“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.”
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.