The Minnesota gubernatorial recount has now come to an end, with Republican state Rep. Tom Emmer conceding defeat to Democratic former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton — bringing this story to a much quicker end than the long and drawn out Senate race from 2008, which lasted for eight months of recounts and litigation with a much, much closer margin.
Emmer appeared with his family on his front porch, and addressed reporters. “Well, Minnesotans made their choice, by however thin a margin, and we respect that choice,” said Emmer. “Now is the time for all of us to come together and do what is best for Minnesota.”
Going into the recount, Dayton led by 8,770 votes, or 0.42%. While this was within the 0.5% needed to trigger a statewide recount, many observers doubted from the start that Emmer could have pulled ahead — including Fritz Knaak, a former lawyer for Norm Coleman. By comparison, the 2008 Senate recount and litigation resulted in a net change in the margins of only a few hundred votes. However, a possible drawn-out legal contest could have resulted in Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty staying in office in the interim, with the opportunity to work with a newly elected Republican legislature.
During his press conference, Emmer pointed out that some people had speculated that he should legally contest the election, since this would allow for a Republican governor to serve with a GOP legislature. “I disagree. We must address the questions raised by recent elections in this state. But I do not believe delay in seating the next governor will unite us or move this state forward.” And while he stressed that he thought there were still issues that should be addressed in the state’s election system, the fact of the matter was that Mark Dayton would be governor.
Towards the end, a reporter asked Emmer, “Will you miss us?” He answered back: “The bigger question is: Are you gonna miss me?”
Emmer’s decision was spurred by yesterday’s opinion from the state Supreme Court, which seemed to cut off a possible attempt to contest the result based on precincts where there were more ballots than the number of people who signed in on the register. The court upheld the state and local administrative practices of verifying these numbers based on poll worker-issued voter receipts. (Note: Small differences of this kind are not necessarily a product of systematic or even individual fraud, but can happen for various reasons of human error.)
Emmer himself argued that the door could still have been open to a lawsuit, based on a footnote in that opinion that cited the incompleteness of the reconciliation process as it stood now — but as he pointed out, it was time for the state to come together with Dayton as governor.
Emmer’s failure to succeed Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential presidential candidate, actually conceals a lot of Republican gains that were made elsewhere in the state. The GOP gained both houses of the legislature — overcoming steep Democratic majorities headed into the election — and also narrowly toppled 36-year incumbent Dem Congressman Jim Oberstar in a tremendous upset.
However, Emmer was unable to make it across the finish line against Dayton, who served one term in the U.S. Senate and openly cited his electoral vulnerability when he declined to run for another term in the 2006 cycle, saying that the Democrats could find a stronger nominee than himself. The state GOP attempted to make hay of Dayton’s reputation for being “erratic” — he has publicly disclosed that he is a recovering alcoholic, that he relapsed during his time in the Senate, and he has been treated in the years since for depression. But still, Emmer couldn’t win.
In that spirit, let’s take a look at some of the great stories we here at TPM have gotten out of Tom Emmer, during this past campaign.
For one thing, Emmer is a strong supporter of the principle of nullification — the idea that a state can unilaterally cancel a federal law within its borders — and had set his sight on the federal health care reform in particular. Theories of nullification were often floated during the first several decades of the United States, by individual states having disputes with the federal government over issues ranging from slavery to tariffs — but the Civil War and the Northern victory over Southern secession firmly established the supremacy of the federal government. Nullification was later invoked by Southern segregationists during the Civil Rights movement, and was consistently rejected in federal courts.
In this pursuit, Emmer co-sponsored a proposed state constitutional amendment that would presumptively nullify all federal laws, saying that they could only take effect in Minnesota if two-thirds majorities in both houses of the state legislature, plus the governor, were to approve them.
“It is truly bizarre that my opponents in the race for governor actually oppose letting Minnesotans have a say in the laws that govern them,” Emmer said at one point. It should of course be noted that in the debate over the federal health care law, Minnesota’s Congressional delegation fully participated and was counted in the relevant votes. Of the state’s eight-member House delegation, four Democrats voted yes while three Republicans and one Democrat voted no, and Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken both voted in favor of passage.
Emmer then truly shot himself in the foot when he called for a change to the state’s minimum wage laws, which would lower the state’s higher threshold for tipped workers such as waiters. Emmer, who previously made proposals to abolish the state’s minimum wage laws entirely, made this interesting claim that something had to be done about waiters with six-figure salaries: “With the tips that they get to take home, they are some people earning over $100,000 a year. More than the very people providing the jobs and investing not only their life savings but their families’ future.”
This remark made it increasingly difficult for Emmer to win the election — and also to eat safely at any restaurant ever again. He went into a series of amusing attempts at damage control, at first trying to deny that he was proposing a cut in wages. He then recorded a Web video in which he personally waited tables at a restaurant, and talked about how much he had learned. He then held a town hall meeting with waiters — and to his credit, his campaign clearly didn’t screen the attendees — at which he was harangued in one question after another, ending with a heckler throwing a bag of pennies across his table.
Here is the video of the pennies getting dumped, and Emmer then walking out, courtesy of The Uptake:
In addition, Emmer was attacked for his past proposals to soften the state’s extra-tough laws dealing with drunk-driving suspects, and those with past convictions — when he himself has two past DWI convictions. (To his credit, his proposal to seal information on DWI convictions after ten years would only have applied to new cases going forward, and not retroactive to his own from 20-30 years past.)
So goodbye Tom Emmer. You’re right — we in the media will miss you.
(Special thanks to The UpTake, for live-streaming the press conference.)