My Point of View: Many questions remain surrounding Lazzaro’s ties

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2021

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

“Our state Chairwoman Jennifer [Carnahan] is a friend who visits Albert Lea often.” — Robert Hoffman, chair of the Freeborn County Republicans, in this column on March 31

Given what has come to light about Carnahan’s close associate and political benefactor Anton “Tony” Lazzaro in the past two weeks, that statement should raise some questions. For example, Lazzaro’s political donations reportedly included thousands of dollars to local party units. Did the Freeborn County Republicans receive any of that money? If so, how much, and what are they doing with it?

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Lazzaro, a major donor to the Minnesota GOP Party and its candidates, was indicted earlier this month for sex trafficking of six underage victims. A young woman who had been incoming chair of the College Republicans at the University of St. Thomas was arrested in Florida for allegedly aiding him.

Jennifer Carnahan tried to distance herself from Lazzaro, but given how close she was to him and how savvy she is, it’s difficult to believe she didn’t know something didn’t quite add up about the man she reportedly referred to as her “sugar daddy.” For example, in June of 2020, he posed in his underwear holding stacks of $100 bills for his Instagram account, which is public.

Carnahan and Lazzaro did a six-part podcast series together called “Truth Matters” in late 2019 and early 2020. Lazzaro attended Carnahan and congressman Jim Hagedorn’s intimate California wedding in 2018. He traveled with her on party business, and he was a Republican National Convention delegate in August 2020.

Lazzaro was a major donor to Carnahan’s campaigns for state chair, and a top donor to Rep. Hagedorn. Lazzaro gave more money to Hagedorn than to any other candidate for public office.

In response to developments, Hagedorn said he would turn over $21,000 to charities that help women facing violence and exploitation. (He voted against the extension of the Violence Against Women Act in March, citing stereotypical, baseless fears of transwomen.)

Also revealed in the uproar was Carnahan’s liberal use of non-disclosure agreements, ongoing lack of an independent audit of party finances and claims that she frequently used intimidation to shut down criticism.

After a week of open warfare, Carnahan finally resigned. She cast the tie-breaking vote in the executive board’s decision to give her a severance package of more than $38,000.

In the aftermath, the state GOP is reeling from money troubles, infighting and loss of talented young women who didn’t feel safe or respected. It’s a cautionary tale of too much focus on marketing and personalities rather than integrity and substance.

Closer to home, Rep. Bennett still continues to shirk her responsibility to directly encourage people to get vaccinated. In a Facebook post she made in late July, she said we shouldn’t put all our “eggs” in one basket with COVID, focusing on “experimental” vaccines when there are “effective” treatments. She went so far as to say, “Who knows, we may find that these early [drug therapies] are even more effective than the vaccine.”

Nothing is more effective than the vaccines at this time. Vaccines are the best protection against severe illness or death due to COVID. The monoclonal antibody treatment Regeneron is good at keeping people out of the hospital if they contract COVID or may have been exposed, but it is a backstop. Both are being offered free, although hospitals can charge for administering Regeneron, which is a more resource intensive process than vaccinating people.

Furthermore, the FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine on Monday. The monoclonal antibody treatments being used, such as Regeneron, still have emergency use authorization.

Three more people in Freeborn County have succumbed to COVID this month, and the number of active cases are back over 100. As we face the Delta variant, about 55% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

(Children under 12 are still not eligible for vaccines or monoclonal antibody treatments, and we don’t have mask mandates in our schools. While youth is a great protection, the Delta variant is hitting children harder than previous COVID strains.)

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, who is also a medical doctor in Louisiana, was quoted last week in Stat, saying, “If people were vaccinated, it would dramatically decrease the workload [at hospitals]. I’m just continuing to ask people: Think not only of yourselves, but of others.”

That last part, after all, is the Christian thing to do. I appreciate Cassidy’s voice pushing against his party’s dogma.

Looking out for each other is also a societal value. Accountability to each other is both a Christian value and a small-d democratic value. The local Democratic Party embodies both of these things best right now, while the local Republican party overall decries “cancel culture” and pushes individualism to a degree that harms both individuals and society.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.