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Guest Editorial - Carlson was right, MN GOP was wrong

Maybe there's hope for the Republican Party of Minnesota yet.

Turned out by voters after only two years of holding legislative majorities -- as the blog Minnesota Conservatives put it, "so great was the incompetence of leaders in the House and Senate that they failed entirely in the shortest time possible" -- the Minnesota GOP is rethinking its message.

And at the party's Central Committee meeting over the weekend, there was at least one encouraging sign.

At the same meeting two years ago, "activists moved to ban former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, former Gov. Arne Carlson and others from the party for two years because they had supported candidates running against the party's picks," the Star Tribune reported Sunday.

"This year, an activist again proposed banishing Carlson. ... (But) on Saturday, Republican Party chair Pat Shortridge said repeating that move would not be helpful.

"'I think we should focus on attracting new people to the party, rather than trying to decide who is and who isn't a Republican,' said Shortridge."

Shortridge's call is a good start. In fact, far from banning Carlson, Minnesota Republicans should invite him back and ask him to help the party rebuild.

After all, not only was Carlson the most popular Republican leader of the past generation -- he was re-elected to a second term in 1994 with 63 percent of the vote -- but also he has been warning the Minnesota GOP about its extremism for years.

That's why Carlson endorsed Independence Party candidate Tom Horner (himself a former Republican) for governor in 2010, rejecting GOP candidate Tom Emmer. And here's part of a blog post by Carlson from the season of Christmas and "It's a Wonderful Life" last year:

"My memory of Republicanism in Minnesota goes back to a party that was always building a better community. ... Policies ranging from consumer and environmental protection to human rights to metropolitan governance bore the fingerprints of an endless array of community-oriented GOP governors from Elmer Andersen to Harold LeVander through Al Quie and on.

"The Republican Party both in Minnesota and nationally has a choice to make. Does it want to build a true Bedford Falls with a commitment to the well being of the whole, or does it want to lead us to 'Pottersville' where the quality of life rests with the privileged few?"

Republicans should have listened.

And one by one, prominent conservatives at last are coming to agree. Here are two more in a growing list of examples: "The conservatism of 2011 and 2012 had a lot to say about the long-term liabilities of the American government but far too little to say about the most immediate anxieties of American citizens, from rising health care costs to stagnating wages to the socioeconomic malaise spreading across the country's working class," Ross Douthat of The New York Times wrote in his column Sunday.

Then there's Ben Stein of The American Spectator magazine, belatedly recognizing why Republicans' national strategy failed: "Let's see: Obama is for keeping almost all entitlements and raising taxes on the rich (his definition of rich is insane, but that's another story). Our GOP position is low taxes on the rich and cut entitlements and medical care for the poor.

"Hmmm, which is a winning position?"

Minnesota Repubicans have a long road ahead. But inviting popular and plain-spoken leaders such as Carlson (and Tom Horner, for that matter) back in to the fold would be a dramatic first step. -- Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald