June 11, 2005
St. Louis Park, Minn. — Ron Eibensteiner walked into the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park with the support of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Congressman Mark Kennedy. What he didn't have was the support of the majority of the party's Central Committee. The 347-member committee elected Ron Carey over Eibensteiner and Washington County Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek.
Carey says many of the delegates were unhappy with Eibensteiner's leadership style and his lack of commitment to work with local party leaders.
"A leader should only delegate so far. We need a state chairman who's going to get some dirt under his fingernails in the trenches with you," Carey said. "Ladies and gentlemen, we need a state chairman who has fresh ideas, fresh energy and a spirit of collaboration and cooperation."
Carey, 47, is a inancial software company executive from Shoreview. He intends to take a short vacation and then plans to meet with Gov. Pawlenty and others about the 2006 election strategy.
It's a critical year in Minnesota politics. It includes the race for governor, an open U.S. Senate seat, all eight congressional seats and every seat in the Minnesota Legislature. Pawlenty tried to remind the delegates about the urgency of the election when he endorsed Eibensteiner for an unprecedented fourth term.
But the delegates chose to go in another direction. Some weren't happy Eibensteiner is under criminal indictment in a campaign finance case in Mower County, or that the party released a radio ad saying Native American tribes should share gambling proceeds with the state. They argued the ad and Gov. Pawlenty's support of a state-sponsored casino go against the party platform.
Bill Cooper, a former party chair himself, took shots at both Eibensteiner and Pawlenty for not holding true to party principles.
"We don't need any more gambling in Minnesota. Two-thirds of personal bankruptcies in this state are caused by gambling," said Cooper. "We don't need any more taxes. Income taxes are rising at over 15 percent in Minnesota. What's happened to your property tax assessments? Mine went up 16 and a half percent. We don't need any more taxes. We don't need any more fees."
While Carey and other party leaders were quick to say that they're behind Pawlenty 100 percent, it's clear some delegates aren't happy with some of the governor's recent political decisions.
Pawlenty has backed the NorthStar commuter rail line and has proposed a 75-cent-a-pack cigarette tax increase to solve the stalemate over the state budget. Pawlenty said party leaders need to make sure that they don't move too far away from mainstream political values.
"If the position of the Republican Party is we're going to have no increase in school funding, draconian cuts to health care more so than we've had, and we're not going to hold the wealthy tribes accountable in a system where they get a pretty good deal, then I think the public is going to ask some other questions that aren't going to help our chances of success as a party," Pawlenty said.
A party chair does everything from recruiting candidates to raising money to making sure Republican voters get to the polls on election day. It can be an exhaustive job, especially since the chairman is not paid.
For his part, Eibensteiner expressed disappointment with the election. He said he's pleased that Minnesota has become a battleground state under his tenure. He says he hopes Carey and other delegates don't try to enforce the state's party principles at the expense of winning elections.
"It's absolutely important that we stick together with our elected officials. Yes, we can have some policy disagreements, but as Ronald Reagan used to say, 'If I agree with you 80 percent of the time, you're my friend.' I don't think it has to be 95 or 98 percent," Eibensteiner said.
Two Republican state senators took a dim view of Carey's election. They declined to be interviewed, but said privately that Carey was starting from square one. They said he needs to build relationships with donors and Washington activists, while Eibensteiner already had those connections.