Gubernatorial Candidate Forum in Anoka County

For DFL Only

Just this last Saturday I went to the Teamsters Hall in Blaine so that six DFL gubernatorial candidates could make their pitch for delegates before the big push comes in February.  The press weren’t invited (although they would not have been excluded had they come), because this was more of an “inside” meeting. I was, in this case, an insider. I had invited both Greg and Stephanie to come with me, but they were unable to make it for very good reasons. I promised to write this up so that they could feel like they had been there. It’s my pleasure to share it with all of our readers.

Saturday started with the gentle reminder that even though we have summers with green grass and leaves on trees, and lakes that open up from ice-over to allow fishing, this is Minnesota. We had a wet, sticky snowfall overnight, and it was pretty cold when I went outside to have my first cigarette of the day. It was still below freezing (as it is on Sunday while I write this), but I knew that it would warm up enough during the day for the snow to melt. We know that the first snow never stays on the ground long; it’s just the weather’s way of nudging us that the autumn good life in Minnesota doesn’t last all that long.

On Highway 10 to Blaine, the freeway was still icy, and there were cars in the ditch and a wrecker clearing the scene of an accident. I anticipated a light turnout for this forum, and when I arrived, I was proven correct. All told, about 75 DFL delegates and potential delegates had come out to question announced candidates for the DFL nomination:

State Senator John Marty, from Roseville
Former State Senator Steve Kelley from Hopkins
State Senator Tom Bakk from Cook
Former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton from Minneapolis
John Wodele, filling in for Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner (she was not feeling well, but wanted to be represented)
Former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza

Jeremy Powers, Chair of the Senate District 51 DFL, ran the meeting. Before it all started, I had a chance to chat briefly with the campaign coordinators for Dayton, Bakk and Marty, and they each agreed to meet with me for lunch, coffee or dinner to do pieces in the near future for Quiche Moraine. I also signed up for a framed Obama “Hope” poster to be given away in a drawing after the forum, but another Mike won that one.

Each of the candidates was given an opportunity to make an introductory pitch and then followed with a Q & A from the audience. Jeremy consolidated the questions we had submitted prior to the forum and then read them to the candidates.

I am not going to bore you with details of each presentation, but rather pass along the gist of each campaign’s theme. (I have written about my dinners with Matt Entenza and Steve Kelley, and you can read them here on Quiche Moraine.)

Since this event was directed towards potential delegates, the candidates were intent to focus on why each of them was more likely to win. Bakk reminded us that, in this blue state, the last race won by a Democrat here was in 1982, when Rudy Perpich took the win over Wheelock Whitney. For all of these years, we have had candidates tell us that the key is capture of the “swing” voters, those middle-of-the-roaders who don’t cling to a certain party. I’m not one of those “swing” voters, so I get frustrated that the DFL spends more time courting them than they do getting the progressives out to vote.

Tom Bakk, as a carpenter and a union negotiator who says he “understands that if we don’t make sure that the employers can make a profit, then we won’t be able to bring the jobs back,” said in the main that we need to have an honest discussion about raising taxes. Reindexing the progressivity of the individual income tax in Minnesota will redress a wrong but will not be enough to make up for the lost revenue of the last 12 years of tax cuts. We have serious problems with funding our roads and infrastructure, and our schools, but concentrating on jobs first will build the revenue to build those funds back, as long as we address the tax fairness issue and honestly have a conversation about raising taxes on everyone. We can’t do it by raising taxes on the wealthy alone when there is a projected six billion dollar deficit.

Steve Kelley is big on building education and always has been. He currently teaches at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute and is the director for the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy. We have let our zeal for cutting taxes and Local Government Aid create disparities in education. Businesses that once looked to relocating to Minnesota because of the education priorities here are now seeing a different story, and Kelley shares the belief common to all candidates that preparing an economy for Minnesota’s future starts with good education and technological investment in a green economy.

Matt Entenza focused on a green economy, education, restoring tax justice, returning to the idea that as a state, Minnesota has a reputation for neighbors helping those of their neighbors who are in trouble. Entenza made very clear that he supports marriage equality for GLBT and was the first candidate in the forum to mention the idea. I applauded out of order when he said this, because even though none of the other candidates would fight against marriage equality, I was proud that he mentioned it unprodded.

