Historically uneventful Republican gathering sparked with intrigue, as conservative faction backs rambunctious State Senate challenge; House nomination goes to four ballots

By Louis Hoglund 

Suspicion, allegations of improprieties, and ideological differences are nagging the Republicans nationally, and recently, locally. 

But the questions aren’t being aimed at the usual target: The Democrats. Instead, Republicans are directing unrest against fellow Republicans, for nominations and elections, but also at party conventions and meetings. 

The local discontent appears to be coming mostly from a separate group, calling itself Otter Tail County Conservative Coalition. 

Members of the group have alleged “election tampering” at the Republican precinct caucuses and county convention—and have demanded an internal audit of the voting. 

The simmering issues were a backdrop at the April 23 State Senate District 9 endorsing convention in Fergus Falls. A full house of Republican delegates and alternates crammed into the Bigwood Event Center, ultimately endorsing Jordan Rasmusson for the State Senate election; and Tom Murphy for the 9B State House seat. 

The troubled waters appeared somewhat calmed at the Saturday assembly. But supporters of political newcomer Nathan Miller still have questions. 

Self-described “blue collar patriot,” Nathan Miller spoke at the Republican endorsing convention with western belt and buckle, western hat, and a holstered handgun. In a U.S.A colored shirt, he asked Republicans to endorse him for the State Senate District 9 seat April 23.

It wasn’t Miller’s time, at least not at the Republican convention 

Rasmusson, presently a State House Rep., won the State Senate nomination by a 64 to 35.5 percent margin.

But not before Miller left a memorable impression on the Republican delegates. 

Compared to Trump by his friend Jeremy Quernemoen in an introduction, Miller’s fiery speech—with his stars and stripes shirt and handgun visible on his belt—drove home his identity as a constitutional conservative and a Christian. 

He drew laughs with his concluding remark: “Senate District 9, it’s Miller Time! Let’s do it!”

Conservative Coalition outlines concerns with area Republican actions

“I’m not aware of irregularities with convention-day balloting issues,” acknowledged David Helgerson, spokesperson for the Conservative Coalition. “However, still unresolved is a controversy regarding inconsistencies between delegate lists as certified on caucus night, and the reported delegate lists supplied to election campaigns and presented at the BPOU Convention in March. These lists should be an exact match. They are not. Repeated requests of Otter Tail County Republican leadership to explain these discrepancies have gone unanswered.” 

Rasmusson was main focus of conservative faction

Rasmusson appeared to be a primary target of the conservative group. One activist even suggested “corruption” by Rasmusson’s election committee. 

At the convention, a motion was passed early on—seeking a delay until all 93 Otter Tail County precincts were audited, reported Helgerson. This was voted down. Later, a “No Endorsement” motion was made—but also voted down. 

{ 5-4-22 // Correction: https://pelicanrapidspress.com/bulletin-board/correction-on-actions-at-republican-convention/ }

“I believe an important takeaway here was the fervor with which the Rasmusson campaign supporters voiced their opposition,” said Helgerson. “In essence, they seemed to agree to move ahead while knowing there are still unresolved delegate list discrepancies.”

The differing factions raises the obvious question: Will Miller run a primary against Rasmusson? Filing deadlines are later in May, so the question may not be officially answered for several weeks.

Rasmusson stepped up from his House seat to run for the newly-drawn State Senate District 9—which spans from Perham to Wheaton in the southwest, and includes the greater Otter Tail-Pelican Rapids lakes area. 

As a seated legislator, Rasmusson’s nomination would have been almost routine and uneventful—in previous times. 

Instead, challenger Miller, Battle Lake, stepped in just a few weeks ago— positioning himself as far more conservative than Rasmusson. 

Miller appeared to gain some traction, based on social media posts. Some are resorting to President Trump-style name-calling, with references to Rasmusson as “Swampy Jordan” and another apparently calling him the “Roadrunner,” for reasons unclear. 

In a letter to the editor in the Pelican Press, longtime Otter Tail County Republican activist Merle Hexum challenged Rasmusson’s voting record and further suggested that Rasmusson is not a true conservative—and a “Republican in Name Only” (RINO). 

The social media activity by the conservatives, including a second site called Otter Tail County Grassroots, suggests that these upstarts want a candidate further right on the ideological spectrum.

Informal Conservative Coalition making waves in Otter Tail Republican party politics 

Described as a “Club” for Otter Tail County conservatives, the Otter Tail County Conservative Coalition is raising questions and scrutinizing party processes.

The OTCCC “is not a political party, and has no constitution to follow.”

It describes itself as “non-partisan,” but its activities and posts revolve almost entirely around Republican issues and talking points, from guns to budgetary conservatism.

Goals for Otter Tail County Conservative Coalition:

1. Share findings of Legislative Overwatch

2. Find solutions for Otter Tail County concerns

3. Solicit county conservatives to run for non-partisan positions such as county commissioners, township councils, city councils, and school boards

The group’s Facebook page has about 400 followers. 

“We as OTC Conservative Coalition are concerned about this process because many of us witnessed the corrupt acts that happened at caucus, county convention, and the last monthly Republican meeting and, as conservatives, we believe in fair elections for all,” said Marcia Heddleston, who said the coalition numbers about 85. “We also are patriots who feel those who represent us at every level should listen to the grassroots instead of telling us what to do.”

Another social media site, Otter Tail County Grassroots, with 81 followers, has posted exchanges alleging tampering at the precinct and county Republican meetings. 

Rasmusson speaks on record in the State House 

Jordan Rasmusson

Meanwhile, Rasmusson has been visiting the district and making conventional appearances, including an April 21 discussion at the Perham Area Rotary Club meeting. 

Among other topics, Rasmusson said he has been working hard to advocate for the Pelican to Maplewood Park to Perham recreational trail in the state’s bonding bill. Job training programs, mental health initiatives, and broadband for Minnesota have been among his priorities as a legislator. 

Responding to very specific issues in Otter Tail County, Rasmusson said he has been working with county officials to overcome the housing shortage; and daycare for working families. 

Minnesota’s financial state is good news—with some bad news, said Rasmusson. While Democrats and Republicans debate what to do with the large budget surplus—there is a deficit in the unemployment fund. This is due to the claims paid out relating to the COVID pandemic. 

“Hardest working man I know,” is how his wife Emma introduced Rasmusson at the convention. Rasmusson’s speech focused largely on his voting record and his work at the State House, but he also reaffirmed his “consistent conservatism.”