Thursday, May 11, 2006

Coleman out as Jeffers campaign lead???

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:28 AM |  

Rumor has it that Dan Coleman, who has been running Sue Jeffers’ Libertarian/Republican campaign for governor, may be leaving the campaign over “philosophical differences.” Not surprising, Coleman is a self-defined “Reagan Democrat,” but a Democrat nonetheless. And while Libertarians and Democrats find themselves on the same side on a lot of issues, they get to that point for very different reasons.

However, I doubt those are the “philosophical differences” at the basis of Coleman’s departure. I talked with him in the Capitol rotunda at the Jeffers' press conference where she announced she was challenging Gov. Pawlenty for the Republican nomination. I found him to be James Carvell without Carvell’s warmth and charm -- or political genius. His leaving the Jeffers' campaign is a good thing, but does leave her in the bind faced by true grassroots candidates -- lack of seasoned political pros anxious to tie their careers to unknowns, even if they believe they are right.

That brings us to Jeffers’ challenge of Gov. Pawlenty. Much has been made of this, calling it a political stunt and a gimmick Actually it’s not a bad idea. How can you blame a third-party candidate with little name recognition and less money for creating the image that she’s playing with the big boys? It’s the standard strategy of every number two in the marketplace. But it's also more than simply a marketing ploy.

Jeffers is sending a very clear message to the libertarian/fiscal conservative wing of the GOP that she's willing to stand-up and take the arrows a challenge to a sitting governor unleashes. It was not a coincidence (like Dean Johnson bumping into a Supreme Court justice) that found several fiscal conservative Republican legislators silent spectators in the Capitol Rotunda at Jeffers announcment.

But, on the other hand, one can't blame the Republican Party for refusing to acknowledge Jeffers bid as legitimate. Although she is a registered Republican, she got into the Governor’s race as a Libertarian, initially filed as a Libertarian, and will likely run in the general election as a Libertarian. As party chairman Ron Carey notes, it would be foolish for the party to make delegate lists and other party information available to the Jeffers campaign. I agree.

That brings us back to Coleman. If he anticipated that response from the Republican Party, and he should have, his response of attacking the party for that action was ill-conceived. It may have prolonged the limelight for Jeffers for a little while, but ultimately it hurt her credibility within conservative circles.

A personal note. I’ve known Sue personally for about two years, meeting her after, not before, I started writing in opposition to smoking bans. At the time, she mentioned that she was a Republican, and I joked that no, she was a libertarian and just didn’t know it. Well, now she knows it. While she has some rough edges compared to polished (a nice way of saying “slick“) politicians, she is no lightweight. She got a taste of politics fighting, not just the smoking ban, but a number of local issues affecting small business owners and ordinary folks overrun by big government ideas. The taste was bitter.

If there were any other candidate for governor that, in Sue’s mind, was standing up for the people she is representing -- people that don’t ride shiny trains to smoke-free bars and restaurants, publicly-financed stadiums and subsidized theaters; people that don’t live or work in the shadow of a clock tower; people more interested in educating their children than simply spending more money on a failing system -- she’d be more than happy to support him or her. There is not, and that is why she is running.

Sue will make mistakes, which political opponents will jump all over, but the one thing her opponents cannot deny is that the principles of limited government she stands for resonate with a lot of people -- especially Republicans frustrated by “pragmatic” compromises by politicians more interested in getting re-elected than looking out for their constiuents.

The Republican campaign theme of “Just imagine how bad it would be if the Democrats controlled state government” wears a little thin on people paying a "health impact fee" while their governor garners a national reputation for holding the line on "taxes." Libertarians feel better standing up for policies promoting personal liberty than they do opposing candidates for ancient flip-flops and policies different only in degree, not substance, from Republican positions.

That brings us back to the Jeffers' challenge of Gov. Pawlenty and the Republican Party. While party leadership is under no obligation and intelligently should not help Jeffers bid, it should not take extraordinary steps to stifle individuals within the party from following existing party rules and bringing Jeffers name into nomination or allowing her to speak at the state convention.

The operative words are “existing rules.” If, as is rumored, Republican leadership is toying with changing convention rules to make it more difficult for Jeffers name to come into nomination at the convention, that’s a significant retreat from the grassroots emphasis that ousted former chair Ron Ebensteiner. That’s the strategy of a weak party without a message. Jeffers run isn’t going to hurt Republicans -- but they can certainly hurt themselves.

With Coleman out of the picture, there will be less visible friction between the Jeffers campaign and Republican leadership, but no less effort on the part of the Jeffers campaign to court individual GOP delegates. Jeffers doesn’t need a delegate list if, as many suspect, the fiscal and limited government wing of the GOP is frustrated and ready to boil over. And if the required number of delegates wants to hear what Jeffers has to say -- and they’re not hearing that message from the governor -- well, I guess then the party has to decide if grassroots party activism is as good as it sounded back in June.

Update: Official release should be out tomorrow.