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Democrats blast Minnesota GOP candidate's 'vote with bullets' remarks

The candidate, Stephen Lowell, responded by saying he wasn't calling for violence but was simply warning about what can happen when people lose faith in government.
Image:  A voter holds a ballot on Nov. 3, 2020 in Minnesota.
A voter holds a ballot in Minnesota on Nov. 3, 2020.Alex Kormann / Star Tribune via Getty Images
/ Source: Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Democrats on Thursday accused a Republican-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota Senate of condoning political violence, when he talked about the need for “voting with the ballot before we have to vote with bullets.”

The candidate, Stephen Lowell, countered that he wasn’t advocating violence but instead simply warning about what can happen when people lose faith in their government.

Video posted on his campaign social media and recirculated by the state Democratic Party showed Lowell, of Eagan, making the remarks last month at a Dakota County Patriots event.

“We need to grow our teeth back. Fast,” Lowell told the crowd. “So, part of those teeth, in this particular set of terms, is voting with the ballot before we have to vote with bullets. Because at the end of the day, when people don’t believe that their elections are stable, they don’t believe that police will protect them, they stop using the democratic, of any kind, method. ... And so we have to bring back that faith, and we have to come out and vote.”

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin denounced Lowell’s remarks as “violent” and “dehumanizing” and called on Republicans to send a strong signal that such rhetoric won’t be tolerated.

Lowell, a libertarian conservative, denied that that was what he meant.

“The purpose of the statement I made was the degree to which societies tend to degrade when people don’t have faith in the government in a very broad and general level,” Lowell said in an interview, citing the French Revolution. “At the end of the day, the point is when people don’t feel like their government represents them, countries get very unstable.”

Lowell, a draftsman who is making his first run for office, is challenging Democratic Sen. Jim Carlson, of Eagan, who was first elected in 2006. Their largely Democratic district includes Eagan, Burnsville and portions of other suburbs.

Lowell told the crowd at the Dakota County event that he helped guard a Minneapolis tobacco shop during the riots that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020. He said in the interview that the arson and looting happened because people lost faith in the police.

“I imagine that loss of faith in our government as a whole would be much, much worse,” he said.