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Republican governor candidate Tom Emmer slammed on wages and immigrant rights at town hall meeting

Emmer’s campaign veers off the rails
By Brad Sigal |
July 17, 2010
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Roseville, MN - This may be seen as the week that Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer’s campaign imploded. After making a statement on the campaign trail calling for restaurant workers who earn tips to get a wage cut so that restaurant owners can earn more money and then bizarrely stating that many tip-earning servers make over $100,000 a year, a firestorm erupted. Emmer spent the next week trying to backpedal and avoid the visceral anger from working-class Minnesotans at his out of touch, anti-worker views.


Going into overdrive to do damage control as his election campaign spun out of control, Emmer first worked a day as a server in a restaurant to show he’s not out of touch with working class people (while recording the stunt for his campaign website). When that didn’t calm the storm, Emmer called a ‘town hall meeting’ with restaurant workers on July 14 at Ol’ Mexico restaurant in Roseville, supposedly to listen to their concerns and to try to convince them he doesn’t really want to cut their wages.


With all the media filming, one restaurant worker after another talked powerfully about how difficult it is for them to get by on the paltry wages and tips they earn and how a wage cut would be devastating. Whenever Emmer spoke, he was booed and laughed at. It was a rare moment, when the mass media let the righteous anger of working class people come through clearly.


Then an hour into the forum, immigrant rights activist Rachel Lang challenged Emmer about his anti-immigrant positions, ending her statement by saying, “I’ve got a tip for you - this is not Arizona!” Earlier in the campaign, Emmer created a firestorm of controversy by saying on an interview with Minnesota Public Radio that he thought Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB1070 was “a wonderful first step.” This May, Emmer’s closest allies in the state legislature introduced an SB1070 copycat bill in Minnesota. In past years Emmer has backed bills to refuse prenatal care to pregnant women who are undocumented and to make Minnesota an English-only state.


Just as Lang finished confronting Emmer on his anti-immigrant positions, another immigrant rights activist who has gone by the name of Robert Erickson walked up to Emmer and said, “I have a tip for you too Emmer!” as he dumped 2000 pennies on the table in front of him. The forum erupted into chaos as the startled candidate jumped out of his seat and then abruptly ended the forum early, as his security shoved the protester out the back door.


The local media then investigated the now-infamous “penny protester,” and discovered that ‘Robert Erickson’ was a pseudonym used by Nick Espinosa, an activist with the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAc). He created the pseudonym last year to get on the speakers list at an anti-immigrant Tea Party rally. At that rally he ‘punked’ the Tea Partiers by starting out giving what sounded like an anti-immigrant speech, then turning it into a rallying cry against the European immigrants who came to this continent illegally 500 years ago and carried out genocide against Native Americans. Espinosa has used the pseudonym for several other protests and guerrilla theater actions since then.


With the crush of media coverage of the ‘penny protest,’ Espinosa revealed his true identity and told his personal story of his father being deported back to Ecuador when he was 15. He then challenged Tom Emmer to come do a forum in the heart of the Latino immigrant community to explain the anti-immigrant positions he has taken over his years in the state legislature and now as a candidate for governor. Not surprisingly, Emmer refused.


This summer MIRAc initiated the Boycott Arizona-MN (BAM!) campaign, which has targeted Arizona companies and has also targeted Emmer’s candidacy, since he said Arizona’s SB1070 law is “a wonderful first step.” Members of MIRAc joined with other immigrant rights activists to confront Emmer when his campaign marched in the Cinco de Mayo parade in West St Paul just days after he praised SB1070. MIRAc and the BAM! campaign again protested against Emmer on June 16 when he spoke at a fundraiser in Columbia Heights. After the ‘penny protest’ on July 14, one local TV reporter asked Espinosa, “Do you plan to continue following his campaign and doing things like this everywhere he goes?” Espinosa responded, “Absolutely. Until the election, as long as he holds these extremist anti-immigrant positions, we’ll be there for you Emmer.”

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