Unlike Other Governor’s Races, The Minnesota GOP Candidate is Silent on Abortion

Robin Marty

Abortion and same sex marriage are once more being pushed as Republicans as the key issues of the election.  But in the Minnesota governor's race the GOP candidate is letting others do the talking for him.

In numerous races across the country, it appears that one of the key issues being discussed by gubernatorial candidates is where they stand on regulating abortion.  Even in the Midwest passions are being stoked, with Wisconsin governor candidates going into full out attack, and former Senator Sam Brownback so far ahead in Kansas he can feel free to embrace his anti-choice agenda as a campaign platform.

Minnesota, however, is having a governor’s race much different than the other states.  In Minnesota, the Republican candidate is avoiding discussion social issues as much as he can, even among friends.

State legislator Tom Emmer, the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor, had no problems sporting his anti-choice credentials while in office or while running for the party nomination.  According to Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), which Emmer, he voted in favor of anti-choice laws and regulations 49 out of 49 chances, saying he “voted to protect human life 100% of the time.”  During the primary campaign the issue of abortion became so heated that Emmer’s opponent took to stating that Emmer had to abandon his previous choices for lieutenant governor because they weren’t sufficiently anti-abortion enough for the conservative crowd.  Abortion could not be discussed enough, and each candidate attempted to be the most anti-abortion extremist to even run on the Republican ticket.

However, now that Emmer has his endorsement in hand, and a tight race against both Democratic Farmer Laborer candidate Mark Dayton and a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Independence Party challenger in former Republican Tom Horner, Emmer has gone silent on all social issues.

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Completely silent.

At a debate sponsored by the University of Minnesota, Emmer decided to avoid social issues as thoroughly as possible, perhaps aware that he would get little support from a predominantly young, socially liberal trending group of students.  Via MNDaily:

When Pearson offered Emmer the opportunity to clarify his stance on social issues, he again balked, saying this campaign should be about jobs. He repeatedly stated his views were apparent, but he declined to specify his position.

As the debate went on and the conversation shifted to abortion, the audience became increasingly annoyed by Emmer’s stonewalling.

“Again, I have very clear views on these issues,” Emmer said near the end of the debate. “If we are going to take all of our time running for office in this state, in this country and just identify the things that divide us on a regular basis, we’re never going to move to where we need to be.”

In a clear swipe at Emmer, who eventually said that he is pro-life, Horner said that if elected he would be able to tackle more than one issue from the governor’s office.

Still it’s not just at events out of his general comfort zone of supporters that Emmer is refusing to discuss women’s health and rights, but even when making appearances within his own conservative sphere. Normally, conservative events and radio shows are a time for GOP candidates to preach to the choir, ramping up their supporters’ enthusiasm and getting the base out in droves.  Not so much for Emmer, who is remaining remarkable tight-lipped even in those instances.

The Minnesota Independent writes:

Emmer’s refusal to discuss social issues hasn’t dimmed conservatives’ enthusiasm for his candidacy. For example, despite Emmer dodging the gay-marriage question on his radio program, Pastor Brad Brandon endorsed him anyway. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Family Council and National Organization for Marriage continue to spend big money on ads supporting his candidacy while touting the very positions that he won’t acknowledge on the campaign trail.

Brandon asked Emmer where he stood on abortion and gay marriage during a radio interview last week.

“My campaign has been entirely focused on the economy and jobs, but there’s no question, I have a record on my position on these issues in my six years in the legislature. People know exactly what that is,” Emmer said.

On gay marriage, Emmer said, “That issue, when it comes to marriage, the governor will not… That’ll be something the legislature would pass and would go right to the ballot. So, you know, we will have to see what happens in the next legislature.”

He continued, “But you know Brad, I have said from day one, the next governor has to be invested in creating new jobs and opportunities in the state of Minnesota. Those issues, they’ll be taken care of by someone outside the governor’s office. You know my position.”

Luckily we do know his position, not just from his prior votes while in the legislature, but from the multitude of special interest groups that are doing his social issues campaigning for him so that he can remain mum in public.  MCCL even went as far as to sue for the right to not have to disclose direct campaign donations and to be able to donate to and advocate directly on behalf of Emmer, a lawsuit that was dismissed in court at the end of September.  Via the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Corporations were long barred in Minnesota and elsewhere from spending revenues on ads or other material designed to help to elect or defeat candidates, although labor unions could do so in Minnesota and some other states.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that such prohibitions were an infringement on free speech. But the Supreme Court also said states could require some disclosure of such spending. As a result, the Legislature amended the law to require disclosure.

According to the law, a corporation may donate its own money to an existing independent expenditure committee or fund without providing any information beyond its name and address. If the business solicits and receives contributions beyond its general treasury revenue, it must disclose the source of the contributions.

If the donor corporation is a nonprofit and has donated $5,000 or more to independent expenditure funds or committees in a year, then it must disclose information about the underlying sources of money.

MCCL and the other corporations filed suit, saying that the law unnecessarily burdens companies and forces them to reveal more than is needed for accountability.

MCCL and Coastal planned to spend money advocating support for Emmer. The Taxpayers League wants to spend money supporting Republican Paul Gazelka for state senator. Gazelka defeated fellow Republican Paul Koering of Fort Ripley, who is gay, in the primary this month.

In addition to opposing disclosure requirements on independent political spending, the plaintiffs want to overturn prohibitions on corporations contributing directly to campaigns and parties.

Despite Emmer’s lack of public comments on social issues like abortion and gay marriage post-primary, voters still seem very aware of where he stands thanks to the support of groups like MCCL, the Minnesota Family Council and other anti-choice, anti-gay marriage entities.  And not having Emmer himself discuss these issues does make for a slightly less vitriolic campaign, unlike the “who’s more extreme” back and forth happening in Wisconsin.

In fact, Emmer seems to be taking a page from the governor’s race in Kansas, where Republican candidate and former senator Sam Brownback assumes people know enough about him that he doesn’t need to remind them where he stands.  Brownback doesn’t need to campaign on a conservative, anti-choice, anti-gay marriage platform, because he knows people should expect nothing else from him.

From KansasCity.com:

Democrats, however, cite a few controversial aspects of Brownback’s faith, what one Holland campaign staffer called his “weird factor.”

In Washington he once lived at the C Street home operated by the Fellowship, an obscure religious group with strong ties to Washington insiders.

He also worked with Kansas City-based preacher Lou Engle. Engle has called on Christians to pray for “God, the avenger of blood” to heal the “sins” of abortion and homosexuality. Brownback appeared at a 2007 Engle rally and briefly lived with Engle in a District of Columbia apartment after his own apartment burned.

Since then, however, Brownback says he disagrees with much of what Engle says.

Many Democrats worry a Brownback administration will push aggressive anti-abortion legislation while gutting public education and environmental and business regulations.

But Brownback insists moderate and liberal voters have nothing to fear.

“I am pro life. I will sign pro life bills,” he acknowledged. “But what people are interested in is what we can do to create jobs, grow the economy and keep our costs under control.”

Emmer is currently trailing Democrat and former senator Mark Dayton in the polls, with Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com estimating that Emmer has a less than 15 percent chance of winning.  Did Emmer’s silence on the red meat issues his party loves help or hurt him overall in the campaign?  Pundits will probably debate the topic all the way into the next governor’s race.

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