A GOP state lawmaker says state Sen. John Pederson called his party’s delegates “extreme” at a recent public forum — a charge denied by Pederson, who’s seeking a nod from Republican delegates in his bid for Congress.
The controversy comes as many in the Minnesota GOP are locked in a broader debate on how best to nominate candidates for general elections, and whether primaries — which haven’t been competitive for Minnesota Republicans in recent elections — should play a determinative role in the process.
The public spat began when Rep. Marion O’Neill, a first-term representative from Buffalo, posted at her personal Facebook page.
O’Neill took aim at Pederson’s June 27 remarks about partisan politics and the endorsement process at a forum sponsored by the Central Minnesota Manufacturers’ Associationon June 27.
Pederson, a second-term state senator from St. Cloud, is running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District.
“(Pederson) said that the reason we have such partisan politics is because of the caucus system. He said the delegates on both sides are extreme and endorse extreme candidates. He asked those in the room for their help in moving to a primary system and get away from the extremes of the caucus system,” wrote O’Neill, who also attended the event.
In Minnesota, precinct caucuses are local events at which attendees choose delegates who go on to endorse candidates for elected office at party conventions. Candidates who don’t receive their party’s endorsement may abide by the endorsement and drop out of the race — as Minnesota Republicans largely have done in recent election cycles, even as many DFLers have not — or choose to run in a primary election.
O’Neill, who supports Republican Tom Emmer in the 6th District race, wrote that she was offended by Pederson’s comments because she was a delegate and Republican activist before joining the Legislature.
“If you don’t respect the delegates and aren’t going to abide by the party endorsement, DON’T run for it,” O’Neill wrote.
Pederson insisted Tuesday that he didn’t call GOP delegates “extreme” at the forum. Pederson has said he’ll seek the endorsement of GOP delegates in the 6th District race but hasn’t said if he’ll run in a primary if he’s not endorsed.
“I said: ‘If (citizens) don’t like the current process, they should participate in it and get it changed,’ ” Pederson said.
The Central Minnesota Manufacturers Association has no record of what was said at the forum, its executive director, Sandy Kashmark, said Wednesday.
Two other GOP legislators at the forum, Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck and Sen. Dave Brown of Becker, said told the Times they can’t recall if Pederson described party delegates as extreme.
Pederson says if O’Neill was offended, she should have spoken to him directly instead of posting about it online.
Pederson acknowledges his political background differs from O’Neill’s. He got his start as a St. Cloud City Council member and says he attended his first precinct caucus in 2010, when he was running for state Senate.
The other announced GOP candidates in the 6th District have mixed views on what role the endorsement should play. Emmer has said he’ll abide by the endorsement, while Anoka County board chair Rhonda Sivarajah says she’ll seek it but hasn’t pledged to abide.
The question of whether Minnesota Republican candidates will abide by the party endorsement, as nearly all have in recent years, looms in the 2014 election after the party’s previous nominees faltered against DFL candidates in recent general elections.
Two GOP candidates who hope to challenge DFL Gov. Mark Dayton next year, businessman Scott Honour and state Rep. Kurt Zellers, have avoided pledging to abide by the party endorsement. Some observers think a Republican primary also is looming in the U.S. Senate race against Al Franken, DFL-Minn.
While Pederson says he’s seeking the Republican endorsement in the 6th Congressional District, he also appears to be gearing up for a primary.
“With three candidates, I think the school of thought right now is that (a primary) is very likely,” Pederson said.
There are signs that even some hardline conservative Republicans, many of whom had viewed the endorsement as sacrosanct, are loosening their opposition to determining nominees through primaries. Brown, a staunch conservative and Emmer supporter, says he understands some candidates “have to do what they have to do.”
“I want to respect this system,” Brown said. But he added: “I’m not going to hold it against a candidate if they feel very passionately that this (a primary) is what they’re supposed to do.”
Follow reporter Mark Sommerhauser on Twitter @msommerhauser and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sctimesmark.