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.