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GOP’s candidates: State party struggles with gender and racial diversity

Republican candidate for auditor Randy Gilbert, far right, tweeted this photo
Randy Gilbert for Auditor
Republican candidate for auditor Randy Gilbert, far right, tweeted this photo of his fellow candidates during the Minnesota GOP media fly-around on June 2.

Minnesota’s Republican Party roars into the election season with endorsed candidates that, with a only a couple of exceptions, have a striking similarity: They’re white guys.

The exception is in the 4th District, where Republicans endorsed attorney Sharna Wahlgren to go up against DFL incumbent Betty McCollum, who is seeking her eighth term in Congress. Additionally, in the 6th District, Rhonda Sivarajah is set to run in a primary against Tom Emmer, who was endorsed by that district’s Republicans.

At the state level, white guys ruled.

Look at the list:

The party endorsed businessman Mike McFadden to be its U.S. Senate candidate. Surprisingly, another white guy, Chris Dahlberg, turned out to be McFadden’s toughest competitor for that endorsement. Meantime, state Sen. Julianne Ortmann  bowed out fairly quickly.

The endorsement for governor went to Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. In picking his running mate, Johnson broke what has become almost a political tradition in Minnesota. Instead of selecting a woman, he named Bill Kuisle his choice for lieutenant governor.

Johnson is expected to face a tough primary race. But all of his opponents will be white males: Kurt Zellers, Marty Seifert and Scott Honour. (Seifert and Honour did pick females as running mates. Seifert is paired with Pam Myrha and Honour with Karin Housley. Zellers, though, has a male running mate, Dean Simpson.)

Filling out the GOP slate for statewide offices are Dan Severson for secretary of state, Randy Gilbert for auditor and Scott Newman for attorney general.

(It should be noted that state delegates did award endorsement to one female, Michelle MacDonald, to run against incumbent David Lillehaug for a spot on the state Supreme Court. But that may not survive. Turns out delegates — and perhaps party leaders — weren’t aware of the fact that she’s headed to court, facing DWI charges around election time. Additionally, other questions regarding her courtroom decorum have come to light since the endorsement.)

With that exception of Wahlgren in the 4th District, all the GOP’s endorsed congressional candidates also are white males. (Congressional candidates are endorsed in their respective congressional districts, not at the state convention.)

That group includes incumbents John Kline (2d District) and Erik Paulsen (3rd district) and newcomers Aaron Miller (1st District), Doug Daggett (5th District), Emmer (6th District), Torrey Westrom (7th District) and Stewart Mills (8th District). Miller faces a primary race against Jim Hagedorn, who, you guessed it, is a white guy.

Like the 1950s

So how, in 2014, could the GOP come up with a slate that looks like something out of the 1950s?

“There was only one woman who ran,’’ said former GOP state auditor Pat Anderson, who currently is on the party’s executive board.

Pat Anderson
Pat Anderson

Her reference was to Ortmann, who, Anderson said, was the victim of some behind-the-scenes attacks by supporters of another candidate.  

Why only one woman?

“I don’t know the answer to that question,’’ Anderson said. “Maybe it was just a fluke.’’

But Anderson went on to say women do seem more comfortable with the Democratic Party, just as men seem more comfortable with the GOP.

Involving women in the party reaches down into the caucus process, she said. Typically on caucus night, Anderson said there are far more men present than women.

That translated to this reality: At the state convention, Anderson believes that more than 70 per cent of the delegates were men.

By comparison, the DFL ticket is a human rainbow, though white guys — Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken — are at the top. Beyond that, however, two women, both incumbents, are running for statewide office (incumbent Attorney General Lori Swanson and incumbent Auditor Rebecca Otto).  

The party’s congressional incumbents include a woman (McCollum in the 4th District) and an African-American (Keith Ellison in the 5th). In the 3rd District, an African-American woman, Sharon Sund, has the DFL endorsement but faces a very steep uphill climb to even touch the popular Paulsen.

Of course, for the time being, the DFL’s star is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who doesn’t face election until 2018.

50-50 goal

For decades, the DFL has sought gender equality from the caucus process to party conventions. A 50-50 male-female ratio is not the goal in terms of delegates at conventions, it’s the rule. At caucuses, this 50-50 goal can create almost comical twisting and turning.

But, given the lack of gender diversity on its ticket, does the GOP need to consider establishing some gender equity rules at its conventions?

“We’re not big quota folks,’’ said Keith Downey, the Republican Party’s chairman.

Downey is difficult to pin down on whether the party’s current slate presents problems, especially in terms of attracting female voters, heading into November. Instead, he argues that his party is “more diverse’’ than the DFL.

How’s that?

