Just when it seemed like it was clear sailing for the Republican Party of Minnesota, it hit twin icebergs: the revelation that the party itself was $2 million in debt and the resignation of majority leader Amy Koch amid a sex scandal in the Minnesota Senate. Whoops. In the aftermath, Pat Shortridge, a professional campaign director—most recently for Senate hopefuls Mark Kennedy in 2006 (loss) and Marco Rubio in 2010 (win)—was elected chairman of the state Republican Party. We talked about getting the party shipshape before November’s elections.
The Republican Party’s brand is fiscal responsibility. Do you think it would be prudent to focus on other messages right now?
Well, you know, people certainly do point out when you are the party of fiscal discipline [and are] in a situation where you’re in debt; is not a good one.
Some probably point that out with glee.
Yes. The people who do not have our best interests at heart would point that out with glee. I think that’s why the situation we’re in sticks in the craw of so many of our activists and our donors. They practice [fiscal responsibility] in their own lives with their businesses and their own families, and they certainly expect their political party to do it.
Amy Koch was a tremendous fundraiser, and she held the Republican line in the Senate. Things were going well for you guys, and then you decided you needed to air out some very messy laundry. Do you think it could have been handled differently?
I think the only thing that I would say about it is it’s a tragic situation, especially for the families involved. So you wish them the best and hope that everybody gets through this as best they can.
Some probably also enjoy pointing out that the people pontificating about the sanctity of marriage were all sleeping with each other.
One of the unfortunate things in politics is that people take glee in others’ misfortune.
But the gay marriage amendment is still part of your agenda?
Clearly. It’s still on the ballot. One troubled marriage doesn’t invalidate the whole notion of marriage.
You worked with Dick Armey for so long with FreedomWorks. He’s a Tea Party guy and you’re a self-proclaimed Tea Party guy. The Tea Party doesn’t seem according-to-Hoyle “conservative.”
The Tea Party movement is anti-establishment. It looks at certain Republicans as being more interested in comfort and their own political power than ideas and issues. You have a bunch of people who are fed up. Look, both parties got us in the mess we’re in. There’s no question about that. And the Tea Party folks and a lot of independents say, “You have to do more than just talk about these things. You have to prove it to me that once you get elected you’re going to do the same things when you get to St. Paul or Washington that you talked about on the campaign trail.”
Dick Armey called you “a decent man in a venue where a decent man is hard to find.” So he’s disparaging the entire profession. Is there a lack of integrity in politics?
That gets to my point. And that’s why I don’t think the Tea Party movement will become part of the Republican Party. They won’t be taken for granted.
Money seems to be one of the corrupting factors in politics. And limiting the role of money in government, whether in regard to lobbying or to campaigning, doesn’t seem to be a Republican priority.
Well, there’s a basic First Amendment right that both the right and the left are pretty much equally supportive of. But why did these things happen in the first place? It’s all the aftermath of McCain-Feingold. You’re never going to take money out of politics. So what have you done? You’ve shifted money away from the parties, where there’s some level of accountability and responsibility, to the wild wild West, where it’s undisclosed, uncounted, un-anything. You’re not removing it. And that’s one of the problems. The best thing you could do is just say disclosure.
So you think this is what Tea Partiers want? Disclosure?
Yeah, I don’t think they have a problem with the money in politics. They’re more worried about government overreach. And I think that most Tea Partiers would say they don’t want government regulating political speech. Much as you saw with the reaction to the Internet regulation SOPA and PIPA. It blew up. They’re generally like “hands off.” I think most Tea Partiers would say we don’t need more regulation of the campaign system. Let money flow where it’s going to flow.
The Tea Party seems to be outside of the Republican Party, and the Occupy movement seems to exist outside of the Democratic Party. Do they have anything in common?
What’s Congress’s approval rating? Nine percent? Anytime you have 9 percent approval ratings, you’re going to have other political movements crop up. Look, over the course of the last couple decades, identification with the two major political parties is falling. And there are more and more independents, and you’re going to have liberal independents and conservative independents. But they’re not going to just say, “Well, I’m a Republican or I’m a Democrat.” It’s gonna be, “Well, if this politician fights for the things I believe in, I’m going to support them.” That’s going to be the challenge for the Republican Party and the Democratic Party: There are going to be more people up for grabs.
Five Things You Didn’t Know About
He coaches his son’s third-grade basketball team, the Pacers.
The last movie he saw was Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. “Big thumbs-up. Good action movie.”
His two political heroes are Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley Jr.
His prized picture in his office is of Buckley Jr. “When I was treasurer of the Minnesota College Republicans in ’86, we broug him in for a fundraiser.”
The most recent book he read was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit.(pictured)