Friday, April 29, 2011

The Republican Party's Gambling Problem

In an odd, over-heated moment this week the issue of gambling, whether to expand it, what constitutes expansion and the role of RNC committeewoman/man engulfed the Republican Party of Minnesota. As someone said to MC at Thursday night's Elephant Club meeting held to congratulate Tony Sutton, Michael Brodkorb, David Sturrock, Pat Anderson and Jeff Johnson for their respective elections: "How did we go from one to ten in volume on this issue on the basis of a single Star Tribune article?" Good question.

Earlier in the week Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Star Tribune tweeted a story by her colleague Baird Helgeson that newly elected RNC member Pat Anderson had registered as a lobbyist for Cantebury Park, the race horse facility in Shakopee. That story can be read HERE. Plotzing, ventilating and general over-reaction ensued among activists and some RPM leaders. MC waited for the week to pass before making any observations, studied or otherwise.

The primary indictment against Anderson is twofold: that her position on "racino" is at odds with the party platform against gambling expansion and that she should have disclosed her upcoming lobbyist position in advance of the election she won at State Central on April 16th to replace Evie Axdahl as the RPM committeewoman to the Republican National Committee. MC thinks there is no merit to the first and some to the second.

The chief scold against Anderson has been RPM deputy chair Michael Brodkorb. In his view, Anderson must choose between her client and her RNC position. Apparently this is because of the perceived conflict with the party platform: "She is a party officer, she sits on the executive committee. There is an expectation she will support the party platform. Plus the timing of this and how she handled this, it's going to be difficult for her." These comments strike MC less as reasons than conclusions. To each of them one may respond sprightly: so what? It's not that Anderson can't be criticized or that a good discussion about gambling should be had; it's that Brodkorb's arguments are not on their face persuasive and fail as such. Other, improved arguments may well be forthcoming in the next few weeks from him and others and they will deserve attention and reflection.

Anderson, rising to the challenge, points out that most republicans don't agree with everything in the platform (demonstrably true) and that "[o]ne of the platforms in the party is to support the free markets. Another is opposition to the Indian casino monopoly." She went on to suggest Brodkorb himself was on thin ice given he is (paid) senior staff of the Senate GOP caucus as well as (volunteer) deputy chair of the party. To this Brodkorb replies that the delegates knew of that fact when they elected and reelected him. True as well but this suggests to MC that conflicts are ok if delegates approve them. Both Anderson and Brodkorb would be well served to leave this issue alone; it's a draw at best and comes at a bit too much spilt blood. Cyndy Brucato tweeted that she was unsure how both Anderson and Brodkorb could get along at the Elephant Club meeting given her sense that the disagreement had become personal. To the disappointment of some media, Anderson had left for another engagement (with Jeff Johnson) in Carver County by the time Brodkorb arrived seriously late for the event. MC approves of manners and chalks this up to the deputy chair being gracious, something his critics fail to appreciate in him. Some say he was afraid of Anderson to which MC can hardly stop laughing. Brodkorb has more guts than most of our elected republican officials (or talk show critics) and has the scars to prove it.

Thursday the sparring couple dialed into the KTLK FM (100.3) morning show (still looking for an identity and ratings) hosted by Bob Davis and Tom Emmer. Who knew there was a market for incestuous republican party contretemps? At any rate, MC thought Anderson had the better of the exchange although the parties were not on the air contemporaneously. Readers can click HERE to listen to the podcast themselves and make up their own minds. MC found Anderson fearless and armed with exceptionally strong arguments not usually heard in public.

Other observers and party activists have weighed in with thoughtful commentary. Andy Aplikowski at Residual Forces blog came down strongly against Anderson. He can be read by clicking HERE. Reflexive ur-liberal Sally Jo Sorenson writes with some humor (that rarest of commodities on the left) about the gambling issue at her blog Bluestem Prairie. She can be read by clicking HERE. MC must lament in passing her wildly inappropriate use of homo homini lupus and its application to the current controversy. Latin for "man is wolf to man" the phrase is best used when discussing the Holocaust, the Gulag or the Killing Fields. It's typical of the liberal mindset to be overwrought about mere policy disputes while staying silent about, oh, the slaughter of Syrians while our President remains likewise mute. But MC digresses.

Without knowing or intending it, Pat Anderson has provided the RPM a signal service. First, why does the party have a platform the size of a Manhattan phone book which no one reads and no one, really, on balance cares about? The more stuffed the platform with exotic fringe issues of importance only to those few delegates who advance them, the less worthy of overall respect and adherence it becomes. The platform should be scrapped altogether and replaced with a dozen or so cleanly stated principles (hat tip Joey Gerdin). Perhaps then they would actually mean something.

Second, why is an RNC committeewoman being savaged when Senate President Michelle Fishbach, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and twelve GOP committee chairs all support some form of gambling? The idea that a party official who cannot pass legislation ought to be held to a stricter platform standard than those who enact legislation is simply absurd. It is also telling in that only Anderson has been publicly singled out for this treatment. Why? The question really does demand an answer.

