Saturday, May 29, 2010

Satveer Chaudhary and the DFL Narrative

I wrote briefly yesterday about the contentious Thursday meeting at the Fridley Community Center in which Satveer Chaudhary, the embattled state senator who represents my district (SD50), fought for his political life before an assemblage of constituents and the angry local politicos he has betrayed. The Star Tribune's Mike Kaszuba wrote a long piece about the meeting, which is well worth reading.

I'd also like to call your attention to another account of the meeting, provided by Force50 at Boots On. While our friends at Boots On are not disinterested observers, the account rings true and goes a long way in explaining why Chaudhary is in so much trouble:

Satveer was not at his best. He alternately touted his achievements while attacking Republicans, the Republican endorsed candidate for Governor, and the sitting Governor. He even attacked his Republican opponent, Gina Bauman, revealing more about himself than Gina. The Democrats in attendance were not impressed. This was not the time. Satveer did not get it.

Political damage control is more an art than a science and Chaudhary failed to understand a number of important things. A few thoughts:
  • Political parties prefer to handle their dirty laundry privately whenever possible, which makes the public nature of Thursday's event surprising. If I were to guess, the local DFLers would have preferred to handle this business quietly but someone publicized it. It's not clear who would benefit from making the matter public; perhaps it was someone in Chaudhary's camp. If so, it was yet another miscalculation.
  • We've heard so many non-apology apologies in the political world that even the most detached observer can spot one a mile away. Chaudhary clearly isn't sorry about what he did. He's sorry he was caught and his approach at self-justification is the sort of thing that we've also seen a million times before. If Chaudhary had been sincerely contrite, he might have survived the meeting, but he clearly thinks he's bigger than that. Attacking Republicans might be something to do in a campaign event, but Thursday's gathering was something else entirely. Chaudhary wasn't on the hustings; he was in the dock and it takes a special sort of self-aborption not to figure that out.
  • One especially striking part of Chaudhary's travails is the level of attention his case has received in the statewide press. Besides the Kaszuba story, the Star Tribune also editorialized on the matter in Thursday's edition and was suprisingly dismissive of Chaudhary. He also was on the business end of a Steve Sack cartoon. If he gets a glove slap from Lori Sturdevant any time soon, you can safely assume that Chaudhary is dead to the DFL on the state level.
  • I suspect the Star Tribune's messaging is especially telling. The problem with Chaudhary right now isn't that he's in danger of losing his own seat; instead, the larger problem is that the sort of petty corruption involved in asking for a special legislative favor is exactly the sort of corruption that is easy for voters, even disengaged voters, to understand. This, more than any other reason, is why many DFLers think Chaudhary has to go. While the DFL would prefer to hold the seat, the electoral calculus is pretty simple -- better to lose SD50 than to have to spend the summer defending the indefensible and potentially lose more. Do you think that MAK, Entenza or Dayton want to spend time talking about Satveer Chaudhary, let alone defending him? It would be far better for DFL campaigns up and down the ticket to throw Chaudhary under the bus.
  • What will Chaudhary do? Frankly, I'd be surprised if he goes quietly. He's an ambitious fellow; it's been a bit of an open secret in SD50 that Chaudhary gave consideration to taking a run at Keith Ellison for the CD-5 seat in this cycle but eventually thought better of it. I recall some of his earlier campaign literature touting him as the first Indian-American state senator and I dimly remember him being featured in gauzy feature articles with State Sen. Mee Moua when they both arrived in the Senate a decade ago -- some rot about the exciting new faces of the DFL or somesuch. It's long been clear that Satveer Chaudhary sees Great Things for himself. This is not a guy who will fall on his sword for the local DFL apparat. I fully expect that he will run in the primary if the local DFL strips him of endorsement. And I suspect it will be highly entertaining.


Anonymous said...

Looks like he has a little competition now.

Mr. D said...

Indeed. Have a new post up.