Shish on Grand Avenue

Matt Entenza

The original plan was for us to meet at Coffee News, which is the sort of neighborhood coffee shop (with real food) that Starbucks and Caribou would like to pretend to be but instead have been madly rushing to replace.  I pulled into a parking space near the coffee shop (meters don’t charge in St. Paul past 4:30 in the afternoon).  I saw Matt enter the shop, so I followed with my notepad and pens, excited that this time I had the appointment written down for the correct date.

Matt saw me walk in and said, “Hi, Mike!”

I was impressed because we had only really spoken once before, and that was at Tim Mahoney and Susan Bishop’s wedding last year.  We’d had a good conversation about energy strategies and the Minnesota 2020 project, which was just getting going.  Since Matt has been in political circles of power in Minnesota for several years, I was flattered that he recognized me.

Before we had a chance to sit down, he suggested that we head down the street to Shish, a Middle Eastern cafe on Grand that Matt likes.  This was an introduction to “Matt the Neighbor.”  He lives only a few blocks from Snelling and Grand, and this was his hood.  He called out to Leo, the restaurant owner, and I told Leo that I would be doing a story based in Shish for Quiche Moraine.  Leo gave me his address and asked me to e-mail the link to the story when it is published.

Matt recommended the steak kebab, and I took him up on it. Tenderly cooked with Mediterranean spices and set on a bed of saffron rice, it was the best kebab I had eaten in a very, very long time. I highly enjoyed myself.  The meal and the food were important but more important was the company.  Matt proved to be very good company indeed.  He “got” that this is not a standard journalist’s interview, this Quiche Moraine thing I do.  It’s a conversation, and the hallmark of a good conversation between two people is generating a level of interest that goes both ways.  So he asked me as many questions about me as I did of him.

And these are the things we learned about each other.

We both graduated high school in 1979 from small towns in Minnesota.  We have both lived in California, and after living in other places, we both returned to Minnesota.  I learned that he has spent a good deal of time in Hallock, and we share mutual friends in Kristin Eggerling and Paul Blomquist.  Matt even bought his most recent car at C & M Ford in Hallock, a dealership that Kristin and Paul own. I also learned that we are both less than stellar athletes.  Despite his height, Matt is only an average basketball player and preferred debating when he was in high school.  More on that later.

Matt is only slightly younger than I am, but in our conversation I realized that if he wins the governor’s race in 2010, I will be older than both the President of the United States and the governor of Minnesota.  This is a new phase for me, as I have always thought of political leaders as being my seniors.

He has read the posts I wrote about Steve and Sophie Kelley and explained to me that if Steve Kelley is on the ticket for the DFL in 2010, he will be right out there working for him and supporting Kelley all the way.  I sense a genuine mutual respect and friendship between the two of them.  Steve had said the same thing about Matt when I ate pizza with Steve.

So, as governor, what does he think of the ways that the Minnesota economy can best recover?  Energy, education and investment.  We looked at the states that use low taxes as their main business attractor, including South Dakota, and compared them to Minnesota.  Minnesota has historically used private/public investment partnerships to build our economy. We have historically funded innovation and education.  We have historically maintained better roads and highways than our neighboring states, facilitating transportation for commerce.

In the last eight years, we have entrusted Minnesota’s growth and innovation to a governor whose priority is to lower taxes no matter what the effect on education, innovation and commerce.  The concept is that if Minnesota changes its perception from being a “high-tax state” to being a “low-tax state,” then all of the major corporations that have been avoiding relocation to Minnesota will swoop in with jobs and careers.  Matt and I discussed how well this is working for Sioux Falls, SD.  In 1998, the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce started airing commercials on Twin Cities radio promoting the property tax savings that businesses enjoy by relocating.  We both noted that the Twin Cities still provide more jobs and a better standard of living than does Sioux Falls.

I don’t mean to knock Sioux Falls, mind, and neither does Matt. It’s a nice place with a great convention center and some powerful banking operations.  I did note the last time I was in Sioux Falls, though, that the streets needed repair….

Entenza has a vision of energy innovation and Minnesota leadership.  Anything that is done to increase accessibility to carbon-based fuels, including ethanol production, is gong to by necessity be a bridge to a future of energy being produced by fewer and fewer carbon-based methods.

On the day I met with Matt, the northern suburb of Shoreview, where I work, was under assault by the power of the sun in the form of wind.  I thought during a smoke break of all the energy pushing me and making my cigarette difficult to light.  I thought of southern Minnesota with its many wind farms along I-90, and since southern Minnesota was the region he grew up, I asked Matt about it.

Matt thinks that with strategic investment, Minnesota has the potential to take leadership in developing a new green economy.  We can grow to be the equivalent of the “Silicon Valley of green energy,” in his words.  He asked me to make note of Dan Juhl, from Woodstock.  Consider the idea of the family farm.  Many people who have migrated from the rural areas to the urban areas tell me that they wish they could live in rural Minnesota, but with the changing economic face of agriculture, can’t see how a family can compete with corporate farms.  Moving back to a small town or to a farm is difficult economically, because the jobs and small businesses that support agricultural regions just aren’t as likely to support a modern lifestyle as they once were.  Juhl Wind, Inc. is just one example of an idea Entenza supports to rebuild Minnesota’s economy.

We met in the wake of the end of a legislative session cut short by the current governor’s unwillingness to negotiate a budget deal.  The DFL managed to pass a budget, and one that met many of Pawlenty’s requests, but the red pen of the veto and unallotment of previously budgeted services cut short a great opportunity to get moving on the new economy.

Matt is not alone in his drive to improve Minnesota.  He is married to Lois Quam, an innovator in her own right.  In the second installment of this post (June 8), I’ll tell you how they met and go into more detail about the leadership and innovation Matt Entenza intends to bring to the head of government in Minnesota.

Shish, at 1668 Grand Avenue, is a Middle Eastern deli in St. Paul.  Menu prices very reasonable and delicious.  Be sure to try the ginger beer.

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4 Responses to “Shish on Grand Avenue”

  1. June 1st, 2009 at 7:33 am

    George Hayduke says:

    Will you also go into detail about the tens of millions of dollars Lois Quam hauled in from the scandal-ridden United Health? And how those United Health bucks are bankrolling Entenza’s power-hungry quest? How about asking Entenza why he lies so much?

  2. June 1st, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I am sure that if you go to “Minnesota Democrats Exposed” Michael Brodkorb will make up all the answers you need to these questions, George.

  3. June 2nd, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    OK, can we make a deal? Can we all agree to be nice to each other this coming election no matter what? OK?

  4. June 2nd, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I’ll stop hittin’ him if he stops hittin’ me. He started it.

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