My Campaign for State Representative
Arrests for domestic abuse in 2011 and 2012 brought me back into the political arena in what I believe may well be my final campaign for public office. I decided to run for a seat in the Minnesota legislature on a platform of reforming policies and practices related to domestic abuse.
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I filed as a Republican candidate for Minnesota representative in District 59-B at the same time (June 4th) that my friend Bob Carney filed as a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. In contrast with previous years when I had caucused with the Independence Party, I caucused with the Republicans in February to show my support for Mitt Romney whose family I had known while growing up in Michigan. But now I was a single-issue candidate aiming to publicize abuses in the area of domestic abuse.
District 59-B, a product of redistricting in 2010, comprises north Minneapolis between 26th Street and I-394 and also much of downtown Minneapolis. The previous district was heavily DFL. The Republican candidate, Gary Mazzotta, received 19 percent of the vote against the DFL incumbent, Bobby Joe Champion, who was now running for a seat in the state senate. I was the only Republican candidate when I filed. A day later, Gary Mazzotta filed. I later learned that he was the Republican co-chair of senate district 59 and also the party-endorsed candidate. His website indicated he was a professional in the information-technology field.
I thought I had a good chance to defeat Mazzotta in the primary held on August 14th if I placed at least fifty lawn signs in north Minneapolis locations (exploiting my advantage of gaining permission from landlord friends who owned property there) and did some door-to-door campaigning in precincts likely to include Republican voters. I spent about $100 mailing announcements of my campaign to media and interested persons. Another $300 to $400 would be needed to purchase the lawn signs.
My real purpose, however, was to gain media coverage for my effort to promote domestic-abuse reform. A few articles in newspapers and interviews on radio would accomplish that goal at a modest cost. If I beat Mazzotta in the primary, it would be easier still to get publicity.
I started thinking about what the lawn signs would say. “Keep officer Herron out of your home” was an early inspiration. Minneapolis police officer Stephen Herron was the man who put me in handcuffs without asking any questions during my first arrest for domestic assault. I could imagine Herron and his fellow officers driving by signs planted in north Minneapolis yards. Did they really expect no one would tell what they were doing? But this was self-indulgent. I really needed to promote my own name if I wished to win the primary.
To get started, I created a campaign website converting an existing site to one suiting my purpose. The site was ProgressiveRepublicans.org. I produced a new opening page with mug shot of myself, a picture of me holding a green clay dinosaur (once held by George Romney in Disneyland television commercials), and a picture of the wristband I wore in jail after being arrested for domestic abuse. In other words, I was introducing myself as someone arrested for a crime. If anyone was interested in the facts of my case, he (or she) could follow a link to a complete write up.
The website also included a page presenting facts about myself as a candidate and about my political agenda. The main thrust of my intended policy was opposition to the police state. It said: “Bill wants to nip the emerging police state in the bud. He would be a fierce opponent of gender-based ideologies that disrespect and marginalize certain people. Generally, Bill would oppose state intrusion into family and personal relationships. (See his proposals for changing Domestic Abuse laws.)” Related to this was my view that the World Trade Towers were not toppled by jet-fuel fires on September 11, 2001, but by controlled demolitions. I expressed opposition to unnecessary licensing of businesses and professions. Except for my sympathy for the 9/11 truth movement, those were views which I thought most Republicans would support.
After being arrested for domestic abuse, I called the Men’s Center in Minneapolis to ask if anyone connected with that organization wished to protest current practices. (I was thinking of picketing the police station.) A psychotherapist, Bill Ronan, called me in return. He invited me to a meeting of the National Coalition of Free Men held at his home in Hopkins, Minnesota. There I met another man who hosted a radio show. I was hoping to be invited to be on that show but nothing materialized. I also attended a meeting of a group which met each month at the Men’s Center where I introduced myself and was well received.
Additionally, I organized a candidates’ forum to discuss the national security state which would be held in a conference from at the downtown Minneapolis public library. The Minnesota 9/11 truth group agreed to sponsor the meeting. Bob Carney and another Senate candidate, Michael Cavlan, agreed to participate in the discussion. The purpose was to get our names before the public in community calendars that might announce the meeting scheduled for 6:30 to 8 p.m. on July 26, 2012. As it happened, only three people including Carney and me showed up. This event was a complete bust.
Both the Star Tribune and the Minnesota League of Women Voters had on-line voters guides. My candidate essay submitted to the Star Tribune consisted of the following: “True patriotism today means opposing the drift towards a police state. Minnesota’s Domestic Abuse laws and practices effectively negate the requirement for the police to arrest only upon probable cause. Judges routinely punish persons who are possibly innocent with months-long “no contact” orders excluding them from their home. Such laws exhibit systematic gender bias. They make it a crime for a man who has caused no physical harm to make a woman afraid. I am personally unafraid of challenging this unconstitutional, bipartisan (but mainly DFL) sacred cow. The state needs to restrain itself in disrupting family relationships.”
Quite honestly, I was having regrets at having filed for the house seat. Despite redistricting, a Republican candidate stood little chance of being elected in district 59-B. I had other personal interests and did not have much money. I did not produce literature or knock on a single door, figuring that, as the date of the primary drew near, I would order the lawn signs from a company I had previously used in Wyandotte, Michigan, and approach my landlord friends about installing them in north Minneapolis locations.
This election was unusual for me in that I was besieged by letters and email messages from various organizations wanting to poll my views on subjects of interest to their members. (Perennial candidates for President or other high offices do not receive such messages.) It was unclear what these organizations proposed to do for my campaign. If I held views favorable to their interest and was likely to win, I supposed that I might be mentioned favorably in a newsletter and perhaps even receive some money. The truth was, however, that I was a long-shot candidate interested only in one issue: domestic-abuse reform. I was unfamiliar with topics raised in many of the questions.
So what should I do? I could truthfully answer the questions at the risk of offending these organizations (who generally wanted my assurance that state money would keep flowing to their programs). Alternatively, knowing the answers they wanted, I could lie and hope to be favorably mentioned in their newsletter. (Even so, I stood little chance of winning the house seat.) Finally, I could ignore the surveys. Since my campaign was generally marked by procrastination, I chose the last option. However, I did tell the gun lobby, which threatened to give low marks to candidates who failed to respond to their survey, that they had my permission to give me a failing grade at the outset since I would not respond to threats.
those who are interested, some of the groups that sent letters
were: Coalition of Minnesota Businesses,
the Arts, the
to Work Committee, the Minnesota Family Institute,
Americans for Prosperity - Minnesota, and Grover
Americans for Tax Reform.
Then there were the sellers of campaign services or accessories. They included: DonationPages, Adfinitum Designs, Speedy Signs USA, Mike Tierney (literature dropper) Signs of Momentum, SonicPrint.com, and Sound Messaging.
From my standpoint, the more positive invitations included an invitation to participate in a candidate forum at the Urban League sponsored by Insight News, an African American newspaper, and a request for an interview by the publisher of NorthNews, a community newspaper covering North Minneapolis. Also, the League of Women Voters invited me to participate in a candidate forum to be held at the Phyllis Wheatley Center in north Minneapolis on Monday, July 30th.
The forum sponsored by Insight News was scheduled for Monday, July 16th. When I showed up at the Urban League, publisher Al McFarland greeted me with the news that the event had been rescheduled for the following day because so few candidates were on hand. Would I be willing to come back? Of course. Next day, the forum took place involving three candidates. Two - Raymond Dehn and Terra Cole - were members of the Democratic Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party. I represented the Republican Party. I sat immediately to the right of Mr. McFarland. Terra Cole was to my right; and Ray Dehn at to her right, at the other end of the table. The forum was videotaped for presentation on cable television.
Terra Cole, a black female, had the largest and most enthusiastic group of supporters at the event. She had been endorsed by former Minneapolis mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, state representative Phyllis Khan, former Minnesota secretary of state Joan Growe and other DFL notables. She had also held high-level appointive positions including publicity director of the 2010 census effort in Hennepin County. I thought that, though sweet tempered, she was a bit too full of herself. She said “I am district 59-B” referring to the fact that she had spent most of her life in the district. She said as a state representative she would want to give other young black women the same opportunities for success that she had enjoyed.
Raymond Dehn, a white male, took the opposite approach. He virtually apologized for being white. Supported by U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, he was an architect by trade. He had been an official with the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) and. Dehn, like me, introduced himself as someone who had once been arrested and incarcerated. In his case, it was for burglary. However, this had happened when he was a teenager. He had been through a rehabilitation program and offered himself as someone who benefited from having a second chance. His positions on issues seemed a bit more specific and thoughtful than Cole’s.
My opening statement was devoted entirely to my two arrests for domestic abuse. Unlike Dehn, however, I was claiming innocence and blaming the police for what had happened. It seemed to have a positive effect in the audience. Asked what I would do for the black community, I said I would push for construction of the two light rail lines, the Southwest line and Bottineau line heading northwest, which would connect persons living in north Minneapolis with suburban jobs. My closing line brought a few laughs. I said: “If you feel like engaging in risky behavior this year, vote Republican.” The event went well from my standpoint.
I counted on NorthNews to connect with the bulk of voters. My first effort was to write a letter to the editor, outlining my views on domestic abuse. Dated July 8th, here is what the letter said:
“ Dear Editor:
State government has limited ability to revive the economy but it is able to create a system of justice that restores public confidence and inspires individuals to be energetic and productive. America’s genius is its guarantee of personal freedom given in the Bill of Rights that limit government’s authority to intrude in certain areas.
Now that freedom is imperiled by what I see as a post-9/11 drift toward a police and security state. Having had recent personal experience in this area, I wish to focus on laws and procedures relating to Domestic Abuse. There are some particular problems:
The current laws relating to Domestic Abuse are beneficial neither to women nor men. I feel compelled to toss my hat into the ring as a Republican candidate for state representative in district 59-B. If elected, I would go to the state capitol intending primarily to rewrite the Domestic Abuse laws. I would invite my opponents and, indeed, others in the legislature to join in this patriotic fight for fairness and personal freedom.
Unfortunately, NorthNews did not print my letter. However, the publisher, Margot Ashmore, interviewed me by telephone. She produced what I consider a fair and accurate characterization of my candidacy, along with similar statements for the other four candidates. The article ran on July 25, 2012. This is what appeared in the newspaper:
“ William McGaughey, Republican
Credentials: I’m a graduate of an Ivy League college, a former accountant with Metro Transit, and a 20-year resident of north Minneapolis. I have been co-chair of Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee, a landlord group which has played a role in city politics. Occupationally, I provide housing for low-income city residents. I’m also a fighter for causes I believe in.
What does the State do, and one piece of legislation: ‘In my view, state government has limited power to create jobs - such policies are set mostly at the federal level. I have chosen to concentrate on domestic-abuse reform. From personal experience, I know that political games are being played in this area. It is important for the public to have confidence in the police. (There was a murder on my block recently.)”
We cannot have people being arbitrarily arrested, the police including false information in reports, innocent persons being excluded from their homes for long periods of time, etc. I would take on the Domestic Abuse establishment and insist on fair play for everyone. When constitutional protections are observed by government authorities, people feel better about the community and businesses thrive.’
‘ Matters of police and safety are the direct responsibility of the legislature, at least to get it discussed. These are fairly common problems and the public is ready to talk about things like this.’
He said he is also interested in light rail coming through North Minneapolis, giving access to jobs. ‘It will be more economical if there’s more ridership, and you get more ridership on a bigger system.’ He lives in Harrison where both the Bottineau and Southwest lines will be within walking distance for many.
How to get things done: ‘I guess the key to getting things done in the legislature is building relationships with the other legislators and with constituents. Last time, the DFL candidate beat my primary opponent by a 4-to-1 margin. This is not a healthy situation. If a Republican should happen to win this seat, it would be one of the best things to happen for Northside residents because this person could work both with Republicans in the legislature and with DFLers representing Minneapolis interests. I have an open mind but also a nose for organized nonsense.’
McGaughey also spoke of having run for president as a Democrat in 2004, and advocating shorter work times ‘ which is anathema to economists. ‘I have Democratic tendencies but believe businesses should be left alone. I argue with Right-Wing Republicans. I agree with photo ID, I think they should have it, and if it’s too expensive, give it to them.’
(With reference to the murder, a young woman named Ellie, mother of three, had been shot to death in her apartment unit at 1710 Glenwood Avenue, next door to my nine-unit apartment building around July 22, 2012. The murderer, father of the children, ran off and has never been found. The Star Tribune made only brief mention of this horrible incident.)
About the time that this issue of the newspaper appeared, I received a letter from the Hennepin County Family Court enclosing the decision of the divorce-court judge, James T. Swenson. His order was dated July 20, 2012. I was shocked by the decision.
