As Minnesota governor Tim "T-Paw" Pawlenty gears up to rid himself of his characteristic Midwest abhorrence of touching other people so that he can run for president, the VW Beetle packed with clowns unloading to fill his vacancy as Minnesota governor is finally almost empty.
Candidate Tom Emmer is proving to be one of the more amusing. But don't laugh.
A Minnesota House of Representatives member since 2004, Thomas Earl Emmer Jr.'s positions are jarringly reactionary for a state where even the right prides itself on some degree of progressiveness. Called "Minnesota's most conservative GOP gubernatorial candidate in decades," it's no surprise he likes to play with guns, or at least give the appearance of doing so. Not only does he support the state's allowance of concealed carry, he introduced the Firearms Freedom Act, exempting Minnesotans from federal rules or regulations on their arsenals.
Emmer wants to cut government services by at least 20 percent. But poor people vote too, so how did Emmer propose cutting service costs without having to outright deny poor people access to state assistance? He authored bill HR857, which mandated drug screening for Minnesota Family Investments Program eligibility.
But he can be fun too. Emmer also authored bill HF1131, which greenlights surgical or "chemical" castration of sex offenders. Naturally, he's not just anti-abortion-he authored a bill that said Minnesotans had "no constitutional right to abortion." And, despite blaming the media for many of his woes, Emmer's name is on bill HF0936, allowing "News media representatives to enter polling places for up to 15 minutes during voting hours to observe the voting process" and "make a list of persons voting or not voting."
While on the subject of democracy, during the 84th Legislative Session, Emmer's name appeared on the author list of a "heritage" bill. It stated that all Minnesota school students will be taught the "world view of America's founders; including documents that contributed to the foundation or maintenance of America's representative republican form of limited government, the Bill of Rights, our free-market economic system, and patriotism." This education should include, but not be limited to, "American or Minnesota state history or heritage based on religious references in documents, writings, speeches, proclamations, or records… Students may voluntarily choose to read, write, share, report, or otherwise study a topic which is religious in nature…."
That same session, tireless Emmer co-authored a common sense bill that designated cigarettes forfeited to the court during legal seizure to be delivered "to the commissioner of human services for use by patients in state institutions."
Emmer says marriage "is the union between one man and one woman" and he supports the constitutional marriage amendment defining marriage as such. As a point of his "values" position, Emmer has been married to just one (presumably biological) woman since 1985. Meanwhile, claiming that it infringes on individual rights, he opposed the state's indoor smoking ban. Displaying a complete lack of self-awareness, Emmer called one of these two issues "social engineering." Can you guess which one?
Taxes? Boner killers. Ditto unions. Also, Emmer supports legislation that would allow pharmacists to decline contraception to whomever they deem unfit, an anti-family-planning position Emmer doesn't just endorse, he lives: he has seven children.
Want to watch a conservative politician with gubernatorial aims, one who's supposedly confident in his faith, squirm when asked if the earth is only a few thousand years old?
Most eye-opening is Emmer's support of an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that makes way for federal laws to be ignored at the discretion of the state. It defines Minnesotans as "sovereign individuals." A seemingly tame little twist of diction that hides a revolutionary, some might say downright anti-United States, posture.
But does Emmer have a sense of humor? You betcha! Despite being a steadfast Republican, this Roman Catholic has sons named Jack, John, and Bobby.
Emmer is popular with the Tea Party and has its "official" support, as much as anything is official in the party's terrorism-cell-like structure. Not surprisingly, he also has the support of Sarah Palin. She endorsed him as a "hockey dad."
Emmer also has the support of the ironically-named "MN Forward," an organization formed in the blast zone of the Citizen's United ruling. In just three weeks, MN Forward raised over $400,000 from just four (4!) corporations: Polaris, Hubbard Broadcasting, Davisco Foods and the anti-Wal-Mart Minnesota liberal yuppie's hometown retail favorite, Target. MN Forward is already running ads for Emmer (one of which has drawn accusations of Photoshopping away Emmer's substantial girth).