“We have strong diversity statewide,’’ Downey said, adding that he believes that in the crucial legislative races this year, his party has “as many or nearly as many’’ women running for House seats as the DFL.

As for the statewide slate, Downey wandered into the area of the personal wealth of Dayton and Franken, apparently implying that their wealth doesn’t represent diversity.

The vague point was interesting on two levels: One, the GOP’s endorsed U.S. Senate candidate, McFadden, won endorsement in part because of his personal business success and his connections to big campaign money. Secondly, the GOP generally doesn’t speak poorly of personal wealth.

Chris Fields
Chris Fields

Chris Fields, the party’s deputy director and an African-American, was more direct than Downey when asked if the lack of diversity on the GOP ticket would be a problem for the party.

“It would be if your view of diversity was the color of somebody’s face,’’ Fields said. “But I look at our ticket and I see real diversity. We’ve got a businessman (McFadden), a county commissioner (Johnson), a fighter pilot (Severson), a lawyer (Newman) and an auditor (Gilbert). Just because you have half men, half women, if they’re all saying the same thing, what difference does it make?’’

It’s an interesting point. But, on the other hand, it seems unlikely that members of the GOP white male chorus will have diverse campaign themes.

Comments (40)

  1. Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 06/23/2014 - 09:18 am.

    Really thought provoking piece here. No one but a seasoned political observer could come up with this stuff, and there’s not much else *cough Tina Smith* *cough MSOP* *coordination* worth spending this kind of journalistic effort on in Minnesota politics.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 06/23/2014 - 10:27 am.

    Missing or

    dismissing the point?

    The difference is in who decides what is said. In this instance, it would appear to be the men who made up 70% of the GOP delegates. (Nice job on that Supreme Court candidate, by the way.)

    As for the claimed diversity: I look at the list and I see 5 successful middle-aged white men. What am I missing?

    “We’ve got a businessman (McFadden), a county commissioner (Johnson), a fighter pilot (Severson), a lawyer (Newman) and an auditor (Gilbert). Just because you have half men, half women, if they’re all saying the same thing, what difference does it make?’’

    It’s an interesting point. But, on the other hand, it seems unlikely that members of the GOP white male chorus will have diverse campaign themes.”

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/23/2014 - 10:36 am.

    As gender-neutral as the GOP is

    because after all, people who want to live in a free society don’t only come in one shape, size, sex, or color, Pat Anderson does have a point.

    History shows that women vote democrat by 60-40 and men vote republican 60-40. It’s been so obvious that some in the media and academia have referred to the GOP as the Daddy Party and the democrats as the Mommy Party.

    The same primordial instinct that causes men to be the hunters and protectors of the tribe, causes them to require that tribal leadership be accomplished hunters and warriors as well. They teach their sons the values of self-reliance, self-defense and to defend the tribe without question.

    This explains why Michael Dukakis posed in a tank, John Kerry asked if he could “get me a huntin’ license,” and Barack Obama ensured us he could play basketball. They were appealing to the male vote.

    Most men (60%) vote for hunters and warriors or at least politicians who advocate self-reliance, a strong military and minimum government involvement in their lives.

    On the other hand, primordial instinct causes women to be the nurturers and nannies of their tribes. They prefer leaders who will protect them and who share their love of children and other nice things. Many have been brutalized by men and so they are afraid of male leaders who may not protect them from the bad men in their lives.

    Most women (60%) vote for nurturers and nannies, be they male or female.

    Forty percent of women vote republican and 40% of men vote democrat, but they are in the minority of their respective parties to be sure.

    This knowledge of primordial instinct wasn’t lost on the Founding Fathers, who feared that giving too much political power to people who preferred safety over liberty would ultimately result in the nation’s demise.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 06/23/2014 - 11:15 am.

      Fortunately, Dennis,

      our Constitution was amended to give women the right to vote. The founding fathers didn’t always get it right.

      And since you mention tribal leadership I bring to your attention a very good article

      Native women move to the front of tribal leadership : Native Daughters

      The times they are a changin’. (except apparently for the GOP)

    • Submitted by jason myron on 06/23/2014 - 11:31 am.

      I didn’t think I could laugh any harder

      after I read “But I look at our ticket and I see real diversity. We’ve got a businessman (McFadden), a county commissioner (Johnson), a fighter pilot (Severson), a lawyer (Newman) and an auditor (Gilbert).”… then, Tester’s comment appeared. I really don’t get how people like this get by in a modern, civilized society. It’s like visiting an anthropological exhibit.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 06/23/2014 - 12:47 pm.


        It’s an attempt to put as much spin on the ball as possible and draw a happy face on it. There’s not a lot of positive things you can say when your ticket looks like the front door of a frat house, so they have to grasp at whatever straw is on the doorstep.

