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With legislative session over, Minnesota GOP groups move to campaign mode

“I have great respect for Ben Golnik. He’s one of the top operatives of the Republican Party,” said the party chair – the DFL party chair, Ken Martin.

Martin’s respect has grown along with Golnik’s rapid-response, campaign-style operation, and independent-expenditure group called the Minnesota Jobs Coalition.

Since the start of this year’s legislative session that concluded Monday, Golnik and the group’s one paid staffer, Tom Erickson, have sent out dozens of news releases criticizing DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget, filed a campaign-finance complaint for his use of a state airplane, played a role in the St Cloud special election with a radio ad and — for a day — controlled the political message of the moment with a tracking video of Dayton snapping at participants at a town hall meeting in Shakopee.

Golnik says he wants the group to not only lead on Republican response to the 2013 legislative session, he wants to set the stage for a 2014 Republican election strategy. His chief inspiration for the Minnesota Jobs Coalition is the DFL’s Alliance for A Better Minnesota (ABM).

Controlling the message

He praises Martin for taking control of the DFL’s message and money machinery and hopes the GOP will be as well coordinated in 2014. “Now the challenge is to stick together,” he said.

Martin said: “One of things on the progressive side of the ledger — we only have one organization. We are not splintering off.”   

The proof of that came seemingly within seconds of the conclusion of the 2013 legislative session. ABM released a video praising DFL legislators for their budget decisions and clubbing Republicans with a reminder of budget cuts, a proposed constitutional amendment on gay marriage and a government shutdown that dominated legislative attention when Republicans controlled the House and Senate.

It’s true that the Minnesota Republican Party is “not some targeted, rapid-response political response team,” said party Chair Keith Downey. “But I am more convinced than ever that we are on the side of everyday Minnesotans. As compared to some political position, we have a bunch of evidence and it’s not that hard to present because people are going to see it and feel it directly.”

Ben Golnik
MinnPost photo by Brian HallidayBen Golnik

Downey said the party’s response to the session is to do a “deep dive” into budget documents. The thousands of pages will take time to analyze, but the party took an initial swipe in a newsletter, claiming to bust budget “myths.”  

“There is no reduction in the statewide property tax,” declares one of the newsletter’s bullet points. The newsletter also disputes the claim the budget did not use accounting gimmicks and asserts that the DFL made up for a decade of budget cuts: “Our current 2012-13 budget is $35 billion, a 10 year increase of $8 billion or 30 percent!”

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Business Partnership and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, through their independent expenditure group, United for Jobs, makes the argument that the budget will hurt small employers. And another pro-business group, Americans for Prosperty-Minnesota, maintains that the one-party ruled that produces higher taxes and spending imperils “economic freedom.”

And that, according to Martin, is too many messengers on behalf of the GOP. The DFL, he said, is not “trying to figure out which message works and which doesn’t. We are unified on that front.”

Room for many groups

Golnik contends that “there’s space for an infinite number of groups,” but that for Republicans to win back the House and the governor’s office, “we need a year-round campaign-type operation.”

The Minnesota Jobs Coalition is “agile, nimble and quick,” Golnik says. He takes particular pride in the quick response to video of Dayton’s town hall meeting. “The Dayton town meeting was at 7 p.m.,” he said. “The next morning the clip was sent to reporters; in 24 hours, the video had 10,000 hits on YouTube.”

The aggressive, no-holds-barred style is reflected in Golnik’s political resume, which includes a stint as executive director for the state Republican Party, work with the Republican caucus in 2010 when the GOP took control of the Minnesota Senate and two losing congressional campaigns in 2012.

 “I joke with people about anybody who does campaigns,” Golnik said. “It’s long hours, little pay, no job security. And Minnesota is a hard state for Republicans.”

That’s why the MN Jobs Coalition will not focus exclusively on campaign tactics, Golnik said. “We want to do some smart stuff with research. Why did we lose those swing voters?”

Democrats, he said, have created a data machine. “We want to do the same thing – data analysis, voter analysis,” he said. “The research piece is huge.”

And Golnik promises that research will be shared, campaign efforts will be legally coordinated and that a year from now, Republicans will be as well organized as the   DFL machine they want to defeat.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by jody rooney on 05/23/2013 - 08:54 am.

    Mr. Golnick do you mean research or polls?

    Why don’t you start with your theoretical premises like the wealthiest being “Job creators” which is unsupported by data.

    Then there was the “mean” amendment on gay marriage. You already had it covered in statute, the amendment was old fashioned mean and it back fired.

    There is just mean in general and fanatical in particular. My experience with my two legislators is that they are condescending and not too terribly smart. Fix that.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/23/2013 - 09:54 am.


    Did the Governor “snap” at “participants” at a forum?

    Or did he ask some rude citizens to adopt a more civil tone?

  3. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 05/23/2013 - 12:14 pm.


    I wonder if Cyndy saw the video. He didn’t snap; he called them out on their rude behavior–interrupting and drowning out his message. They not only did not want to hear it), but did not want others to hear it. I see this all the time in debates and on programs like PBS news; they bully to try to prevent messages from being heard.

  4. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 05/23/2013 - 12:28 pm.


