Bob Loonan is everything you look for in a conservative Republican: pro life, pro gun rights, pro "simplified" tax code.
Those are all beats that the majority of voters Shakopee, and Scott County overall, can dance to. That’s why they elected him to his second term at the Minnesota House.
But these beats aren’t working for him now -- at least, not with the folks at home. He just got trounced in the Scott County GOP’s endorsement earlier this spring.
It’s hard to say what was Loonan’s biggest mistake, where he lost his conservative constituents. It might have been financial: House Republicans have been bonding for roads and bridges when they already had a surplus, Joe Ditto, the Chairman of the Scott County GOP, says. And last year’s budget was 9.6 percent bigger than the previous one.
“Republicans love building roads, but we don’t like borrowing money,” Ditto says.
It might have been voting against a piece of legislation that would have allowed towns to recall local officials. In a town like Shakopee, where former Superintendent Rod Thompson was famously taken down for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from Shakopee Public Schools, that’s kind of a sticking point. Ditto says a lot of the same suburban moms who led the charge against Thompson came after Loonan in the delegate vote.
But the candidate that got the endorsement instead of Loonan, Erik Mortensen, a fellow Shakopee resident, thinks maybe he wasn’t proactive enough.
“He didn’t champion anything,” Mortensen says. “Nothing personal against Bob… but he seems to be working for [Speaker of the House] Kurt Daudt.”
It’s easy to see party leaders at the Capitol and party leaders in a local district as just Republican all the way down, but there’s a difference, Ditto says, between “instate” and “outstate” politics. There’s an impression that local conservatives go to St. Paul and start compromising, start getting soft, start pushing less conservative legislation through.
Mortensen is not interested in compromise. Born and raised in Shakopee, the business owner and avid Republican activist says people are tired of “command and control” politics. They're done with legislators who make decisions “based on what’s safe and politically expedient,” like continuing to fund government programs or refusing to cut regulations. He wants to usher in a new age of individual liberties, because, he says, that’s what his constituents want.
Mortensen's big planks are smaller government, less spending, and more gun rights. Recently, posted about the states with so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws on his campaign Facebook page, announcing he’d “signed a pledge” to bring the same law to Minnesota.
Stand Your Ground was largely invented in the early 2000s by an NRA lobbyist, and passed into law in Florida in 2005. The premise is simple. If you believe someone is a threat -- if the idea even crosses your mind -- you are allowed to kill them. You are not required to try and save yourself in other ways first. You are not required to run away. You are not required to be certain you are in danger.
Then, in 2012, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. When the Tampa Bay Times looked into the laws, it discovered that since Stand Your Ground had taken effect, nearly 70 percent of the people who invoked it had been released, and that a person was more likely to be found innocent if the victim was black. Last fall, a medical journal determined that in Stand Your Ground’s first decade, the number of legally justifiable homicides in Florida had increased by 75 percent.
This kind of law, Mortensen says, is what the people of Shakopee want.
If you ask Mortensen, there isn’t actually a big distinction between himself and Loonan in terms of their ideas on a person’s right to shoot someone that scares them. They’re both very pro Stand Your Ground laws. The difference, Mortensen says, is that he’s actually willing to champion that legislation.
“The Second Amendment, probably more so than ever, is under attack,” he says.
Mortensen doesn’t see his political message as a “left vs. right” issue. He sees it as a “government class vs. everyone else” issue. The reason he’s running, he says, is because he’s going to stand up to GOP leadership and give the people what they want.
And yet, Shakopee has been playing out pretty much the same gun control battle that has seized the Capitol and the entire country since the Parkland, Florida massacre in February. Thousands of students walked out of Shakopee High School to protest gun violence earlier this year.
Mortensen sees this growing discontent with gun violence and finds it “unusual” that so many people would be “fighting to have their rights stripped away.”
Loonan is still in the race, running as Mortensen’s (now un-endorsed) opponent in the August primary. Loonan believes he has the support of his party in his district, if not the local leadership. If he wasn’t sure about that, he says, he wouldn’t be running.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed by [Loonan's] decision,” Ditto says. Locally, the party's hitching its cart to Mortensen, he says. The Republicans of Shakopee have spoken.