The MNGOP’s Judicial Goat Rodeo

I was at the GOP booth when endorsed Supreme Court of Minnesota (SCOM) candidate Michelle McDonald came to the building.

It was awkward; the GOP wanted her out, she and her volunteers wanted her in. 


The flap, of course, was over McDonald’s pending trial on a variety of charges related to an attempted drunk-driving arrest.  This Strib story lays out the initial round of particulars; Aaron Rupar at the City Pages updated the story in July along with a heaping helping of his peculiar partisan glee.  So did Cyndy Brucato at the MinnPost.  As did…

…well, hell – just about everyone with a keyboard and some server space, from the Daily Kos down to every leftyblogging hamster in the Metro.   Indeed, the media has been having a ball.  And they had another, when she got pulled over again, for allegedly violating the terms of her limited driving license (which is directly related to the pending charges, fair and accurate or not).  And they were waiting outside the GOP booth when I arrived yesterday morning, like carrion-feeding animals, looking for a spectacle.

Not sure they got a “spectacle” in the classic sense of the term, but it was a thoroughly modern flap; McDonald’s supporters and volunteers, defying instructions from the MNGOP that she not appear at the booth, and operating under their own directive to appear every single day at the booth, arrived.  Most of the pack of volunteers held cameras in front of them, including Ms. McDonald.  They marched into the booth.  Some of her volunteers very intentionally blocked the GOP booth staff from getting to Ms. McDonald. 

Oh, yeah – the Twin Cities media was looking on with carrion-feeding glee, recording every single contortion.  And they talked with Ms. McDonald – who responded, holding her camera out in front of her, recording her every interaction with the media, notwithstanding the knot of volunteers standing around her doing exactly the same thing. 

To summarize:  in a year where the MNGOP has been recovering its organizational and financial mojo, the party endorsed a candidate who may as well have been tailor made to garner immense, entirely negative media attention. 

To put it in terms recognizable to anyone who has grown exhausted from the MNGOP’s capacity to shoot itself in the foot, it was best termed a “goat rodeo”.  A “dumpster fire”.  Perhaps even a “Hungarian cluster-cuddle”. 

And it didn’t have to be that way. 

Let’s break it down.

Prologue:  Before I start, let’s get a few assumptions nailed down.

  • McDonald is charged with a bunch of counts related to refusing testing, obstruction/resisting, and a dog’s breakfast of other legal epemera.  She’s innocent until proven guilty.  So for purposes of reading what I write, assume that I believe McDonald to be utterly innocent of all charges, and pure as the driven snow to boot.  I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever been a huge fan of the Dakota County Attorney’s office.  I’ll try to get her elected – especially since the alternative is the loathsome David “Darth” Lillehaug, a man you can expect to turn the State Constitution into the DFL’s birdcage liner. 
  • That said, I think part of her legal defense as stated by her defenders – that she refused field sobriety and breath/blood/urine testing because “the law allows her to demand a judge to oversee the test” – fails the sniff test.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s always good to refuse field sobriety tests, as they are designed to reinforce the prosecution’s case, not to exculpate the suspect.  But McDonald’s defenders refer to MN Statute 169.91, implying that on a suspect’s demand, a judge must be rousted out of bed and brought to the courthouse to…what?  Supervise the conduct of a whiz test?  I’m no lawyer, and admittedly iffy on the mechanics of the law, and would appreciate some lawyers’ opinions on this. 
  • I’m an elected party officer (on the 4th CD and Saint Paul City committees).  I’m supposed to support the GOP’s endorsed candidates.  Those I don’t actually support, I keep quiet about.  If it becomes a problem, I’ll resign from the party.  It’s not a problem yet. 
  • The various “Judicial Election” factions in the Republican Party – including the ones that’ve been fighting an endless, and I do mean endless, battle to support judicial endorsements, have spent an amazing amount of time at every GOP convention I’ve been at in the past ten years, stumping for…something.  Endorsements?  SCOM candidates?  Arguing vigorously with…something or another.  Damned if I know.  Damned if most activists know.  All I know is – speaking only for myself, here – my pavlovian reaction to hearing that someone from some Judicial Elections/Nominations/Endorsing/Whiskey-Tango-Fever is for my butt to go numb from the memory of all the times I’ve sat and listened to those who are passionate about their exceedingly abstruse subject hold forth at great, immense, pedantic, ass-numbing length.   And I mean that with all due respect, since I do know it’s important.  It’s just bored me stiffer than almost any other subject over the years, and I know I’m not the only one. 

