12:00 p.m. Today's forum at the Humphrey Institute, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, focuses on the state of the Minnesota Republican Party and conservatism. The event is moderated by Dr. Larry Jacobs, Director of the Center, and includes the following panelists:
Steve Sviggum, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry
Bill Cooper, former Chair, Minnesota Republican Party
Mary Liz Holberg, member, Minnesota House of Representatives
Jeff Blodgett, Executive Director, Wellstone Action
Also blogging here today are Drew Emmer of Wright County Republican and Michael Brodkorb of Minnesota Democrats Exposed. Renowned writer and blogger Eric Black (of Eric Black Ink) is also present.
A little background - in Minnesota, self-identified Republicans have been outnumbered in Minnesota by Democrats for more than two years now, according to monthly tracking polls by SurveyUSA. In its latest poll (December 2007) 28 percent of Minnesotans identified themselves as Republicans, compared to 36 percent as Democrats and 29 percent as independents. The GOP hasn't led the Democrats in that poll since October 2005, when they held a 29 to 28 percent margin.
12:06 p.m. Dr. Jacobs begins by outlining the remarkable Republican presidential campaign to date and the conservative credentials of the remaining candidates.
12:10 p.m. Bill Cooper is the first panelist. Cooper agrees with Jacobs that none of the Republican presidential candidates have all three primary conservative credentials (economic conservatism, social conservatism, and backing a strong military). Cooper states the key to the election is independents. Independents dislike politicians, he says, but are not 'moderates' per se - they are disaffected voters who do hold strong views. Politicians, Cooper says, make the mistake to moderate their policies to cater to these independents in hopes of getting their vote. Cooper says the opposite happens - independents see right through this. Cooper believes the GOP presidential candidate most likely to appeal to independent voters in 2008 is John McCain.
12:17 p.m. Representative Mary Liz Holberg is the next panelist to speak. Holberg describes the difference between linear issues, such as 'life' (abortion rights) and circular - or more libertarian - issues. The latter (e.g. the smoking ban) frequently sees members on the extreme sides of the political spectrum working together (Holberg recounts working with Keith Ellison when he was at the state Capitol).
12:22 p.m. Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Steve Sviggum is the next panelist to speak. He states he has always been a strong Republican, but not always a strong conservative. He states there must be room for compromise in politics ("This isn't Burger King - you can't just order what you want"). Sviggum points out that almost all the presidential candidates have been calling for 'change' - but no one is outlining the substance of what changes should come. Sviggum says the only possibility of change will be if it comes from the Republican Party. Sviggum believes the Democratic Party is too tied to special interests to enact real reform (e.g. education reform - controlled by the education unions; legal reform - controlled by the trial lawyers). It is not clear if Sviggum is speaking comparatively here (i.e. Democrats are more tied to the special interests than the GOP) or if he believes interest groups do not substantially influence Republican officeholders. He doesn't leave much hope for Republicans to enact change because he says, "we're scared to implement change." The center of the GOP, says Sviggum, should be fiscal conservatism and limited government; he also states there should be room for both pro-life and pro-choice within the party.
12:30 p.m. Jeff Blodgett, Executive Director of Wellstone Action, is the last panelist to speak. Blodgett ran three of the late Senator Paul Wellstone's campaigns. Blodgett characterized the 12 year period of GOP control of Congress as one of hubris and "bad governing," which led to the loss of independent voters and their majority in 2006. Blodgett states it is easier for a party to be out of power and push from the outside than in power, which is one of the reasons why Democrats and progressives have had trouble getting their agenda implemented in D.C.
12:36 p.m. When asked about the tension between the libertarian (e.g. Ron Paul) wing of the Republican Party and the power brokers of the Party, Bill Cooper said "Ron Paul should select Dennis Kucinich as his running mate."
12:40 p.m. Sviggum states that, nationally (not necessarily in Minnesota) Republicans "got what they deserved" in 2006 when they lost power - because they became what they had run against. The GOP in Washington had become "part of the problem." Sviggum also states it is difficult for a party that holds itself up as the party of values to endure all the scandals over the past few years. The party was seen as made up of hypocrites.
12:47 p.m. Holberg states the social conservative wing of the GOP is not taken for granted, but that the Republican Party is not in danger of losing them because "They have no where else to go." (note: former GOP Congressman Vin Weber, who spoke at the Institute in late 2007, disagrees with this point quite strongly.)
12:54 p.m. Cooper was asked if tax increases might be necessary given "bridges are falling," in the state. Cooper points out Minnesota is the 5th most taxed state. He says Minnesota is the 20th largest state with the 5th largest road system and costs 20 percent more to build and maintain a road in Minnesota compared to nationally. Cooper maintains the state does not need new or more taxes to pay for the state's transportation needs.
1:01 p.m. Sviggum (the former Minnesota House Speaker who represented the Kenyon / Wanamingo part of the state) states that the party does not need 'anger' or 'hate' (e.g. against the poor or pro-choice advocates) to motivate the electorate to vote for the GOP.