Republican delegates elected political consultant Pat Shortridge as the next party chair of the Minnesota Republican Party Saturday.
Party activists met in St. Cloud, electing Shortridge on one ballot with support from two-thirds of the roughly 350 GOP delegates over two other candidates.
He faces a tough task -- getting the party out of debt in a major election year. Minnesota Republicans are hoping to start 2012 with a clean slate after a tumultuous year that featured the downfall of the Senate majority leader, numerous party resignations and a debt of nearly $2 million.
Shortridge has been active in both state and national races. He worked for former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, ran Minnesota Congressman Mark Kennedy's failed U.S. Senate campaign in 2006 and consulted for Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.
Shortridge said he thinks he's best suited to run the party at this time.
"Sometimes you're the right man for the right job at the right time," he said. "I truly believe that the Republican party has to be the vehicle for the beliefs and values of millions of Minnesotans."
Shortridge said he won't be paid for his party position and will only serve out the year left on the chair's current term. He's replacing Tony Sutton, who abruptly resigned his position in early December after increased scrutiny over the party's finances. Shortridge didn't offer specifics on how he'll address the party's debt.
"It's pretty simple," he said. "Spend less and raise more."
Shortridge says his key priorities will be to protect the Republican majority in the Legislature and reelect Minnesota's four Republican members of Congress.
His election comes at a time when the Republican party has been left reeling from the party's finances and Senator Amy Koch's resignation as majority leader. Koch apologized for having an "inappropriate relationship" with a male staffer. The party chair, deputy chair and secretary-treasurer of the party, as well as the RNC Committeeman and RNC Committeewoman have all resigned over the past year, creating turnover in party leadership.
Party leaders spent most of the Saturday morning meeting detailing how the party got into debt. RNC Committeeman Jeff Johnson, who was elected last summer, said they are working to disclose all of the party's problems regardless of the circumstances.
"It's fair to say that in anybody's memory no political party has voluntarily shared with the public as much negative financial information as we did yesterday," Johnson said. "And there's a reason for that. It's bad politics. It's bad for our brand but we decided it was necessary."
But several Republican delegates demanded more information about the party's finances. Some called for a wider audit of the party's books. Bloomington resident Jim Taylor said he wanted to see all of the party's finances.
"Where are the receipts?" he said. "Where are the vouchers? I want to examine it now. I want to see it all. And can the other past chairs be held personally accountable for payback?"
Johnson and others didn't say if they will pursue legal action against past party officials. They also didn't commit to a financial audit since it could cost a lot of money.
There are other financial unknowns. Republican party officials say they will challenge $719,000 in legal bills from the 2010 gubernatorial recount. They also wouldn't say whether they expect to be fined for failing to report $415,000 in obligations.
Mike Vekich, who conducted the financial review for the party, expressed optimism when asked if that was the extent of the debt.
"There may be some unknowns, but I believe the bulk of what is known is known," he said.
The key question is how the new party chair and party leaders will dig the party out of debt in a year when the 2012 ballot will feature the race for president, U.S. Senate, every member of the U.S. House and every member of the Minnesota Legislature.