OK.  With that out of the way:

Conventional:  At the State GOP Convention in Rochester last May 31, the assembled 2,000-odd delegates had just endured a bruising, day-and-a-half Senate endorsement battle between Mike McFadden and dark-horse sensation Chris Dahlberg.  It’d started before noon the previous day, Friday May 30, as repeated ballots slowly winnowed the field down from six candidates to three by 2AM Saturday morning.  The grind started over with the sunrise on Saturday; it was right around noonish, as I recall, and the delegates were looking forward to untangling a five-way race for Governor. 

Suddenly, onto the stage stepped Greg Wersal – three-time candidate for the SCOM – and a bunch of members of the Judicial Election Committee (JEC).  And I’m not sure if everyone in the house deflated, or if it was just me, but judging by the number of people who hit the exits looking for bathrooms and food, I’m thinking not. 

But I stayed in the press pit, as Wersal and the rest of the JEC nominated McDonald, saying she’d passed all the usual sniff tests.  Then Ms. McDonald gave a decent speech accepting the nomination. 

And the assembled delegates duly voted to endorse her to run for the SCOM against Lillehaug. 

So yes – she has the endorsement. 

That Gathering Feeling:  It was about two weeks later that the media learned about the arrest.  And then the other arrest. 

And I’m no expert, but I dont’ think Michelle McDonald has spent a lot of time talking about legal issues or her agenda on the bench since then. 

Because whether one is innocent or not, having a currently pending criminal case – even if you assume (as we do – see “Prologue”, above – that the charges are BS and that she’s utterly innocent.  It’s the sort of the stuff that the DFL and media (ptr) will make into an issue, whether it deserves it or not!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that. 

Death By Committee:   Before Ms. McDonald was allowed to get on stage and speak, she needed to be passed by the nominating committee – the “Judicial Elections Committee”.  I’ve served on a nominating committee; it means that the candidates have been vetted and found qualified, and free of any potential whammies or gotchas. 

Now, the Judicial Nominating Committee – according to sources that are familiar with the workings of the Committee -knew about Ms. McDonald’s legal issues (absolute reeking BS though they no doubt are)…

…and, for some reason, declined to tell the convention’s delegates. 

The story was told fairly clearly in Brucato’s MinnPost piece:

The controversy began at the state party convention in May, when the 20-person Judicial Elections Committee offered MacDonald’s name for endorsement — but did not reveal to convention delegates that she was facing a DWI charge. At the time, the committee chair, Doug Seaton, wanted to offer a minority report revealing the arrest to delegates, but was voted down by the rest of the committee.

“The minority wanted to disclose to the delegates her DWI, which would have provided the transparency that the delegates deserve,” said Bill Jungbauer, member of the state executive committee that took up the matter last Thursday. “I’d want to know — damn straight.”

So the Judicial Elections Committee decided, for some reason, that the delegates didn’t need to see information about arrests that, whether correct or legal or legitimate or not, were guaranteed to draw suffocating negative media attention and give the Alliance for a Better Minnesota all the ammo they need to ensure the SCOM race never, not once, needs to touch on the need for judicial reform or any issue actually relating to Minnesota jurisprudence, 

And that’s if she’s acquitted of the charges. 

A leftyblogger in a vegetative coma (ptr) knows better than this.  How in the flaming hootie-hoo does the JEC not know this?

Delay, Deny, Deflect:  I’ve tried to ask two different JEC members what their rationale was. 

One – in an extended conversation on Facebook – deflected the question into meaninglessness, and stopped responding.  

Another, with whom I talked yesterday morning at the Fair booth, repeatedly answered “because we didn’t want the media to turn it into ammo to attack her with”, apparently believing that the information about a GOP endorsed candidate standing trial for a series of drunk-driving-related charges would evade the media’s attention if they just stayed quiet about it, not to mention ignoring the media feeding frenzy going on at that moment in front of the GOP booth, and I feel stupider just writing that.  I even asked who was the chair of the Judicial Elections Committee.  Three times I asked.

Three times the JEC member said “Ask Keith Downey”. 

But Some People Rate Straight-ish Answers:   But the JEC was pretty open about…well, something.  Eventually.  From Brucato’s piece:

At the party executive meeting [in Mid-July], the committee and party officers read two emails that further eroded MacDonald’s standing as an endorsed candidate.

The first, purported to be from the Judicial Elections Committee, was addressed to convention delegates. And rather than backing down, it used the DWI charge as further justification of MacDonald’s candidacy to be a judge.

“A recent Star Tribune article erroneously claimed that our Committee was unaware of attorney Michelle MacDonald’s DWI charge,” the email began. “That claim is false. We knew a lot about it, and we are convinced that she is innocent.”

So six weeks after the delegates make their well-nigh irrevocable decision to endorse McDonald, then her supporters and the JEC decide in favor of transparency (within the Executive Committee, too late, and with exceptionally dubious political thought involved?)

I’m Just A Cave-Man:  I don’t understand this whole “baffle the media with the obviousness of the charges against your candidate” thing.  If you are a member of the JEC, please – I’ll offer you time on my show to explain your rationale.  Expect questions.  Given behavior heretofore, I’ll expect that’s a showstopper – but I’d love to be pleasantly surprised.

42 thoughts on “The MNGOP’s Judicial Goat Rodeo

  1. No comment on this other than that I’ve heard from a lawyer friend that no one ever passes a field sobriety test. The cop will simply have you do more and more difficult, complex things until he judges you to have failed.

  2. I no longer practice criminal law but I read the commentary by lawyers who do. And no, I did not stay at Holiday Inn last night; take this comment with a whole mine of salt.

    Minnesotans are not required to do field sobriety tests (one CrimDef wag calls them “stupid human tricks”). If you decline, the officer will no doubt take you to the police station for a breath/blood/urine test which you can refuse but doing so will cost you your driver’s license and will gain you a separate criminal charge of Test Refusal in addition to a DUI charge based on the officer’s personal observations supplemented by a video made from a dash-cam or at the police station.

    When I was a prosecutor, I rode along with cops to learn first-hand whether their police reports were credible. Experienced cops know what driving behavior to look for. Everybody knows how a drunk talks, stands and walks but doesn’t believe anybody can tell. Yeah, we can.

    No comment on this particular criminal case – she may be totally innocent and wrongfully accused – but knowing it was pending and concealing it from the convention was idiotic for all the reasons Mitch describes.

  3. When I appeared before the GOP endorsing committee for school board candidate I told them about everything I knew would be dredged up by the DFL, teachers union and alphabet soup sex crew and hurled at me; including a (then) 5 year old DWI conviction. It’s stupid to hold anything back.

    In fact, IMHO holding back details is, in itself, an indication a person isn’t worthy of support.

  4. Innocent or guilty, it doesn’t matter. She’ll be convicted of DUI and Sheer Stupidity in the Court of Public Opinion, and in politics, Perception is Reality.


