PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: week of August 23, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006 5:53 AM
It appeared that the campaign for the First District congressional seat would never get more interesting than last month when U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht made a sudden turnabout on his view of Iraq, describing the situation in Iraq as much worse than he had been led to believe and calling for a partial withdrawal of American troops.
The incumbent seems to have such an advantage in campaigns for the House; prior races that Gutknecht has been involved in were rather dull as the expected happened - Gutknecht, the incumbent, won by a significant margin.
Last week, two new developments added even more intrigue to this election. A lawsuit was filed to try to remove the six-term Republican congressman's name from the ballot. Then it was discovered that his staff was trying to remove online autobiography references to a pledge he made not to run for a seventh term.
Last week, Louis Reiter of Elgin, Minn., sought to have Gutknecht's name expelled from the ballot, because most of the signatures he presented in place of a $300 election filing fee were gathered before the July 4 to 18 filing period. The matter was scheduled to be argued before the state Supreme Court this week.
Gutknecht called the effort to remove him "a political dirty trick." He said the Legislature wanted to avoid cluttering the ballot with a multitude of names, so it set the bar higher for minor party candidates than for major party endorsed candidates. If you're not an endorsed major party candidate, you have to gather the signatures within a ten-day window.
The lawsuit does seem to be a ploy to make it more difficult for Gutknecht in the fall election, removing his name from the ballot on a technicality. It is clear that Gutknecht is the choice of Republicans for the ballot and a court win may just backfire, energizing Republicans in what has always been a low key race.
However, Gutknecht's argument also brings up a troubling explanation. Why should major party candidates get special treatment? Is the state really more interested in cluttering the ballot than it is in making sure every candidate is allowed access to the election?
The other interesting development hit the news when his office was reported to have tried to alter his "Wikipedia" biographic entry in a more favorable light. Specifically, staff tried to remove from the do-it-yourself online encyclopedia a reminder of a 12-year term-limit he imposed on himself in 1995.
Gutknect said he wasn't aware of his staff's attempt to change his biography until he was informed of it after the changes came to light in media reports.
However, the incident does focus attention on that pledge and what he has to say about it today.
Although his turnabout on Iraq appeared to be a heart-felt change that had nothing to do with politics, a turnabout on term limits conjures up blatant political motives. Now that voters are reminded of the pledge, it is time for Gutknecht to offer an explanation.