I first met David FitzSimmons in 2008 and I’ve had the opportunity to work in Republican politics with him while I served as Deputy Chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota. Since then, I’ve developed a better friendship with David, but with most friendships in politics, it has been strained at times, as we have battled over campaign strategies and tactics.
I consider David a friend and if the Republican Party of Minnesota had more activists like David, Republicans would have won more elections over the last few years than they lost. He’s the heart and soul of the Republican Party and he’ll never be rewarded enough for his hard work. But sadly, this weekend, David may be punished for doing what he thought was best for the future of the Republican Party in Minnesota.
At one point, David served as the chairman of the Wright County Republicans, the chairman of the 6th Congressional District Republicans and the chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus in Minnesota – all at the same time. I also served with David on the Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Minnesota for over two-years.
This Saturday, the Wright County Republicans will hold their convention at Buffalo High School. Three Republican endorsing conventions will also take place for House District 29A, House District 29B and House District 30B. Three incumbent Republican members of the Minnesota House of Representatives will stand for endorsement by their local Republican Party. But only one Republican is being challenged for endorsement – Representative David FitzSimmons.
The Republican activist that dedicated the last few years helping elect Republicans to office in Minnesota decided in 2012 to run for an open seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, which was created by the new redistricting map.
At the endorsing convention, David was endorsed by the Republican Party on the first ballot, receiving close to 80 percent of the vote. On Election Day, David was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 30B, winning with over 60 percent of the vote in the general election. Republican activist FitzSimmons became Representative FitzSimmons.
The majority of Republicans in 2012 didn’t have the same electoral success as David, as Republicans lost legislative control of the Minnesota Senate and the Minnesota House of Representatives. Also, two constitutional amendments passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, one an amendment requiring a government photo ID to vote and another amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman, were both defeated.
Democrats now controlled both chambers in the Minnesota Legislature and with Governor Mark Dayton still in office, the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota was about to become one of the marquee issues in the upcoming 2013 legislative session. In May of 2013, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. David offered an amendment, allowing no religious official or church to be required to perform a same-sex wedding. David’s amendment passed and he voted for the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
David’s main challenger for endorsement on Saturday is Eric Lureco and he’s running because of David’s vote last May to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota. Lureco posted on his campaign website that he is concerned about the “assault against the family unit” by “gay marriage and the homosexual lifestyle.” These statements have since been removed from Lureco’s website and he did not respond to requests for an interview.
In June of 2013, David attended a meeting of the Wright County Republicans at the American Legion in Buffalo. The former chairman of the group was now providing a legislative update, when Lureco, began what David described as a “rant, tirade and verbal assault” about David’s’ vote to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota. Until this confrontation at the June 2013 meeting of the Wright County Republicans, David had no interaction with Lureco and was unaware of any involvement he had with the Republican Party while David served as both the chairman of the Wright County Republicans and the 6th Congressional District Republicans.
David, who is the consummate strategist, doesn’t understand how the Republican Party of Minnesota can grow and appeal to younger-voters, when the opposition to defining marriage between one man and one woman is so strong. “I don’t understand how a major political party who’s goal it is to get to 50 percent, plus one, can survive by dogmatically attaching itself to an issue that had 19 percent support by people under the age of 30,” said David.
David believes the messaging coming from the Republican Party of Minnesota after the bill legalizing gay marriage was signed into law should have been more welcoming and encouraging. But David added, “the Republican Party has to decide if it wants to sacrifice everything else Republicans believe in, every other personal liberty issue, every issue on taxes and spending, every issue on life (abortion), to continue fighting gay marriage.” David was clear that he believes “the goal” of denying him the endorsement by his local Republican Party this Saturday is to begin the process of repealing the law that was passed in 2013, which legalized gay marriage in Minnesota.
I asked David about what will be the message for Minnesotans if he is denied the endorsement by the Republican Party on Saturday at his local convention. The loyal Republican paused and said “the impression will be that Minnesota Republicans are wanting to fight the gay marriage issue and that in order to be successful and be involved in the Republican Party of Minnesota you need to pass this litmus test that you are in complete opposition to gay marriage.” David pivoted and talked about now polling continues to show support for gay marriage growing in the Republican Party, saying “it’s not a successful short-term or long-term strategy for the Republican Party” to be opposed to gay marriage.
David said that for Republicans to have legislative majorities again in Minnesota, they will need to win in areas that voted against the constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman, adding “I don’t know they do this with the perception and message of being opposed to gay marriage.”
David is still very loyal to the Republican Party and he has agreed to abide by the endorsement of his local party at Saturday’s convention, which means if his opponent is endorsed, he will not run in the primary and his legislative service will conclud at the end of 2014. David was very honest about his prospects for this weekend, saying “it is a very likely outcome that I will not be the endorsed Republican candidate on Saturday.” But David quickly added, “I will still have one more session as a representative and I can assure you that I will continue to do everything I can for the 40,000 residents in North-East Wright County who are my constituents.”
I asked David if he will continue to be involved with the Republican Party this year if he is not endorsed. My friend cleared his throat and said, “this has been extremely difficult. The campaign against me has not just been political, it has been very personal.” The attacks on David have definitely been personal, as e-mails have been sent out attacking David’s girlfriend, Sarah Walker, who works for a Republican lobbyist firm, but also supports judicial retention elections.
Marjorie Holsten, a supporter of Lureco’s campaign and a strong opponent retention elections, sent out an e-mail which highlighted that Walker is “the girlfriend of David FitzSimmons…” I spoke with Holsten this afternoon and asked why David’s girlfriend is a relevant issue to determine if he is endorsed. Holsten said “[Walker] has such access to a representative who can vote on this and she is being brought to events by him where she has so much access to Republicans.”
In response to a follow-up question, Holsten acknowledged that she did not live in David’s district and she didn’t know if David’s position on judicial retention elections differs from her own. Holsten could not site a specific vote that David had taken in support of retention elections. Holsten was clear that her concern with David is because his girlfriend disagrees with Holsten’s position about retention elections. Holsten said, “I happen to believe [Walker] wields influence over him and when a candidate steps forward, they are presenting themselves as a target for scrutiny.”
Finally, I asked David how he was holding up and about his future with the Republican Party of Minnesota. I’ve included pictures of David’s tireless work on behalf of Republican candidates over the years in this post. David said, “I’ve had extremely terrible things said to me, about me, by members of my own party, a party I believe I have faithfully served. So it’s very difficult. I don’t know.” David concluded his comments by stating “this whole experience has taken a lot out of me and I’ll need some time to assess where I’m at personally.”
In the 20 years I’ve been active in politics, I’ve seen the Minnesota DFL and Republican Party of Minnesota have successes and failures. But this Saturday at Buffalo High School, the Republican Party of Minnesota could take a major step back toward the goal of winning more elections this November. I wish I could find fault with David’s predictions on what will happen at his endorsing convention. David and I have disagreed about politics, as all friends do from time to time. But for Republicans, the worry should be that David’s predictions aren’t wrong, it’s that David is right. The day David FitzSimmons doesn’t have a home inside the Republican Party should be a walk-up call for Republicans across the state. The Saturday, the Republican Party of Minnesota can take a step forward or they can take a big step backward.
I hope David is wrong, but I don’t think he is.