being in touch with voters. Now, I find that particularly troubling -- when Minnesotans define themselves as center right, but what Republicans are talking about is not resonating with them.

That’s the bad news. Ultimately the center right has to do a better job at connecting with Minnesotans.

MP: What can Minnesota Republicans do besides criticize Gov. Mark Dayton's budget?

NC: One opportunity is the health care exchange. Minnesotans are not looking for bigger government. You’ve got the exchange, but the Democrats are making sure the private side is cut out.

Republicans have tried to amend this to bring in more private-sector perspective.  What you’ve got to say is, “Use the power of the private sector, the power of the market.”  

Health care costs are going to go through the roof. Republicans have a great opportunity here. They are not in the position to have a platform, so it’s challenging, but the bottom line: They’ve got to be articulating “here is what we believe. Here is the way we should be doing it.”

Also, the biggest issue is jobs. Last year so much of the debate got caught up on the referendums. Leaders should be talking about jobs. One of the reasons I'm not running for governor is because I really worry about the impact on this state if the governor and the Legislature go ahead with the plan on raising taxes. We will see businesses making decisions about where they are not going to grow.

The reality is you don’t grow jobs by higher taxes and more government. Minnesotans understand we have a spending problem. Taxes on the top couple percent are politically popular…. Balance, that’s what people are looking for -- cutting spending and increasing revenues.

It goes to what we are seeing at the federal level. The president got the taxes, but instead of seeing any effort to cut spending, rein in some of the entitlements, he keeps talking about more revenue. When the president talks about balance, he’s not talking about spending cuts and tax increases. Folks are looking for balance. I look at the national level, and in many ways I worry that we are replaying it at the state level.

MP: You believe President Obama misjudged the politics of sequestration. Why?

NC: First, credibility in this business is really critical. If you’re out there saying the sky is going to fall and it doesn’t, you have a credibility problem. And if you do petty things, like closing the White House. I think [Obama] oversold the impact. He hurt himself in that regard. People still blame Republicans more than the president, but he overplayed the impact and exacerbated it by his own pettiness.

There is a better way to do cuts than 2.5 percent across the board. Sequestration is not a good thing, but we reached a point and it became easy for Republicans to say: If you’re not going to make [the cuts], we will. The only way it’s going to be resolved is if people work together.

MP: If Obama oversold on sequestration, did the GOP gain anything?

NC: I don’t know if there’s a winner here. It’s a question of who’s the biggest loser. One thing has been gained: It’s caused a refocus on spending and debt, a refocus on issues that Republicans talk about. Americans understand there’s a spending problem. It’s given strength to that message. There is some benefit with the focus on spending, debt and deficits.

MP: What can Republicans do in Washington to move the ball?

NC: Are people serious about the grand bargain? I think we are going to get there. This stalemate will not hold forever. We are in position to discuss the changes with Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. I think we are in a better position to make some progress there. The grand bargain may include some revenue, but will include a heavy, heavy dose of spending cuts. 

MP: When do you see the grand bargain happening?

NC: Maybe I’m too much of an optimist. I’m talking months. I think in the short term rather than longer term. But Republicans are not going to yield on spending cuts and  Democrats are not going to address Social Security without some pressure.

I know some folks in the Senate who are having private conversations about solutions: clear and specific cuts in spending; adjusting to entitlements; clarity on what we do on revenue. We've got to get beyond the political talking points.

MP: What do you think of Sen. Rob Portman’s statement of support for gay marriage?

NC: He’s a great man, great intellect, I respect his decision, and I just have a different opinion. I have a different opinion on this issue than his. He’s had different life experiences that have led him to a different conclusion.  

If you look at young people on this issue, they see themselves as socially liberal. There’s clearly a huge gap here. [But], I think the Democrats are falling in the same trap the Republicans did. Democrats are going to spend all this time focusing on gay marriage.

I don’t think there’s a crashing tide on this issue. Certainly young people are more socially liberal, but where that goes, I can’t tell. 

People can have different opinions, but still be respectful. I think what people are looking for is a more reasonable debate and less vitriol. Portman is a friend. On this issue I disagree with him, but he’s still a friend.

MP: Do you have a preference for chair of the Minnesota Republican Party?

NC: I know Keith Downey. I supported him. I think he'd make an excellent party chair.

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Comments (17)

I am glad you did this as a Q and A

Because it pretty much takes the "title" of the piece and dispels it with Coleman's direct quotes.

SS and Medicare are pretty simple to fix. Lift the income cap on the tax.

He misstates the argument for the exchange and it seems sensible to me that the "non profit" insurance companies make obscene profits, and Mr. Coleman seems to forget that a lot of them are non profits perhaps because they act like businesses?

As far as Obama talking about taxes, what's left he has already made cuts.

Nice try.

Norm the democrat

I always thought Norm made a major error in judgment in switching to the Republican Party. He really allowed short term political advantage to cloud his long term political judgment and he paid the political price for it. It's all very, very sad.

Will they ever learn..?

Why do the people in the Republican party who are 'in the know' keep bringing back the likes of Palin, Bachmann, Coleman, etc. These people are proven losers...they are the reason that the Republican party is in the tank.

How can the party leaders not have learned anything from their disastrous showing in their last National primary and general election?


Mr. Coleman is still drinking that Kool-Aid.

Low taxes have created a new aristocracy that has come very close (and continues to make progress) to replacing at least a limited republican (small "R") government with oligarchy.

