One has to wonder if Minnesota Republicans will ever get tired of losing. Despite the most favorable political climate in decades, they now have as much political clout in St. Paul as the Legalize Marijuana Now and Socialist Workers parties.
Some are blaming the U.S. Supreme Court and others are blaming Donald Trump for the debacle. Minnesota Republicans need to look in the mirror.
Start with gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen. Jensen ran one of the most undisciplined campaigns in state history. Consider here just three mistakes:
1. He said that public education in Minnesota was a “black hole.” Thanks to DFL Gov. Tim Walz’ needless shutdown of in-class learning for all students during the pandemic, including those without compromised immune systems, the governor managed to lower competency levels which were barely over half for all students beforehand.
What is needed is more accountability for results, but calling public schools a “black hole’ suggests that we need to get rid of public schools, and that is a losing proposition, no matter which side of the political divide you sit on.
The message to all candidates going forward is to remember that anything you say in a public setting these days is being recorded by someone who is not your friend.
2. Next, out of the blue, Jensen came out for abolishing the state income tax. When asked how he would make up the loss of revenue for things like courts, prisons, snow plowing, etc., he hemmed and hawed and finally said maybe we should eliminate the sales tax exemption on food and clothing, but let’s have a discussion. No, Scott, let’s have a plan. In a time of high inflation when food budgets are already being stretched thin, even considering dropping the food tax exemption is a loser.
3. The Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion was always going to hurt the Republicans, the pro-life party. Until that decision, the Democrats had no other issues on which to run. However, in his bid for the GOP endorsement before that ruling, Jensen said he wanted to ban all abortions, and the DFL recorded him. He spent the rest of the campaign backtracking. Maybe he would have failed to win the endorsement if he had not said that, but as a medical doctor, Jensen could have minimized the damage if he had only said, “I have spent my career as a physician. I’ve done everything I know how to do to save as many lives as possible and lessen suffering. If I become your governor, I will continue to do that, but, as in the past, when asked to play God in treating a pregnancy with problems, I will always give priority to protecting the life of the mother.”
Beyond that, the party itself needs to re-examine how it functions. While Minnesota remains closely divided between the two parties, the Republicans cannot expect to win any statewide races as long as they keep pretending that Minneapolis and St. Paul don’t exist. This year, the GOP spotted the DFL 350,000 votes in Hennepin and Ramsey counties alone. Essentially nine state Senate and 18 state House districts are in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 11 of those races, the DFL candidate ran unopposed. In none of those districts did a Republican top 25% and only four reached even 20%. Conservatives should be asking GOP leaders if any of them have even ever talked to a Hmong or Somali.
Blaming the loss on minorities is not only racist, it is a losing argument. The state’s demographics are changing; deal with it. The Republicans last had complete control of state government in 1970. If minorities are being held down, the DFL deserves the lion’s share of the blame. In effect, the parties have flipped from the days of a country-club GOP and a working class DFL. The brie and wine crowd runs the DFL these days; minority communities have suffered most from the crime wave, and the GOP needs to begin asking them what they need to do to gain their votes. Rest assured, the DFL will be asking outstate Minnesotans what they can do to regain their support.
The Republicans continue to fall short in their fundraising efforts. Jensen had enough money at the end of his race to make his case, but by then it was too late. Walz used his early money advantage to define Jensen last summer before the avalanche of ads turned into a blur. As it was, Walz had about a $3 million advantage, and that was only in his race. Republicans who believe being “right” on the issues is enough need to get real.
Money and organizing play as big a role as messaging. Only six times in state history has an incumbent governor, running in a non-presidential year, received less votes in a re-election bid than his first run, and only four times has he won. Walz is the fourth, receiving more than 70,000 fewer votes than in 2018, even though voter registrations were up more than 247,000. Overall voter turnout dropped from 78% in 2018 to around 70% this year.
If Republicans ever want to govern Minnesota, they need better candidates with well-thought-out positions on the issues, better get-out-the-vote organization and more money.
Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at email@example.com .
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