Primary Colors: The DFL’s Pet Republican

As we’ve discussed earlier, the Star Tribune has two goals in its “Endorsement” process:

  1. Promote the DFL.  At the least, an endorsement is free advertising.  Beyond that?   It gulls the gullible.
  2. Ensure that whatever GOP does get elected causes the DFL as little trouble as possible.  It’s why all and sundry among their columnists, except Katherine Kersten, constantly harken back to the bad old days, when the GOP was basically the DFL with better suits.

Rep. Steve Smith of the southwest ‘burbs is at best a “moderate” Republican, conservative only only law-and-order issues, and would give “RINOs” a bad name on most other topics – or, as the Strib puts it, “thoughtful and pragmatic”.

And that’s the least of his problems. Talk with any mainstream conservative Republican in the legislature about Smith and you get a lot of head-shaking, eye-rolling and “Oof-da”-ing.  From the partisan to the political to the personal, Representative Smith is reportedly a poster child for the downside of life as a professional politician.

But he’s not even a speed bump for the DFL on most issues. and that means “Strib Heart Smith“:

Or as the Strib – and I have it on fair authority that Lori Sturdevant wrote this one too – puts it:

To function well, the perennially divided Legislature needs mavericks — independent-minded centrists willing to occupy the battle-scarred ground between the two parties and to stretch in both directions to strike deals.

But only so long as they stretch to the left.

Seriously – you’ll look long and in vain for similar praise for DFLers who inch to the right.  Partly because the DFL excises them from the party like they’re tumors (See Norm Coleman, Randy Kelly, Jerry Blakey, John Harrington).  Partly because to the Strib Editorial Board, sticking to one’s guns goes by two names; “populist pugnacity!” on the left, “partisan extremism” on the right.

Smith, naturally, “stretches” obligingly and solely to the left:

For 22 years, state Rep. Steve Smith, 62, a family law attorney [we’ll come back to that] from Mound, has played that difficult and increasingly lonely role. He gets our nod on that basis over Southwest Metro Tea Party founder Cindy Pugh of Chanhassen, who has party endorsement.

Not just party endorsement – like Dave Osmek, she had overwhelming party endorsement.

Which is yet another reason the Strib is endorsing Smith – to do its bit to undercut the GOP – a goal at which Smith is a reliable ally:

Unlike most Republicans, Smith is allied with organized labor — eight unions had endorsed him as of late last week. He opposes the same-sex-marriage ban that most Republican legislators voted to put before the voters this year. He voted for the stadium bill; Pugh says she would have voted no.

On vote after vote after vote, Smith tossed the caucus, and a Republican mainstream that has moved to the right over his decades of incumbency, under the bus – to the point where the caucus finally had to do something:

Speaker Kurt Zellers broke with customary practice two weeks ago by endorsing Pugh over his caucusmate Smith. After the 2011 session, amid rumors about Smith’s relationship with a female staffer (he is divorced), Zellers stripped Smith of the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. (The woman in question no longer works for the House.)

Want double standards?  The Strib’s got ’em!:

By comparison, Pugh, 55, a former general manager of Dayton’s in St. Paul, is an energetic, personable apostle of free-market conservatism….By her own admission, if District 33B voters send Pugh to the Capitol next January, she’ll have a lot to learn.

Pugh is a successful businesswoman, and a key organizer of a political movement, the Southwest Metro Tea Party, that has been turning the formerly “purple” Third CD redder and redder by the year for for the past three years.  She is a dynamo.  Like many of the recent conservative “Tea Party” class of current legislators, she’s got a lifetime of real accomplishments outside of politics.  While the Strib may well prefer someone who’s spent an adult lifetime growing roots in the Capitol, one suspects the voters are getting smarter.

And I did mention double standards, right?  You’ll scour the Strib in vain for any patronizing references to the inexperience of, say, Carly Melin, a 25 year old DFL drone-ette whom the DFL trucked straight from Hamline Law School in Saint Paul to the Iron Range just in time to meet the residency requirements, for an insta-endorsement and perfunctory election to the House, notwithstanding the fact that she had no useful experience at anything, much less politics.

If they send Smith, he’ll have a different set of challenges.

He’ll have the kind of challenges that, were he a conservative like Tom Hackbarth, would have gotten obsessive coverage in the Strib.

We hope voters give him a chance to overcome them. Legislative mavericks are in grievously short supply.

