Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Stanek

In January I wrote a piece called "The Coming of Governor Tina Flint Smith." The title of the piece was, essentially, its substance. It can be read by clicking here.

At the end of it I suggested that there was only one republican who could beat Smith in a general election. Many thought that I was referring to Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and, in fact, I was. In the five months that passed since I wrote that column, however, I was uncertain if he had any interest in the job. I'm not a confidante of the Sheriff and would hardly share anything here if I were. That said, the people I know who know him much better have been saying they see no indication of him running for governor. Yesterday I concluded he is.

Stanek is a sui generis republican: the largest vote getter of any republican in the state and consistently so. Police work has been thoroughly politicized--you might have noticed--and Stanek deftly has stayed on top of that process while not succumbing outright to it. Frequently it's hard to discern whether cops in Minnesota are law enforcement or social workers with clipboards. External, highly organized elements outside of it have taken their toll: what would otherwise constitute straightforward police work is now tinged with politically correct language and posturing so as not to offend the perpetually offended. There really is nothing that progressives touch which they don't make worse.

Stanek's politics are both obvious and obtuse. Centered in the world of policing, he strikes moderate positions on the issues du jour: opioid abuse, bad! human trafficking, not cool! bike theft from self-absorbed yuppies in south Minneapolis, wrong! And so forth. If he's done or said something controversial lately I've simply missed it and I've been paying attention. In some ways, his appeal to too many factions is the most off putting thing about him to me. I'm happy to live with it, though.

He says he loves his job and from all appearances this seems to be the case. Some say he has no desire to be governor but, rather, to become head of the National Sheriff's Association. This has always struck me as wanting more cowbell: how appealing is it really to be head of an association you've been a member of for a long time? Then again, every Elks Lodge must have its grand master or whatever.

Yesterday Stanek addressed the Minnesota Republican Party state convention in Duluth with his wife in attendance. Had he declared the day before that he was running for governor his speech wouldn't have needed to be changed in the slightest. Indeed, I thought it was unambiguously blunt: he bragged about his vote totals in Hennepin County, he condemned go along to get along governing which only results in bigger government (the managed surrender style of House Speaker Kurt Daudt seemed to be the target here) and said that a tax increase is a tax increase, not a "user fee" with respect to higher license tab fees put forth by republicans.

But it was more than that: he pointed out he carried all 45 cities in Hennepin County his last election, and then went on to a crowd approving recitation: calling for immigration enforcement (he's weak on this subject and must improve), protecting gun ownership, pressing for prosecution of Hillary's email national security crimes, and coming down on the side of Apple in the privacy wars (doesn't he update this speech?).

All that could reasonably be said to be just so much red meat to a red meat audience. Well and good. Yet Stanek immediately went on with no transition to speak about issues far afield from Hennepin County policing. He was unsubtle but I liked that; I would.

For example, Stanek came out against the paid family leave initiative in Minneapolis, disparaged any need for an increase in either the gas tax or license tab fees, reminded the party it had endorsed him a mere 8 times, and used the word "great" about a dozen times in his closing remarks.

Here is what I found to be his most directly political comment:

"You know folks I think as republicans we need to be much clearer with Minnesota voters in our message about what we stand for. We need to break down the walls of the party, get rid of the party test and the "not conservative enough" messaging that gets in the way of winning winnable elections."

His demeanor was refreshingly, unapologetically what we used to think of as republican. The contrast to the sad heirs of the failed Pawlenty governorship (and style) could hardly be starker, yet without being strident. Stanek, if he wishes, can win big in Minnesota by doing what I've advocated all republicans do: strip out Trump, win on Trumpism.

Make Minnesota Great Again.™

The Uptake provided exceptional coverage of the convention and Stanek's speech can be seen in its entirety by clicking here.

Photo credit: Left to right Janee Harteau, Richard Stanek, President Barack Obama
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster