Bachmann shakeup: Julie Quist to run Minnesota office, three staffers departing

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The staff of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is in the midst of a significant shakeup, with major departures from both the Washington and Minnesota offices, and a controversial social conservative taking over Bachmann’s Minnesota operations.

Rich Dunn, the chief of staff from the Washington office, told the Minnesota staff Friday that former state Sen. Sean Nienow, who has been Bachmann’s district director, is out and will be replaced by Julie Quist of St. Peter.

Quist has been on the cutting edge of the Minnesota social conservative movement for more than a decade. She was a full partner with her husband Allen Quist in a stunning political accomplishment of 1994, when they defeated Arne Carlson, a sitting Republican governor, for endorsement (although Carlson beat Quist in a primary and was re-elected). The Quists beat Carlson within the GOP base substantially on Carlson’s liberal positions on social issues like abortion and gay rights. In recent years, she has been a leader at EdWatch, a far-right advocacy group on education issues.

Julie Quist and Bachmann are personally and ideologically close and worked together when Bachmann was in the Minnesota Senate and led the charge to kill a state-mandated educational curriculum known as the Profiles of Learning. For Quist and Bachmann, the profiles were a Trojan horse for what they considered a secular humanism agenda. Quist and Bachmann share a passionate opposition to same-sex marriage.

Star Tribune political reporter Dane Smith described Quist (at left) as “a savvy and tireless political operative, organizer and campaigner who was always right there on the edge of whatever issue the social conservatives were pushing.”

Smith said he could imagine Bachmann benefitting from Quist’s skills as re-election time rolls around, but “if she’s looking to moderate her image or her positions even a little, this is not the move to make.”

Other staff changes

Two members of the Washington staff have already left in the last few days. Legislative Assistant Erika Nelsen (a holdover from the staff of Bachmann’s predecessor, Rep. Mark Kennedy) and Legislative Correspondent Tara Westby (an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the state House of Represenatives in 2006) are gone.

Bachmann’s spokester, Heidi Frederickson (also a Kennedy holdover), is no longer returning press calls and will soon leave the office.

A certain amount of staff turnover is common during a congressperson’s first term. But this is an above average amount and Bachmann hasn’t completed the first half of her term yet.

When the dust settles from the current shakeup, Bachmann, who is already on her second chief of staff, will have replaced most of her top management.

The Bachmann office is not confirming any of these changes and is acting totally squirrelly about it. All questions are referred to Washington Staff Chief Dunn, who doesn’t return calls or e-mails.

The receptionist at the Bachmann St. Cloud office hung up on a constituent when he asked to know the name of the head of Bachmann’s Minnesota operations.

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