Good luck trying to stop him, GOP (Photo by author at 2012 State DFL Convention)
by Aaron Klemz
Oct 5, 2012, 11:30 AM

Minnesota GOP tries to gag Ritchie on voter ID

Thursday, Republican Senators Scott Newman and Mike Parry filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) claiming that Mark Ritchie is illegally using the office of the Secretary of State to campaign against the photo voter ID amendment.

Senator Newman made his intent to muzzle Ritchie very clear in the press conference announcing the complaint: “…we don’t have any choice but to pursue these remedies in an attempt to force him to stop what we believe is the abuse of his office.”

In explaining why Ritchie should shut the heck up and stop talking about the effect of this amendment, Newman explained that the photo voter ID amendment is “between the Legislature and the people of Minnesota.” Sorta like marriage is “between and man and a woman,” I guess.

But Newman is wrong. Secretary of State Ritchie has every right to speak his mind about proposed constitutional amendments. Governor Dayton has made his opposition to both amendments clear. And Republicans have used their political positions to advocate for these amendments. That’s what political leaders do – they advocate for things they agree with and against things they disagree with. This complaint is a blatant attempt to harass and intimidate, because the arguments that Ritchie is making are working.

The OAH complaint contains a whole series of claims that they cannot adjudicate under laws that aren’t in their jurisdiction. The OAH has jurisdiction over the Minnesota Campaign Practices Act. That part of their complaint goes something like this:

Secretary of State Ritchie is saying stuff that we think isn’t true, like this amendment will cost a lot of money and could end same-day voter registration. We think these statements are untrue because we don’t know what the effect of the amendment would be, since the actual cost and effect of the amendment depends on what the Legislature would do if it passes.

This ridiculous charade has been going on all session. Newman actually had the gall to include the fiscal notes for the amendment in the complaint, while noting that at the press conference that nobody can actually know the cost since implementing legislation comes later. The Senators are doing opponents a favor by once again demonstrating that the amendment is a pig in a poke.

The OAH will first make a probable cause determination on the complaint, probably quite soon, and they will almost certainly say that no probable cause exists. The part of the complaint that is in the OAH’s bailiwick are claims that Ritchie is lying about the costs to local governments and effect on same-day registrants and absentee voters. But the easiest defense on this case is the truth – depending on how the Legislature implemented this amendment or how the courts interpreted it, all of these claims are true.

The ambiguity they’ve relied on so heavily in providing political cover for this amendment means that they’ll have an impossibly difficult time proving that Ritchie’s wrong. Not only that, they have to prove that Ritchie knew these were false statements or that he published them with reckless disregard for whether they are true. When your best argument is “nobody can say what the cost will be,” that’s a pretty big hill to climb. Actually, that’s like Sen. Parry trying to climb Mount Everest in bathing suit.

But the very end of the press conference tells what this complaint is all about – the death rattle of Mike Parry’s political career, and his refusal to face the reality that he’s been repudiated by the voters. Here are his parting comments:

I was a little preoccupied until about the 15th of August and after that, I thought, you know what, this just needs to be brought up, we need to bring this to the public. And I started thinking about the refusal to come to the committee, to me that was arrogant on his part, not showing up, both him and the Attorney General, I mean we could have solved this. And, it just kept getting emails from the public ‘what are you gonna do, can you do something, you’re the chairman, he falls under your authority, what can you do?’

No, Senator Parry, Mark Ritchie does not “fall under your authority.” And thankfully, your gavel wielding days are over.

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