Minnesota Democratic operatives charged with conspiring to change name of marijuana party to ‘MAGA’ party to siphon off GOP votes

An alleged attempt by Minnesota Democratic officials to change the name of a marijuana-focused third party to one intended to appeal to far-right conservatives is at the center of political controversy, with some advocates calling the alleged maneuver an example clear of corruption and others claiming it was an effort to restore democracy to the state.

The dispute largely centers on an audio recording that surfaced late last week that appears to depict a senior Democratic House executive and other party operatives apparently conspiring to influence the outcome of the November election by giving voters what would look like a Trump affiliate. party to support on the ballot as an alternative to the traditional Republican ticket. It would also have had the supposed advantage for Democrats of removing from the ballot one of two official cannabis-nominated parties that some say siphoned off votes from the Democratic-Farmer-Worker (DFL) Party in previous elections.

The reported attempt to overturn the election did not take place over the weekend, as allegedly planned, however. What had to happen was that delegates at a planned convention vote on a proposed name change, which insiders say would have changed the name of the “Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party” (GLC) to “MAGA Party.” .

This specific ‘MAGA Party’ renaming was not explicitly addressed in the recording, which reportedly involved House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler’s (DFL) chief of staff Paul Cumings, as well as Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL) and Sen campaign manager Erin Murphy (DFL).

“Who cares if it’s unfair,” said a person some activists believe to be Cumings during check-in ahead of the scheduled GLC convention, which was due to take place on Saturday. “We have to do this. We have to do it now or we’re going to lose seven percent. We are going to lose [Gov. Tim Walz (D)] if we don’t do this shit. And we gotta do it and we gotta do it now, and being nice is good, but shit. Let’s do it.

For context, Winkler led the charge in ramming legalization into law in Minnesota, pushing a bill through a dozen committees before it was passed by the full House last year, only for reform efforts to be stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Reached by phone on Monday, the executive’s chief of staff was repeatedly pressed by Marijuana Moment to comment on the veracity of the audio recording and said three times he had “no comment” when asked. asked to confirm if he was involved.

Minnesota election law allows parties to achieve major party status if, in a given election, one of their candidates for office receives at least five percent of the vote. GLC and a separate Legal Marijuana Now party made the difference when a candidate for state auditor for the latter party and a candidate for attorney general for the former party narrowly met that threshold in 2018.

Allegations quickly surfaced that some Republicans were seeking to take advantage of these new voting slots in a way that could attract voters who would otherwise have opted for Democratic candidates in key races, having potentially compromised Democrats’ ability to vote. win a majority in the state senate.

The person on the recorded pre-conference call also suggested that the voting process for getting a name change would be a simple matter, with whoever is elected event chair can simply “accept it without debate.” As reported by Alpha News, the unidentified person made similar remarks throughout the call.

“It’s in the chair. He can say ‘in the opinion of the president, the yeas have it’…then adjourn the convention and end in five minutes,” the person said. “Set the agenda, request the name change and adjourn.” Another person on the call questioned the approach, calling it “not very democratic”.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The planned convention was canceled by organizers on Saturday morning, although some cannabis activists went to the local library where it was to be held to make speeches about what they saw as unwelcome political interference.

Either way, the abrupt cancellation of the GLC convention raised an obvious question: did the leaked audio undermine the alleged plot?

Tuesday is the deadline to submit a party name change to the Secretary of State and would be the last opportunity to make the change for this election cycle.

Kurtis Hanna, a co-founder and contract lobbyist with Minnesota NORML who describes himself on Twitter as a “freedom Republican,” told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Friday that the audio about the alleged election conspiracy is a clear example of “extremely dirty”. politics,” but he also said he felt Democrats were “overcorrecting” because he thinks “cannabis parties will legitimately pull out of Republican candidates this year.”

Another activist, Marcus Harcus, who was apparently gearing up to act as GLC convention chair at the now-cancelled event, according to leaked audio, painted a different picture of why the effort was canceled, writing in a Facebook post that there were “Republicans threatening to show up as a mob to disrupt the event we had planned to hold. to try to help save the democracy and legalization movement’, so they decided not to go ahead.

“We’ve also seen evidence that the GOP (Republicans) are sending a ‘van full of people,’ which means they plan to show up to sow confusion and chaos,” Harcus appeared to write separately in an e-mail. email to core members of the GLC on Saturday. , according to a screenshot posted to Twitter by Hanna. “Although a majority of current board members voted for this convention, we cannot ensure the safety of delegates and observers. We apologize for the inconvenience caused by this late cancellation and hope to find a peaceful solution soon to support the Grassroots Party’s mission.

Marty Super, an executive member of the GLC who unsuccessfully ran for a State House seat as the 2020 Legal Marijuana Now Party nominee, told Marijuana Moment in a Monday phone interview that if he believed that representatives of the DFL had participated in the leaked call. , he said it was mainly “three people unaffiliated” with the party who carried out the plot.

He pointed out, however, that the strategy of fielding candidates on third-party slates with political ulterior motives is not unprecedented in Minnesota.

Republicans have “run candidates on behalf of our party because they think they will get DFL votes by having a nominee, a pro-marijuana nominee,” he said. “They did that. They’ve put quite a few candidates on either of the two marijuana parties in Minnesota here.

“We don’t know whether or not it took the votes away from the DFL, but they got a lot of votes,” he said. “And in a few races, it made a difference in the swing districts.”

“The idea of ​​the Democratic operatives and other activists was to change the name of the party to look like a Republican party and hope that would then take votes away from Republicans — sort of, you know, tac on point,” Super said. However, as the convention event was cancelled, he said that point “we would actually like it gone now.”

Meanwhile, Republican officials seized on the leaked audio, expressing surprise that some of their fellow Democrats were able to accept a name change that was apparently in bad faith.

The Republican Party of Minnesota blasted the alleged Democratic conspiracy in a Tweet, for example, linking to audio from the pre-convention discussion.

Democrats “can’t fix the economy, the crime wave or the other massive problems they’ve created, so they’re trying to fix a convention to disenfranchise voters,” the party said in the Twitter post. Friday. “Minnesotans know best and won’t fall for the Democrats’ smokescreen schemes.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, a former state senator, questioned why Democratic staffers were allegedly involved in “an attempt to hijack a convention and change the name of a political party they don’t not part”.

“Um wut?” Minnesota House GOP Legislative Director Gavin Hanson said simply in response to the news.

But it’s not just Republicans pushing back against the so-called Democratic plot.

Richard Painter, a former White House ethics attorney who is running as the DFL’s congressional candidate in the state, said the recording and alleged conspiracy is a “blatant effort to mislead voters.”

These “crooks should be kicked out of any party that wants voter confidence,” Painter said in a tweet.

Hanna, for her part, said he was unsure whether the alleged conspiracy to siphon off votes through the convention process constituted criminal activity. But he said he spoke with at least one state official who thinks that might be the case.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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