Tony Sutton leaves Baja Sol for P.R.

In the summer of 2009 we profiled Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton, and asked whether he could turn around a party on the state level that seemed to have lost its bearings on a national scale.

Election Day 2010 gave us the first GOP-controlled legislature in 40 years and almost gave us Tom Emmer as governor. So the answer would appear to be, "Yes."

Running a business at the same time was more problematic.

While Sutton was at the helm of the Republican resurgence, the Baja Sol restaurant chain he ran as CEO was adrift. It shrunk to 10 restaurants from 23 as its revenues took a beating in the recession. Immigrant rights protesters outside its doors can't have helped build a positive image, either.

So Sutton announced yesterday he was handing day-to-day operations of the company to Bridget Sutton, his wife and the firm's president, and he was moving on to a position with Minneapolis-based P.R. firm Public Affairs Co.

We suspect he'll feel right at home. The 11-year-old company's right-leaning projects have included drumming up support for the war in Iraq, fighting environmentalists over federal oil and gas leases in Wyoming, and creating healthcare panels designed to give big pharmaceutical companies access to state leaders grappling with Medicaid cuts.

In 2009 we photographed Sutton carrying a baseball bat, which turned out to be a useful metaphor for a combative style that included taking the Dayton-Emmer recount battle personally. The question now is whether he'll run again for the GOP chairmanship; he says an announcement on that decision is coming soon.

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