Lack of government regulation, and lack of enforcement of existing regulations, are what created the most recent "recession," from which the wealthy have suffered not at all.

When banks are "…too big to prosecute,” democratic (small "D") government is dead. It's an admission that the banks run the country, and the banks' concern for the welfare of most citizens ranges from minuscule to nonexistent.

American health care is a slow-motion train wreck precisely because, over the past generation, government has too often listened to the "private sector." The corporatization of medical care, coupled with the unconscionable ripoff that is health "insurance," makes this the only industrialized nation on the planet where a serious illness can destroy a family financially, as well as physically and emotionally.

If Minnesotans were, in fact, center-right, the state legislature would look rather different than it does. Just because you HAVE tea leaves doesn't mean you can read them. Just about every human being on the planet favors "limited" government, so Mr. Coleman is falling back on the same old tired cliches once again. It's not the delivery of the Republican message that is driving people away, it's the message itself, not to mention the loathsomeness of some of the message-bearers.

Much of what's being called "conservative" in recent years is, in fact, "reactionary." They're not synonymous terms.

Perhaps I don't understand

Perhaps I don't understand how a question and answer piece works, but it would have been very nice if you would have asked Mr Coleman how exactly more private sector involvement in the health exchange could keep down health costs.

Perhaps this is news to both of you, but the private sector has a track record in healthcare. It's not good regarding keeping costs down.The congressional budget office looked at annual real cost growth per enrollee over 199-2005. Private insurance: 5.7%. Medicare: 4.4%. VA: 0.3%. The CBO published this in 2007. Things haven't improved, perhaps in part because executives of private insurance companies still draw compensation north of 10 million a year.

This wailing about exchanges only illustrates how broken the current system is: the state exchanges will include private plans, and steer new customers towards them. And yet it still isn't enough to satisfy them or their lobbying champions.

A single payer system can't come soon enough...

"... but it would have been

"... but it would have been very nice if you would have asked Mr Coleman how exactly more private sector involvement in the health exchange could keep down health costs."

It would indeed have been good for the interviewer to have asked the "how" question.

Too many journalists have forgotten their role.


Coleman is a politician and undoubtedly would have just coughed up some warm platitudes if he had been pinned down to specifics. Banal statements like "only the private sector can innovate" and "government just needs to get out of the way and let businesses do what they do best." Grill him further and he would answer the question he wishes you had asked rather than the one you did ask.

The reality is the private sector has had their shot at making a health care system that's equitable for all Americans and they failed. It's time for them to move out of the way and let the government run the operation as a basic utility with single payer universal health care. Throw in compensation reform and you've got a real winner on your hands.

We should have done this right after WWII like the rest of the industrialized nations. If we had we wouldn't be in this god awful mess right now.

Cyndy's pieces

are not journalism, they are Republican infomercials.

Another Poll Survey Confirms Mn Progressive/Moderate Views

Once again the obvious has been confirmed. Mn citizens have historically be as the survey showed fiscally conservative and socially liberal.This view establishes a center right citizenery with moderate and progessive views to make government work to support the needs of the people of the state and make the quality of life stand out as unique. When the Mn GOP candidates for legisature, congress, senate, governor etc. are chosen to reflect these views and propose a path to strengthen government thru efficiency and wise decisions for good government the GOP has won in most cases. Recent candidate selection has shifted the GOP candidates to those who would not utilze government as a method to enable change but rather shut govenmen down and limit services to citizens. Until the GOP is for benefical programs, realizes that there is a role for govenment, and enables citizens and business to grow the GOP will continue to a Luddite factor. The only way to change the trend is to open the primaries to be the candiate selection process and minmize the narrowness of the structural parties. Back to the basic theme--Norm Coleman did a survey that confirmed the obvious- how many times do we have to go thru the same process to prove the same thing. Lets act like Minnesotans -- even with demographic changes we are still the same --no more survey needed just commons sense candidate who favor good government over power and special interest politics.

Dave Broden

Hypocritical Norm

Norm is quoted: "People can have different opinions, but still be respectful. I think what people are looking for is a more reasonable debate and less vitriol."

I will never forgive Norm Coleman for his vicious, cruel, and outright fabricated attack ads in his campaign against Al Franken.

He crossed the line so severely and so often, in both ads and in campaign speeches, that to hear him now say that we need to be respectful of others with differing opinions, well, it just makes me sick to my stomach.

Interviewing an Idealogue

Has anyone else noticed that when interviewing an ideologue that the answers are utterly predictable? Cindy could have written both questions and answers and saved a lot of time.

Amen, Jackson.Amen.

Amen, Jackson.



Is always trying to judge the future beliefs of voters to gain political advantage for his next campaign. Soon he will be a pro gay marriage independent.


Mr. Coleman would be calling for a dictatorship of the proletariat if he thought the Communist Party had a shot at winning.


Government, to big or to dumb, the real point Norm seems to make is, the GOP wants dumb government, so that the people can be taken advantage of, it is not a question of size, its a question of smarts. Smart government is much harder to manipulate and lobby. So the GOP claims one thing but does something else. Are people really starting to see the truth about these guys behind the curtain. The average tax payer has been getting swindled for at least 40 years, as the GOP tries to restore the Feudal order of the middle ages.


With the same name as a Springsteen song can't be wrong!

Coleman Conservatism Fails Its Own Standard

My column in Thursday, March 20, Pioneer Press responds to the "conservatism" Coleman's Minnesota Action Network is pushing.