    As to the JEC, the more I hear about how this issue arose, the more I think “This is why we can’t have nice things.” Considering how many activists don’t care about judicial endorsements, the logical response to this Charlie Foxtrot is to stop endorsing judicial candidates, period. If we can’t trust the nominating committee to do their job well, and there’s not enough volunteers to replace the committee, what other alternatives are there?
    All in all, it’s unfortunate, because, like Mitch, I think Lillehaug is dangerous as a SCOM Justice, and I’d really like to see him lose in November.

  5. I’m all for getting out of the business of judicial endorsements (the people in our State don’t want them) but I think anytime you’re seen as “taking away people’s right to vote,” you’re going to run create a hardened opposition that will accuse you of “not respecting the grassroots” or “obeying the will of the delegates” or whatever the rallying cry will be. Even though I think most people would agree that the JEC acted in bad faith, there are people who would fight against their “right” to endorse a candidate just on general principal or because they think it might help their efforts at taking over in the next cycle of leadership elections (which will roughly be about the time as the next presidential election) by railing against the “establishment.”

    I think a better way to handle would be to eliminate the judicial district organizations who largely drive these things and have all judicial candidates and endorsements handled by the Congressional Districts and State organizations. Right not the judicial district organizations seem to be driving this and they are largely made up by the same people who sat on the JEC. A smaller organization (that most activists don’t have time to be involved with on because they’re are busy at the BPOU and CD level plus supporting other candidates) is easy to takeover and bend to the will of a couple of people.

    Make judicial candidates get petitions signed by a minimum number of delegates (this prevents people from jumping in at the last minute when no one knows who they are) and have the committee that vets them be determined by the larger body which is accountable to the delegates as a whole who elected them. This will probably reduce the number of candidates while providing a more reliable way of weeding out the bad ones without needlessly provoking an intra-party battle that trying to eliminate judicial endorsements would.

  6. Anyone with any knowledge should have seen this coming.
    Take a look at the two main cowboys at this Rodeo – Greg and Bonn Clayton.
    Nice folks who somewhere went off the rails and now will do anything for judicial endorsement.
    If you take a quick look back you will remember the Judicial District 1 fiasco.
    Bonn decided that since he cared so much about the subject, he didn’t need to bother with actual conventions or elections – he just decided to be chair for life. Claiming he was chair since no one else had been elected (since he never held any conventions.)

    [He also created a fictional GOP Judicial Chairs group which was subject to a lawsuit – but I digress]

    When a few people noticed this and got the party to call a convention – lots of people actually showed up. When it became apparent that people wanted to actually vote on who would be chair – Bonn and Greg (who was passing out he usual “I hate the MNGOP literature”) got very angry. And once it was apparent that people wanted to talk and discuss things; and that they didn’t like what had been going on Bonn/Greg and a handful of supporters got angry.
    Bonn was soundly defeated – and their reaction was to storm out.

    They (Bonn) even brought up how unfair it was to allow delegates to vote to State Central – which laughed, and agreed that Bonn, Greg et. al were out of line.

    Sadly just a short time later we have this nonsense – but the same M.O. – keep delegates in the dark because we know better than you.

    This is all such a great irony. That the group who claims to care so much about judicial elections – want to prevent people from actually ever voting or learning things about the candidates.

    If I didn’t know better – I would swear they were really opposition plants.

  7. As another delegate, I’m thinking the whole DUI issue should have been brought up to us.

    If you assume the DFL and their bylined operatives will find anything they can to use against the Republicans, it’s a good start. And a RECENT DUI (unlike Mr. Emmer’s from 1991) is just red meat (or tofu) to those people.

  8. All parties sometimes get stuck with stinker candidates. This one is your turn. It is the inevitability of the political beast.

    No one is doing to her anything your side hasn’t done to the other side. So no boo -hooo hooing.

    It is a shame, because having gotten rid of Sutton and the other disasters, the MN GOP was getting their ducks in a row.

    A very insightful account of the whole circus. Happy this one falls into the category of “Not my monkeys. Not my circus.”

    Hoping you are having a wonderful time at the fair – don’t forget the sunscreen!

