Last week’s resignation of Kent Sorenson from the Iowa State Senate nudged me to finish reading a book I had downloaded to my Kindle over a month ago, Bachmannistan: Behind the Lines. Sorenson served as U.S. Representative Michelle Bachmann’s campaign chairman for Iowa in her failed bid for the GOP nomination. Three days before the Iowa caucuses, Sorenson jumped ships, and joined ranks with the Ron Paul campaign.
The book won’t win any awards, nor will it be the definitive book on Bachman, the Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota who was born in Waterloo, Iowa. It is not well written and it could use a professional editing, and strangely Waldron uses the third-person in telling his insider’s account. But, with Sorenson’s resignation following an investigation by Iowa’s Senate Ethics Committee which found “probable cause” that he had violated Rule Six of the Iowa Senate’s Code of Ethics, I wanted to finish the eBook in the hopes of better understanding how the woman who could win the Iowa Straw Poll in August 2011 could go on to come in sixth in the Iowa Caucus just five months later. That is a long way to fall and, as a result, Bachmann bowed out of the national primary process the following day. I was curious about her presidential campaign, her relationship to the former Iowa state senator, and what the impact of the state and federal level scandals may have on the future of the Iowa Straw Poll and the Iowa Caucus.
The book was written by Peter Waldron, with John Gilmore as a co-editor Waldron, a longtime evangelical organizer from Florida, worked on Bachmann’s campaign as a field coordinator concentrating on recruiting ministers to support the candidate. He signed on with the campaign in July 2011, a month before the Iowa Straw Poll. In January 2013 (the books says January 2012), Waldron filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission which outlined his allegations of violations of election law during the Bachmann for President Campaign. He also filed ethics charges against Sorenson claiming the state senator was paid through a third party for his work on the campaign. His charges of wrong doing are also behind inquiries being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Election Commission and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics looking at campaign finance violations by the Bachmann campaign and her political action committee, MichelePAC.
Some would say Waldron is nothing more than a disgruntled former employee whose tell-all electric book is just an attempt at revenge. Many of the stories told in the book paint Bachmann as a “hard as nails, vicious, self-centered phony, in it for herself “. Waldron writes, “Her constituent services are notoriously lousy; her treatment of her staff objectively unchristian. My favorite example of this was when she fired a staffer with seven children, the eighth on the way, on Christmas Eve.” He calls or refers to her as a “diva” at least five times.
Waldron has a colorful and eye-brow raising history. In 2006, he was arrested on espionage, terrorism, anti-government propaganda and weapon charges by the Uganda government and was held for 37 days in the Luzira Prison, in a suburb of the Ugandan capital of Kampala, before being deported and returning to the United States. At the time he had been working in Uganda since 2002 distributing medication to people infected with HIV and also for a newsletter which was critical of the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
Gilmore is an attorney in St. Paul who writes the blog Minnesota Conservatives. He, too, has an interesting background. He was arrested on Nicolette Mall in Minneapolis in June 2011 for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Gilmore was accused of harassing two women who were wearing Muslim headscarves, threatening a bystander and being uncooperative with police. The charges were dropped in 2012 and Gilmore filed a $10 million lawsuit in May 2013 against the city of Minneapolis for a “baseless” arrest. He is representing Andy Parrish, a former Bachmann congressional chief-of-staff and senior campaign official.
The eBook, published on-line and available for $2.99 as a Kindle download, draws on interviews and affidavits provided by Waldron and Parrish to the FBI and other investigative agencies. It also provides an insider’s look into the inner machinations of the Bachmann campaign.
One part of the story I was most interested in reading about was how the Bachmann campaign handled the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll. I covered the event that day for The Iowa Republican. It was a beautiful day and I roamed the event, going from campaign to campaign to look for what writers sometimes call “color” – the people and the personalities that make up the day. I spent time inside the Bachmann tent before country music singer Randy Travis performed, finding a place not far from the doorway where he would enter. I was hoping to watch the interactions of Bachman with her staff and her key Iowa handlers. She was nowhere to be seen, even when Randy Travis took to the stage to sing.
According to Waldron account, the Bachmann campaign paid Travis $75,000 to perform. They had sold or distributed some 6,000 tickets to people for the event, at a cost of $30 per tickets. The campaign also paid $17,000 for their spot at the Iowa GOP auction held two months prior to the event. In all, Waldron says the campaign spent “a million dollars” “on this two-bit sideshow.” And despite being the winner of the Straw Poll, Bachmann only garnered 4,823 votes out of the total 16,892 votes cast. Of the Straw Poll, Waldron writes, “Rachel Maddow, incontestably every conservative’s favorite person on MSNBC, said on her show in mid-August 2013, that the Ames Straw Poll was a ‘scam.’ Usually, though, scams aren’t known in advance and they leave people without that which they thought they were getting. The Ames Straw Poll might be more accurately described as a carnival: a garish midway bordered by lots of acts, each stranger than the last.”
