Running from the family?

Tom Emmer

Minnesota’s Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer has touted his family values on the campaign trail and in television commercials. Democratic candidate Mark Dayton hasn’t been afraid to include his family in the campaign either.

But today on its blog, City Pages (the Twin Cities’ alternative weekly) printed breaking news that may hurt Emmer’s ability to run on his family. The Facebook photos include lewd photos of Tom’s son Tripp (now 20 years old) drinking, carousing and, in one instance, posing next to a passed-out girl with a penis drawn on her face.

As City Pages reports, GOP candidate Emmer, himself, has two DWI arrests (from 1981 and 1991) and has championed the rights of DWI offenders in the State house. The Facebook photos from son Tripp’s account that City Pages acquired were deleted before Representative Emmer announced his campaign for governor.

This breaking story raises the question — among many questions — of whether family ought to be fair game in a political campaign. We’ve compiled a timeline of when the candidates have used their family for political gain:

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Sept. 19, 2009, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the runner-up DFL candidate for governor, drove a tractor and talked about her family’s life on the farm near Mankato, Minn.

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August 1, Republican Party of Minnesota Calls on Mark Dayton to denounce his family’s funding of attack ads against Tom Emmer.

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August 10, Tom Emmer on Primary night, touts his wife Jacquie and their kids.

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August 11, DFL Unity Press Conference, following Mark Dayton’s victory over Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza in the Democratic primary, Dayton mentioned his two sons toward the end of his speech at the State Capitol.

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August 20, posted by the Emmer Campaign. “Tom, Jacquie, and the whole Emmer family sit down to talk about growing jobs and reforming government in Minnesota.”

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August 26, Independent candidate Tom Horner talks about his own family six minutes into the General Mills debate:

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August 30, at the press conference announcing the Minneapolis Police Federation’s endorsement of Dayton, Minnesota Democrats Exposed blogger Luke Hellier tried to drag Dayton’s divorce from 10 years ago into the campaign (minute eight in the video).

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September 2, City Pages publishes Facebook photos of Tom Emmer’s son Tripp drinking at age 19. Editor Kevin Hoffman defends his decision to publish the piece:

“Obviously, the family of a political candidate is off-limits. But we decided the candidate made it an issue by having his son star in a campaign commercial, [and] the campaign or someone else scrubbing photos from a Facebook page. [Candidate] Emmer’s two DWIs and reform for DWI laws in this state have been an issue in this campaign, and his son is now in the court system, a record freely available on the court’s public website. … If all those stars aligned, we might not have published it.”

According to today’s MinnPost, “the AP wire service’s reporters discovered the younger Emmer’s arrest last month but declined to run a story.”

AP Minnesota news editor Doug Glass explains:

“We ultimately decided it wasn’t a story for us for a few reasons. I don’t see the younger Emmer as a public figure at this point. The arrest was not a DWI arrest; if it had been, we would have been more likely to run it given his father’s history. And the narrative of the arrest, with a citation issued right on the spot, appears to remove any chance that someone exerted influence in the case.”

In the midst of this firestorm, Tom Emmer released the following statement today:

“My son made a serious mistake and has paid the consequences,” the statement said. “It was a mistake which many Minnesota families are all too familiar with. Like all the other challenges in life, our family is dealing with our son in this matter with humility, seriousness, and love.”

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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