Minnesota GOP chair urges vote on her leadership

Published 8:59 am Tuesday, August 17, 2021

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By Brian Bakst and Matt Sepic

Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan challenged other GOP leaders to hold a vote on her continued leadership status after a series of events that have roiled the party and could hamper it moving forward.

In a lengthy and often blistering letter Monday to party activists, Carnahan said she wants a vote of confidence or no confidence to be held soon.

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“Some members of the State Executive Committee have called for my resignation, yet they have not brought up a motion to remove me from my position or taken that vote,” Carnahan wrote. “In order for us to move forward and be united as a party, I am calling on the State Executive Committee to take that vote of confidence or no confidence in my ability to continue serving as chair at the next State Executive Committee meeting.”

There is a meeting set for Thursday that could include other discussions of fallout from the sex-trafficking indictment of major GOP donor Anton Lazzaro and College Republican chapter Chair Gisela Castro Medina. Carnahan and Lazzaro have had a close friendship and professional connections.

Carnahan again denied knowing about the alleged behavior and accused opponents of working “to destroy my chairmanship and defame my personal reputation.”

Barb Mura-Sutter, one Executive Committee member who has urged Carnahan to resign, said the chair’s allies on the board have so far made a vote on her leadership impossible. They moved to adjourn a late-Sunday meeting before further discussion and a vote could be called, Mura-Sutter wrote on Twitter.

“Let’s please put things into context, shall we?” Mura-Sutter wrote.

Carnahan’s letter included a roster of Lazzaro donations totaling more than $270,000 to candidates, party units and political action committees over the past decade. Most recipients, including the state party, have said they will donate equivalent amounts to charity. The Minnesota GOP has set up a separate account to facilitate the money it will give away.

The Republican Party’s finance compliance and human resources director, Ronald Huettl Jr., issued a separate statement defending Carnahan and lamenting the possible damage from the leadership controversy.

“We have elections to win,” Huettl wrote. “The 2022 elections are ours to lose, and right now we are losing them.”

Calls for Carnahan’s removal have come from activists and elected Republicans since Thursday’s indictment of Lazzaro was unsealed. He faces multiple federal sex trafficking charges.

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka spoke of the situation for the first time Monday.

“There are allegations that have come to light regarding the leadership at the state party. I fully trust the executive board and state central delegates to find a path forward for our party. It’s very important that we look at all of the facts before we make any decisions,” Gazelka wrote on Twitter.

But some key Republicans haven’t weighed in on her status. They include Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and the four U.S. House Republicans — Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach, Pete Stauber and Jim Hagedorn, who is married to Carnahan and shown in some photos with Lazzaro.

Meanwhile, the criminal case inched ahead.

Medina, 19, made her initial appearance Monday afternoon before a federal magistrate judge in Pensacola, Fla., following her arrest last Thursday in Okaloosa County.

Prosecutors noted during the hearing that some of the alleged victims and their parents were listening to the proceedings by teleconference.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota says Medina will be transported to Minnesota, and both she and Lazzaro will remain in custody pending further hearings.

Lazzaro has been held in the Sherburne County Jail since his arrest last Thursday.

A detention hearing for Lazzaro originally scheduled for Monday has been reset for Aug. 24.

Medina’s name had initially been redacted from the copy of the indictment that prosecutors released last week. A judge unsealed the entire document following Monday’s hearing.

The indictment said there are six minors who were potentially sexually exploited that authorities know of. But the FBI suspects there could be other possible victims.

Warrants tied to the case remain sealed, but documents that have been publicly filed show that federal agents seized U.S. and foreign currency, a luxury vehicle, precious metals and many electronic devices from Lazzaro’s high-rise Minneapolis condo last December.