The text, largely written by Waldron, goes on to describe the auction where campaigns bid on the locations, “On June 23, 2010, this ‘land auction’ took place in the Iowa Republican Party Headquarters. Creepy is a good word to describe the place because the building used to be a funeral home. And no, you really can’t make this stuff up. One wag said that it might as well have looked like how ‘The Simpsons’ portrays the Republican Party: a dark, haunted castle-like place, full of foreboding, replete with thunder and lightening (sic). Worse, the auction meeting took place in what used to be the main viewing room of the former funeral parlor. The party offices themselves were downstairs in what used to be embalming rooms. It’s a wonder Republicans win anything anywhere.”
This may be the one observation of Waldron’s worth merit. I have never thought the former funeral home was a good location from which to run a state’s political party.
Another part of the book I was interested in was when and where the Bachmann campaign came really off the wheels. Waldron’s account tells the story of how a private email list of thousands of names from the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators got into the Bachmann email database and was used for two email mailings. The email list was on a computer in the Bachmann office operated by Barb Heki, Bachmann’s homeschool coalition director and a NICHE board member. Initially Heki questioned herself, tearfully thinking that, maybe, she had inadvertently merged the NICHE list into the Bachmann campaign list. Then Waldron reports overhearing Sorenson tell campaign staffers Chris Dorr and Wes Enos that he “went in there with a flash drive and took it.”
The alleged incident occurred sometime in November 2011. Heki, along with her husband, Richard, stepped down from her seat on the NICHE board. In July 2012, the couple filed suit against Michele Bachman, the Bachman campaign, Kent Sorenson and several others affiliated with the Bachman campaign for trespass, invasion of privacy, conversion, misappropriation of trade secrets, libel and slander, conspiracy, and concerted action. The suit was dismissed with prejudice in June 2013. While the details of the dismissal of the suit have not been made public, the alleged theft of the database is still under investigation.
Waldron details the implosion of the campaign from the Straw Poll until the day after the Iowa Caucus when Bachmann folded her bid for the GOP nomination, calling the NICHE leadership “rubes” who accepted $2,000 for the “inadvertence.” According to his account, after Bachmann resigned from her campaign, she acknowledged to Heki that, “yeah,” she had known about the alleged theft of the NICHE list by Sorenson.
Writing in the third person and in the style of romance novel, Waldron paints himself as the only adult in the room with a moral compass, “Waldron suffered his own crisis of conscience: why didn’t he just tell Barb and lance the emotional boil? He surely would have been fired on the spot and the allegation that Sorenson stole the list would have been denied. There was no hard and fast evidence; there would be no forensic examination of her hard drive to see if copies of documents to a flash drive had been made. No, he couldn’t do anything in the moment but he resolved he would not abandon this good woman. Somehow he would help set things right. Her obvious suffering was contagious, but apparently only to Waldron.”
Following the Straw Poll, Bachmann began to slide in the polls. The campaign coffers were dry and Waldron cites the Black Hawk County Lincoln Day Dinner in Waterloo, Iowa as the “beginning of the end for the Bachman campaign.” She arrived in her campaign bus where she stayed until it was her turn to speak, when “she bounded into the room like some evangelical Cher. Who was this creature? The republicans in the room simply didn’t recognize The Diva Bachmann and were instinctively repulsed by the act, by the sheer phoniness of it and the ridiculously inflated ego it represented.”
Waldron describes Bachmann as became increasingly distant and isolated from her campaign staff and from her base. By the time of the email debacle, poll numbers continued to recede as had campaign contributions. In a “come to Jesus” meeting with Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, that took place in a hotel in Fort Dodge, Iowa on December 18, Waldron told the Bachmann’s that “the campaign was dead in the water and a million dollars in debt” and that “the Sin of Achan is upon this campaign.” Waldron then explains that this Biblical reference (Joshua 7:1-26), which the Bachmanns fully understood, meant that because of “a poison within a campaign or endeavor” the “entire enterprise is ill fated.” He says the Bachmanns knew he “was referring to the theft by Kent Sorenson of the home schooling email list.”
Waldron claims that as Bachmann, “with no center of gravity,” came to understand the trajectory her campaign was on, she knowingly threw it rather than to try to turn it around in an effort to save herself from having fallen “woefully short” of the standards she had set for herself.
As he ends his tale – cue the violins – Waldron says, “The private Michelle Bachmann is frequently a scary person…Waldron watched, helpless, at every turn as she reinforced, rather than corrected, mistakes on her campaign. He often wondered if he was the last Godly man standing.”
If nothing else, Waldron’s tale of Bachmannistan is a warning to all that, as an electorate, we have to vet our candidates well, demand the highest standards of ethical and transparent behavior from them and their campaign staff in both political and personal matters. Our culture worships celebrity today and the star power of a candidate can cloud voters’ understanding of the person and their politics.
Waldron’s tale also reminds me of some pieces of advice my dad used to impart: don’t believe everything you hear or read; take everything with a grain of salt; and be very careful of people who blow their own horn.
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