Welcome to my blog on local and Minnesota politics. I cover government and city issues for the Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota.
I can’t think a of a better inaugural blog post than talking about the statewide sparring match that erupted last week in the U.S. Senate race, in part because of one of my stories. On July 5, I interviewed GOP candidate Mike McFadden when he campaigned in Bemidji during our annual Water Carnival. I had read other media writeups on McFadden interviews where reporters were frustrated with his aversion to providing details on policy, particularly on social issues, so I decided to give it a shot myself by asking him some social-issue questions. The one that caused all the hubbub was when I asked him about Hobby Lobby:
“When asked his position on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case earlier this week that allows certain companies to not provide health insurance coverage of birth control to their employees, McFadden did not answer, saying he was focused the economy, health care and education rather than ‘polarizing issues.'”
“Investment banker Mike McFadden’s comments this weekend show that he will not stand up for Minnesota women and the health care and economic challenges they face,” said DFL Communications Director Ellen M. Perrault. “This landmark decision could impact millions of American women and it’s downright offensive that McFadden doesn’t think women deserve to know how he feels about this ruling. McFadden’s silence speaks volumes about what he stands for and it’s clearly not for Minnesota women.”
At a Wednesday campaign stop, the reporters there brought up the Hobby Lobby subject again, except this time McFadden said what he thought. My colleague Kyle Potter, formerly of the Fargo Forum and now working the politics beat at AP’s Minnesota bureau, broke the news on Twitter:
Senate candidate Mike McFadden says he was “happy to see the Supreme Court stood for religious freedom” in Hobby Lobby decision (1/2)
— Kyle Potter (@kpottermn) July 9, 2014
McFadden also says he wants to explore providing contraception cheaper over the counter. Dems have hit McFadden for not taking stance
— Kyle Potter (@kpottermn) July 9, 2014
McFadden’s actual quote was even more bizarre than that paraphrase. Here’s MPR’s story:
“When asked about the case at a campaign stop on Wednesday, McFadden said he was open to finding a way to make sure all women receive access to contraception.
‘One of the solutions that I’m looking at is to make contraceptions available over the counter for women that either don’t have insurance or work for an employer that does not cover contraceptions,’ said McFadden, although he did not offer any suggestions for how such a plan would be paid for.”
The response is awkward to say the least. To both praise the Supreme Court’s decision and to say he’s working to make OTC contraception more available stands to cut McFadden with both sides of a double-edged sword: it alienates both liberals and conservatives. (Also, as Alliance for a Better Minnesota noted, “contraceptions’’ is not a word. I hope for McFadden’s sake that was just a typo in MPR’s story, although it’s in there twice, so I kind of doubt it)
Had McFadden come out with a prepared statement immediately following the decision rather than waiting until the DFL called him out and then blurting something ad hoc, this whole thing might have been avoided.
Here’s my take: Not commenting on social issues makes sense from a practical standpoint since it helps avoid bad optics (e.g., this head-scratcher of a comment from a guy running for the Legislature from my hometown of Norwood Young America) but McFadden WILL have to take a stance on social issues at some point if he makes it to the Senate, where people are expected to, you know, vote on stuff. Until then, or until he starts opening up more, the DFL will continue to dominate the messaging battle in this race.