    As I have said before I have been a Republican for close to 50 years. The new group of Republicans talk about getting their message out. They talk about reducing spending to balance the budget, but when one asks them for specifics they either don’t reply or they reply in a condescending way that doesn’t answer the question. The email I got back from several GOP legislators when I emailed them a couple of years ago and told them that the gay marriage amendment would back fire on them and they needed to reconsider it, was so obnoxious I thought they might try and tar and feather me. From my perspective today’s GOP has lost sight of the parties core values and has become home to a bunch of religious fanatics who don’t know what they are talking about. Even there experts like Golnick don’t have a clue. He asks, “Why did we lose those swing voters?” The answer to that question is so obvious, but they don’t want to hear it. They keep saying, we have to do a better job of getting our message out, but they don’t stop and think about whether or not they have the right message. That is why their elite egotism cost them that last election and will cost them the next. They are right and everybody else is wrong.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/23/2013 - 02:37 pm.

      You are totally correct, and it’s

      A shame for the governance of this state. Think what was accomplished prior to 2000 or so.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/23/2013 - 03:24 pm.

      Well said

      I took advantage some free time this winter and spring to tune into the legislative process via Minnesota public television (a fantastic use of taxpayer money), and can’t tell you how many times I observed some obviously intelligent Republican legislators making some excellent practical points (in committees mostly, and on the floor occasionally – go to the Senate Media Services archives and watch Brandon Peterson’s comments in the gay marriage debate), that COULD have served as a basis for far more interesting and productive discussions of how to handle things (just because ANY party has “the advantage,” or “complete control,” doesn’t mean it has ALL the answers as to how to best handle staggeringly large amounts of money and complex “policy” concepts), but in each and every case of what I got to thinking of as “true intelligence leaks,” I’d see that same person almost immediately get sucked back into nearly pure expression of the (sacred) “Ideology” most contemporary Republicans can’t come close to breaking free of for a moment.

      A tricky subject, no doubt, but watching the “whole thing” over the past few years I’ve come to believe the “surrendering” of contemporary Republicans TO that ideology is at the core of the problem you’re alluding to: “Otherwise intelligent rational people” subordinating their intelligence, instincts, and potentially constructive and helpful observations, because they find themselves hog-tied by their (demanded, “Or else!”) allegiance to the All-Mighty Ideology of Lower Taxes, deep as possible Spending Cuts, De-regulation, Business Business Business First!, and adherence to that narrow One And Only Acceptable Interpretation of religious, or spiritual matters, that spawn the type of self-righteousness that has always been offensive to anyone that has ever given true consideration to the tougher questions that area of life is full of.

      Anyway (I could have this conversation all day for a month with any willing Republican OR Democrat, I’m sure)… Just wanted to say I found your comments, and (“other kind of”) Republican perspective refreshing, and hope you’ll continue to keep thinking about, and expressing, it.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/23/2013 - 05:21 pm.

        Indeed, plus the fact that the

        Republican party simply will not allow its legislators to have a different point of view on an issue that is any different whatsoever from the “party line”. If the do, they are punished with loss of committee assignments and primary challenges. This “lock-step” mentality is ridiculous and completely distructive of political discourse. Like it or not, the truth is that Reagan would not satisfy the Republican party, and that view point came from Jeb Bush. What a disgrace.

  5. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 05/23/2013 - 12:29 pm.

    Messaging works better if you are even (somewhat) good at governing and believe that governing is a worthwhile activity.
    Incompetent and uninterested detract from “agile, nimble and quick” messaging.

  6. Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/23/2013 - 04:12 pm.

    Over-cooked, stored in the sun, reheated, and served up fresh

    I’d agree with and add a point or two to Jody Rooney’s comment (well said, Jody), but when it comes to boiling down the bigger “political/public relations” problem the Republicans have, I’ve never read a better general summary than Gregg Kapphahn’s – “Fixing the Unholy Mess Left Behind by Republicans” – in the comments to this “New tax laws” article –

    You’ll need to read the entire comment to take in his larger point, but this is a pretty good sample:

    “… but now after ten years of repetition and experience rendered so old, rotten, slimy and foul-smelling, that when they throw that same spaghetti against the wall it just slides and slithers down to the floor where even the custodial staff feels they need full hazmat suits when they come in to clean it up… but as a testament to their dysfunctions, this crop of Republicans can’t conceive of anything else.”

    I, for one, would be interested as can be in knowing what Ben Golnik, Keith Downey, David Hann, Kurt Daubt, Julianne Ortman, Tim Pawlenty, Vin Weber, the Minnesota Business Partnership, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce (I mean, “United for Jobs”), Americans for Prosperity-Minnesota, or any other members of the Republican Brain Trust (the RBT), would have to say in response to Mr. Kapphahn’s observations.

    I don’t know for sure, but it seems the only thing standing between the contemporary Republican party and a generation or two of having to get used to living in the political abyss is the answer to the question of, “Why in the world do ANY Minnesotans VOTE for these people?”

    “We need a year-round campaign-type operation.” (All “legally coordinated,” of course.)

    Great idea… Probably just what the polls show Minnesotans are clambering for… More “rapid response fly-arounds,” and a hot-wired, 24-hour, 365 day-a-year, campaign-type operation that will be mining the data, scanning the surveys, and pumping out the (targeted) facts concerning the terribility and ruinousness of “Democrat” ideas and actions, ALL THE TIME between election days!

    Give that hard-working defender of jobs a raise!

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