McFeely: Minnesota Republicans come at Walz with extremists
Since being elected to the state senate in 2010 Paul Gazelka's been a consistent advocate for the far-right minority in Minnesota, starting with his losing battle to ban gay marriage in the state and more recently downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic and siding with vehement anti-maskers.
MOORHEAD — If there is a moderate Republican in Minnesota reading this, please stand up. Raise your hand. Shout from a hilltop.
Because, gotta be honest, it's getting hard to believe you exist. You're like Bigfoot, only rarer.
Evidence of this came last week, when another extremist right-winger entered into the fray to receive the Republican nomination for governor in 2022. Paul Gazelka, a state senator from near Brainerd who was Senate majority leader until stepping down to make his gubernatorial announcement, is the latest who wants to take down DFL Gov. Tim Walz.
That makes at least six Republicans vying for the party's nomination and they all have one thing in common — all are extremists. Not a good ol' moderate among them. Perhaps that's because the GOP doesn't have room for moderates anymore?
Gazelka will battle anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist doctor Scott Jensen for the title of furthest right candidate.
Since being elected to the state senate in 2010 Gazelka's been a consistent advocate for the far-right minority in Minnesota, starting with his losing battle to ban gay marriage in the state and more recently downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic and siding with vehement anti-maskers.
Gazelka held a large post-election party last November, without COVID protocols, at which several Republican legislators contracted coronavirus. One of them, 76-year-old Sen. Jerry Relph, died of complications from the virus. Gazelka, and other Republicans, absolved themselves of responsibility for Relph's death.
That's always been the odd stance of Minnesota Republicans when it comes to COVID: Vast majorities of voting-age residents have been vaccinated and view the virus as a serious threat, yet Gazelka and Republicans see being pro-virus as the way to win elections. Freedom, liberty and all that, one supposes.
But perhaps Gazelka's strangest position is that on so-called gay conversion therapy, the debunked practice of trying to turn gay people straight. Gazelka, the most powerful Republican in St. Paul when he was majority leader, sat on the sidelines when his caucus defeated a DFL proposal that would ban the controversial, coercive practice.
Here's the kicker: Gazelka has a child who identifies as bi-gender and he sent them to conversion therapists with the hope of "curing" them of their sexual orientation.
Gazelka's chose far-right ideology over protecting his own child, and other children who might be subjected to the discredited and damaging conversion therapy.
This is the corner in which Minnesota Republicans have painted themselves. They can't win without their base of right-wingers, so they must mollycoddle extremists. But by pandering to the far right, the GOP can't attract enough moderates and independents to win statewide elections.
Which might explain why Republicans haven't won statewide since 2006.
Yet the insanity continues. Every stance Gazelka holds appears to appease rural conservatives without moderation to attract new voters in the Twin Cities and their suburbs. Right-wing extremism doesn't play in the 'burbs, but Gazelka and the GOP refuse to moderate because if they do they'll lose their base.
It's a conundrum. Minnesota Republicans don't seem interested in solving it.