When the political action committee of the Minnesota Hospital Association endorsed a candidate in the state’s governor’s race, it was an unusual move for the group, and not merely because the chosen candidate was neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
Battling in Minnesota
Hospital group has ties to gov hopeful it endorsed
In a news release distributed nationally, the Minnesota Hospital Political Action Committee acknowledged that endorsing Independence Party candidate Tom Horner was atypical.
“The projected state budget shortfall and the significant changes that lie ahead for healthcare delivery and financing over the next several years call for us to speak in support of the thoughtful, balanced positions and leadership Tom Horner offers,” said Lawrence Massa, a member of the PAC’s board of directors and president and CEO of the state hospital association, which is a legally separate entity.
The hospital association was breaking with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Fund, the chamber’s PAC, which endorsed Republican Tom Emmer. In siding with Horner, MHA chose a candidate running on the ticket of former Gov. Jesse Ventura’s political party in the Nov. 2 election.
The move comes on the heels of the state’s hospitals, health plans and physicians going around current Gov. Tim Pawlenty in an attempt to get a federal grant to create a health insurance exchange (Oct. 18, p. 17).
The Minnesota Nurses Association, however, cried foul after the hospital association PAC’s endorsement.
Horner is the co-founder of Himle Horner, a large Minneapolis public relations firm that was employed by hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul last summer to handle PR during protracted labor strife between the hospitals and the union. The firm has also provided counsel to MHA committees and subsidiaries.
“To us, it felt like a big conflict of interest,” nurse union spokesman John Nemo said. “They’d love to have him be a governor, since they’ve had a business relationship for over 30 years.”
The union—which has endorsed Democrat Mark Dayton in the governor’s race—blasted Horner as the architect of an anti-union PR campaign that painted nurses as “greedy, overly emotional and irrational employees.” The union led about 12,000 nurses on a one-day labor strike in June at 14 Twin Cities hospitals, and took the nurses to the brink of a second, open-ended strike that was narrowly averted after a compromise contract was accepted.
Asked for comment, Minnesota Hospital Association spokeswoman Jan Hennings said the association was not involved with the strike or the PR work. Rather, Himle Horner was under contract with a separate organization called Twin Cities Hospitals, whose members are the 14 hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area that were affected by the labor strife.
Anne Sonnee, who chaired the Twin Cities Hospitals communications committee and is marketing director at HealthEast Care System in St. Paul, confirmed the contract with Himle Horner, but said in an e-mail that the group was not disclosing how much it paid the firm for the internal communications and PR support during the negotiations with the union.
Horner has declined to release a comprehensive client list, although he resigned from Himle Horner and sold off all stock and canceled all client relationships except his Twin Cities Hospitals work in June.
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