Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published August 9, 2002

The Strange Case of Darrell McKigney 

Darrell McKigney emailed my wife at work last week. How, she asked me, did her least favorite Minnesota political commentator get hold of her business email address to warn her that Minnesota had the third worst business climate among the fifty states? How indeed? And, incidentally, is he right?

McKigney belongs to the netherworld of political soft money. Unable to win public office himself McKigney retreated to this political back alley where, ironically, he has been able to exert far more influence than he would have had he been elected. This is as much of McKigney's story as I could piece together in a couple of days of searching the Net with Google.

As a student at Carleton College (class of 87) McKigney won some recognition as an essayist writing a predictable conservative warning to: beware the bleeding heart. While there he made an unsuccessful run for the state legislature. 

For the next decade he served on the staff of a succession of Minnesota Congressman - all Republicans - Rod Grams, Jim Ramstad and Vin Weber. He then became the legislative director for the newly organized Minnesota Family Council an entity devoted to returning America to the good-old-days of Leave it to Beaver. Best known for its homophobia, McKigney steered the MFC to regard taxes as an anti-family burden. Having established this principle he stepped down from the MFC in 1996 to challenge DFL Congressman, Colin Peterson. He got only half as many votes as Peterson despite the fact that the 7th District leaned Republican.

After his defeat McKigney created two new public policy organizations with the help of Brian Sullivan one of Minnesota's newest millionaires who sold his Recovery Inc to the PUR water filter company for a cool 23 million.

Although Minnesota already had a 75 year old Taxpayers Association McKigney founded a competing Minnesota Taxpayer League. At the next election the MTL passed out 650,000 "voter scorecards" which rated legislative candidates as either pro or anti-tax. He then formed the Minnesota Education League with the same modus operandi. All this activity brought him to the attention of KTCA's Almanac where he became a frequent guest and political analyst.

Watching him on Almanac explained his difficulties as a candidate. He was a dead ringer


Separated at birth? McKigney and Raiders Nazi agent Toht (played by the late great Ronald Lacey). Jesse Ventura, on the other hand, thought McKigney looked more like  Lumpy Rutherford from Leave it to Beaver.

for the sinister, nazi spy "Toht" in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Toht was the fellow who got the imprint of an ancient medallion burned onto his palm.

Last year, stung by MTL criticism, Jesse Ventura, who couldn't recall McKigney's name, described him to reporters as the guy who looked like "Lumpy." Lumpy Rutherford was the dim friend of Theodore Cleaver's older Bother, Wally, on the aforementioned sitcom. (The governor would be a lousy casting director)

The MTL started out with score cards which are the bane of legislators everywhere. Sent out promiscuously before elections listing roll call votes of dubious validity their intent is to poison or acclaim candidates. But the MTL did the scorecard one better. In 2000 it sent every legislative candidate a pledge to vote against any and all tax increases. I refused to sign it but scores of Democrats and Republicans did sign it for fear of being called spendthrifts and branded like poor old Toht.

The Pledge ended up preventing any sensible compromise on transportation funding at the close of the last session. Republicans especially were reluctant to disavow the pledge for fear of having the MTL call them liars. Ironically, the MTL which had been formed by a Republican to help Republicans ended up putting most of them between a rock and a hard place. Republicans could be heard muttering, "who needs enemies with friends like the MTL?" I couldn't help thinking about the fate of suburban Republican legislators earlier this summer as I sat in an interminable traffic jam on I-35 during a rush hour free Saturday afternoon.

McKigney was hot. His lethal use of soft money and political front organizations got him listed as one of the 100 most influential Minnesotans. This put Darrell well ahead of most of the 201 legislators he had once unsuccessfully attempted to join.

I tried to console my wife over her lost email privacy by pointing out that McKigney had apparently left Minnesota. He had moved to Washington D C to become President of the Small Business Survival Committee. Why it was needed since there had been a long standing NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) I have no idea. You can now find Darrell's picture on the web pages of dozens of Congressman. In them he is pictured handing out contrived plaques to various congressmen which hail them as champions of small business. With all the soft money available to him at the Nation's Capitol, Darrel could end up becoming one of the 100 most influential Americans!

Oh, and what of Minnesota's pathetic SBSC ranking? Actually the ranking is an interesting piece of research. Unfortunately, it simplistically assumes that the higher the taxation the less friendly the business environment. By this reckoning the Soviet Union, which hasn't been able to tax much of anything since the fall of communism, would beat the stuffings out of South Dakota, the SBSC's top ranked state. You would never suspect, based on its 48th place ranking, that Minnesota had enjoyed the strongest economy of any state in the upper Midwest for the past decade.

Kudos to Joanne Fay. The Court upheld Joanne's challenge to her fellow County Board members who were more interested in making sure they had safe commissioner seats than in giving their constituents fair representation. 
UhOh's to Brian Sullivan. Sullivan was the Republican whose supporters argued that his millions made him the only serious candidate for Governor. This week PUR Water filters announced that they were closing their Minnesota plant which will cost the state 270 jobs. It's a good thing Brian isn't the GOP candidate because PUR's departure would have reminded voters how much better he made out after selling Recovery Inc. than his employees.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com.

If you want to see the kind of damage a man like McKigney can do when he piped a generation of political lemmings off the cliff read this story.