John Wodele apologized that Susan Gaertner needed to have a surrogate, but she had come down with a touch of the flu that morning. John filled in very well for her. He was a spokesperson for Jesse Ventura during Ventura’s term. The emphasis that Wodele placed was on rebuilding the economy, being honest about taxes, building education and a new green economy. Gaertner has one key insight that I haven’t heard elsewhere regarding health insurance: “The healthcare industry in Minnesota, much like the rest of the nation, is the only consumer directed industry where the consumer does not materially influence its delivery and consumption. The result is that the consumer, unlike in any other industry that serves them, does not demand efficiency and cost containment.” The only time I have ever had the chance to talk to Gaertner was at a Senate District 50 DFL convention at which I was campaigning for Cory Tennison to unseat her as Ramsey County Attorney in 2006. I hope she doesn’t hold that against me.

Mark Dayton had recently undergone surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome and was wearing a bandage on his hand-shaking hand. I asked him if he was doing well after the surgery, and he explained that it was just padding to protect his healing wound. He said he “felt great,” but I am not sure what else he would say. Dayton has announced that he is not scoping for delegates, as he plans to skip the DFL nominating convention and will take his candidacy up to the primaries. Nonetheless, he has come out very strongly in favor of making health care affordable and returning to the idea of tax equalization for school districts. Dayton decided not no seek reelection to the Senate in 2006 because of the revolving door nature of lobbyists and Senate aides, pointing out that Max Baucus of Montana’s adviser on health insurance issues is a recent lobbyist for the insurance industry.

And then we get to John Marty, who I personally think has the best ideas. I haven’t necessarily endorsed him, but I am glad that he is running again because he has been fighting the longest and hardest among the candidates for the “Left of the Left” issues in Minnesota. He touched on the above issues as much as the others, but he also discussed the foolishness of a plan to introduce a casino in Minneapolis to pay for a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. He doesn’t like the idea because it would require an amendment to the state constitution to allow nontribal casinos in opposition to a compact with the Indians in Minnesota. The other factor is that at a time when education funding is being held low, and when provisions for social services are being cut because “we can’t afford them in this economy,” there is a proposal that would have the net effect of the public subsidizing tickets to see the Vikings that would cost the state $30 per ticket for the next 30 years. Marty’s other complaint about the healthcare bill making its way through the Senate Finance Committee is that it promises coverage for 94% of Americans, while Minnesota already has 92% coverage through our public option. He wants a plan that will cover everyone.

The candidates are in general agreement on most issues, being of the same party: education, green technology, public-private partnership, restoring tax equality so that the rich no longer get the benefits without paying their share of the tax burden (our regressive tax structure, while partially equalized through a progressive income tax structure, still lays the largest overall burden on the lower two deciles of the population), restoring Minnesota’s industrial reputation through an educated workforce and, finally, fixing the healthcare funding crisis while dealing with a projected six billion dollar shortfall. They all agreed that Tim Pawlenty is no longer paying attention to the problems of Minnesota. I breathed a sigh of relief on that one, myself. We don’t need Tim Pawlenty paying attention to Minnesota given his track record.

My favorite line at the forum was the joke, “What is the difference between retired governor Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty? Pawlenty is still getting a salary.”

The candidates threw out numbers on how much Minnesota has fallen behind in education rankings in the last ten years, how businesses looking to relocate here have been seeing that we are no longer the state with the best-educated workforce, etc., but I had a hard time finding actual ratings that I could use to back their claims. I am sure that they have good sources, but I would need to do more research to find said rankings, and so far there is mixed data. The sad fact is that Minnesota no longer maintains its reputation among business circles. The Republicans have always said that if we just lower taxes, we will be able to create more jobs and then be able to pay for essential services. The candidates agreed that this plan, first popularized by Ronald Reagan, spread among the states even after its failure to deliver, and Minnesota is paying the price.

Overall, I am pleased with the bunch that are vying to be our candidate. It would have been better had R.T. Rybak, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Tom Rukivina and Paul Thissen been there. It is a busy season for the candidates, running all over the state trying to pick up supporters, and to be fair, Rybak is also in the final days of his mayoral race in Minneapolis. They can’t be everywhere at once, and the caucuses are coming up in four short months. I will be sitting down with as many of the candidates as I can before the caucuses and Senate District conventions and will write up more detailed pieces on them as I do, so keep watching Quiche Moraine!

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One Response to “Gubernatorial Candidate Forum in Anoka County”

  1. October 13th, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    And Tarryl Clark, one of two candidates to unseat Michele Bachmann, was at our Senate District meeting tonight. Bet on her to win, okay?

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