Minnesota Gay Marriage: Just the First Volley in the 2014 Election Battle

Though he was elected in 2010 by a razor-thin margin of 8,770 votes, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has aggressively pushed policies that have at times been to the left of Minnesota's voters. Since Democrats won control of both legislative chambers in 2012, he has pushed the envelope even more to the extreme. Still, if the state's Republicans nominate a candidate who is less politically competent than Governor Dayton, Democrats may increase their margin of victory in 2014.

The latest divisive issue to arise was gay marriage. Minnesota's House passed legislation to recognize gay marriage on Thursday. Just last year, the legislature put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to prevent the recognition of gay marriage from entering state statutes. The amendment failed 51-48%. This year, 15 House Democrats representing districts that voted in favor of the amendment voted in favor of Thursday’s gay marriage legislation. It is not an issue that looks destined to help Democrats win local elections in 2014.

There have been additional issues on which Governor Dayton has overreached. For instance, shortly after his term began, the state Supreme Court invalidated an illegal executive order of Dayton's that would have allowed the state's unions to take childcare assistance away from its beneficiaries. Earlier this year, the court additionally ruled that the state would need to pay their attorneys' fees.

Dayton has overreached and taken missteps that open him to criticism. So far, two Republicans have entered the race for the Republican nomination to replace Dayton: Jeff Johnson and Scott Honour. 

Jeff Johnson is presently a Republican national committeeman with a reasonable record of involvement. He served for three terms in the Minnesota House before running for attorney general in 2006. He has also maintained some relationships with people trying to be involved at a local level seemed to represent them. For instance, he sponsored an amendment in the Republican National Committee that would have allowed voters to vote on the delegates that elect presidential candidates rather than simply allowing the party's leaders to hand-pick them.

Scott Honour is a more mysterious candidate, marketing himself simply as a "businessman." He has little record in the state, having just sold his Los Angeles home and moved to Minnesota in 2010. Granted, he grew up in the state, but his political contributions suggest he spent some time deciding where to seek elective office. The contributions included $4,175 to the Vermont Republicans; $4,175 to the Massachusetts Republicans; $5,000 to the Republican Party of Minnesota; and so on.

For that matter, his contributions indicate he also spent some time figuring out which party's presidential candidates he liked. He contributed thousands of dollars both to George W. Bush and Al Gore during the 2000 presidential election; $2,000 to Democrat Bob Graham in 2003; $2,100 to Rudy Giuliani in 2007; and, of course, several others. (Traditional conservatives were the only candidates who didn’t make the list of those he supported.)

Democrats have attacked Honour solely for being rich. That is a hypocritical and inane attack, considering Governor Dayton became a millionaire by inheritance where Honour made it on his own. Much more worrisome is the fact that Honour seems to stand for himself more than for anything else.

Dayton is a weak candidate and he could be defeated by a Republican with strong personal character, consistent political principles, and a tone that represents Minnesota's voters. Johnson represents a strong match to those characteristics, and additional candidates may emerge. Yet if a weaker candidate makes it through the primary process by substituting money for character, Minnesota Republicans should expect to again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory again in 2014.