  9. I think this demonstrates just how bad a judge she is. Judges can give orders that say do this or don’t do this. She was given what I say was a strong request not to do something. She elected not to do it.

    In the process she helped to highlight her lack of character and if she was counting on Republican votes to get elected she ticked off even in a worse way than Marty did voters to try to get the Republican governor endorsement.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  10. Mr. Hanson:
    How do you feel about Jeff Johnson’s decision to support Ms. MacDonald and by default, her political drama?

    I’m not convinced it’s a smart political position for Johnson to embrace.

  11. Emery:

    If you read Johnson’s statement which maybe you didn’t it reflects the fact that while he vote for her in November he thought it was not a good thing to show up and create an embarrassing incident.

    The fact that she went and create the embarrassing situation doesn’t help her get the base to vote for her let alone the people who aren’t Republicans.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  12. I had hoped for a more principled comment from Mr. Johnson. My concern is about Johnson’s political sense and who in his circle of advisors is encouraging him to spout this nonsense.

    Mr. McFadden sets the correct tone and makes the perfect statement regarding Ms. MacDonald:
    “I’m disappointed in the conduct of some of the other Republican candidates on the ballot this fall. Given her recent behavior, I’m concerned that Michelle McDonald does not have the temperament to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

    McFadden then goes on to comment about Mr. Hagedorn:
    “Meanwhile I think that Jim Hagedorn needs to apologize for the inappropriate comments he’s made on his blog. His writings do not reflect Minnesota values. This country has become too divided; we need leaders to focus on uniting not dividing us. From the beginning, I’ve set out to share a positive message with Minnesotans, and I would encourage every candidate – Republican and Democrat – to do the same.”

  13. Emery:

    Um there was nothing wrong with that Johnson statement you showed me. Of course your judgment is based on somebody who thinks growth of 4,900 jobs is better than job growth of 150,000. It seems like since you don’t know which one is clear there you don’t have the credibility to offer a suggestion on the difference between McFadden and Johnson.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  14. You’re correct Mr. Hanson. If Jeff Johnson would like to continue his support of a political embarrassment like Michelle MacDonald that’s his prerogative.

  15. Emery:

    Since you don’t know that 150,000 job growth is better than job growth of 4,900 lets look at the Johnson statement which you didn’t read.

    One, he said he will vote for the endorsed candidates. Since maybe you haven’t ran for office before a party endorsement is a big thing. After all Mr. Johnson sought and got the Republican party endorsement. He isn’t about to slam the endorsement by saying that it doesn’t matter.

    Two, he said that Michelle shouldn’t have shown up at the booth since it hurt the party. In effect you’ve drawn a standard that all Republicans must now say that they won’t vote for Michelle in part because she showed up and created the embarrassing incident.

    Neither one was wrong. What is wrong when somebody like you tries to ignore the fact 150,000 job growth is better than 4,900. You’re behaving just like Michelle MacDonald.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  16. Mr. Hanson: How do you reconcile Mike McFadden’s statement regarding MacDonald with that of Mr. Johnson.

  17. It’s ironic this is happening to a GOP judicial nominee. It was the GOP who pushed for judicial endorsements.

  18. Emery:

    How do we know you’re telling the truth about your so called facts in the last two posts? After all you don’t know that 150,000 is greater than 4,900 so why should we trust these piece of information from you?

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  19. Emery:

    Since you don’t want to explain why 150,000 is greater than 5,000 I guess I don’t have to even think of answering that question.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  20. Emery:

    You’re asking me to do something that I don’t have to do. On the other hand while you have asked what I thought of Jeff Johnson and Mike McFadden on another issue where I have asked you what seems like to explain a million times why if Wisconsin has gained over 150,000 jobs this year while Minnesota has gained less than 5,000 jobs how Wisconsin isn’t better off you have ducked the question.

    It has something to do with the fact that acknowledging the job difference shows Wisconsin is better off and you don’t want to admit it.

