EDINA, Minn. — In her final act as chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, Jennifer Carnahan late Thursday, Aug. 19, cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of her own $38,000 severance.
She then resigned amid allegations of workplace toxicity, harassment and abuse.
But other members of the party’s executive committee have said the decision to cut her a check was a complicated one, forcing them to put a dollar amount on how much they’d pay to get the embattled Carnahan out.
The controversy surrounding Carnahan began to swell last week when her friend and major GOP donor Anton “Tony” Lazzaro was indicted on federal sex trafficking charges. The indictment opened the door to a cavalcade of allegations that Carnahan herself presided over a toxic work environment as party chair, and several young Republican women alleged they were subject to sexual harassment or abuse at the hands of party staff or donors under Carnahan’s tenure.
Following the committee’s 8-7 vote in favor of the severance on Thursday, Sara Rasque-Michener, who represents the 4th Congressional District on the executive committee, told reporters, "If we would have not done it, she wouldn't have resigned."
Rasque-Michener said much of the debate at Thursday night’s closed-door meeting was over the amount of severance Carnahan would receive. She said Carnahan asked for roughly $96,000, and the committee negotiated it down to $38,000.
MNGOP Deputy Chair Carleton Crawford made the motion to grant Carnahan the severance, then was one of the eight to vote in favor of it. He told Forum News Service Thursday night that his reasoning was “to get to the point where the party's able to resolve the issue today.”
The party has a major midterm election quickly approaching in 2022, and Crawford said they need to quickly install a new chair and move on from the controversy swirling around Carnahan. At the end of the day, he said he believes the party will be able to make up the dollars of the severance package with political donations.
Asked if he believed a clean slate for the party is worth $38,000, Crawford answered yes.
“The problem that we were dealing with now was the length of the controversy that was going on,” he said. “My primary motivation was to get the issue resolved today.”
Rasque-Michener became emotional as she described her logic in voting in favor of Carnahan’s severance. Without it, she said Carnahan wouldn’t have resigned, and the question of the party’s chairmanship would have dragged on for weeks.
Had Carnahan not willingly resigned Thursday night, Rasque-Michener said she was confident the executive committee had more than the necessary two-thirds (10 out of 15) votes to remove her.
But the executive committee doesn't get the final say. After an executive committee vote, the state central committee — comprised of over 300 members — would then have had to meet in 13 days to vote on the issue. And that vote would have required only a simple majority for or against Carnahan.
Rasque-Michener said she played out the scenarios in her head: How without Carnahan's resignation that night, she could have won the votes to stay as chair.
"It's so contentious. People were like, 'Give her nothing,'" Rasque-Michener said. "I'm just sitting there like, 'Yes, but I don't want to have to go another 13 days. Because what if they didn't approve our vote? Now she is still chair."
Bobby Benson, who represents the 6th Congressional District on the executive committee, told reporters after the meeting that he voted against Carnahan’s severance. Asked what he had to say to GOP donors whose money is going toward the severance, he said, "I'm just as disappointed as they are. More disappointed."
With Carnahan out, Crawford said his sights are set on the party’s future and midterm elections. The state central committee within 45 days has to elect a new party chair, and “they'll be able to set a new direction for the party.”
Asked if he’s concerned about transitioning party leadership so close to a big-time mid-term election, Crawford said “absolutely.”
“We do not have a choice in that matter,” he said. “We have to do that transition.”