A Bad Day For Minnesota’s GOP

All politics is local, some sage said. That isn’t quite true, of course, but the local element often predominates. Today, Minnesota’s Republican Party had a brutal day. In order of significance:

First, the GOP took control of the Senate in 2010 for the first time since partisan elections were inaugurated. It was an extraordinary breakthrough, and Amy Koch was named Majority Leader. She did a terrific job in that position. Unfortunately, she apparently went astray. The Star Tribune reports:

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch resigned from her leadership post the day after four senior Senators confronted her about allegations that she had an “inappropriate relationship” with a staffer, senators said Friday.

Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel said he and other senators had first heard complaints from staff about the relationship about two weeks ago. Michel did not name the staffer with whom Koch was said to have the relationship but said the staffer was male and a “direct report.”

Koch suddenly resigned from the majority leader post Thursday and said she would not run for re-election next year

It is odd how some politicians not only survive such revelations, but seemingly profit from them, while others are swiftly brought low.

Next, the GOP’s party chairman, Tony Sutton, recently resigned amid revelations that the party is considerably in debt, and the leading candidate to replace him was Brandon Sawalich, CFO of Starkey Hearing Technologies. Brandon is the current President of the Freedom Club, and an outstanding businessman and conservative. However, his bid to become party chairman ran into a roadblock today–one of his vehicles had expired license tabs:

In what an official for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is blaming on a state clerical error, a candidate to head the Republican Party in Minnesota was arrested outside baggage claim, and then fingerprinted and photographed — for expired vehicle tabs.

Brandon Sawalich, an executive with Starkey Hearing Technologies, said that airport police even wanted to handcuff him Thursday afternoon on the gross-misdemeanor allegation but said they would reconsider “if I would cooperate.”

“I was stunned,” said Sawalich, 36, who said his arrest came as he was being met by a Starkey assistant in his four-wheel-drive pickup truck, which he just took out of storage only to have police tow it to an impound lot.

Even after learning that his potential legal exposure was shrinking to a petty misdemeanor, Sawalich said he’s “assessing everything” connected to his effort to become the leader of the state GOP. “I don’t need to be a distraction to what the party needs to do,” he said.

Friday, the Associated Press reported that Sawalich was dropping out of the race to succeed Tony Sutton. It quoted an e-mail from Sawalich to party activists that “it cannot afford distractions for the uphill battle our party has in store.”

Recounting his arrest, Sawalich said that “police were there [at one of the doors outside Terminal 1 baggage claim] waiting for me with one of my assistants” upon return from a business trip in Portland, Ore. “They read me my rights. I apologized [for the expired tabs] and took full responsibility.”

Fingerprinted, photographed and threatened with handcuffs because his vehicle had expired license tabs? Completely bizarre. I will try to talk Brandon out of dropping out of the race for party chairman; the party needs him. But the episode reinforces the impression that the party is snakebitten.

Finally, from the farcical to the really farcical: one of the Republican candidates to oppose Amy Klobucher next year turns out to have an airport weapons violation on his record:

A Republican hoping to challenge Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar next year once pleaded guilty for having a loaded handgun at the airport. The councilman also had no permit to carry a weapon at the time.

Joe Arwood, a St. Bonifacius city council member, discussed his 2005 conviction Friday with The Associated Press. He said it taught him to “slow down” in life, especially when it comes to firearms.

I have never actually heard of Mr. Arwood, and this incident probably doesn’t reduce his chances of serving in the Senate by any measurable amount. But the episode reminds us that we have not come up with a plausible candidate to unseat Ms. Klobuchar, who is reasonably popular but potentially vulnerable in what shapes up–despite everything–as a big Republican year.

Such are the absurd ups and downs of local politics. Let’s hope no lasting damage flows from today’s painful headlines.


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