Monday, February 24, 2014

The Political Martyrdom Of David FitzSimmons

Last weekend Rep. David FitzSimmons failed to be endorsed by republicans in house district 30B, which he has represented for the last two years when it became an open seat after redistricting. He has said that he will not run in the primary, thus bringing his office holding career to an end for the time being. He withdrew from the race at the last possible moment before facing a shellacking at the hands of a popular challenger, Eric Lucero, a respected member of the Dayton city council. Before the vote FitzSimmons spoke to the delegates, praising himself and then, crying due to feeling sorry for himself, fled the building after saying he was withdrawing from the race. It's difficult to respect such conduct. He owed it to the delegates he made stay all day to see the vote through, to lose with dignity and to appear on the same dais with the eventual winner for the sake of party unity. He did none of this. His true character was laid bare.

By contrast, Marty Seifert, who FitzSimmons helped defeat for the republican endorsement for governor in 2010, stopped the counting of the third ballot during that endorsing convention and threw his support behind Tom Emmer, who he asked to join him on the dais to unite the party (Emmer would have been incapable of such a gesture, had the vote gone the other way). This is what a man of integrity does; this is the behavior of a leader. This is what David FitzSimmons could not muster the capacity to do and that's unfortunate.

The dispositive issue that cost him the endorsement was said to be his vote in 2013 to legalize same sex marriage in Minnesota. The majority of his constituents who participated in the endorsement process felt strongly enough about that vote to effectively remove him from office. FitzSimmons represents one of the safest, and most conservative, districts in the state. The result should have surprised no one but the reactions I witnessed (well before the vote and after) demonstrated yet again that republicans are incoherent to themselves, with little understanding of how unappealing that makes them to general election voters.

Recall at the time of the vote FitzSimmons, and the four other republicans who voted for same sex marriage, were the toast of the town. Is there anything easier than fitting in with the liberal mindset of Minnesota, in particular the Twin Cities and its media elite? This isn't to say that the five did not believe in the merits of their vote; assuredly they did. The point is that at the time the vote was taken it was cost free, with discussion of subsequent fallout mentioned mostly in passing, an after thought to the "courageous" vote of "conscience" that they had just taken. As if principled opponents to genderless marriage were simply the bigoted caricatures that mean spirited opponents kept insisting they were; as if "don't limit the freedom to marry" was a substantive argument instead of a way station bumper sticker en route to grievous cultural problems; as if once marriage was no longer defined as between one man and one woman, other equal protection challenges would not be forthcoming, as indeed they have been and will continue to be, from, among others, polygamists. The argument was never as specious as same sex marriage proponents put it, that wanting to marry a dog or a horse would be laughed out of court. The argument advanced is one that will continue to advance: if the state has no compelling interest in the gender of marriage, previously essential for millennia across all cultures for all of recorded human history, then it has none whatsoever in the number of people to a marriage.

Current discussions of FitzSimmons' predicament take place as if the stakes back then were not high, for both sides. They were, of course. How surprising, then, can it be that politically active republicans in house district 30B would wait for their next opportunity to express themselves? Why is their sense of betrayal somehow of less account than the media generated profiles in courage of not just Fitzsimmons but the other republicans who helped democrats vote in same sex marriage? It was laid on extremely thick at the time. You can Google their names individually and note their uniform response of "Aw shucks, who me? A hero? Well, if you insist."

Media approval is a beguiling thing, especially for Minnesota republican politicians who are rarely used to it.

Here, though, we have something else: hitherto staunch defenders of the endorsement system wondering out loud about its continued relevance. Yet before Fitzsimmons was at risk, through his volitional act, they eschewed any notion that the endorsement process was outmoded, captured by unrepresentative activists who all too often selected candidates who could not win Minnesota general elections. How many times do republicans have to lose every state-wide race before this begins to sink in?

With FitzSimmons, we were treated to truly bizarre and demonstrably false headlines from right-leaning blogs like "Gay Marriage and the Political Lynching of David Fitzsimmons" and "David Fitzsimmons: Being Wronged For Doing Right." This is complete nonsense, bereft of evidence and written for reasons best known to their authors. FitzSimmons meets his constituents; to whom else is he responsible? If they select another to represent them, such is neither a lynching nor being done wrong. This is politics at work, democracy which, had not their preferred ox been gored, those same critics would have celebrated.

FitzSimmons said at the time that he voted his conscience. I have no reason not to believe him and there is a certain integrity in that. On the other hand, his constituents felt badly betrayed. Their feelings are the most under-reported aspect of this story. They actually count more than FitzSimmons', though you'd be hard pressed to find that sentiment expressed in the coverage which followed his defeat. He preened at the time that his vote might cost him his job. When his bravado chickens came home to roost, he wasn't man enough to stay for the vote that would defeat him but cried and ran off like a coward. He is no one's idea of a martyr except to the most craven, of which, apparently, there are more of in the activist base than I realized before last Saturday. An elected official lied to his constituents and was held accountable by them for it. If this bothers you, you might want to rethink the purpose and nature of elected office.

Baird Helgeson, the Star Tribune's best political reporter now that Kevin Diaz went to the Houston Chronicle, gives an outline of the talking points of both sides, with an obvious bias against Lucero, in his reporting that can be read here. Unfortunately, while Helgeson mentions it, he does not link to FitzSimmons' email essentially lying to a constituent about marriage. That email can be seen by clicking here. If you like to be lied to, David's your man. I've long known liberals don't mind it but until last weekend I didn't realize that was true of republicans.

The most obscured fact of this endorsement story is that FitzSimmons betrayed the trust of his constituents by campaigning on and promising repeatedly to oppose same sex marriage. It was the betrayal, as much as the issue per se, that animated the attendees to give Lucero 74% of their vote on the first ballot (sixty percent is required for endorsement). If the situation were reversed and house district 30B was thoroughly pro same sex marriage, and its representative voted to block it, the same critics would applaud the district's move to replace him. We'd be lectured on accountability, transparency and the need to respect the will of the delegates. What has just been described, of course, is the definition of hypocrisy.

The worst analyses of this matter were those that predicted doom for the entire republican party in Minnesota; who insisted that denying FitzSimmons the endorsement was a return to divisive social issues that will drag it down, now and forever, world without end. There is simply no evidence to support this contention and much to contradict it. Far from reverberating across the state and within the party, it will be forgotten about with the speed it deserves as we focus on surviving what--please God--could be the last session of the legislature run entirely by leftists.

On the same day house district 30B voted its preference, Rep. Pat Garofalo (HD 58B) was endorsed at his convention. He voted for same sex marriage, just like FitzSimmons. If a party-wide desire to re-litigate same sex marriage existed, one would think it would show up in that district as well. Rep. Jenifer Loon (HD 48B) has no announced opposition and her endorsement convention is upcoming shortly. She, too, voted for same sex marriage in Minnesota. Again, nothing to support the gloomiest of predictions which at times, on and off Twitter, seemed to be in competition with each other for Most Dire. Such group hysteria gets tiresome quickly. One supporter hoped the democrats picked up this seat. Now there's a politically sophisticated person! Others emphasized FitzSimmons' hard work for candidates and his giving of money to the party and various races. Both admirable qualities but do those pointing them out really think they give a politician a pass from betraying his constituents?

At the end of the day, David FitzSimmons is just another politician who lied to his constituents about one of their most important issues, about which, had he been honest, he would never have been elected in the first place. Having shown his previously hidden true colors to them, the delegates in house district 30B had every right to send him packing.

As my friends on the left would say, this is what democracy looks like.

Above: The martyrdom of Saint Sebastian by Il Sodana, c. 1525 

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