Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MN Republicans' Republican Women Problem

One doesn't have to buy into the ridiculous, but at times effective, invented progressive narrative that republicans have, or are waging, a war on women in order to be troubled by how the Republican
Party of Minnesota treats it own republican women. For a change, instead of women being their own worst enemy (Anatole France: "friendship among women is only the suspension of hostilities"), the locus of the problem can be laid squarely at the feet of republican men and a few but sufficient quisling women. And by the Republican Party, I mean republicans in Minnesota in general.

From the beginning of my involvement in local politics, I could sense some sort of problem with respect to republican women but could never quite put my finger on it. I'm not sure I can now, precisely, but I know the problem, far from being solved, has only gotten worse. Why is this?

I have no single, comprehensive answer; I don't think there is one. I do know republicans pretty much fail to admit to ourselves that the problem exists.

We currently have no women in party leadership, pretending for the moment that it's still relevant. Republicans had an amazing Senate Majority Leader when we held the majority for two fleeting years (had not men taken her out as collateral damage to their real (and male) target, we'd be running her for governor now). We also had women in key legislative positions for the first time in the state's history and that's not nothing, especially for the box checkers on the Left and their handmaidens in the press.

Now, however, the republican political environment seems to be about ignoring or, at times, trashing, qualified republican women candidates in ways that would never be done to male candidates. This is being played out before our eyes but goes largely unremarked upon.

The women who are currently experiencing the worst of this are Sen. Julianne Ortman, state senator running for the US Senate, Rhonda Sivarajah, Anoka County Commissioner, running for Congress in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District and Rep. Mary Franson, representing House District 8B and currently being challenged for the endorsement.

Each has life stories and a history of public accomplishment which, if possessed by men, would cause them to be lauded and promoted at every turn. Instead, they are treated, at best, as if they don't exist. At worst, they're subjected to what strikes me as garden variety sexism.

Conventional wisdom views Ortman as an inconvenience en route to a McFadden primary win. The reality is that she has traveled the state tirelessly, making her case to the rank and file and answering questions instead of running from them. Polling shows her within single digits of Al Franken. She's won two straw polls that were said to be important until a woman won them. Like her or don't like her: she's the only authentic candidate in the US Senate race. Is it axiomatic we should support her because she's a woman? Of course not. By the same token, do we ever think of recruiting and nurturing women to run for statewide office? The evidence suggests not and rather conclusively. Chris Dahlberg is a likable candidate but he exists because Stanley Hubbard wanted him to run and is effectively funding the effort. Funny, no one asks if we should support Dahlberg because he's a man or the creature of a not very politically astute media mogul; that question never enters our consciousness.

Out-state money men like Vin Weber, Norm Coleman and Karl Rove handpicked the wealthy McFadden and Minnesota republicans are supposed to support him because of that fact. If you call them sheep, remember, you're the problem. McFadden, however, isn't the self-funder we've been led to believe, a realization that is dawning upon the big money donors who are not amused at being asked to fund an effort the candidate himself doesn't see as a wise investment. Add to this a genuinely disastrous performance thus far as a candidate and you have some quiet rethinking of this race. Yesterday the Cook Political Report put its McFadden assessment rather gingerly: "He's not a bad candidate. But he's got a way to go." Heckuva job, Beltway insiders, consultants and hangers on. You guys are pure genius.

Donors like Hubbard have given us Dahlberg, apparently for most of the same reasons as McFadden only this time Mr. Money Bags is in-state. Feel better?

Nowhere, however, has the egregious differential treatment between men and women in the republican party been more shamefully showcased than in Rhonda Sivarajah's race to replace Michele Bachmann. Sivarajah's record of conservative accomplishment is unmatched by anyone in the state; this sounds like hyperbole but it is not. Some things really are true.

Her support is thin to moderate generally and almost non-existent in the establishment. Again, she doesn't deserve support solely because she's a woman. But when a republican woman this accomplished isn't supported more widely and deeply, something is objectively amiss. Most activists don't want to face this because they are complicit in it: they need a job, a come back, a rung up the ladder, the approval of their peers. It's all rather transparent and the more pitiful for it.

