10 questions for Richard Painter

Richard Painter is the University of Minnesota Law School professor who has made a name for himself on the left-wing cable channels denouncing President Trump. He presented himself as a Republican and former Bush (43) administration ethics expert. Lately he disclosed that he was considering a run for the Senate, but that he was mulling over his political identity. Yesterday he announced his candidacy as a Democratic candidate contesting the nomination for the Senate seat held by the incumbent Democratic appointee, Tina Smith.

In his morning email newsletter, Star Tribune editorial page editor Scott Gillespie provided background on the race as he summarized the appearance of his colleague Patricia Lopez on C-SPAN this morning:

Lopez joined the network’s Peter Echevarria to provide a Minnesota take on University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter’s decision to challenge U.S. Sen. Tina Smith in the DFL primary in August, most likely without the party’s endorsement.

Lopez did an excellent job bringing viewers up to speed on Painter, a lifelong Republican and former ethics chief under former President George W. Bush. She also pointed out how difficult it will be for Painter to build momentum for his campaign in the 14 weeks before the Aug. 14 primary.

It’s important to note that Painter’s profile has risen because of his frequent appearances on CNN and elsewhere as an especially salty critic President Donald Trump – a role he apparently plans to continue to play as a Senate candidate. (Former Star Tribune news columnist Jon Tevlin had a timely piece on the professor’s newfound star power last September.)

Painter poses a unique challenge for Smith, the ultimate DFL insider and former lieutenant governor, who began 2018 with startlingly low name recognition in Minnesota, according to a January Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

I’m left wondering if Painter might be doing Smith a favor by creating more interest in the race and in her record as former Sen. Al Franken’s replacement. Then again Painter could win or, short of that, damage Smith by going on the attack and forcing her to use resources she’d rather have available in the general election campaign. Meanwhile, state Sen. Karin Housley, the Republican candidate for the seat, is so far unopposed.

For Minnesota voters as the weather warms, this much is clear: The campaign to replace Franken just got a lot more interesting.

I agree with Gillespie that this is an interesting race. I first asked Professor Painter for an interview as soon as he announced his candidacy yesterday and then again this morning. In response to my requests for an interview, Professor Painter invited me to submit my questions in writing. I quickly responded with 10 inartful but straightforward questions. I promised Professor Painter that I would post his answers in full. As of this afternoon, I have heard nothing. Here are my 10 questions:

1. I have to begin on a personal note. My colleague John Hinderaker wrote about you in the Power Line post “A fake Republican runs in Minnesota.” You responded on Twitter: “Far right extremists are getting worried.” On what ground do you disparage John or any of the others who contribute to Power Line as “far right extremists”?

2. You have held yourself out as a Republican during your career and at the time you endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in the fall of 2016. When did you first identify yourself as a Democrat?

3. Your service in the WH Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush (43) administration is frequently used to support your claim to expertise in ethics. What were your job duties? I am told you reviewed ethics disclosure forms and helped incoming officials work out any conflicts.

4. I understand that when you worked in the WH OLC, no one outflanked you on the right. I have been told you were a “Fire breather. Nuke them all, take no prisoners.” Yet as soon as you left, you wrote a book that said if anyone had listened to you, we wouldn’t have been torturing and eavesdropping — things that had nothing to do with your job. Is that fair?

5. You are seeking to wrest the DFL nomination from an appointed incumbent Democrat. Given her track record as an urban liberal who checks all the boxes, what do you offer Democrats that Tina Smith doesn’t?

6. Will you run in a primary if you don’t secure the nomination at the state convention?

7. What is your message to party regulars? Who is your campaign manager? How will you campaign for the nomination?

8. You have become a public figure in connection with your repeated denunciations of President Trump. Is that your calling card on Democrats as you seek the nomination?

9. What was your assessment of the Obama administration in domestic policy (i.e., Obamacare) and foreign policy (i.e., Iran) at the time?

10. Do you give President Trump any credit for undoing damage done by the Obama administration or for upsetting the status quo with respect to North Korea, for example? For the administration’s deregulatory efforts? For anything positive?

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