Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner has been picking off endorsements from former Republican legislators, from past Gov. Arne Carlson and former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger to a slate of 13 former statehouse legislators who announced their support for his candidacy. That announcement drew the ire of state GOP Chair Tony Sutton, who responded by stating, “There’s a special place in hell for these quislings.” Two of those former legislators – veterans of the Korean War and World War II – responded to Sutton in a letter, writing that they found it “demeaning” that their choice to support Horner drew comparisons to Nazi sympathizer and traitor Vidkun Quisling.
On October 7, Sutton backed off the statement slightly, stating he only meant that the GOPers backing Horner are traitors, not Nazis.
On Thursday, Sutton told the AP he used the word as a common term for traitor.
“It would be like saying someone’s a Benedict Arnold,” Sutton said, explaining his use of the word the rarely used term “quisling.” “To make it out to be something other than that would be ridiculous.”
That didn’t stop Horner from responding Thursday afternoon.
“I was disappointed to see the chair of the Republican Party compare some of those veterans and former public servants to traitors of the worst degree simply due to their support of my candidacy for governor,” Horner said in a statement. “The comments were disrespectful and uncalled for.”
Horner’s campaign also sent out a letter from two of the legislators who decided to back Horner yesterday, former Sen. Bill Belanger, an Army veteran who served in Korea, and former Sen. George Pillsbury, a Marine who served during World War II. Needless to say, the duo was displeased at Sutton’s choice of words.
“Those of us who support Horner and his centrist view of governance have nothing in common with Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling, a Nazi sympathizer who collaborated with the Germans to enslave millions of his countrymen during the Second World War,” they wrote. “We proudly wore the uniforms of our nation, one of us as a Marine Lieutenant in the Philippines during World War II, one of us a few years later in Korea as an Army Corporal. For you to besmirch that service is demeaning.”
The DFL pounced on the statement. Party chair Brian Melendez said, “I wonder what’s going on inside the Republican Party that Tony Sutton feels the need to send a message that you are going to hell and we liken you to Nazi sympathizers if you support Tom Horner.”
Here’s the full text of Belanger and Pillsbury’s letter:
October 7, 2010
Chairman, Republican Party of Minnesota
525 Park Street, Suite 250
St. Paul, MN 55103
As veterans of the United States military and former state legislators, we were highly offended to pick up our morning Star Tribune newspaper and read that you were accusing us of being traitors to our country for supporting Tom Horner for governor. (“There’s a special place in hell for these quislings.”)
Those of us who support Horner and his centrist view of governance have nothing in common with Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling, a Nazi sympathizer who collaborated with the Germans to enslave millions of his countrymen during the Second World War. We proudly wore the uniforms of our nation, one of us as a Marine Lieutenant in the Philippines during World War II, one of us a few years later in Korea as an Army Corporal. For you to besmirch that service is demeaning.
We support Tom Horner for governor precisely because we care so much about our state and our nation. We sought elective office after our years of military service because we care about our country and its future. We did not believe our service ended when we were discharged. For decades, we have continued to volunteer in our communities to make our society stronger.
We are supporting Tom Horner for governor because we believe his moderate, centrist view of government is precisely what Minnesota needs right now. We are concerned that Sutton’s candidate, Tom Emmer, is too far to the right, and that Mark Dayton, the Democrat, is too far to the left. We believe it is best for all concerned to have a governor who can work with both political parties, to do what’s right and not worry about who gets the credit.
We went to war to defend the Constitution, which included fighting for your right of free speech, so you are free to say whatever you want. We would appreciate it if, in the future, you were more careful not to criticize American veterans just because you disagree with our choice of candidates.
First Lieutenant, United States Marine Corp (ret)
Veteran of World War II
Former State Senator, Wayzata
Corporal, United States Army (ret)
Veteran of the Korean War
Former State Senator, Bloomington