Saturday, November 21, 2009
NETROOTS MINNESOTA CONFERENCE GUBERNATORIAL FORUM
These are my impressions of the Netroots Minnesota gubernatorial forum last night in St. Paul. Nine of the DFL candidates attended. Not in attendance were Tom Bakk and Ole Savior. (I never know whether to even include Ole as a candidate, but I guess he is officially.)
The moderator was Lori Sturdevant from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She gave the candidates their questions which had been submitted by posters on Facebook and Twitter and well as from the live audience. A question was asked; then the candidates turn turns answering it. Lori started with one candidate and worked through them all, then went on to the next question in the same manner.
This was the best forum yet because the candidates interacted more with each other. The audience was definitely engaged. The energy in the room was high. People were starting to weed out candidates in their own minds.
Instead of going through each question and answer separately, I'll just give an overall impression of each candidate. You can find the exact questions at a couple of other websites which I'll list at the end of this post.
R.T. Rybak - Great impromptu speaker. He had good ideas based on what he did to accomplish things in Minneapolis. One of the other candidates later said that it wasn't a good comparison of what he could accomplish as governor because Minneapolis has a strong Democratic base. Rybak made it clear that he would endorse and work hard for whoever ended up running on the DFL ticket. All of his answers to the various questions were clear and concise. He's a natural public speaker. His answers all sounded excellent. Rybak pointed out how he has brought jobs to Minneapolis and used specific examples. He talked about microgrants for the cleanup of greenhouse gas emissions. His tax policy will be to fix the broken budget, ease up on property taxes, expand sales taxes, raise income taxes and reduce spending. Rybak's closing statement was excellent. It was at the closing statement that the candidates each stood to address the audience. For the other questions they each remained seated. This was Rybak's shining moment. He enjoys being on stage. He has a great stage presence. He knows how to use his floor space. He's got great voice projection and vocal variety. Rybak is very electable because people like him. He's got an energy and charisma that's missing in many of the other candidates.
Susan Gaertner - Is focused on getting things done. She knows we can't improve education until we fix the budget. In her answer to the first question on making higher education affordable to all, she referred to Tim Pawlenty three times. Why? I'm so sick of hearing about Tim Pawlenty. He's gone. Let's move on and look to a glorious future without him (my words, not hers). On abortion access, Gaertner stated that politics should not get in the way of women's health. Again she referred to Pawlenty, saying that he should do things to help children once they're here instead of opposing abortion and then ignoring the children who need help. On greenhouse gas emissions, Gaertner spoke of the Legacy Amendment. On education, she said that children growing up in rural Minnesota should have the same access to education that city kids enjoy. Gaertner has a forceful way of speaking and has no trouble meeting the issues head on. She said, "Courage is my middle name." She wants to hold both kids and parents responsible for the child's success in school. On bringing jobs to Minnesota, Gaertner took the opportunity to lodge a mini protest on the gubernatorial campaign. On taxes, she wants to look at the entire tax structure and not just part of it. In her closing statement, she said she wants to give Minnesota a fresh start. Her mantra is that we all know what needs to get done, but it doesn't get done. She can get it done. Overall, Gaertner presents herself fairly well to the audience. She uses a few too many crutch words and should work on improving her posture. Her intent is to make the audience believe that she's the one who can get things done, and more so than any of the other candidates. My impression is that she's good on a couple of the issues, but not all of them. I'm not sure that her position as Ramsey County Attorney adequately prepares her for the governorship when Minnesota is in serious crisis.
Tom Rukavina - Is too funny. Seriously. He needs to tone down the humor. He's a very funny guy, but uses too many jokes when the focus is on a very serious subject. It's great to sprinkle speeches with humor, but you have to know when to stop. When answering the question about abortion access Rukavina quipped that if Pawlenty had to give birth, he'd be prochoice too. On higher education, he told the audience how he set up an endowment with the mineral rights that the University of Minnesota has on the Iron Range. The endowment is to go for Minnesota's higher education. On greenhouse gas emissions, he said he has already been working on this issue on the Iron Range. He stated that there are already eighty municipal power plants in Minnesota. When asked the question of how he would bring jobs to Minnesota, he talked about a new taconite nugget that's mostly iron. A new plant is expected to bring in many jobs. In his closing statement, Rukavina stated that he is running for governor because he loves Minnesota and he thinks it's going bad. He says Minnesota needs a governor who knows blue collar workers. Rukavina's strongest and weakest point is his ability to bring humor to his presentation and laughter from the audience. He does need to remember that too much of something is not necessarily a good thing.
Mark Dayton - Here's a man who says what he means and means what he says. If Dayton says he's going to do something, you can bet he's going to do it. (You can all look forward to a book signing for me at the Governor's Mansion...) Dayton promised that he would increase state funding every year that he's governor. He'll do this by raising taxes on the rich. This is where we read his lips. The audience always loves it when he says that. I've noticed that it's a phrase that's showing up on blogs all across the internet. Dayton has humor and knows exactly how and when to use it and when to be serious. On abortion access, Dayton supports reproductive choices. He knows that women should have control over their own bodies. On economic growth in Minnesota, Dayton has three goals: well educated, productive citizens; a good infrastructure; excellent public services. I noticed that Thissen was nodding his head in agreement when Dayton was speaking. Indeed, throughout the forum I noticed that several candidates referred back specifically to what Mark said on several of the issues. I got the impression that they looked to him for his many years of experience in government. We might as well just go to the top and vote for him. On education, Dayton wants schools to remain open from 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. so there is access and help available for any student who needs it. The audience seemed to like this idea, for it would provide help for kids who are having trouble at home and at school. Dayton likes kids and sincerely wants to help them have the best life they can. I've seen many pictures of Mark Dayton with kids. You can tell just by looking at the pictures that he has a good time interacting with them. Anyone who loves kids and dogs is top of the line. (I wonder how he feels about cats?) On bringing jobs to Minnesota, Dayton is the best candidate. He learned from Rudy Perpich, who was adept at bringing in jobs. Perpich would talk to anyone or go anywhere to bring in jobs. Dayton definitely knows how to do the same. In his closing statement, he was at his best. He used anecdotes of the days when he taught kids in an inner city school where there were 36 kids in the classroom. He knows the struggles teachers face when classes are overcrowded and underfunded. The audience burst into enthusiastic applause. If the closing statements from the candidates had determined the election, Mark Dayton would have won. This segment was the best I've heard him speak in front of an audience. He's got the passion of Paul Wellstone. He exudes honesty, integrity and compassion. He's got all the qualities necessary for good governorship.
Paul Thissen - He's a new face with a youthful refreshing look. He's gaining a lot of experience and name recognition by running for governor. Keep your eye on him in the future. Thissen is a good speaker and knows how to get his ideas across. He wants to make higher education affordable for all by way of public investment through fair taxes. On greenhouse gas emissions, Thissen says no big power plants. He wants to engage people at individual levels so each person does their part in reducing these emissions. On the question of how he will bring economic growth to Greater Minnesota, Thissen said his focus will be on living in a global economy. He's interested in Angel Investors where small communites pool money together. He says that individuals and businesses in rural communities can shape their own destinies by working together. Thissen's responses to the questions show that he is bright and refreshing. I hope he becomes governor later on down the road after Minnesota is well on the way to recovery and out of crisis. I'm not sure that he has enough experience to handle things as they currently stand. On taxes, Thissen wants more progressive taxes and comprehensive restructuring. One of his main ideas is to get health care costs under control. In his closing statement, Thissen stated that kids' health care is a moral responisbility of society.
John Marty - Reminds me of someone but I couldn't put my finger on it. Tonight it came to me. He reminds me a lot of Richard Thomas (John Boy Walton). Maybe it's the way he presents himself. John Boy was such an upright person and a role model for many. On education, Marty says we as a state must invest in it. Doing so will make our economy thrive. He reminded us that he voted against tax cuts and if he is governor he will undo them. On abortion access, Marty is prochoice but his focus is on preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Good luck on that. On greenhouse gas emissions, Marty wants to change the behavior of each Minnesotan. He's outspoken in issues dealing with the protection of our planet. On economic growth, he says that Minnesota's entire economic system is currently unsustainable. John Marty wants to invest in early education. He referred back to what Mark Dayton said regarding expanding the hours that the schools are open. (Another example of the candidates mostly agreeing with Dayton.) In his closing statement, Marty said he wants to build a better state and referred twice to the url of his website. My impression is that Marty is great on health care reform (he wrote the bill that many hope will be made into law). He's got good ideas. I don't think he'll win the election, though.
Steve Kelley - On higher education, Kelly has a clear goal: every Minnesota child will graduate from some kind of institute of higher education, whether it's a four-year college or a technical school. On abortion access, he thinks the question of abortion should be made by the woman, her doctor, and perhaps, if she chooses, her clergy and/or family. On greenhouse gas emissions and a cleaner environment, Kelley advocates weatherizing low income and senior housing. He also mentioned conservation and using waste. On bringing economic growth to Minnesota, he thinks that bringing broadband infrastructure to all of Minnesota is the way to go. He also wants a diverse ecosystem. On the question asked by a member of the audience regarding which of the candidates would have the courage to hold kids and parents accountable in the education system, Kelley disagreed with the premise of the question. He thinks problems in the schools is an indicator of a far bigger social problem. In order to bring more jobs to Minnesota, Kelley advocates the new energy economy. He said that we must strengthen existing manufacturers. He's all for expanding regenerative medicine such as stem cell research. He also likes electronic storage technology. Kelly has good qualifications on these issues. He's currently a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute as well as the director of the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy. He teaches a class in Public Budgeting. My impression is that Kelley has the knowledge to tackle the budget crisis but that he's not the most electable candidate. He just doesn't have enough charisma to sway enough voters.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher - Here we go with the "I grew up on a dairy farm" routine. It's getting old. And here we go with the "I have four older brothers." I almost feel the insinuation that if I don't vote for her, she'll send her big brothers after me. I'm not really sure what my problem with Kelliher is. Does she come across as too egotistical? Too intense? Too opinionated? I think it's some combination of all these things. She's an excellent communicator, though. No crutch words here. I couldnt find even one. On abortion access, she agrees with the other candidates that the decision should be made by the woman, her doctor, her family and perhaps her clergy. On greenhouse gas emissions, she told of the bill on this and emphatically stated, "And I'm the one who got it passed!" On bringing economic growth to Greater Minnesota, she reiterated that she grew up on a dairy farm. (Really? Gosh, I did not know that...) She gave an impromtu speech at this point that sounded canned. I think most people try to give a canned speech that sounds impromptu. On health care, she stated that Minnesota needs to address the issues of disease in Minnesota. Doesn't she know that MDH is already doing an excellent job? All kinds of new ideas have arisen out of that agency, including the new Baskets of Care program. In her closing statement, I felt that Kelliher was too loud. Her focus was on investing in children and families. She likes to boast of her endorsements, but as we all know, endorsements don't necessarily cement the election. Besides, it's Mark Dayton who has the powerful Council 5 AFSCME endorsement. Dayton has Eliot Seide and cronies fully behind him. I think Kelliher is in the running, but I don't think she'll win.
Matt Entenza - Has a nice voice and a nice way of talking to the audience. He exudes Minnesota nice. Entenza agrees that the abortion decision should not be made by the government but by women and their doctors. It's a medical issue. On greenhouse gas emissions, clean energy is his top priority. He states that the governor can't focus on every issue at once; therefore you have to pick which ones to focus on. His is a clean energy economy. He sees a need to help deteriorating small communities in rural Minnesota. He wants to move toward organics and claims that farmers can make more money per acre with organics. He thinks that Minnesota can become the Silicon Valley of clean energy. On taxes, Entenza opposes raising sales taxes. He gave some good rhetoric on the issue. In his closing statement, he talked again about his childhood and how his father ran off on the family and left them destitute. He told about the opportunites he was given to pursue his education. He spoke with sincerity. I felt so sad about his childhood. On the other hand, many of us have a story to tell that's much worse than that. I wouldn't use the story as a way to get sympathy from the audience in an attempt to get votes. I like Matt Entenza. I think he'll be a top runner for the governorship. I'm still going with Mark Dayton, though, as the best choice for Governor of Minnesota.
Watch the video of the forum at The Uptake.