Despite the support of the GOP, golfers and God, a judicial candidate flops

Last year, when the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Minnesota's strict restrictions on judicial campaigning--thereby opening the floodgates for political parties to jump into the fray--there was a flood of dire predictions about the consequences for our judiciary. And why not? In states with similarly relaxed rules regarding fundraising and partisan endorsements, judicial campaigns have become ugly, money-grubbing, TV driven affairs; in other words, they are essentially indistinguishable from garden variety slime fests that define the modern American political contest.

So it comes as something of a surprise that Minnesota's first foray into this new world has proved so milquetoast. Case in point: the three-way race for a judge's seat in the ninth judicial district, which covers 17 counties in northwest Minnesota. Just one of the three candidates, a magistrate named Tim Tingelstad (whose Jesus-centric campaign motto was "Justice is served when judges fear God and love the people") received a party endorsement. That came courtesy of the ninth district Republicans.

And what did it net him? A third place finish, in which he was soundly trounced by both the incumbent Terrance Holter (the top vote getter) and Holter's former clerk, John Melbye. Tingelstad's flop was hardly the result of a lack of effort. He was the only candidate to appear at the Republican forum, the only one to appear at an ACLU forum, and one of just two to address the Chamber of Commerce.

Reached by telephone, Tingelstad was something at a loss to explain his defeat. However, he does venture one likely theory: money, or more properly, the lack of it. In the sprawling district--which takes 5 hours to traverse by car--the business of buying airtime, printing signs, door knocking and mailing leaflets is both time consuming and expensive. Tingelstad figures he spent in the neighborhood of $4,000; challenger John Melbye, by contrast, shelled out close to $25,000 and quit his day job.

Still, Tingelstad has no regrets about the campaign, or his decision to be so forthright about his religious views. "If we don't start acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our courts and schools and public institutions, we have strayed off the foundation upon which the founding fathers built our government," he offers. "I like to talk about the whole concept of absolute truth."

Whether ninth district voters disagreed with that--or were simply unaware of Tingelstad's views--the strategy did not serve him well. And after losing his second consecutive bid for a seat on the bench (he was trounced two years ago by Supreme Court Justice and former Minnesota Viking Alan Page), Tingelstad is unsure whether he'll take another stab.

One passion he will continue to pursue: Golf. In the ranks of the Minnesota judiciary, Tingelstad is almost certainly the only candidate to hold a patent on a golf club, an adjustable putter he dubbed "the Way." That name, you won't be shocked to learn, is Biblical in origin. "I used the passage from John where Jesus says 'I am the way, the truth and the light and no one can come to the father except through me,'" Tingelstad explains "It's a witnessing tool, but also a fun way to meet people."

Bottom line: Should he venture another campaign, maybe Tingelstad would be better advised to spend more time on the links and less with the party faithful.

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