Sunday, July 30, 2006

Melendez v. Reichgott Junge

Spot’s post Who are you and why are you running? has generated some comments, and a lot of traffic, by Spot's standards, anyway. The issue Spot raised was the suit brought against Ember Reichgott Junge, candidate for Congress in the Fifth District DFL Primary. The suit was brought against her by Brian Melendez, state-wide Chair of the Minnesota DFL Party. Melendez was successful in getting an administrative law judge to issue a probable cause order that the matter should be put on for hearing to determine whether Reichgott Junge violated Minnesota campaign law by inserting the unadorned “DFL” on billboards advertising her candidacy for Congress. You can read the judge’s decision here. Remember, this was an order for a hearing, not a disposition of the case on its merits, such as they are.

Spot understands that the case has been settled, so the case will never be determined on its merits. In issuing its order for a hearing, the administrative law judge relied on the old chestnut Schmitt v. McLaughlin, 275 N.W.2d 587, 591 (Minn. 1979) (discussing Minn. Stat. § 210A.02, predecessor to Minn. Stat. § 211B.02). In Schmitt, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the use of “DFL” by a candidate in a non-partisan race falsely implied party backing when of course there was none for anybody.

Compare and contrast, boys and girls, the conduct of a candidate in a non-partisan contest, not a primary – one of Spot’s commenters says it was for the anonymous job of county abstract clerk, the person in charge of keeping real estate records – and claims to have DFL backing, versus Ember Reichgott Junge, a life-long DFLer and candidate in a widely known and discussed Congressional primary. Are these two cases the same? Hardly.

It’s much easier to infer deceptive intention in the case of the hopeful abstract clerk. According to the administrative law judge’s decision in the recent case brought by Melendez, the only evidence on the record on the probable cause motion were affidavits by DFL voters who said they weren’t confused.

Zo, vat do ve make of zis, liebschen? Sorry, wrong channel. What do we make of this boys and girls? Well, Spot says it will always be in the interest of party leadership to try to protect the “brand” and the value of endorsements. But, there has been a growing sentiment that the caucus system is broken in Minnesota. Tim Pawlenty was endorsed, but before that you have to go back a long time to find a successful endorsed candidate for governor for either party. Ventura? Of course not. Surely Arne Carlson? Remember, boys and girls, he stepped in when the endorsed Republican candidate, Jon Grunseth, got involved in skinny-dipping-gate. And then, as a sitting governor, the Republicans refused to endorse Arne for a second term, choosing as a candidate Allen Quist. We have to go back to Rudy Perpich, the dentist from the Iron Range, for the next successful endorsed candidate.

To state the obvious, the parties do not always pick the person that the public thinks is the best candidate. And a good primary contest can put the spotlight on the best candidate for a party. Actions like Melendez v. Reichgoff are just elbows and knees under the basket that do nothing to advance the DFL’s interest in a win in November. That’s true regardless of the candidate you presently support for the job.

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