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Come Saturday Morning: Minnesota GOP Bad for and/or at Business

Eeeek! Big and Scary Failed Businessmen!

One of the big themes of the candidates and activists of the Republican Party of Minnesota, as it is for Republicans nationwide, is that they are gifted with boatloads of business sense and know how to run things. However, reality has a way of intruding on even the most expensively-repeated propaganda. Two cases in point: Tom Emmer and Tony Sutton.

Let’s start with Tom Emmer, the Republican candidate for Minnesota’s governorship, and Abe Sauer’s excellent takedown in The Awl:

His official bio states that Tom learned “the value of hard work and the every-day pressures” from his father’s lumber company. That company is a 100-year-old business founded by great-grandpa Emmer, “Emmer Brothers Lumber.” What the bio conveniently glosses over about Emmer Brothers Lumber (actually Emmer Brothers Company), is that it filed for bankruptcy protection in the mid-1980s. In the few press reports that even bother to mention that the business failed, Emmer is conveniently allowed to say the company had “gone upside down” and that his dad was “struggling.” “Bankruptcy protection” is a term that generally gives fiscal conservatives voting booth rictus.

Now, take note, Poli Sci 101 kids, here’s how a right-wing candidate who hangs his coat on his business experiences spins it when that business is a failed one: Take the fact that Emmer Bros. Co. was bought, post bankruptcy, by Forest City Trading Group and renamed Viking Forest Products, which kept his brother Jack on as an employee, and sum it up as so: “Today it’s known as Viking Forest Products, with Tom’s brother Jack continuing in the business.”

Presto, a failed business with a (maybe charitably employed) brother is now a continuing successful family business from which our candidate has learned “first hand the value of hard work and the every-day pressures faced by employers and the families who count on them.”

Also, Marquette National Bank sued Emmer Bros. Co. for fraudulently concealing assets during the course of the bankruptcy proceedings. But whatever.

But wait! There’s more!

One could say this kind of slavish dedication to the “free market” is a family tradition. The Emmer family empire once also consisted of Emmer Brothers Dairy in neighboring Wisconsin. “You can whip our cream, but you can’t beat our milk,” went the motto. One might say these Emmers loved the free market too much, finding themselves indicted in a 1950 anti-trust suit which charged the dairy “illegally combined and conspired with intent to restrain competition in the retail and wholesale price of fluid milk in Milwaukee county, and by such combination and conspiracy actually did restrain competition and fixed and controlled the price of such milk.”

For the tea party set accustomed to things written on small signs, that means “price fixing.” Raymond Emmer was specifically named in the charge. Busted, Emmer Bros. cashed in and sold for a small fortune to Golden Guernsey Dairy, which, surprise, was named in the indictment as an Emmer co-conspirator. In a now familiar story that would come to replay itself years later, one of the Emmer founder’s sons was retained at Golden Guernsey for years afterward.

So much for Mr. Emmer. Now we turn to Mr. Sutton:

A little over a year ago, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal announced that Baja Sol, whose CEO is Republican Party of Minnesota Chair Tony Sutton, was poised to expand, hugely and rapidly:

Baja Sol Restaurant Group is preparing to launch its fourth restaurant concept, the latest step in its rapid growth since its acquisition by a high-profile ownership group three years ago.

Inver Grove Heights-based Baja Sol will open its first Baja Joe’s Burgers, Tacos & Beer restaurant Sept. 7 in Columbus, Ohio, and is scouting for locations in the Twin Cities area. . . .

The Baja Joe’s rollout is part of Baja Sol’s plan to expand to about 30 restaurants by the end of 2009, double the number it had in January. In addition to the two Baja Joe’s concepts, the company also operates Baja Sol Tortilla Grill quick-service restaurants and Baja Sol Cantina full-service restaurants. . . .

. . .Baja Sol is targeting expansion within a nine-state area in the Midwest, but franchises are available in all 50 states. The company recently signed a franchisee in Chicago and is engaged in talks with prospective franchisees in California, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, New Jersey and Tennessee.

Here’s what actually happened:

• Only one Baja Sol restaurant opened in Chicago. A November 23, 2009 article in the Southtown Star chronicles the store’s demise on Oct. 24, 2009. That article also reported that Bridget Sutton, Baja Sol president and Tony’s wife, claimed that her company was hoping to re-open the restaurant and that “Five more Baja Sols are slated to open in and around Chicago in 2010.” Well, it’s now September of 2010 and the list of Baja Sol locations shows no restaurants that aren’t in Minnesota.

Four Baja Sol Group restaurants were opened in Columbus, OH. At least three — the ones on Dublin-Granville Road, Noe-Bixby Road, and North Hamilton Road in Gahanna — are known to be closed. (The Noe-Bixby Road location had only been open four months, since September 7, 2009.) Calls placed to the fourth location, 1803 Olentangy River Road, using the phone number provided by Dex and that in an online listing, could not be completed.

Things aren’t going too well in Baja Sol’s home base of Minnesota, either: The Baja Sol restaurant on the first floor of the US Bank Building — the very location at which a protest led by Aztec dancers was held on June 19 of this year — was closed in late June, and the planned location at the old Don Pablo’s site in Minnetonka never got off the ground.

Sutton’s rise to Chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota in June 2009 was predicated on the notion that he is a sharp businessman. Typical of this conventional wisdom is the 2009 statement by former state auditor Patricia Anderson in support of Sutton’s bid for chair:

Combined with his impressive history of political management, Tony is the CEO of Baja Sol Restaurant Group, a fast-growing chain of restaurants. Under Tony’s leadership and in spite of the tough economy, Baja Sol continues to grow and now employs hundreds of people in multiple states. Tony knows the struggles facing small businesses and what its like to create good jobs during these challenging economic times. In short, Tony will bring business management experience that he, more than anyone, knows is sorely needed at the State Party.

Okay, so how is Sutton doing as a businessman? A Nexis-Lexis search produces several Experian reports about Baja Sol. Here’s a small sample of one from February:

AS OF DBT $ CUR 30 60 90 91+
01/10 55 500 — 40% 24% — 36%
12/09 55 500 — 40% 24% — 36%
11/09 55 500 — 40% 24% — 36%
10/09 102 800 — — — 10% 90%
09/09 102 800 — — — 10% 90%
08/09 92 700 — — 10% 24% 66%

BALANCE 1- 31- 61-
DBT $ CUR 30 60 90 91+
4TH-Q-09 56 500 1% 40% 24% — 37%
3RD-Q-09 99 800 — — 3% 14% 83%
2ND-Q-09 63 600 1% 22% 27% 18% 32%
1ST-Q-09 76 200 — 32% — — 68%
4TH-Q-08 105 100 — — — — 100%

The whole report is rather brutal reading. Suffice to say that, much like Tom Emmer, it looks like Tony Sutton couldn’t run a lemonade stand, much less a sizeable business — or a mid-line state.

(Sutton and Emmer pictures derived from two distinct and equally wonderful graphic stylings courtesy of Tild of Tildology.)

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