This week’s topics: Ailing elephant; judicial editing; no masks at State Fair
Query 1: As we speak Thursday, a meeting where it’s rumored GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan might resign is hours away. So we’ll look past that to the scandal enveloping the party, which includes everything from a major donor’s sex-trafficking charges to persistent allegations of Carnahan tolerating—perhaps even committing—abuse and harassment. What’s the long-term impact on the party?
David Schultz, attorney, law and political science professor: I’ve got sort of two answers. One is, QAnon was right, but at the wrong level of government and with the wrong political party. QAnon argues that government—especially the Democratic Party—is infiltrated by a child-sex ring. My other lines would be: Where is the Comet Ping Pong pizza? Two, is that at the state level the GOP has lost the ability to message on [Rep. John] Thompson. They’re on the defensive.
[Editor’s note: As our readers know, DFL Rep. John Thompson came under intense criticism over old allegations of domestic assault that arose after a traffic stop led to the unearthing of his criminal history. He also recently had an ethics charge brought against him on a separate matter. Not many people have been talking about that lately.]
Rob Doar, political director, Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus: I think the long-term impact depends on the short-term actions of the executive board and the state central committee. If they manage to rebuild with a solid plan and strong leadership in unity, then I think that the long-term outlook is relatively positive. If we see a continued splitting of the forces and in-fighting, then it is going to be a long, dark road for the MNGOP.
Sarah Walker, political consultant: The long-term impact is going to depend on whether or not Jennifer Carnahan resigns and what the GOP does, how they react to cleaning up this mess and distancing themselves from this. Unfortunately, I think they’ve already waited a little bit too long and allowed the story to carry on. And the other thing is, how many more victims are going to come forward to say that they were either mistreated or actually—in the worst-case scenario—sexually assaulted?
Amy Koch, former GOP Senate majority leader: That is going to be left up to the executive committee and the new chair. Their legacy can be that—it can be corruption, it can be cover-up, it can be NDAs, silent severances. Or it can be complete and total transparency. It could be a full audit. It can be complete honesty with party members and delegates about what went down.
It may be problematic for some people who have been involved with the party, right? But we cannot tolerate this these kinds of things—whether it’s harassment of employees to the point where you have to buy them off with donor money, whether it’s sexual harassment, or potential sexual assault. The lifeblood of the Republican Party, a big part of it, are those College Republicans who we count on as volunteers. We count on them to be our future. And to have them treated so poorly is unacceptable.
So the future of the Republican Party is in Minnesota is question mark right now. It’s really up to us. It’s up to us to do better. We can and we should, and I believe we will. But it is going to take a lot of strength, it’s going to take a lot of honesty and it’s going to take a lot of transparency.
John Lesch, attorney, former DFL House member: Their base won’t care. But the critical middle-of-the-ground people that they need are going to remember this in November 2022. And I think it’s already too late for them to recover from the damage that they’ve inflicted on themselves.
[Editor’s note: Carnahan did opt to resign after the party’s state executive committee meeting on Thursday, but only after the board voted to grant her a $38,150 severance package. Carnahan herself cast the deciding vote.]
Query 2: Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson ordered removal of an explanatory note to a ballot measure on replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a new agency. She did that despite finding it’s OK to attach such a note and despite finding she couldn’t say whether the rejected note’s wording would help or hurt the initiative. What did you make of that?
Schultz: Judges are within their authority to reject language if they think it’s misleading or unclear. Perhaps that’s why the judge did it, but I’m just not sure of the basis of the judge’s decision here. I was confused by the reasoning, in terms of what she was trying to argue. I actually think that the [proposed ballot] explanation is deceptive. I think that’s maybe what she’s trying to get at, but she wasn’t clear about saying it. It’s actually trying to convince the voters that the ballot proposition doesn’t mean what it actually says.
Doar: I think as any person who is reading a judicial decision would like to know, what’s the reasoning behind it? That information seems to be missing. If she is putting out the expectation that it needs to be modified but didn’t give any guidance, how many times is it going to come back before her, or another judge? It’s kind of like, in school, you get a C grade but the teacher doesn’t tell you what was wrong with the paper.
[Editor’s note: Doar is referring to the judge’s decision not to suggest replacement language for any new ballot-measure explanatory note.]
Walker: I think the ruling was very confusing. I think the one thing the judge said that is true is that I don’t know if the explanatory note is going to be helpful to either side. Because any explanatory note is not going to provide enough detail to make many people comfortable with an idea of fundamentally changing how our Police Department is run and structured in Minneapolis.
Koch: I don’t know enough to sound off. I think that this ballot initiative, if it passes, is going to be just completely destructive to the city of Minneapolis. It’s ill-advised. But as far as the judicial wranglings behind it, I couldn’t say.
Lesch: I make of it that current ballot initiatives are drafted so rhetorically to serve the purposes of the people bringing the measures that she inevitably had to put the brakes on some of that. I think she was sending a message for people to calm down on ballot measure wording.
Query 3: The State Fair is on, and masks won’t be required. Is that cause for concern or celebration in your book?
Schultz: Cause for concern. Because the State Fair could very well be the start of the next super-spreader that then carries over into colleges and K-12. And where we going to be on Oct. 1? That’s what I’m worried about.
Doar: I have a unique perspective on this. I thought that our lawsuit to require the State Fair to follow the law and allow [licensed gun owners to] carry would be the most controversial thing at the fair this year. I was wrong.
[Editor’s note: Earlier this month, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus sued the Agricultural Society, the State Fair’s governing authority, to permit licensed owners to carry firearms onto the fairgrounds. A hearing on an injunction motion Friday did not result in a decision from the bench, but the judge said one would come before the State Fair starts.]
Walker: I think wearing masks is the easiest thing that you can do to protect people. I would also say that while I believe very much in people’s individual liberties, the most fundamental liberty is life and health. And not wearing a mask in the State Fair in a crowded space is infringing on other people’s liberties.
Koch: I think it’s good. Minnesota has done a great job, we’re super-vaccinated. We continue to be careful, we continue to distance. If people want to wear masks, they should absolutely feel free to wear masks. I am trusting in my vaccination and I am going to be at the State Fair without a mask. But that’s my choice. Other people have their own choices. And that’s OK.
Lesch: A little bit of concern. I hope people can be responsible, but it causes me a little bit of concern.