Judge Swenson, supposed to make “an equitable and just division” of the marital property, had assigned me all of the more than $320,000 of marital debt. He also ordered me to pay $500 per month in alimony for life. Finally, knowing that I had few liquid assets but much non-marital real estate, he ordered me to pay $50,000 to my wife in cash in five monthly payments starting October 1, 2012. In other words, he was ordering me to sell or mortgage my non-marital property.
This decision could not be allowed to stand. Even though Judge Swenson was chief judge of the Hennepin County courts during the trial, he had made so many errors of fact and law in his 24-page decision that I felt his decision might be overturned in the appellate court. However, it would require weeks of intense work to prepare for the appeal. First, I had thirty days in which to file a motion for amended findings of fact and conclusions of law, or, alternatively, for a new trial.
It was obvious that I could not continue my campaign for state representative. I had neither the time or money to continue the campaign. Less than three weeks remained before the trial. Instead of remaining in the race but failing to do any campaign work such as ordering and installing lawn signs, I thought it best to withdraw. I would announce my decision at the candidates debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters which would be held on Monday, July 30th.
I remember shaking Ian Alexander’s hand as I entered the Phyllis Wheatley Center. Terra Cole supporters predominated on this occasion as at the Insight News debate. The League of Women Voters planned to have the two Republican candidates, Gary Mazzotta and me, square off against each other in the first half of the program. Then the three DFL candidates - Raymond Dehn, Terra Cole, and Ian Alexander - would have their turn to compete.
I had never met my opponent, Gary Mazzotta. After we had introduced ourselves, I told him that I was withdrawing from the race. I made my official announcement during my two-minute opening statement that began the forum. Again, I ran through the story of my two arrests for domestic abuse, the condemnation of my house in March 2011, the murder on my block that had happened a week earlier, and finally the adverse decision in the divorce case. “I’ve had it with all this,” I told the audience of around one-hundred persons while informing them of my withdrawal from the campaign. “I’m 71 years old and thinking about moving out of state.”
On that sour note, the chairwoman from the League of Women Voters decided that she needed to rearrange the program schedule. She put Gary Mazzotta with the three DFL candidates and assigned the whole time to their debate. I pulled my chair to the side, remaining up in front. Ian Alexander suggested that I sit back with the audience. I told him that I was remaining where I was; and that was that.
As a spectator, I now had a chance to observe my erstwhile rivals. Alexander’s request that I sit in the audience had left a bad taste. I had additional reasons to dislike him because he was a family-law attorney practicing in north Minneapolis and a board member of the Sexual Violence Center. In other words, Alexander belonged to the Domestic Abuse establishment. Otherwise, he seemed to be a credible and capable candidate. Terra Cole, though likable, again struck me as someone incapable of serving effectively in the legislature. She was a people person but weak on issues. That left Raymond Dehn. I decided that as a north Minneapolis voter, I would prefer him among the DFL candidates. However, I announced that I would support Gary Mazzotta, the Republican. I don’t remember much about what he said although his answers seemed reasonable enough.
The League of Women Voters forum took place on Monday evening. I spent much of the following day informing the media and other interested parties that I had withdrawn from the campaign.Two days later, I took a bus to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for a four-day history conference, returning Monday morning, August 6th. The campaign was over for me. My only involvement was receiving postcards from a largely anonymous group called “Democrats for Truth” that accused Ian Alexander of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing because he had once been a Republican operative. That brought complaints of smear tactics from Alexander’s camp. I witnessed the postcard war between the two DFL candidates in the final week before the primary.
Finally, the primary election was held on Tuesday, August 14th. I voted early in the morning without having to show an ID (a constitutional issue to be decided by Minnesota voters in the general election this year). The official results, available from the Secretary of State’s website in the late evening, showed the following:
Terra Cole was only 19 votes behind the winner - same as me - but within a percentage point of Dehn’s vote total. She later paid $1,500 for a recount which failed to overturn the result.
I was pleasantly surprised by what happened on the Republican side. The bad news was: 1. I had lost the primary. 2. I received the smallest number of votes of any candidate in a contested House race in Minnesota in 2012. The good news was: 1. I came within 20 votes of winning the primary. 2. People had voted for me despite having withdrawn from the race two weeks earlier.
What a way to end my political career! As I told a friend at church recently, it seemed that God had a sense of humor.
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