        When ya got nothing, even a string looks like a lifeline.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 06/23/2014 - 02:08 pm.

      “Daddy Party” – a correction

      The GOP is referred to as the “Daddy Party” not because males prefer it, but because it appeals to those who are fearful about what lies beyond the “tribe” and prefer to yield their freedom to an authoritarian figure who will protect them.

    • Submitted by Jon Lord on 06/25/2014 - 02:19 pm.


      I like the fact that most GOPers tend to take obnoxious stances against women, gays, minorities, religious groups other than Christians, women who are raped or beaten, etc, etc, and stand only on that time honored social (faux)-Darwinian stance of survival of the fittest when society wants to and should be moving the other way. It makes the GOP less viable as a party, as it should. Society should be evolving past the days of the hunter-gatherer protecting small patches of land but try as we might, not all of us want to do that. Most, if not all, unregulated Militias are conservatives by nature. Not only in this country but also in countries like Syria, Iraq, etc. They are the real minority, but they do have the guns.

    • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 06/26/2014 - 08:20 am.

      Caveman garbage like this illustrates pretty well why GOP candidates have a problem getting women to vote for them.

  4. Submitted by David Frenkel on 06/23/2014 - 11:32 am.

    Latino vote

    The national republican party has pretty much offended the Latino vote with its anti-immigration platform so the republican party is the party of white males.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/23/2014 - 11:37 am.

    Primordial instinct

    The suggestion that this is all about “primordial instinct” might be the most amusing line Mr. Tester has come up with this year, although, with the political season just around the corner, there may be others in the competition by the time we get to November. Without claiming powers of analysis that I don’t have, allow me to gently suggest that one of the reasons why women tend to favor Democrats over Republicans might be that the former have not demonstrated by action (i.e., via public speeches, passage of laws in local, state and federal legislatures, etc.) the kind of hostility to women that has regularly been provided by the latter.

    I could add lots more, but for the time being, I want to retreat to my cave, so I can savor that “primordial instinct.”

  6. Submitted by Wes Davey on 06/23/2014 - 03:51 pm.

    The Minnesota GOP’s problem…

    The Minnesota GOP’s problem goes beyond a lack of diversity. A look at their party platform shows a lack of forward thinking; an example is their call for reinstating “don’t ask, don’t tell”, which has exactly no chance of ever happening. The MN GOP controlled the previous Legislature and did nothing, so why give them another chance at that or the governorship?

  7. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/23/2014 - 09:21 pm.

    If you were a GOP woman

    Would you want to get all the grief that Rep. Bachmann received throughout her entire tenure in Congress?

    Perhaps Governor Dayton and Senator Franken should step down in favor of candidates other than “white guys”.

    And just try to remember who the Lt. Governor has been the last four years and all the shared responsibility she was given by the “White Governor”.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 06/24/2014 - 07:37 am.

      Bachmann coveted any feedback she got. She went out of her way to seek attention, often by outright lying about issues and throwing bombs into the arena.

      It doesn’t matter if you’re female, male, GOP, or Democrat: If you don’t want negative attention, stick to fact-based statements and operate in a reasonable and logical manner. People who say and do stupid things SHOULD be called out for it so they stop their bad behavior.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/25/2014 - 09:12 am.

        So you admit

        that gender or race should have nothing to do with political credentials or whether or not people support your candidacy and this whole “diversity” issue is trumped-up nonsense.

  8. Submitted by Tom Knisely on 06/23/2014 - 10:39 pm.

    Rhonda Sivarajah is an outstanding choice for congress in the Sixth District. Smart, intelligent and above all accomplished. She’s running against Tom Emmer in the Republican primary on August 12. If you live in the sixth district your best chance of not having Emmer as your Congressman in November is to vote for Rhonda Sivarajah in the August primary!

    • Submitted by jason myron on 06/24/2014 - 10:29 am.

      WIth all due respect

      choosing between Sivarajah and Emmer is like trying to decide which one of my thumbs I want to hit with a hammer.

  9. Submitted by Steve Aschburner on 06/24/2014 - 11:14 am.

    Gonna ever stop counting?

    One party remains fixated on counting and identifying along the most superficial lines — race, gender, sexual preference. And it scolds the other party for not doing the same thing. Well, some folks took seriously the “content of character” wisdom that’s a half-century old now. Other folks won’t ever stop judging along tribal lines because, apparently, it’s good for business and it’s good at the ballot box.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 06/24/2014 - 12:24 pm.

      Count Everybody

      If you want to get a diversity of opinion in your organization then you have to recruit people from differing social, economic, racial, and gender backgrounds.

