Michael Brodkorb on Saturday published an accounting of the Republican Party of Minnesota’s internal politics. It described the tension that State Executive Committee member Diane Johnson was experiencing because of her opposition to Jeff Johnson, the party’s endorsed candidate for governor.
Specifically, Ms. Johnson was “subjected to questioning by the committee” at its July meeting, and allegedly feared that one committee member was “going to hit her.” In the month prior, Ms. Johnson failed to attend the meeting at all, instead sending a proxy. Both Ms. Johnson and her proxy were asked by the committee to leave due to their opposition to the party’s candidate for governor. (Ms. Johnson additionally opposes Tom Emmer, the party’s candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s Sixth District.)
From Brodkorb’s accounting, Ms. Johnson additionally appeared to be upset that she was asked to stop texting while the executive committee was questioning her. Ms. Johnson stated that she “broke down” after she left the meeting.
I found the accounting to be questionable, particularly because the treatment Ms. Johnson received was incredibly tame by the standards of the district she represents on the committee. I personally experienced the same nature of events at the hands of Ms. Johnson and the congressional board on which she sits, but they were far less democratic.
In 2007, at the age of 18, I was elected chairman of the Pine County Republicans. The county was one of those contained inside of the congressional district that Ms. Johnson represents on the state executive committee. Across the state, it is common for county chairmen regularly attend meetings of their congressional committees. They serve as a manner of disseminating information, fostering camaraderie, and helping people to connect with like-minded individuals.
So I began attending meetings of my congressional district’s board – the board on which Ms. Johnson served and on which she continues to sit. Unfortunately, I found I was not a welcome presence.
The board, which was generally very supportive of John McCain, did not provide much camaraderie. Far from being social, they ignored me, and in 2008, sent a letter to the members of my county Republican board asking them to remove me. If they refused to remove me, they insinuated they would somehow “remove” every single member of our board.
Seven board members voted to throw the letter that Ms. Johnson's board sent us in the trash. Two voted to remove me. (One was a major donor to Democratic Congressman Jim Oberstar. His spouse was featured in Politico for her 2010 support of Oberstar.)
The problems didn’t end there, though. Though they had made a powerless threat, Ms. Johnson’s board passed a resolution in April 2009 prohibiting anyone from attending their meetings unless they were a “chair appointed guest.” It was far from being the democratic (and now public) process that Ms. Johnson received at the hands of the state executive committee.
Yet the conflict still did not end. When I ran for the Minnesota House in 2010, Ms. Johnson began spreading a rumor that she had felt “threatened” by me, and had thus taken a restraining order out against me. I learned about the allegation as I was talking to voters in my district.
If there was a restraining order, it was news to me. I was never informed. It makes more sense now, though, in light of Ms. Johnson’s claim that she felt “threatened” by a board member. It seems to be a pattern that when Ms. Johnson interacts with people for whom she does not care, she resorts to allegations of violence or potential violence.
Ms. Johnson’s frequent claims of “feeling threatened” are an extreme disservice to those who have been or are victims of real violence. It is a disgraceful and pathetic pattern.
Turning attention away from Ms. Johnson for a moment, as mentioned previously, I ran for the Minnesota House in 2010. During the course of that campaign, allegations were made to the effect that I was driving around and putting up lawn signs on a suspended license. The details of the matter were not quite accurate, but the specifics of the whole debacle are not important as it pertains to this situation. The takeaway is that it struck me as odd that anyone would make a claim to have been prowling around in what is information private to the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
In 2013, it made national news that Rep. Steve Drazkowski had uncovered a scandal in which some of those who had access to the state DPS database were using the information inappropriately – to stalk people, to smear them in political campaigns, and so forth. Those who have access include, for instance, car salesmen and members of the state’s police force. That included Ms. Johnson’s husband, now-Rep. Brian Johnson.
Following the news, I requested the records of who accessed my data. What I found was that one individual associated with the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department – Rep. Johnson’s employer – accessed it 19 times in the two months preceding the election. A second individual in the department accessed it twice.
Over the course of the campaign, I received two traffic tickets – in Kanabec County. Those two tickets resulted in five individuals in that county accessing my data a total of eight times.
Could it have been a coincidence? In other cases of political abuse of the database, entire families were victimized. So my parents requested their data as well to see what their files contained. As it turned out, both of their sets of data were accessed by the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department on the same day mine was accessed.
I contacted the department to ask whether they would be willing to tell me who accessed our data and for what purpose. The department refused. If it was used for political purposes, it constitutes a violation of the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). If it was used for any purpose that was inappropriate, it constitutes a federal crime.
Politics should not get so ugly, but they do. In Ms. Johnson’s district, they get particularly brutal, unethical, and unpleasant. Good people get destroyed or stay away altogether. Ms. Johnson has contributed to that atmosphere. By comparison, her treatment by the party’s state executive committee was utterly tame. If there were any way for politics to get any more civil, the process would have to begin in Ms. Johnson’s own neighborhood.