Patronage is as old as politics itself. To the victors goes the spoils, which is a military reference but politics is routinely said to be war by other means. This is to the good, as it allows civilizations to develop, notwithstanding Antifa’s efforts to launch an American cultural revolution.
Still, limits exist or should. Those in control of the Minnesota Republican house caucus, unfortunately, seem to think that none should apply to them. Generally speaking, by “those in control” I’m referring to Speaker Kurt Daudt, chief of staff Ben Golnik and, to a lesser extent, staffers Tom Erickson and Andrew Wagner and, outside that petri dish, the Minnesota Jobs Coalition headed by John Rouleau, or, as it’s known around the Capitol, the Minnesota Jobs Coalition for Daudt.
There are others, doubtless, who make cameo appearances as demanded. Sycophancy is the coin of the realm there, in addition to a perpetually high school approach to politics. Add in petty gossip and you have Taco Tuesday in all its robust glory.
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There are some who think Minnesota Republican politics are essentially controlled by this group. I’m conflicted: disinclined to give them that much credit but enthusiastic to do so when I review what passes for political success. In any event, the tale of one person on the receiving end of this collection of political lifers is instructive.
Last Fall, a Republican House staffer was found, on his own time and away from the Capitol, to have met with the campaign of someone running for governor other than Daudt. Despite glowing reviews from the two House members for whom he actually worked, he was summarily dismissed. No reason was given for the dismissal but it wasn’t hard to figure out.
This is heavy handed, insecure and unprofessional but apparently such is standard fare in the House caucus under current leadership. I’m not particularly exercised about it either, had matters stayed there. They didn’t.
This same individual was subsequently hired by the Republican Party of Minnesota in a rare example of a House staffer having actual talent. When word of that hire reached the House mafia, an outside group brought pressure to bear on newly elect RPM chair Jennifer Carnahan. The Minnesota Jobs Coalition threatened not to work with the party if that previously fired staffer wasn’t fired yet again, and yet again for no cause.
Despite posturing as a strong, independent female leader, Carnahan caved and fired the guy. She only did so, though, when another officer of the Party, who supported the new hire, was out of the country.
You could be forgiven for thinking Chris Fields had been elected chair, so eager was Carnahan to do the House bidding. Fields was widely seen as Daudt & Golnik’s patsy but now they have another one, the one who won, who has proven herself to be an easy mark. It’s difficult to imagine Carnahan exercising genuine leadership on behalf of all Minnesota Republicans going forward instead of subordinating their interests to the House mafia. They are not one in the same.
All is not lost, though, as I understand we now have fashionable tee shirts for purchase at the MNGOP State Fair booth. There’s even a lifesize cutout of President Trump, which surprised me. I had thought it would have been of Little Marco.
Don’t laugh: the thinking in St. Paul is that Rubio won the state (he won a plurality in a caucus) and that Republicans don’t need Trump voters to win the governorship. This is manifestly stupid on its face but that thinking is not uncommon among the rather untalented group of people who will influence Republican races throughout the state. That’s because winning the governorship is seen as affording an opportunity to . . . hire more republican staffers. Stafferism™ is the phrase I coined long ago on Twitter to describe this type of thinking. It’s endemic.
Failure is a resume enhancer among such types and working on failed campaigns is the single biggest credential that binds them together. The results, you might say, speak for themselves.
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Speaker Daudt, seated during caucus with his fellow House members, has been known to summon a hapless staffer, Isaac Schultz, to kneel before him with a selection of ties from which to pick the day’s sartorial statement. When those presented aren’t up to snuff, Schultz is dismissed to bring back another half dozen or so. No word if he’s executed upon the failure of the third selection.
This isn’t quite courtiers at Versailles vying with each other for the honor of emptying the Sun King’s chamber pot each morning but it still is quite an image. Each leader has their own imprint on their caucus, to be sure, but reports from Saint Paul indicate this one is uniquely different, uniquely toxic.
I’ve lost count of the number of House members who have told me they find the Speaker personally dishonest and untrustworthy. I’m not jaded but I also don’t shock easily. I was shocked.
In the lobbying community, “government relations” in swamp-speak, Daudt’s word is seen as essentially worthless, not to be depended upon because he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. I’m not exactly sympathetic to lobbyists but when even they doubt your character, something is wrong.
What’s wrong is a House whose culture is one of control, personal connections to a fault, and heavy handed coercion. Again, within reason, that’s fine, normal, unremarkable. But I don’t think that’s what we have here and these poisonous conditions thrive because of the insularity of the House mafia.
The House Director of Research never did a day of research in his life before being hired. Qualifications? Friend of Ben Golnik. This is the rule, not the exception. Alas, most (but not all) of the talent in Minnesota Republican politics fled the state some time ago. We’re left with a constant retread of the mediocre who endlessly reassure each other they’re quite accomplished. Why? They have jobs, don’t they?
Remember the failed Potemkin campaign of Darlene Miller who the local swamp invented in order to head off outsider, now Congressman, Jason Lewis? The campaign manager, possibly others, is now at the House. See what I mean about failure as a resume enhancer?
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Yes, they have a lot of Norm Coleman’s money to play with, directly and indirectly. But this relative largesse seems not to have improved the outcome of Minnesota republicans controlling the legislature. Because of Trump there is a twenty seat majority in the House but to no real avail. Hiring and firing people is the name of the game and it’s tedious, ultimately unproductive in the real world where politics can make a difference.
Making such a difference, it seems to me, would require qualities I’m fairly confident this set doesn’t possess. The status quo is comfortable because they’ve accommodated themselves to it, see it as the natural order of things and think embroidering around the edges qualifies as leadership. Naturally it doesn’t but this explains the shock of the in crowd (maybe a member can wear a tee shirt mocking that phrase) when confronted with an assessment of their achievements in terms not obsequious.
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The problem with the House mafia, besides their petty abuse of power, is that no real conservative politics gets done in this state. They embody the reason every surrounding state is in Republican control while Minnesota is not. Keeping their jobs and ersatz influence is paramount. Delivering for donors–somewhat–is all they’re good at, while the real reforms that would stop Minnesota’s slide to the Regressive Left go ignored, if not positively run from. Courage is a word unknown to them. Cozying up to local media passes for sophisticated messaging skills. They delight in their own puff pieces.
Republicans in the state likely don’t know the full scale of the problem because too often those who are part of it pretend to represent them when asking for their votes every two or four years. Recently, Mark Steyn shrewdly observed that Trump unmasked the sheer artificiality of modern politics. Americans responded enthusiastically because Americans have tired of it. Yet the local Republican political class knows only artificiality. Most everything in modern politics has been altered except them.
Nothing will change in Minnesota for Republicans until that is understood. Genuine is an antonym of artificial. Real is an antonym of fake. Minnesotans are ready for a new kind of politics but those with far too much influence in Republican circles not only have no understanding as to how to give that to them, they have no desire.
Because despite what you might think, Minnesota Republican politics isn’t about you, it’s all about them.
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In addition to Alpha News, John Gilmore is also a contributor to The Hill. He is the founder and executive director of Minnesota Media Monitor.™ He blogs at MinnesotaConservatives.org and is on Twitter under @Shabbosgoy.