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Sutton quits as MNGOP Chair

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton abruptly resigned his position today setting off speculation as to who will lead the party headed into the 2012 elections. Sutton's resignation letter (see below) said he was quitting because of the impact the job has had on him and his family.

"I have worked for the Republican cause my entire adult life," Sutton wrote. "I have made tremendous personal and professional sacrifices to the detriment of my family. I cannot continue to do this."

Sutton announced his resignation in an e-mail to activists and posted his resignation on Twitter. A spokesman said Sutton declined to comment beyond his resignation letter. Sutton was first elected party chair in 2009 and helped Republicans take control of both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature. It's the first time Republicans have controlled the Minnesota House and Senate in thirty years.

But Sutton also had his critics. His resignation came on the eve of the party's State Central Committee meeting. Sutton was expected to receive serious questions about his role leading the party. Sutton's comments during the 2010 elections angered many moderates who were backing Independence Party candidate Tom Horner's bid for governor. Sutton characterized those supporters as "Quislings" who were betraying the party. The word, in reference to 1940s Norwegian leader Vidkun Quisling, denotes a Nazi sympathizer.

Other critics were openly questioning why Sutton was taking a $90,000 a year salary when the party was more than $500,000 in debt. They also said Sutton was ineffective as a party leader because Republicans don't control any statewide offices for the first time since the late 1970s. Republican activist Sue Jeffers has been one of Sutton's biggest critics. She described Sutton's resignation as "a wonderful opportunity for the party."

"It's unfortunate that he didn't have the courage to face the delegates," Jeffers said. "Who does that? What kind of leader posts on Facebook - Oh by the way? I'm going to resign at 5 o'clock?'

Jeffers said there are several people who are ready to "step up" and lead the party. She also suggested that she may run for party chair.

Sutton's departure came on the same day that the party's executive director Ryan Griffin was laid off because of budget problems. The party also doesn't have a deputy chair because the position was vacated when Michael Brodkorb announced he was leaving his party position to help state Sen. Mike Parry's campaign for Congress. David Sturrock, the party's secretary treasurer, is the only party officer until a new deputy chair is elected.

"According to the constitution, no one is in charge right now because we don't have a deputy chair." RNC Committeewoman Pat Anderson told MPR News.

Anderson said that will change when party delegates elect a new Deputy Chair on Saturday. That person will oversee party activities until a new chair is elected. Party bylaws say a new election has to occur within thirty days of being called. Anderson, who declined to comment on Sutton's resignation, said she believed the infrastructure is in place to help turn the party around quickly.

Party leaders are facing some serious decisions. Sutton proposed a budget that cut several staff members. Others, like spokesman, Craig Westover are not taking a salary during the month of December. Westover, who says he's scheduled to start receiving a paycheck again on Jan. 1, said the party will continue to operate effectively until a new chair is elected.

"When you talk about leadership, there is more to a party than one person," Westover said. "The party structure is in place. Key staff people are still in place."

The next chair will have plenty of work to do. He or she will have to hire staff and raise money to run the party's operations and help organize for the 2012 elections. Republicans are hopeful that the GOP nominee for president can win the state for the first time since 1972. They are also heading into the 2012 election without a top flight U.S. Senate candidate to challenge DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

There is also serious disagreement among party activists over the direction of the party. For example, party delegates voted last year to ban Republicans who publicly backed Independence Party candidate Tom Horner's campaign for governor from party activities. There have also been major disagreements over the direction of the party between Tea Party activists and the more moderate, business Republicans.

Brodkorb, who called Sutton's resignation a loss for the party, said he won't run for party chair. He said, however, that he will be working to make sure that the next party chair is focused on solving the problems within the party. He added that Sutton's biggest critics should help fix the party.

"Those critics of some of the decisions that have been made now have an opportunity to solve it," Brodkorb said. "I hope they come to the table with solutions because they have a clear path now to provide some of the solutions."

Brodkorb also noted that Sutton had as many supporters than critics. Several of them praised Sutton's leadership on Twitter. They'll begin the work tomorrow on finding his successor.

Here's Sutton's letter: