Opportunity v. obstructionism: The tale of two Parties

By Ken Martin, Chairman, Minnesota DFL

Recent Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party and Republican Party activities showed a true contrast between the two parties, and perhaps a glimpse at their futures.

On Wednesday, Feb. 19, the DFL Party reconvened the Minneapolis Ward-6, Precicnt-3 caucus. I was so inspired by the hundreds of Somali-Americans who took part in this grassroots, democratic process. When I looked out on the crowd I saw the faces of an immigrant community proud to be exercising their rights, making their voices heard and building political power through the DFL Party. The DFL is proud to be an inclusive Party who welcomes new voices to our ranks.

This same week Somali-Americans were making their voice heard in the political process, Republicans in Wright County refused to endorse a Republican legislator because he stood on the right side of history and supported equality. Rep. Dave FitzSimmons (R-Albertville) lost his GOP endorsement for voting for the marriage equality bill. What a sad, but not surprising statement.

One party, the DFL Party, is a big tent and growing; reaching out to new voters, expanding its base and energizing the voting electorate. The other party, the GOP Party, seems determined to enforce ideological purity at the expense of expanding and building their party for the long-term. One would have thought after the 2012 elections, that the GOP would have learned a valuable lesson – that their ultra-right, exclusionary, and divisive policies will not help them bring new people into their party. The demographics in our state and country are changing so quickly that the GOP Party runs the risk of becoming a permanent minority party until and unless they start being inclusive rather than exclusive.

Unfortunately, this latest Republican purging is not an isolated incident; it is part of a disturbing pattern.

In 2008, six Republican House members voted with DFLers to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of much-needed transportation funding. Even though this funding was needed to keep Minnesota’s roadways safe for travelers and efficient for businesses, the Republican Party lashed out at the “override six.” Only two of these members still serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives as Republicans; a third, Rep. Ron Erhardt, was reelected as a DFLer after losing his seat because of his support of transportation.

During the 2010 election under the leadership of former Republican Chair Tony Sutton, the Party exiled a number of moderate Republicans, he deemed “quislings”, including former two-term Gov. Arne Carlson among others.

And if Republicans didn’t receive the message that anyone with diverging opinions was not welcome in the Party, Sutton drove the point home in 2011. In a letter to legislators, Sutton told Republicans to resist raising revenue to deal with the state’s large budget deficit, leaving Republicans to balance the state’s budget with cuts that had a direct impact on the lives of working families. This letter threatened Republican legislators with stripping them of their endorsements and running candidates against them in the primary election if the compromised or found common ground. Clearly, the Republican Party expects their legislators to be more beholden to their very narrow and exclusive ideology than to the voters of the districts which elected them.

The Republicans’ quest to elect ideologically pure leaders, and obstruct DFLers from moving Minnesota forward, will only shrink their Party. In the meantime through our work for fairness and equality for all, the DFL will continue to be the Party of opportunity, the Party that welcomes new voices to the fold and embraces difference of opinion, and the Party that builds towards the future.