Monday, November 8, 2010

Explaining Election 2010 Part III: Recount Mischief and Dayton’s Opportunity

Politics is about power–getting it, exercising it, and holding on to it. This explains the intensity of campaigns and of strategy in governance. This will also suggest some interesting issues as the recount moves forward and once a new governor is selected. Assume power is what politics is about. How should that play in for the recount, GOP control of the legislature, and Dayton, assuming he becomes governor? Here is my pale attempt at Machiavelli–writing about how to get and keep political power.

Recount Politics
Assuming by November 23, the margin between Dayton and Emmer is less than ½ of one–percent, there will be a mandatory recount. It is curious to note that at present the difference between the two candidates is approximately four-tenths of one percent. This past session the legislature voted to reduce the recount margin to 0.25% but it was removed in conference committee. Had it passed and been signed by the governor we might not be talking mandatory recount now.

It made sense to lower the threshold. Reforms in voting technology and in absentee balloting make errors less likely now than in the past. Second, in a state of 5 million people and approximately 3.6 million votes, differences of ½ of one percent are far greater in terms of the number of votes than in a state of 3 million voters. A one-half percent gap is a lot of voters. In this race, making 9,000 or so votes is far harder than a few hundred from even just a couple of years ago. Lacking a mandatory recount, Emmer would have to decide if he wishes to pay for an optional one. The mandatory recount will probably cost more than $100,000–at taxpayer expense. Had Pawlenty signed the bill taxpayers might be saving money.

Assume the recount proceeds. Sometime after December 14, when it ends the loser–and presumably Emmer–will have to make a choice. Do you accept the recount and move on or challenge it. Power politics suggests go for broke and challenge. Some worry the GOP will use the challenge to delay seating Dayton so that they can pass a quick budget, cut taxes, do redistricting, and address social issues while they have control of both branches. Yes, this is tempting. Pawlenty could use this to burnish conservative credentials for a presidential bid, demonstrating what he could do as a GOP president presiding over a GOP Congress.

But there is danger of overreach. Minnesotans are fed up with recounts. An appeal to the courts by Emmer and the GOP may look like a pure power grab and backlash against them. Thus Sutton and Emmer need to weigh backlash against opportunity. Backlash could end a GOP legislative majority in 2012, a year that may be more DFL friendly with Klobuchar and Obama on the ticket.

Dayton’s Opportunity
What should Dayton do? Some DFLers bemoan that he is powerless now that the GOP has legislative control. Not really. Look at how Pawlenty has outfoxed the DFL legislature for the last few years. MN governors have lots of power–vetoes, line item vetoes, executive orders, and other tools of appointment–to exercise. Dayton needs to use them.

The first issue for Dayton is who he plans to appoint to what. DFLers are salivating, finally patronage after 20 years+ of spoils drought. But Dayton and the DFL have an uneasy relationship and he may not necessarily appoint in ways that simply reward a party not always supportive of him. He needs to appoint to reward supporters, cement his coalition, and build for the future to take back DFL control of the legislature in 2012.

First thought: Name Tom Horner to be in your administration. He offered on election night to serve the next governor. Take him up on that and use it as a way to build bridges with Independence Party people. This is an opportunity to reach out to moderates and pull them away from the IP to the DFL. The IP might be a permanent 10%party. Use this as a chance to bring them over and party-build. I hate to say that this is an opportunity for party-raiding but this is the time to do that.

Second thought: Dayton has a four year term. Because of redistricting, all House and Senate terms are two years. Use this time frame to pressure the GOP. They want to hold power. If they overreach in the next two years you can point that out in 2012. Will the GOP risk cuts to K-12 and throw grandma out of the nursing home when they face election? Force the GOP to make the tough budget choices and then use the veto and bully pulpit as Pawlenty did to attack them.

Third thought: Effectively MN has an appointed judiciary with 90% of judges reaching the bench initially by gubernatorial appointment. Dayton will be the first DFLer in 20 years to appoint judges. Use that opportunity wisely.

Crisis is both a challenge and opportunity. Dayton, Emmer, the DFL, and the GOP face crises if they wish to maintain political power. Times like now power is in flux and opportunities portend.


  1. Appoint Horner? To what? he's a PR guy, so he doesn't have subject matter experience for any of the department heads. except for the vikings stadium, he and Mark disagreed on most of the details for government. So where would you put him that he might actually accept? I see the political benefit for finding him a place, but I don't know where the heck it would be.

    Points 2 & 3 I agree with 100%.

    It will be interesting to see the GOP decision regarding the recount and trying to keep Pawlenty in power. My GOP sources suggest it's the last thing T-Paw wants; he wants to be free to get out on the circuit and kick his POTUS bid into high gear. I agree that an attempt to run the table would cause a serious backlash, but considering how close the margins were in 2010 and how likely it would be that the DFL would be able to take things back in 2012 regardless...they might consider the gains they could make worth the price.

    If you're gonna get run back out in 2 years anyways and have slim hopes of accomplishing much against the gov's veto pen, you might consider trying to run up the score and hope people forget down the road (or that by re-writing the rules you can save yourself). Plus, it's not like today's version of the GOP has shown much shame or modesty in their political efforts!

  2. Opportunity is a favorable occasion for grasping a disappointment.
    - Ambrose Bierce

  3. Appointing Tom Horner will lose Dayton credibility with the truly ideological Dems. It is the kind of politics that we have seen, particularly in the last two years, where political expediency has taken precedence over political philosophy and platform. This is a very slippery slope and, in my opinion, the reason for the relative lack of motivation within the left that we saw this time around.

  4. "First thought: Name Tom Horner to be in your administration."

    Earlier commenters panned the idea; I do, too. What would it contribute to the Dayton administration, other than a misplaced sense of bonhomie? Most Republicans think he is a lizard and a Quisling (in the Tony Sutton sense), and in spite of the message he tried to deliver in the campaign, he doesn't have much in the way of real policy chops.

  5. The cost is already up to $312,000 @ .15 @ 2,080,000 votes, and thats just low balling it

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    To All My Democrat Friends

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