Minnesota Republican activists picked former state Sen. David Hann as the next leader of their party Saturday after a scandal that brought down former Chair Jennifer Carnahan and left conservatives reeling ahead of a critical election cycle.
Hann, the former Senate minority leader from Eden Prairie, defeated entrepreneur Jerry Dettinger by a margin of 8 percentage points, collecting 53% of the more than 330 votes cast at the GOP's state central committee meeting in Hopkins.
Hann said Donna Bergstrom of Duluth, the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson in 2018, will serve as deputy chair.
"Our party had some unexpected upheaval and people are looking for leaders," Hann said. "I have a broad and deep background in the political world that the party was looking for."
He will lead the effort to repair the party's image heading into the 2022 midterms, when the GOP has a chance to take back the governor's office and control of the Legislature.
The party continues to deal with the fallout from federal sex-trafficking charges against prolific GOP donor Anton "Tony" Lazzaro in August that opened the door to a stunning string of allegations of retaliation, harassment and toxicity against Carnahan, who was a close friend of Lazzaro. Carnahan denied the allegations but resigned after a weeklong torrent of accusations and pressure for her to step down.
The party has authorized independent investigations into the sexual harassment allegations that have emerged, and officials are auditing party finances and human resources protocols. None of it will be cheap, and the party is already low on cash as the scandal took a bite out of its limited budget.
"Hann has a tough road ahead and messes to clean up," former GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said. "An investigation needs to be conducted, financial troubles in the party and millions of dollars need to be raised. I don't know if he can do it, but we will find out."
Hann lost his Senate re-election bid in 2016, the year Republicans took back control of the chamber. He ran for party chair in 2017 but lost to Carnahan, who was then a party newcomer.
Hann said he received several phone calls asking him to consider running for chair again after Carnahan resigned. He said he wants to dig into what went wrong and then focus on rebuilding the GOP's staff, resources and messaging.
"Some questions need to be answered, but you can't always look backward," GOP activist Sheri Auclair said. "David is as transparent as they come. And choosing Donna Bergstrom makes sure everybody in the state has a voice in the party."
The other two candidates receiving votes Saturday were party activist Phillip Parrish and Leilani Holmstadt, a Cottage Grove day-care owner.
Hann said the GOP has a great opportunity to win the governor's race, a House majority and state constitutional offices. He joked that his strategy is to "win more votes than the other guy."
"In the Twin Cities, you could make the argument that things like public safety, education and health care issues would be served better by Republican governance," Hann said. "Minneapolis has been run by leftist Democrats for 50 years."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465
Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042