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Minnesota Republicans gather in 8th District despite rift

A Minnesota Republican Party State Central Committee meeting attendee moves among the delegates Saturday, Dec. 2, at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake. (Zach Kayser / Forum News Service)

EAST GULL LAKE—The core of the Republican Party of Minnesota assembled Saturday, Dec. 2, at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake in preparation for 2018.

The meeting fulfilled a promise by new party chair Jennifer Carnahan to locate the State Central Committee gathering within the boundaries of the 8th Congressional District. Carnahan has long-standing ties to the 8th: her family came to a cabin on Round Lake since she was a child, and she now owns a women's clothing boutique in Nisswa.

However, her overtures to the 8th District may not be having the desired effect. In a recent letter to the 8th District GOP leadership, Carnahan called them out for misrepresenting the party's position, as well as racist and insubordinate attacks against her.

Carnahan was adopted from South Korea, but grew up in Maple Grove, Minnesota. She was elected party chair earlier this year.

The letter became public beyond the GOP when Blois Olson of Fluence Media posted it to the internet and included it in his daily politics newsletter last month.

In the letter, Carnahan said despite her inexperience as chair, she had no tolerance for what the 8th District was doing.

"The negative narratives, disparagement, bullying, hostility and racist remarks against me must stop immediately," she wrote. "It does absolutely nothing to move our party forward."

Within the letter, Carnahan did not name specific instances of direct bullying or racism against her. She expressed willingness to speak to the group directly to mend fences.

"As I've stated to (8th District GOP Chair) Ted Lovdahl many times, I'm happy to come up and speak with the group, answer any calls and share what's going on with the party," Carnahan wrote in the letter. "I would like to move past this and have a positive working relationship with CD8, but I can't do it without a willing partner."

Interviewed at the State Central meeting Saturday, Carnahan said she spoke out to maintain unity among the party.

"The focus of that letter was just to talk about, we need to be working together as a team and staying aligned, and remembering that we're here to support one another and focus on electing Republicans," she said.

Asked to detail the racism she referred to in the letter, Carnahan said during her first day as chair there were social media posts in a different congressional district.

With the letter, she wanted to reiterate the zero-tolerance position, she said. She did not see a conflict with the 8th, but rather, an opportunity for growth, she said.

In response to a question on whether she thought Lovdahl should stay 8th District chair, Carnahan said it wasn't her place to comment.

During a speech to the delegates, Carnahan focused on the positive, saying prospects for the Minnesota GOP were brighter than they had been in years.

She noted the progress the party made in fundraising. The Minnesota GOP is working toward eliminating the infamous party debt, which dates back to 2010 and once stretched into the seven-figure range.

"We've worked hard to restore confidence from major donors who have left the party," she said. "They are now coming back."

She said more than 30 percent of the debt had been retired since the beginning of 2017.

Comments on sexual harassment

A number of Republican notables also addressed the group of more than 300 delegates.

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka opened his address with an acknowledgement of the sexual harassment revelations pouring into the public sphere recently. Allegations of harassment caused two Minnesota state legislators to resign.

"The light is shining on sexual harassment all over the place, and I say, 'You know, that's OK,'" Gazelka said. "I think it should shine. The fact is, if that happens, and if the bad apples get out of this place, that's just fine with me."

Several speakers brought up the sexual misconduct scandal surrounding U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat.

GOP senate candidate Jim Newberger mentioned it in the course of criticizing incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. U.S. Rep.Tom Emmer joked Franken missed the plane back home from Washington because he "had his hands full."

Others centered their speeches on the electoral races ahead.

Pete Stauber, running to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan in the 8th District, described himself as a Second Amendment supporter, having been shot in the head in December of 1995.

"I support the Second Amendment 24/7/365, not just on even numbered years three months before an election," he said.

Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt gave remarks to the group that came amid calls for him to jump into the governor's race and provide more representation from greater Minnesota in the Republican field of candidates.

He gave no indication whether he would run for governor although he said the state needed "strong leadership."