Emmer is also the official candidate of the Republican Party and he looks the part. Thick necked and be-chinned, Emmer's gray hair and bratwurst fingers give him the appearance of a Minnesotan who went to the fair and ate Taylor Hicks off a stick. In the 2016 Palin Patriot Network Tuesday Night Movie, he will be played by The Daily Show's Rob Riggle. For many locals, in appearance and personality, Emmer embodies every water-sports asshole who ever fast-waked them at the lake.
As his fiscal-conservative, less-government rhetoric would suggest, Emmer is a huge proponent of the private sector as a solution to our problems (i.e., government). And he leans on his private industry bona fides to back it up. His official bio states that Tom learned "the value of hard work and the every-day pressures" from his father's lumber company. That company is a 100-year-old business founded by great-grandpa Emmer, "Emmer Brothers Lumber." What the bio conveniently glosses over about Emmer Brothers Lumber (actually Emmer Brothers Company), is that it filed for bankruptcy protection in the mid-1980s. In the few press reports that even bother to mention that the business failed, Emmer is conveniently allowed to say the company had "gone upside down" and that his dad was "struggling." "Bankruptcy protection" is a term that generally gives fiscal conservatives voting booth rictus.
Now, take note, Poli Sci 101 kids, here's how a right-wing candidate who hangs his coat on his business experiences spins it when that business is a failed one: Take the fact that Emmer Bros. Co. was bought, post bankruptcy, by Forest City Trading Group and renamed Viking Forest Products, which kept his brother Jack on as an employee, and sum it up as so: "Today it's known as Viking Forest Products, with Tom's brother Jack continuing in the business."
Presto, a failed business with a (maybe charitably employed) brother is now a continuing successful family business from which our candidate has learned "first hand the value of hard work and the every-day pressures faced by employers and the families who count on them."
Also, Marquette National Bank sued Emmer Bros. Co. for fraudulently concealing assets during the course of the bankruptcy proceedings. But whatever.
One could say this kind of slavish dedication to the "free market" is a family tradition. The Emmer family empire once also consisted of Emmer Brothers Dairy in neighboring Wisconsin. "You can whip our cream, but you can't beat our milk," went the motto. One might say these Emmers loved the free market too much, finding themselves indicted in a 1950 anti-trust suit which charged the dairy "illegally combined and conspired with intent to restrain competition in the retail and wholesale price of fluid milk in Milwaukee county, and by such combination and conspiracy actually did restrain competition and fixed and controlled the price of such milk."
For the tea party set accustomed to things written on small signs, that means "price fixing." Raymond Emmer was specifically named in the charge. Busted, Emmer Bros. cashed in and sold for a small fortune to Golden Guernsey Dairy, which, surprise, was named in the indictment as an Emmer co-conspirator. In a now familiar story that would come to replay itself years later, one of the Emmer founder's sons was retained at Golden Guernsey for years afterward.
Ah, the free market.
So when Emmer says that big government spending will bankrupt America, it might just be the one area where he knows what he's talking about.
Meanwhile, Minnesota's Pioneer Press produced something indistinguishable from an advertorial: "Self-reliance is at the core of his laissez-faire political philosophy. No government handouts for the Emmers, and no government interference in economic affairs beyond the schools, roads and bridges, public safety and other limited services mandated by the state Constitution." So did other media outlets-except they essentially were.
(With regard to the Wisconsin branch of the family: Emmer's people told me, after I asked exactly what relation Tom was to some Wisconsin Emmers, that their candidate doesn't know any of those people. That seems odd considering that during a 2007 Emmer family reunion, Emmer told the West Bend Daily News, "I love coming back. This is my third time." The News also noted that Tom, who three years later doesn't know any of those people, "had been on Saturday's Emmer tour, which highlighted cemeteries, homesteads and churches frequented by past relatives." When I told the kid on the phone, who'd been given the sad job of calling me and denying knowledge, that I already knew this from the Daily News article, he said he'd have to call me back. A day later, I received an email from Bill Walsh, Emmer's Director of Communications, saying, "We are not going to comment on the issues you've raised. We don't see the relevance to our race for governor in 2010." The point is not the relevance of the Emmer family's very loose connections to some small-time corporate malfeasance decades ago in another state, but that, if it was so irrelevant, why he reacted by denying knowing his own family.)
