MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The former head of the Minnesota Republican Party who resigned last month under pressure partly due to a donor’s child sex-trafficking scandal told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she is considering running to get her old job back — or possibly for a public office.
In her first press interview since stepping down as party chair, Jennifer Carnahan maintained that she was forced out by the same people who opposed her reelection campaign six months ago.
Carnahan, the wife of US Congressman Jim Hagedorn, who represents southeast Minnesota as part of the 1st District, firmly disputes allegations of fostering a toxic work environment.
She also denies foreknowledge of any wrongdoing by major GOP donor Anton Lazzaro, whose indictment on child sex trafficking charges touched off the firestorm that led to her downfall. Hagedorn was a major beneficiary to Lazzaro’s campaign contributions. Lazzaro also attended their wedding and other events together, like a Minnesota Vikings game. Carnahan also used to do a podcast with Lazzaro.
Carnaha was the deciding vote in whether she would receive a severance of around $38,000. She voted in favor of the package.
Since resigning Aug. 19, Carhanan said she has been focused on spending time with her husband, decompressing and doing “a lot of soul-searching” about her opportunities. She said that could mean another run for party chair, or for governor or another public office, but she would not get specific.
The state party’s central committee is scheduled to elect a new chair Oct. 2. Candidates include former Senate Minority Leader David Hann and businessman Jerry Dettinger.
Former state Rep. Kelly Fenton, of Woodbury, who serves on the committee, is disappointed that Carnahan is contemplating a comeback. Fenton said the party needs a fresh start.
“A good quality of a leader sometimes is to step aside and do some serious self-reflection,” Fenton said “And at this time right now, I would say she lacks the political acumen to understand that at this current time there is no avenue for victory in either party chair or governor for her.”
Carnahan said she’s working to repair her image. She has hired a public relations firm and said she’s writing an opinion piece she hopes to finish soon. She took down her Twitter and party Facebook accounts, citing her “mental health and emotional well-being.”
She also said the “negativity and hate” directed at her came from “a very small group of Republicans in Minnesota, but that’s been drowned out by the significant level of support and love that I’ve received from people all over this country.” She said she has skills, talent and knowledge that she could use to advance Republican causes.
“What exactly that looks like, I haven’t made any final decisions yet, but I know that some areas that are of extreme importance to me are continuing to expand and increase the opportunities for diverse faces and voices and women to advance and grow within the Republican Party, both in Minnesota and on the national level,” she said.
Carnahan, who is Asian American, recounted how she was adopted by a Minnesota couple after being left as a newborn at a hospital in rural South Korea. She described having no political experience when she attended her first precinct caucus in 2016.
“Being a minority woman, a political outsider, and a newcomer in this current environment, has not been easy for me,” she said. “I’ve often felt that my intellect and motivation have been viewed by others as a threat. So, instead of other leaders in this political party and even former staffers stepping forward to help set me up for success in the role of chair, I was often criticized, belittled and second-guessed by those that were in this position to help and support.”
Carnahan also said Hagedorn, who was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer in February 2019, just two months after they got married, is doing well despite a recurrence this year. She said he’s “feeling great” and has been “out and about in his district,” and is still fighting for the conservative values he loves.
“Keeping him positive and surrounded by love and support is a critical component to successfully battling that cancer, and that’s what we’re trying to do every day,” she said.