You can’t miss the sad irony of it all: after four years as Republican state chairman of Minnesota, Ron Carey’s last day at the party helm was the same day that the State Supreme Court ruled 5-0 to affirm a lower court decision that Democrat Al Franken had more votes than Republican Norm Coleman in the Gopher State’s U.S. Senate race seven months ago.
So, as Carey cleaned out his desk and prepared to turn the chairmanship over to fellow conservative Tony Sutton, former Sen. Coleman conceded the closest and most-disputed Senate contest of 2008. Barack Obama issued a statement congratulating former comedian Franken on his victory by an apparent 312 votes out of more than 2.9 million cast.
And well Obama should congratulate Franken: as thin and questionable as his margin of victory was, it gives Democrats “the magic sixty” — 60 seats in the Senate, or enough to shut off Republican-led filibusters against key legislation such as the “cap and trade” measure or key appointments to the judiciary.
“It still doesn’t change the fact that ballots were treated differently,” Carey told me, “and the court didn’t have the fortitude to reverse a count that was treated on way in Hennepin County [Minneapolis] and another way in Carver County. All votes should have been counted equally.”
The 51-year-old Carey, who will soon go into private business with fellow conservative and former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, cited those particular counties with good reason. As he noted, “In Carver, 180 absentee ballots were rejected because there was not a registered Minnesota voter there as a witness to the ballot. But in Hennepin, 900 ballots were counted without a registered voter as a valid witness.”
Carey then recounted the chronology of events that left Minnesota with only one U.S. Senator since January: that the five-person State Canvassing Board “punted everything” (Carey’s words) to a three-judge panel of district judges that would rule on the status of ballots; how, after the chief justice of the State Supreme Court (who had been appointed by moderate-conservative Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty) recused himself from naming the panel because he had been on the Canvassing Board, that task fell to the most senior justice and arch-liberal Allan Page; that Page named judges appointed by Republican Gov. (1990-98) Arne Carlson (who was a Republican-for-Obama in ’08), Democratic Gov. (1976-78, 1982-90) Rudy Perpich, and Reform Party Gov. (1998-2002) Jesse Ventura; and how the three judges upheld the questionable canvass that gave Franken his 312-vote edge.
“The bottom line here is that ballots were inarguably treated differently,” observed Carey, “and the Supreme Court, in reviewing the case, never dealt with that fact. In Franken-friendly counties such as Hennepin, far more liberal standards were applied to absentee ballots than in counties not so Franken-friendly.”
Carey also cited the liberal media atmosphere in the Minneapolis area, noting that “between the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the television network affiliates, there was a public relations push that Franken had somehow won the race legitimately and Norm Coleman was a sore loser. It gathered the force of a freight train.
“We needed Superman to step in and stop the freight train. But no one wanted to be Superman.”