God knows, running for governor is a thankless business, not like the seductive senatorial campaigns, where candidates stump on sexy topics like health care reform, terrorism and offshore drilling. These are subjects on which one can talk jingoistically for an hour and not really say anything. Hopeful governors have to orate specifically and take unambiguous positions on mundane, sexless topics like sewage culvert location and deer hunting licenses. Some old spinster stops you during an event to talk your ear off about how her digital television reception doesn't work anymore and you have to listen to her, really listen to her, intently-because if you don't, the goddamn press is just dying to run a headline about how you ditched some old silver fox. And there goes your AARP support.
In a split state like Minnesota, every last vote counts (remember the Franken v. Coleman "Rumble in the JÃ¼nglen"?), so a gubernatorial candidate has to be all things to all people. He or she has to make a connection with people who love to complain about every. last. thing., from Minneapolis' whiny Uptown hipsters to your huge corporate overlords to the Iron Range rednecks to the rod and gun set to the old people. Good Lord, so many old people. They're everywhere and they bring highlighted printouts of your position statements!
Anyone who's ever wanted to see the mystique sucked out of democracy, just attend a Tuesday morning meet-and-greet at the Chaska senior center where you can watch the candidate call bingo-an honor for which his volunteer advance team of interns had to beg.
Emmer's local slog got some national attention when he celebrated America Liberty for Free American Americans Weekendâ„¢ by declaring that, should he be elected, the state would cut the minimum wage for all service employees who get tips. It seems Emmer had found a couple waiters who somehow made more than $100,000. Ever on the lookout for a new fictional archenemy of the The Hardworking American, Emmer declared waitresses and bus boys rich.
Besides never again being able to dine out with confidence, Emmer created a public relations disaster. The example of $100,000-earning waiters was soon after widely discredited. So not only had Emmer dug himself a PR hole, he had done it based on a fairy tale. Think about that: a gubernatorial candidate, the main choice of his party, took a matterless vacuum and created a campaign disaster for himself. Minnesota, you are witnessing true skill.
At first Emmer attempted to smooth things over with campaign emails stating, basically, "But wait, I won't tax tips!" But then Emmer sucked it up and showed how in touch with The People he is by waiting tables for a few minutes.
That Emmer pulled this stunt at a place called "Ol' Mexico," despite his stated support for Arizona's immigration policy, is the kind of joke one anticipates from a freshly-paddled frat boy, and, I suppose, that's what he is. Not amused at the joke was the immigrant worker who dumped $20 in pennies on Emmer at a later "Server Summit" PR event, where Emmer was trying desperately to make kissy-kissy with all those he had earlier offended and then further offended by pretending to walk in their shoes.
But proving that he's a keen study of Master Pawlenty, Emmer didn't let the opportunity to bring up his hockey-playing days escape. (Get your fiscally sensible $200 Emmer hockey jerseys today, no discount for multiple orders.)
This guy might just have a chance yet.
Emmer has since moved on with his campaign focus. In the subject of a recent fund-raising email, he perfectly captured our nation's 2010 midterm election theme: "We can't let them win."
Tom Emmer faces an uphill climb in the polls. That he wasn't even born in Minnesota hasn't hurt him. But, while he played hockey and he'll remind you of that, it was for Boston College and U. of Alaska-both Gopher rivals. So how is he going to convince voters he's truly ready to lead Minnesota as a Minnesotan? His two DUI charges are a good start.
Abe Sauer is an undecided voter.
(Photos via Emmer for Governor Facebook)