    And by the way since you asked what did I think what Johnson said and I think he gave a perfect response why bother to critique the other comments.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  21. Emery paraphrased: “I want Johnson to say the same thing McFadden said”.

    That’s great. Keep wishing? And please, reconcile their statements yourself, if that’s what you need to do. Your inability to distinguish between the two separate candidates/people isn’t anybody elses problem.

  22. Shorter: Johnson embraced a soon to be convicted (at a minimum; driving after revocation) GOP judicial nominee. McFadden wisely distanced himself from this embarrassment.

  23. This thread is perfect example of why the GOP loses in Minnesota.
    Dayton is a depressive alcoholic by his own admission. That should be topic number one whenever this subject is brought up by the Democrats or the media (a distinction without a difference).

  24. “Or the GOP could find a message that resonates with the voters.”
    Won’t work. Any such message will be ignored by the media while whoever articulates it will be demonized (see Tea Party, Palin, Bachmann, and on and on).
    Really, all you have to do is immediately point out Daytons long history of alcohol problems.

  25. “Republicans held the governorship for 16 of 20 years through the end of 2010.”
    Former GOP Governor Arne Carlson won as a member of the Independent-Republican Party.

  26. That’s ancient history, Emery.
    I haven’t lived in Minnesota for 25 years, though I go back every year or two for a long visit. I am a small-d democrat. People should be able to vote for whomever they choose.
    You do realize that Dayton and Franken have not changed their politics since their campus radical days, don’t you? “Moderate” is in the eye of the beholder. Whatever ever happened to the Clintons’ moderate DLC?

  27. Arne Carlson was only masquerading as a Republican, he’s always been and always will be a Democrat at heart.

  28. If the topic is which party is moderate and which is not moderate, recall that the Clintons’ DLC is defunct. The Democrat party has moved too far left, since 2000, to have any use for it.
    Bill Clinton chose Gore for his running mate in 1992 in large part because Gore was then considered a moderate. Specifically Gore had voted in favor of the 1991 Iraq War. Most Dems voted against it. By choosing Gore, Clinton was sending a message to Dems and the voting public that this wasn’t the party of Ted Kennedy and the campus radicals anymore.
    Oh, how times have changed. Left wing pundits and mainstream media types have occasionally stated that the GOP has moved so far right that Reagan couldn’t be nominated today, mostly because of some things Reagan had done when he was governor of California in the 1960s.
    Today Bill Clinton couldn’t get nominated by the Dems if he ran on his record as President, 1992-2000. Welfare reform? Repealing Glass-Steagall? Defense of Marriage Act? War in Bosnia? C’mon.
    The Dem party of 2014 is far, far to the left of the Dem party of 2000.

  29. PM:
    That pretty much sums up the old recycled arguments. No wonder this blog has something to do with being ‘in the dark’

    The Republican party hasn’t (yet) articulated a clear vision of where they want to take the state. A message that resonates with voters. The GOP needs to be better coordinated. There’s too much in-fighting and disorganization.

    ABM came together and they are basically; party leaders, Native American tribes, union leaders, and other well funded Democrats who came together and said: ‘we have to get on the same page and what we can agree on is where we can move the needle on this election’.

    The GOP has seven or eight different individual groups that are fighting over the same amount of money. You have Stan Hubbard’s type of group, The Americans for Prosperity, The Chamber of Commerce, The Business Partnership Group. Then you have Bob Cummins and Clovis Communications, which is more socially conservative. These groups are not on the same page.

    ABM says: ‘We have a big pot of money and let’s spend it as effectively as we can’.

    Where the GOP says: ‘Well, how are we going to parcel this out’. Some are going to send mail on social issues, some on minimum wages, others on pipeline safety stuff.

    The recent Primary race in Eden Prairie with Rep. Loon is a perfect example. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to keep a red district red.Instead of using that money to find places that are either purple or blue with a greater chance to be pushed in to the R column.

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