      That’s just common sense.

      Unfortunately, the GOP recruits primarily white guys and then everyone acts shocked when their platform is monolithic and just promotes white guy’s politics to the detriment of all else. This is a losing strategy as year by year there are fewer white guys as a percentage of the population, meaning that if the party wants to survive, then they NEED to pursue diversity in order to remain viable as a political force.

      It’s disingenuous to imply that Democrats recruit candidates based on tribal lines as the Republicans are doing exactly that, except their tribe consists of just one: rich white guys.

      Personally, I applaud the Democrat’s efforts to be more diverse and I wish the Republicans would follow suit and do the same. It makes our lives a richer world when we welcome people with ideas and plans that are brought forth from a differing perspective.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/24/2014 - 12:37 pm.

      Group identity politics

      See, each group is told they have a grievance that only government action can address. That only works on shallow-thinking, low-information voters but fortunately for them, that pretty much describes their constituency.

  10. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/24/2014 - 11:43 am.

    Superficial? How about fairness?

    I realize your party the GOP doesn’t care about fairness. So I can’t imagine what “content of character wisdom” you take seriously since 1964. And what tribal lines?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/25/2014 - 01:49 pm.

      Republicans DO care about fairness

      If I earned a loaf of bread, and you didn’t, is it fair that you should get half?

      Democrats would say yes, republicans would say no.

      It’s not “fair” to the person who earned it. But you’re right. What the difference is between the parties is the definition of what’s fair.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 06/25/2014 - 02:36 pm.

        I don’t rememeber any Democrat

        saying that someone should get half of your loaf of bread…ironically enough, JESUS said something to that effect in the book of Matthew. Somehow I doubt if Jesus was a Republican a great many of those 5,000 wouldn’t have eaten.

        • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/26/2014 - 04:23 pm.


          Provided the food himself. He didn’t have the government do it, which is your model of compassion.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 06/27/2014 - 11:18 am.

            In that instance, no he didn’t

            he asked the people what they had and divided it up so all could eat. It’s no wonder you folks are quick to write that story off.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/25/2014 - 04:54 pm.

        As usual you miss the point

        Regardless of race, color or gender, Americans have a right to participate in the political process and vote. Republicans simply want to curtail that right in order to “protect” their party and their own beliefs, with which they think everyone must agree. Wrong! As to your reply itself, we all remember that the Republicans at their candidate debates in the last presidential election cheered the idea that people without health insurance should simply be left to die on the street. So the rest of us would not doubt that some of them would not share their loaf of bread.

        • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/26/2014 - 04:29 pm.


          with Obamacare, more people will be left to die on the streets, just like his VA system is allowing veterans to die on the streets. Obamacare = VA for the masses

          • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/27/2014 - 08:35 am.

            Sheer baloney

            His VA. Bush created the most recent problems with his fiasco war in Iraq and then the Republicans cut back on funding for the VA.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 06/27/2014 - 11:15 am.

            As I recall

            it was a republican audience that applauded the prospect of the uninsured left to die in the streets.

  11. Submitted by Margaret Houlehan on 06/28/2014 - 12:19 pm.

    I work at the VA

    and am damn proud of the care I provide my patients. It’s a far cry better than what I receive in the corporate medical world. Every week, more of my patients tell me they are transferring all of their care to the VA. Common complaints about the private sector: “My doctor doesn’t answer my questions.” “He’s in and out of the room in 5 minutes.”

    I have worked in both the private sector and the VA, and I would never go back to corporate practice.

    Speaking of money, the lovely Tea Party led a filibuster of legislation last February which would have provided 21 billion dollars to the VA.

    GOP: Quick to send ’em off to war, ignore them when they return home.

  12. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 06/29/2014 - 09:59 am.

    racuak diversity

    With only 5% of Minnesota’s population being Black, are we talking about a need for quotas here? What if Blacks refuse to join the Republican party? Can we require that? Or shall we have the courts monitor party platforms and delete “Republican platform planks deemed offensive to minorities?

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 06/29/2014 - 09:04 pm.

      Mark Those Numbers

      Ray, no one is talking about quotas at all. What people are talking about is having a diversity of ideas; a platform that will attract people who don’t simply fit in a narrow demographic. Rather than force people to join a party using vinegar, lay out some honey so they’ll want to join on their own.

      Currently the Republican party does themselves a disservice by limiting their ideas and candidates to a bunch of rich white guys who-I’m sure you’ll be shocked here–promote programs that favor rich white guys. That demographic is shrinking and the party needs to try something different in order to attract new blood.

      Do you think they should simply keep on keeping on and not do anything to improve their position? That’s a losing strategy as their pool of voters gets smaller year by year.

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