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Family Of Abused Boy Gets GOP To Change Attack Ad

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The Minnesota Republican Party will remove controversial images of a murdered boy from a tough new campaign ad against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. The move comes after the boy's grandmother personally complained to State GOP leaders.

The ad ticks off a list of missteps by Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, but it caused outrage when it linked the abuse murder of a 4-year old boy to Dayton's "incompetence."

Now, his grandmother says the Republican ad made the family relive the pain.

"This has just been so devastating," said Yvonne Dean of Starbuck.

Dean said State Republican leaders did not warn her family in advance about the ad and no one asked permission. She called it "wrong" to use her grandson's death in a political attack.

"I was very saddened and very shocked that they would use our tragedy in that way," she said.

The ad calls Dayton "incompetent," but does not directly blame him for Eric Dean's death. And it criticizes a law that passed a year after the boy died.

Political analyst Larry Jacobs says the ad could have been effective, but stepped too close to "offensive."

"It's one of those ads that is right up to the boundary and is maybe crossing the boundary over what most Minnesotans are going to consider appropriate," said Jacobs, a professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. "It's really not the kind of thing they want to see in their living rooms."

The Republican Party has agreed to remove the offending images of Eric Dean from the ad and Party Chairman Keith Downey personally apologized to Dean for not telling the family in advance.

Here's a written statement from the Minnesota Republican Party, in its entirety:

"The ad chronicles five major media stories about Mark Dayton's leadership. These stories were chosen to highlight the continued incompetence of this Governor based on major media reports, not our opinion.

The Star Tribune article was included based on its opening line: "The state's top child protection official wants to scrap a law her agency helped pass four months ago that made it more difficult for social workers to investigate maltreatment cases."

The picture of the Star Tribune article in the ad is exactly as it originally appeared, including the photo. This is a serious and very tragic issue, which is why the ad doesn't deviate from the Star Tribune's reporting that when 9 out of 15 reports of Eric Dean's abuse were not investigated, it was consistent with policy guidance in 2012 from the Dayton administration's Department of Human Services, which was then passed into law in 2014 at the Department's urging. The Star Tribune article also reports that 71% of abuse reports are not investigated in Minnesota, one of the worst in the nation.

We agree that these facts and the tragic loss of Eric Dean's life are horrible. After talking with Yvonne Dean, Eric's grandmother, Chairman Keith Downey apologized for not contacting her before the ad was produced. We will honor her request and will redact the Star Tribune's picture of Eric Dean from their article as it appears in the ad.

The ad is currently being revised and an edited version will begin airing as soon as possible."

Republican candidate for governor, Jeff Johnson, disavowed the images in the ad, saying, "I support the party's decision to remove the photo of Eric Dean from their ad, and my heart goes out to Eric's family as they grieve his loss. This little boy's picture should never have been used in an ad."

And a campaign spokesman for Democratic Governor Mark Dayton said the ad went too far.

"It's despicable that the Minnesota GOP is attempting to use the tragic death of an innocent child for their political gain," said Linden Zakula, Dayton's communications director.

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