As chairman and deputy chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, Keith Downey and Chris Fields worked closely together.
They stood on stage at rallies, and staged joint press conferences. Downey was business-like, reserved, coy. Fields was animated, press-friendly. Unpredictable. Sometimes, what Fields said made Downey wince with pain.
If Downey felt like telling Fields to get off the stage, and away from the mic, he held his tongue. Not anymore.
A letter from Downey to Republican Party of Minnesota officials which leaked to the press shows a deep rift had developed between Downey, who's stepping down from his leadership post, and Fields, who wants to succeed him.
Downey runs down 17 complaints against his former right-hand man, from the mundane -- Fields wanted "statistical research methods" in his job description, then didn't do anything -- to the insane: In one email exchange, Fields had to explain to his recipient that he was "not threatening acts of violence."
That particular thread hasn't been made public, and Fields tells the Pioneer Press that "not much" of Downey's "subjective critique is factual." Here's one bit that definitely is: In 2014, Fields went on an unprompted Twitter jag about Robin Williams on the day the beloved comedian and actor committed suicide.
Let's relive how bad that was. Ellen Anderson, a DFL Party official, tweeted that she'd named her cat "Nanu Nanu" after Williams' catchphrase in Mork & Mindy, and said the world was was "lucky Robin Wililams was able to share his genius with so many."
To which Fields responded: "how very 80's. Want an economy like we had in 80's under Reagan... vote @Jeff4Gov tomorrow in the primary."
Fields' clumsy attempt to spin Williams death into votes for Jeff Johnson, the GOP's endorsed gubernatorial candidate, was quickly criticized by Twitter-ers on both sides. Once in the hole, Fields dug. Among the things he said to defend his original tweet:
"It's curious to me why ppl mourn the loss of celebrities but ignore the misery everyday ppl live with as policies crush hope and opportunity"
"The Dr who contracted Ebola while trying to help poor children suffered a tragedy. This ain't that."
"Perspective is needed not political correctness which incidentally has caused more harm than any tweet of mine."
"Interesting if I lived in a world or country where I didn't feel free to speak my mind I might get depressed and then what?"
Shockingly, Fields' savvy move did not rally people to his chosen cause: Jeff Johnson won his primary, but with only 30 percent of the vote. Turnout was depressingly low; Johnson went on to easy defeat against Gov. Mark Dayton, whose surrogates managed to avoid saying anything really fucking stupid about Robin Williams' suicide.
Fields complained to the PiPress his former boss' anti-endorsement goes against "longstanding tradition," but says he doesn't think the letter will hurt his bid to be party chair.
Technically, he's right. Downey's letter won't hurt Fields' reputation. That, Fields did to himself.
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