Former House Rep. Bob Loonan has accused Scott County GOP leadership of rigging the endorsement process by intentionally causing confusion about the date of the endorsement convention.
Loonan is running against 2018 nominee Erik Mortensen, R-Shakopee, for the endorsement in House District 55A, which encompasses all of Shakopee except Precinct 13. But at Tuesday’s caucus, the delegates and alternates who would be deciding the district 55A endorsement were only told about the March 14 convention for Senate District 55 and House District 55B.
Delegates for House District 55A were informed of the separate 55A convention date — March 7 — on Friday when they received notice in the mail.
According to the SCGOP’s constitution, party leadership must issue notice of a convention at least 10 days prior to the date. In this case, notices were postmarked 10 days prior to the March 7 convention (which was also the day after the local caucus) and received by most delegates with eight days notice.
Loonan questioned why SCGOP leadership didn’t do more to inform caucus goers that there would be two conventions.
“All delegates were given a single written notice informing them that the date of the convention is March 14, leading everyone to believe that is when they show up,” Loonan wrote in a Facebook post on his campaign page. “No notice was sent to the 55A delegates via email and nothing was posted online by the Scott County Republican BPOU notifying the 55A delegates of the endorsement date.”
SCGOP’s Director for District 55A Tony LaLonde, who is also chairing the Rules Committee for the upcoming conventions, posted a response to Loonan’s accusations on Facebook around 1 a.m. Saturday morning, saying SCGOP started considering a separate endorsement convention for Loonan and Mortensen as early as December 2019.
According to LaLonde, the SCGOP Executive Committee unanimously passed a resolution in January allowing SCGOP Chair Joe Ditto to issue the necessary calls to convention “to account for different happenings to be prepared.”
One GOP caucus convener, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, questioned why the call for the March 7 convention wasn’t distributed until a week prior to the event if the SCGOP has known for months it might hold two conventions.
The convener said within the SCGOP some people are growing tired of the lack of transparency and “game playing.” The night of the caucus, the caucus convener heard that data entry had to be completed that night so the call for the March 7 convention could go in the mail the following day, which seemed strange to them considering the March 14 flyer was distributed at the well-attended caucus.
LaLonde’s Facebook post confirmed the caucus convener’s claim. According to LaLonde, “Once caucus concluded, Scott County GOP executive committee members along with volunteers stayed up until about 2 a.m. doing data entry, printing, envelope stuffing to accommodate the endorsing convention for state House 55A.”
“I didn’t know there was an additional endorsing convention for 55A on March 7 and the regular convention on March 14 until after the caucus,” the anonymous convener said. They echoed Loonan’s concern that the confusion was intended to deter Loonan’s supporters from attending on March 7.
“There’s people that became delegates that can’t show up now,” Loonan said in an interview with The Shakopean. “There’s people that didn’t show up to caucus because they didn’t think the 14th would work (to be a delegate). This is the swamp.”
The caucus convener said they just want the process to be fair and open.
“I don’t like the shenanigans,” the caucus convener said. “We’re a small town. I understand on the national scene that they do play games like this. I’m not cut out for that, and I just think this is ridiculous.”
Ditto maintains the process has been fair and there were venue considerations to take into account before finalizing a date.
“We were unsure if we had a venue for the March 7 convention until we had the delegate count (from the caucus),” Ditto said. “We had reserved the VFW, however if we had a full delegation of delegates and alternates we would have needed a different venue, so we would have had to delay the convention. We made the final decision around midnight (Wednesday morning) once we had the delegate totals.”
According to the list provided to Loonan by the SCGOP, with quadruple the caucus turnout this year over 2018, there are 120 delegates and 33 alternates. The VFW has a capacity of 200, according to an employee there.
According to the SCGOP Facebook post circulated by LaLonde, the GOP had also reserved two auditoriums at Shakopee High School for the March 14 convention “because they did not know how many delegates would come out of the caucus.”
Ditto said the March 7 date hasn’t been widely publicized aside from the mailer to delegates because he wasn’t aware of any confusion until Friday night.
“I spoke to Loonan around 7 p.m. [Friday], he mentioned there was some confusion, and I said I would send an email to the delegates,” Ditto said. “I also mentioned I was heading up to the cabin for the weekend, so I guess he thought it was a good time to send out that (Facebook) hit piece on me.”
Fielding accusations on Facebook Saturday morning that some Mortensen supporters were privy to the March 7 date prior to Tuesday’s caucus, Ditto responded that the date was discussed at SCGOP meetings “so it’s certainly possible that some of the volunteers were aware that we were targeting the 7th. If Bob ever came to the meetings he would have been aware (and had input into) the process.”
Regardless of the outcome of the March 7 55A endorsement convention, Loonan said he intends to face Mortensen in a primary this August to determine who will take on Democrat Rep. Brad Tabke in November’s general election.
This article has been updated to reflect that Shakopee Precinct 13 is not included in House District 55A.