On a night in mid-October, Republican House candidate Shane Mekeland sat on a stool at Jack and Jim’s Bar, a little place near Foley, Minnesota.
The man sitting near him was 53-year-old Foley resident Richard Donald Schmit. Mekeland had just finished his beer, and was starting on another. Schmit had had “six or seven” bottles of beer, by his own count. The two of them were talking politics.
On any other night, during any other election year, this might have played out like a Norman Rockwell painting called something like “Winning Hearts and Minds.”
But that night, according to a criminal complaint filed not long afterward, Schmit turned to Mekeland and said “You fuckers don’t give a shit about the middle class.” Then he punched Mekeland in the face.
The complaint says Schmit’s hook hit Mekeland so hard that he actually fell backwards off his barstool, like something out of an old cowboy movie. Mekeland, a general contractor running on frustration with government regulations and the Affordable Care Act, told the Benton County Sheriff’s Office he thinks he blacked out when his head hit the floor. He didn’t respond to interview requests.
Law enforcement is still trying to piece together what happened. A witness, who said she hadn’t been drinking when this all went down, said she heard Mekeland make some kind of comment about “eliminating the middle class.” She thinks maybe there must have been “some kind of confusion” about what Mekeland meant, because Schmit stood up, said “I am the middle class,” and clocked him.
The sheriff’s department asked the bar owner for surveillance video of the whole thing, but he said “he was busy and had a business to run” and so didn’t think to preserve any footage of one grown man knocking out another during a political discussion.
According to his own testimony, Schmit feels pretty bad about the whole thing. He’d worked in labor unions all his life, he told law enforcement. Something had just “snapped” in him when Mekeland started going off about the middle class. He’s due in court on Nov. 15.
Election seasons, especially lately, have a way of packing four years of anguish into a matter of months. It’s only possible to pretend for so long that it isn’t deeply, fundamentally personal.
Still, Schmit’s fist didn’t change the outcome of the midterms. Mekeland won last night with 59 percent of the vote.