Minnesota was once known for its relatively clean politics. No longer. The state’s Democrats, in a state of near-hysteria over losing their generation-long grip on power, will stop at nothing to derail Minnesota’s Republican trend.
Before introducing the latest outrage, a little history is in order. Most people still think of Minnesota as a Democratic-leaning state, and not too long ago, it was. The state’s Democrat-Farmer-Labor party, led by men like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, was not only powerful but was generally respected. But two things happened to change the state’s balance of power. First, the state’s demographics made it more fertile Republican territory as the national Democratic Party veered ever more sharply to the left. And second, Minnesota’s Republican Party benefited from extraordinarily able leadership.
Bill Cooper, a brilliant businessman, became Chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party roughly a decade ago. He brought superb organizational skills, financial muscle and a solidly conservative orientation to what had been a moribund party. Cooper was succeeded as party chairman by Ron Eibensteiner, a venture capitalist. Ron is as good and well-connected a businessman as Cooper, and he brings extraordinary personal charm to the office as well. Under Eibensteiner’s leadership, the Minnesota Republican Party is widely regarded as the best state organization in the country.
The results of Cooper’s and Eibensteiner’s patient party-building have been dramatic. Minnesota’s Congressional delegation is now evenly divided. Republicans control the state House and will soon achieve a majority in the Senate. Governor Tim Pawlenty is one of the party’s brightest young stars and is, in my opinion, one of a handful of plausible Presidential candidates for 2008. Every state-wide officeholder is now a Republican, with one exception: Attorney General Mike Hatch, who desperately wants to be Governor.
Unable to win in the polling booth, Minnesota’s Democrats have resorted to a seemingly unending series of cheap shots against Pawlenty and other leading Republicans. Hatch misuses his office, not to serve as the administration’s legal counsel–which is, after all, his Constitutional responsibility–but to wage a guerrilla campaign against Pawlenty.
And now, the Democrats have fallen to their lowest level yet. An unknown county attorney named Patrick Flanagan, a Hatch crony, has used a grand jury in Mower County to indict Ron Eibensteiner for four “crimes” involving violation of the state’s election laws.
Here are the facts: in the 2002 election, American Bankers Insurance Co. wanted to support both Republican Tim Pawlenty and Democrat Roger Moe. It therefore donated $10,000 to both national parties, with the understanding, apparently, that the money would be spent to support the candidacies of Pawlenty and Moe. (It is legal for corporations to donate to the national parties, but under Minnesota law it is not legal for corporations to donate to the state’s parties.) American Bankers mistakenly sent the Republican contribution to the state’s Republican Party headquarters, and Eibensteiner forwarded it to the national party. That’s it. Oh, one more thing. Ron also wrote American Bankers a letter thanking them for their contribution. I don’t know where American Bankers mailed its contribution to the Democrats, but that check presumably found its way to the national Democratic Party as well, where the money was spent to benefit Moe.
The indictment is, of course, ridiculous. Mower County, located in extreme southestern Minnesota, has nothing to do with the events in question other than the fact that it has a Democratic county attorney who is willing to do Hatch’s bidding. The indictment was triggered by a “complaint” by a Mower County resident whose identity Flanagan refuses to divulge. (He apparently didn’t complain about American Bankers’ contribution to the Democrats.) Ron did nothing wrong, let alone criminal.
But this kind of corrupt tactic is not intended to win in court. It is intended to smear Eibensteiner and, more broadly, to intimidate anyone who might consider becoming active in Republican politics. The indictment is intended as a warning: if you oppose the Democrats effectively, they will use any means, legal or illegal, to destroy you. The Trunk and I know Ron well, and I think we can say with confidence that he will not be intimidated. What chilling effect the Democrats’ tactics may have on others is harder to predict. It remains to be seen whether Minnesota’s voters will be offended by the Democrats’ violation of the state’s tradition of clean politics, and complete the process of throwing them out of power.
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