If what The Intercept reports about Attorney General Lori Swanson making employees do volunteer work for her campaign is even half-true, this a scandal the must be making the Republicans think about foregoing their own primary and crossing over to vote in ours to make sure she’s the DFL candidate.
On Monday, The Intercept reported that Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson relied on her official government staff for political work, sourced largely to unnamed employees. In the 48 hours after the story’s publication, more than a dozen individuals, including seven more former employees, contacted The Intercept and shared stories of being asked to volunteer politically that corroborated our report. Multiple sources named key Swanson deputies engaged in political activity in the attorney general’s office, repeating the names of staffers who’d previously been identified to The Intercept.
My concern isn’t that she would be a bad governor in terms of chosen policies and running a functional government. I’m concerned that this will blow up into a big, front-page-every-day scandal that will allow the MNGOP candidate to win the governor’s office. Remember that with the legislature also being Republican, holding the governorship is the only thing that saved Minnesota from turning into Wisconsin or Ohio. It’s a risk we simply can’t take.
Moreover, the endemic corruption of the Republican Party under Trump has turned a daily headline of what broke today, and a good campaign issue for us. The #CultureOfCorruption hash tag has come back. Any Democratic scandal undermines that. You might say that’s one scandal versus 10 or 20 or however many, but let me remind readers that to many voters in 2016, Hillary’s email was as big as Trump’s daily revelations of gross and illegal behavior. Yes, it was headline-dominant, even though there turned out to be nothing to the email but how she publicly handled it, because it was in the news every day even with nothing new to report. I’m not suggesting Swanson’s problem is going to be on that scale. I’m suggesting one Democratic scandal wipes out a bunch of Republican scandals. Maybe not fair, but that’s how it is.
Even if this isn’t as bad as I fear it might be, consider that her strength as a candidate has been her record as attorney general. This isn’t some off to the side thing, some extramarital affair while being good at the job situation, or something from long before she was AG. This is about how she ran the AG office, and therefore attacks her main appeal. If she can’t run on how she was as AG, what does she have?
Something else to consider, since in all likelihood her supporters didn’t see this coming: what else might be waiting to come out? She hasn’t been through the same vetting as Erin Muphy and Tim Walz. That might be a strange thing to say about a three-term AG, but remember how she got there. In 2006, Matt Entenza was the endorsee for AG when he had a scandal of his own, and dropped out shortly before the filing deadline, causing the same rush of candidates to file that we saw this year when Swanson switched from AG to governor a few days before filing closed. Swanson was part of that rush, and won the primary by holding the coattails of Mike Hatch, who was her mentor, the incumbent AG, and the endorsee for governor who basically cruised through his own primary. She won the general election on party label in a blue wave year. In 2010 and 2014, she was unopposed inside the party for reelection, and this year she didn’t declare what she was running for until declaring for reelection as AG around caucus day. She quite bizarrely switched to governor AFTER the convention, just before the filing deadline. What all this means is she didn’t go through the same vetting as her opponents who sought the endorsement and went through the caucus/convention campaign. Given that her disgruntled staff would have known people more politically active the average — like caucus goers — this likely would have come up.
In other words, it looks like we’re here because she never had the vetting we want in gubernatorial candidates.
Let me be clear that I don’t completely trust The Intercept. They were Russia deniers until pretty recently. Despite how obvious it was two years ago that Russia was helping Trump, The Intercept seemed unwilling to admit Russia did anything or had an effect on the election. Swanson claims they have a bias against her because she went after related companies, but to be fair, I got that from the linked Intercept article. With those caveats, unless they’re completely making up this story, it just seems clear that if Swanson’s our gubernatorial candidate, we’re taking a huge risk that this blows up and puts Tim Pawlenty back in office as governor. Even if Jeff Johnson pulls off a shocking upset so there’s no Gov. Traffic Jam third term, Johnson seems maybe even more extreme right than the most extreme right governor we ever had (in case you’re new here, that’s Pawlenty). That’s just not a risk we can take.
I support Erin Murphy because of the party endorsement, but if you can’t support Murphy for whatever reason, Walz is an obvious second choice. I’m even coming around to the argument that’s he’s the most electable, even over pre-scandal Swanson. Both went through the vetting of a long campaign rather than jumping in at the last moment, and Walz has had some tough general elections where I assume the GOP did oppo research on him and would have used whatever they found. That means if Murphy or Walz had something big like what has come up with Swanson, probably we would know. No guarantee, but probably. They have their weaknesses, but not campaign-dissolving weaknesses. So avoid an unnecessary risk and support one of them in the primary.
From Mac Hall: Hmmm … an elected official has relied on staff to do political work.
Surprised ? Nah, after all, taxpayers paid Julie Quist, Troy Young and John-Paul Yates as members of Bachmann / Kline / Paulsen congressional staffs … only to have them be prominent in campaign activities also (a subject that was covered in 2012). Now, Swanson may have done this more, or less … and it shouldn’t be done … but I don’t think we should be surprised. And that’s where the vetting is critical.
You are correct that Swanson will be tagged with this storyline throughout the general election … already my television screen is playing a commercial complaining about Pawlenty’s education cuts by a teacher who was impacted … you gotta think that the MNGOP has already lined up some of those Swanson staffers.
What voters should decide is who do they think can get elected … and the best argument that I have heard is: In 2016, Tim Walz won where Hillary Clinton only got 38 percent of the vote share and has proven he can win in Red Minnesota. With Trump in the White House, now more than ever it is important that Democrats nominate someone who can beat Tim Pawlenty in November and help protect Minnesota from Trump’s worst abuses.