Let's try this: would Sivarajah be supported if she ran a disastrous campaign and lost to Mark Dayton, depriving Minnesota of an all-republican led state? Would she be taken seriously if she had two DUIs and introduced legislation that would have had the effect of making such a history less discoverable? Would she be supported if she introduced legislation attempting to limit speech rights? What about if she lost the RNC race and fled the building, refusing to congratulate the winner? How about if she was paid by far left extremists to support National Popular Vote, which would eviscerate the Electoral College and have made Al Gore president?

The answer is a resounding no but these things all have been done by Tom Emmer and he's the establishment favorite. He's accomplished nothing, of course, but that probably makes him one of them. Women like Sivarajah frighten them to death precisely because she's successful. Think of the establishment as mediocrities who like having similar people around them; as the boss that wouldn't promote you because you were smarter and you both knew it.

Astonishingly, not one but three sitting Congressmen jumped into the 6th CD endorsement process last week by hosting an hour "coffee" on behalf of Emmer in Washington, DC. The invitation to that squalid event can be viewed by clicking here. Many of us have been told that we should butt out of this race because we don't live in the district. I've not heard that criticism lodged against Reps. Paulsen and Kline, who are at least from Minnesota. Wisconsin Rep. and perpetual boy scout Sean Duffy joined the other two in hosting this event. I like all three, politics and office holders being the art of the possible, but none should have jumped in before a primary. That they did, and in support of a deeply flawed man, in the teeth of a substantially better qualified woman candidate, can and should be held against them. On a different plane altogether, they illustrate Minnesota republicans' problems with republican women: they just don't get it.

Finally, the current situation of state Rep. Mary Franson is an illustration of both gender and integrity problems amongst republicans. Franson is being challenged for the endorsement by an opponent who attacks her for introducing a civil unions bill during the marriage debate in the hope of garnering democratic votes so same sex marriage wouldn't pass. The other ersatz substantive issue in the race is her bill for industrial hemp production. The first issue is marriage; the second is liberty.

So where are all the sanctimonious FitzSimmons Republicans™? They put on ostentatious displays of feelings! and outrage! when delegates to house district 30B denied him the endorsement over same sex marriage. Why haven't they flocked to support Mary Franson who is under different but similar attack?

Because more than self-absorption and cost-free moral preening is required here. FitzSimmons Republicans™ are really Twin Cities Metro Republicans.™

If the sentiment underlying FitzSimmons' endorsement loss was anything but self-indulgence, it would have already transferred to Mary Franson's race. But it hasn't. Draw your own conclusions. I have.

Leave aside the individual examples of these three different women; I can anticipate particular criticisms made about each of them in order to discredit the general point made here. That's fine, but the situation for republican women only gets worse at the group level.

Recently the DFL hosted a DFL Hall of Fame for Women. Yes, cheesy, everyone got a participation ribbon. But the event itself reveals an underlying appreciation of women that is simply missing in Minnesota republican politics. Some women thrive but mostly on their own and are cut adrift when it suits men; most republican women are not encouraged and cultivated like women are by democrats in this state. It's so obvious it defies refutation.

"A-list" republican women consultants in Minnesota? Name one outside of fundraising. Funny how that works. We have a deep bench, however, of teacher's pets who are allowed to embroider on the edge of the tapestry and for which honor they are grateful. Their ascendance is like the rise of a temperature along with the fever. These women actually bask in the praise of these men the rest of us have seen through. They're kapos in the republican sexism camps.

Republican approved vendors who are women? None come to mind but the old boys' network does instantly, along with their shopworn, outdated direct mail campaigns foisted on hapless candidates until their funds run dry.

How about big money republican women donors? Joan Cummins doesn't count, thanks for the damage. No, can't think of any independent wealthy republican women who are heavy hitters in the donor class.

Both at the individual and the group level, Minnesota republicans must take women seriously in all ways political: real, substantive, powerful political ways. It's embarrassing to have to write this.

It's also a sign of how messed up things are that it's a guy who is writing about it. Then again, if a woman did, republicans would pay her no mind.

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