State GOP continues tone deaf blundering on Range district

The state GOP has again oddly and ham-handedly interjected itself into the House 5B special election on the Iron Range. On Thursday, Republican chair Tony Sutton asked Hibbing City Clerk Pat Garrity, who has endorsed DFLer Carly Melin, to recluse himself from his duties as chief election official in the district’s largest city.

“Given Hibbing City Clerk Pat Garrity’s vocal political support for Democrat Carly Melin, I believe it is only appropriate that he recuse himself from administering the February 15th special election. To avoid any appearance of impropriety and to ensure election integrity, it is essential that this Melin supporter step aside as city clerk for Tuesday’s election in favor of a non-partisan city official.  The voters of House District 5B deserve no less.”

Considering that Garrity has a impeccable record of election integrity, including times he’s overseen his own elections, some of which he lost, I don’t get the basis here.

I’ve got to tell you something. I used to cover Hibbing city government as a reporter and newspaper editor. So did my wife before I was at the paper. In this house we talk a lot of politics and know a lot of politicians. Many of them are utterly useless; all of them are flawed in some way. Pat Garrity may have human flaws, but he is also one of very, very few politicians on the Iron Range whose integrity we trust to the ends of the earth.

Pat Garrity grew up poorer than most on an Iron Range landscape where people were already pretty poor. He’s since dedicated his life to his family and his community, despite the hard times. He risked and lost a good job in the private sector to speak out for the public good in the taconite tax debate decades ago. He’s got his political opinions, of course, but he has never deviated from conducting fair and unbiased elections in the city of Hibbing. Just last night, after the 5B forum, he was telling me his plans to ensure that the polling stations had enough ballots and how the results would be processed according to law. He was thinking about proper logistics and fairness, even as people argued politics all around us. Then today, this. Every city clerk in the state has political opinions; they’re politicians. But there are noble practitioners of politics like Pat Garrity and then there are the other kind.

Tony Sutton has long forgotten the people of his hometown, if he even thinks of it that way. His involvement in this election seems like some sort of weird grudge, a bloodsport that serves neither the people of 5B nor the Republican candidate Paul Jacobson. Jacobson, to his credit, has been trying to run an issues-based campaign with grassroots support, only to repeatedly watch the state GOP stomp through town stealing attention and probably costing him votes.

So, Tony Sutton, I hope this is all some kind of joke, some kind of Andy Kaufman theater you’re conducting down there. I hope this isn’t a serious attempt to understand the Iron Range or win an election here. Because, if it is, I think there will soon be a host of disappointed Iron Range Republicans asking you to recluse yourself from your job, too.

UPDATE: Pat Garrity defends himself honorably in today’s Hibbing Daily Tribune (link; subscription only). Meantime, Let Freedom Ring hits Garrity and me together in a post from last night. I now share the opinion from the second comment here. This is no longer about winning 5B for the state GOP, it’s about delegitimizing Tuesday’s vote specifically and the Iron Range generally.


  1. Is it possible That the GOP politicians are only thinking of how the GOP pols they know would act? That they are looking in the mirror when they voice these opinions?

  2. It it likely Sutton does not expect to win on the Range. His audience is elsewhere. The message is that government is corrupt and the folks elected from the Range are not legitimate representatives of its people. Its part of the ongoing campaign to de-legitimize the results of the democratic process when the results don’t support a specific ideological position.

  3. Has Melin addressed the fact yet that she apparently voted in St Paul on August 10th?

  4. Yes, she did. She voted in the primary in St. Paul because she was in the process of moving from her temporary housing in St. Paul back to the Range for a job after studying for the bar, which she passed that summer. Voting there was out of logistical necessity, and within law. She had reestablished her Hibbing voting residency in time to be an eligible candidate for this office. Her drivers license has always read Hibbing as her permanent residence. No one has filed a formal complaint. This matter is closed, unless you know something I don’t.

  5. Thanks. I find it mildly ironic how easily she was able to transfer her locale given how difficult the staff at the Morrison County courthouse made it for me when I was in the armed forces. But then I wouldn’t wish those folks on anyone wishing to vote.

  6. Yes, that’s unfortunately they gave you that kind of trouble, especially for the valid reasons you had. To some degree local officials have the power to make it more difficult than necessary. You’d hope they wouldn’t. The main goals should be to prevent multiple votes and ensure that only eligible voters vote. Someone in the military should be granted some leeway as well.

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