No, we’ve got mavericks; a majority of them in both chambers.  They broke from the Strib’s orthodoxy.

As to Smith?  He’s a RINO.  That is forgiveable, personally if not politically.  He’s a throwback to an earlier, more useless era in the Minnesota GOP; the Carlson/Durenberger years, when the “Indendent Republican” party went along to get along.  May those days be soon forgotten.

What is unforgiveable is that Smith has been one of the leading forces against custody reform in Minnesota.  It’s a system that intentionally exacerbates divorces, by enshrining a “winner takes all” custody and support system that inflames divorces (and racks up billable hours for Smith’s fellow “Family Court” lawyers) and, make no mistake, operates in the precise worst interest of children in the vast majority of cases.  Minnesota’s current child custody system is a barbaric monstrosity that should be rooted out and killed.  

For his decades of supporting this inexcusable barbarism, there is no circle in hell hot or dark enough for Smith (rhetorically and morally speaking, at any rate).  He deserves to be pelted with rocks and garbage, mocked and exiled from polite civilization.

But I, and nearly 90% of his district’s Republicans, would be happy to settle for simply retiring from politics, starting Wednesday morning.

21 thoughts on “Primary Colors: The DFL’s Pet Republican

  1. If the Strib exhibited a scintilla of objectivity in their news and commentary I might consider re-subscribing. However, their flag has been planted. I shall continue to use them only to wrap my fish and kindle my campfires.

  2. eight unions had endorsed him as of late last week
    You will get my vote after I am dead. No doubt the DFL can arrange that.

  3. If the Strib exhibited a scintilla of objectivity in their news and commentary

    They would cease to be the Strib. Have they endorsed Zombie Harold Stassen yet?

  4. “Norm Coleman, Randy Kelly, Jerry Blakey, John Harrington” Are not very good examples of a party excising an office holder for moderation. None of them ever lost a primary or a general election running as a Democrat. Norm and Blakey choose to become Republicans. Kelly lost a general election in a DFL city after endorsing a Republican for President. Whatever reason Harrington failed to secure a DFL endorsement, I don’t think it had anything to do with being perceived as “to the right”. 3 choose to leave the party and one was not to the right of other DFLers. So none of them is an example of a DFLer who was excised for sliping to the right.

  5. Blakey lost a primary, and was basically gundecked by the St. Paul DFL for being too moderate (Republicans liked him!).

    Harrington was challenged *precisely* for being “too moderate”. In as many words, in at least one case.

    Coleman was hounded out of the DFL; it was made very clear he was not welcome.

    And Kelly DID lose the general as DFLer; he didn’t leave the party when he endorsed Bush – acting all “pragmatic and thoughful” and “reaching across the aisle”.

    The real point is that the Strib will never support a DFLer who moves “across the aisle”.

  6. Rick, you contradicted yourself within your comment. ” None of them ever lost a primary or a general election running as a Democrat.” Randy Kelly lost a general election running as a Democrat. Kelly didn’t leave the party. He was excised for endorsing a candidate of the right.

  7. Blakey lost a primary when he ran as the GOP endorsed candidate for Mayor in 2001, not when he ran as a DFLer. He did not run for City Council in 2003.
    Whatever the DFL did or did not do to Norm Coleman, did not include defeating him in a primary. As long as he was a Democrat he won primaries and general elections.
    Kelly did not run in 2005 as a Democrat. He was the ‘tri-partisan’ candidate and Mitch know sthat because you got the same mailers I did.
    I am sure Harrington’s opponents paid lip-service to the idea that he was ‘too conservative’ but none of the usual suspect ‘progressive’ groups got involved. That was a pure case of intra East Side personal politics and tribal loyalties. It had none of the marking of the usual left-right fight.
    “The real point is that the Strib will never support a DFLer who moves “across the aisle”. Unless it is Randy Kelly running for Mayor in 2001.

  8. Whatever the DFL did or did not do to Norm Coleman, did not include defeating him in a primary. As long as he was a Democrat he won primaries and general elections.

    Doesn’t change the fact that the DFL – and the media that serves as its praetorian guard – has no tolerance for Democrats who are “mavericks”. Whether they lose elections or get tossed by the party machinery, it matters not an iota.

    Kelly did not run in 2005 as a Democrat. He was the ‘tri-partisan’ candidate and Mitch know sthat because you got the same mailers I did.

    I also interviewed him at least three times. He was a proud Democrat in the Harry Truman sense of the term, and was coalition-building. DIdn’t work, obviously.

    I am sure Harrington’s opponents paid lip-service to the idea that he was ‘too conservative’ but none of the usual suspect ‘progressive’ groups got involved.

    You write it off as lip service. You should not. It was what led to the challenges. And the usual suspects need not get involved; it’s SD67. The DFL could slap an endorsement, whether in convention or primary, on Charles Manson, or a set of wind-up chattering teeth, and count on getting 60% of the vote. The “usual suspects” are free to try to save Brian Barnes and Jim Graves.

    That was a pure case of intra East Side personal politics and tribal loyalties. It had none of the marking of the usual left-right fight.

    Many of those tribal loyalties pivot about a left-center fight. They had the same battle when they endorsed Norm over (IIRC) Bob Long in ’93; the center won. It’s the last time that ever happened, but for Kelly.

    Unless it is Randy Kelly running for Mayor in 2001.

    Three years before endorsing W? When his east side “moderate” machine was still a force to be reckoned with? Sure. That was then, this is now. Moderates have been purged from the StPDFL.

  9. Whatever the DFL’s alleged ‘intollerance’ of mavericks may be, it does not involve beating Norm Coleman in a primary. If you want to say the DFL does the same thing the GOP looks to do to Smith, you have to find another example.

    “It’s the last time that ever happened, but for Kelly” except for when the DFL endorsed Chris Coleman over Ortega in 2005.

    On Kelly, I’ll let readers who got the mailers decide if he ran as a Democrat, but the point remains that given a choice btw a moderate Dem and a progressive Dem in 2001, the Star Tribune choose the moderate.

    No one disputes that parties try to hold officials accountable to their agenda. But when providing examples of DFLers who were beat in primaries for moderation, you missed on all four.

  10. And if they Strib is a lock step DFL paper, why did they endorse Norm Coleman for Senate in 2008 and Tom Horner for Governor in 2010? In the two closest most important MN races in the last 10 years, when a Strib endorsement might matter, they did not endorse the Democrat.

  11. Smith is a RINO by today’s Republican party litmus test standards. He shows an independent thinking bent — not to be tolerated in the strict ideologue world — and perhaps even too libertarian on the social issues. Smith was one of four House Republicans to break party ranks and vote against the amendment that would define marriage in the state Constitution as between one man and one woman.

    http://www.hispanicbusiness.com/2012/8/7/bachmann_endorses_activist_in_primary_race.htm

  12. RickDFL makes some excellent points. By endorsing Horner in 2010 they swung more votes away from Dayton in an already razor-thin close race. Why would Strib, if they are DFL backers, do that? I’ve seen them endorse Republican candidates in recent house and senate races as well. My experience is that their bias is toward “intelligent” candidates. They seem to like independent thinkers who aren’t straight ideologues (this could explain Horner), and people who are more likely to work in a bipartisan way. They interview the candidates prior to endorsement, and it seems they like the ones who show some in-depth knowledge of the issues and are capable of thoughtful independent analysis. Again, I think this is why they liked Horner. When their endorsement happens to be the Democrat then the Republicans accuse them of being DFL operatives. When it is a Republican then the Democrats whine.

    Being on the editorial board of a paper has to be a bitch.

  13. Sanity said:

    “RickDFL makes some excellent points”

    Blowing any credibi…OK, let’s just say “emphasizing” his lack of credibility.

  14. RickDFL makes some excellent points. By endorsing Horner in 2010 they swung more votes away from Dayton in an already razor-thin close race.

    I’ll assume you were out of state in 2010. The DFL spun Horner as a Republican, and the Strib’s endorsement played directly into that spin; they played him as “the good Republican” by their standards, against that scary Tom Emmer. Horner was probably the only IP candidate in history to actually impact a GOP candidate, and for that very reason.

    Why would Strib, if they are DFL backers, do that?

    Because it supported the DFL.

    I’ve seen them endorse Republican candidates in recent house and senate races as well. My experience is that their bias is toward “intelligent” candidates.

    Where “intelligent” inevitably equals “will do the DFL’s work for it”.

    They seem to like independent thinkers who aren’t straight ideologues

    Sure they do! Provided that they’re in the GOP! If the candidate is DFL, that lip service toward “independence” goes out the window.

    people who are more likely to work in a bipartisan way.< ./i>

    Sure – provided “bipartisan” means “according to the DFL agenda”.

    You never find the Strib endorsing Demcrats who support spending cuts and gun rights.

    Being on the editorial board has to be a bitch

    Waaah.

  15. “I’ll assume you were out of state in 2010. The DFL spun Horner as a Republican, and the Strib’s endorsement played directly into that spin; they played him as “the good Republican” by their standards, against that scary Tom Emmer. ”

    I ask again, why would a DFL Strib endorse a Republican at all? Why, in a tight race, would they endorse the Republican, thereby encouraging swing and independent voters (many of whom lean Democrat) to vote for a Republican?

    I know Democrats and leaning Democratic independents who voted for Horner, in part based on Strib endorsement. Just sayin’, Mitch, your spin on this is really stretching.

  16. why would a DFL Strib endorse a Republican at all?

    You need to think less about “Republican” and more about “Conservative”. The Strib endorses moderates (in conservative districts) and DFLers everywhere else.

    And remember, we’re talking about a primary here, not a general election. The Strib is trying to get voters to put “moderates” instead of conservatives on the ballot.

  17. I’m sure the Strib endorsed Horner over Dayton because they could see the utter trainwreck that Dayton was (is). I doubt more than 10% of the votes Horner received were pulled from Dayton.

  18. “Because it supported the DFL”
    And if they endorsed Emmer, you would say it was a plot to suppress the GOP vote by making Emmer look too moderate. If they wanted to support the DFL they would have endorsed Dayton.
    We can debate whether Horner drew more from Emmer or Dayton, but it seems very unlikely that a Strib endorsement of Horner cost Emmer more votes than Dayton. Which party is more likely to respect a Strib endorsement, DFL or GOP? Which party puts more effort into attacking the Strib? People who care about the Strib endorsment are exactly the moderate Dems Dayton was most vulnerable to losing to Horner. No one in DFL land thought the Strib did us any favors by endorsing Horner.
    So what we are left with is the Strib likes to endorse moderate centrists whether GOP, Independence, or DFL. Smith, Horner, Kelly 2001, and Coleman 2008 all were endorsed because the Strib thought they were less partisan/more centrist than their opponents.

  19. And if they endorsed Emmer, you would say it was a plot to suppress the GOP vote by making Emmer look too moderate

    Sure, conjecture if if you want. It’s purely idle speculation. It’ll never happen.

  20. Hi Mitch,

    Smith isn’t a, “moderate republican” according to his own voting record and the assessments of his record by a host of conservative organizations whose rankings say otherwise.

    Minnesota Majority gave him a score of 96% in 2010, higher than many of the GOP stalwarts mentioned above. They score on things like taxation, marriage & family, rights & liberties and gov & politics as you know. He has a career score of 84% which is on par with GOPer’s such as Tim Kelly, Morrie Lanning, Loon, Mack, Holberg, McNamara, Cornish and others. He’s ranked higher than Otrman, Olson and even Geoff Michel.

    The Chamber of Commerce even ranks Smith with Zellers and Drazkowski, hardly considered, “moderates”.

    2011 Tax Payers League ranks Smith at 77% which is on par with Zellers, Kiffmeyer, Dean, Davids, Cornish, Barrett, Gottwalt, Garofalo and more. And he ranks higher than some of his other colleagues in the House GOP…according to Krinkie and the TPL.

    Smith’s voting records suggest that he almost always votes with his party and that he deviates on average less than 10% of the time. That means he votes straight party line about 90% of the time. That’s inline with about 94% of his fellow GOP legislators. If you want to go after him for the 6% I get that, but it wouldn’t put him outside the party by any stretch, at least not on the basis of his voting record.

    This also falls within my own observations of him while covering the legislature the past five years. If you wan to know who the moderates really are you only need to stay late in the chamber a few times and see who the DFLer’s go to negotiate with during close votes. Smith isn’t usually one of them.

    Supporting Pugh because she’s more conservatively pure than Smith is abosultely your perrogative, but she has no actual voting record in the Legislature on which to base her, “conservativism” and Smith does. Conversely, you can criticize Smith for his stand on family law issues and towing the line for the status-quo, you can even box him up as an old-school RINO if you like, but don’t insult the real moderates by dropping him in that group because he’s NOT a moderate by any validated measure.

    Hope you’re doing well and staying out of trouble 🙂

    Marty

  21. Pingback: The DFL’s Pet Republican, Part II | Shot in the Dark

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