Third, can the pretense that this isn't about Jack & Annette Meeks and their lucrative relationship with the Indian gaming tribes be dropped once and for all? Most delegates have no idea that the real fight going on here is below the water line. CAGE, Citizens Against Gambling Expansion, has on its board of directors both Meeks, Tony & Bridget Sutton, Corey Miltmore and Cathie Hartnett. An interest front group run by republicans with Indian gaming money. Potemkin astroturf.™ The gloss is that CAGE is bipartisan. Right, and MPR and the League of Women Voters are neutral and objective too. Jack Meeks makes enormous money from the Indians to keep the RPM neutered on the gaming issue. The Indian tribes that make him wealthy then contribute vast sums to elect democrats. Meeks turns around and feeds social conservatives anti-gambling tripe that makes them feel better. Talk about carnival barkers. And rubes.

Late word has it that the State Executive Committee is being hounded by a party official to act in someway against Anderson. MC is amused: the issue is not as inflammatory as had been hoped. Consequently calls must be made! Outrage ginned up! Anderson is indisputably correct when she says that she has a clear track over years on her support of racino and that "a majority of Republicans in the state have a similar position."

This leads naturally to the obvious observation: where has Chair Tony Sutton been on all of this? Full disclosure: MC supported Tony Sutton for chair and Michael Brodkorb for deputy chair, as well as David Sturrock for Treasurer/Secretary. Why? They actually did what they promised to do two years ago. MC is not part of that group which takes routine target practice on party leadership. As MC's friend Mary Igo would say: shoot outward, not inward. Good advice always. Still, why leave the attack on Pat Anderson to the junior position in the party if the chair did not agree with it? If he does disagree with his deputy, then it is time for him to say so.

Two days before State Central the Star Tribune ran what was widely considered a hit piece on Tony Sutton, driven by selected emails disclosed by a malcontent which hoped to show his wife, Bridget, acting as a shill to sell him to the highest bidder, explicitly on the subject of gambling. MC believes the Suttons over the Star Tribune. Most activists do. The story can be read HERE.

Fourth, Tom Emmer, the party's endorsed nominee for governor, also has a prior record of supporting some forms of gambling, most of which would clearly be expansions. Talk about an inconvenient truth. Of course, once Emmer caved to the demands of the thuggish MCCL to dump Linda Runbeck as his lieutenant governor in favor of Annette! Meeks he changed his position on the subject. First Principles, you know (think of a white Obama; no color has a lock on shallowness). More on the now you seem him now you don't gambling subject by clicking HERE. MC awaits the same sorts of attacks on Emmer as we now see deployed against a woman. After all, Emmer wanted to be RNC committeeman and braggged, to his detriment, about the contacts he was making after losing to Mark Dayton. Mark. Dayton.

Fifth, MC has it from multiple and reliable sources that Jack Meeks and Evie Axdahl were attempting Friday to find ways to prevent Pat Anderson from being seated on the RNC. They concluded, one assumes reluctantly, that there was no process to do so after the state central election. It has been said that Meeks was forced to resign as RNC committeeman given his lobbying efforts. This is incorrect: the Governor forced him to resign because he was leading a front group funded by political opponents. Think of Jack and Annette Meeks leading a pro-life group funded by Planned Parenthood. Consequently the argument that Pat Anderson should do as Jack Meeks did lacks integrity. This doesn't mean that the frequently not too bright social conservatives won't eat it up. They will. After all, they gave us Emmer. Q.E.D.

Where does this leave the Republican Party of Minnesota? MC hopes, at a minimum, questioning why the party circles the wagons to protect a select few who profit financially from an enforced, wrong and hypocritical policy position on gambling. Will the RPM ever outgrow the baleful influence of the Meeks and Vin Weber and their lackies? One can hope.

MC also hopes that elected party officials like Brodkorb won't attack in the future and give the appearance he is speaking for all republicans and activists. What's next? A Huckabee endorsement? MC kids but the point remains the same. Protecting Jack Meeks is not within the job description of any party official. The party genuinely is divided about gambling. This is a good thing. Gone are the days of a few protecting even fewer who can make money from the issue in the most cynical and repulsive ways imaginable.

Pat Anderson, like her RNC colleague Jeff Johnson, will stand, presumably, for re-election a year hence. Delegates and activists can then decide if her decision to be a racino lobbyist was wrong or not. In the meantime, the RPM needs to revisit the gambling issue and allow for divergent views on the subject. It can no longer be held hostage to a few unscrupulous types who profit from manipulating the good will or ignorance of regular party activists.

Note: All quotes are from Cyndy Brucato's excellent article at MinnPost which can be read in full by clicking HERE.

Correction: The original blog post incorrectly credited Rachel Stassen-Berger with reporting Pat Anderson's racino lobbying position. It has been changed to reflect that this was the reporting of of her Star Tribune colleague Baird Helgeson and to provide a link to his story.