Today I attended the Latino Caucus. The DFL gubernatorial candidates were there in a forum answering questions. They all sat at a long table at the front of the room. I wonder why they rarely smile unless someone cracks a joke? They all sat up there frowning. I wanted to run up and poke them just to get smiles on their faces.
This event was cosponsored by reNEW Minnesota, which is a grassroots political organization whose vision is for all Minnesotans to take part in society without exception. They see everyone being included and no one being excluded. This vision extends to health care, education, the political process, and life in general.
The candidates each gave an opening statement. Here's the gist of it:
Tom Bakk - He gave his personal information such as his family and that he lives on a lake in northern Minnesota. He first entered the legislature in 1994. That's all he had to say in his opening statement.
Mark Dayton - He didn't give any family information. Everyone already knows his background. He got right into the nitty gritty of what he stands for. He was a supporter of the Dream Act. He also supported comprehensive immigration reform. When he is governor, he will give every child educational opportunity. He's very much in favor of a progressive tax system.
Matt Entenza - He was elected into the State House of Representatives over 14 years ago. He claims that he kept from rejection a bill protecting Latino rights. He grew up in Worthington. Now there's something new that I hadn't heard before. He says that Worthington has a large Latino population. I suppose that's supposed to make the Latino community connect with him. Matt, Matt, Matt. (Shaking head.)
Susan Gaertner - She's from the East Side of St. Paul. Her father was a social worker. She was taught from an early age that government has a social responsibility to help society.
Steve Kelley - Has a legislative background and currently teaches at the Humphrey Institute. Once again he told his joke of wanting to have T-Paw for a student in his budget class, but Timmy Boy doesn't have the necessary prerequisites. Besides, Steve doesn't like flunking students.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher - She started out saying she is a wife, a daughter and a mother. So are millions of other women. She grew up on a farm. Did you know that? Ho hum. She then claimed that she and her husband moved from rural Minnesota to the Twin Cities so her kids could grow up in a diverse community. I almost gagged. Does she really think anyone is going to believe that? She's so obvious about saying what she thinks the Latino community wants to hear.
John Marty - He's been fighting for 23 years for social and economic justice for all Minnesotans with no exceptions. I can believe that. Marty's a good guy. He wants to include everyone in all of our public policies. I believe him. John Boy always fights for justice and hates inequality.
Tom Rukavina - He's been a legislator for 23 years. He was raised to believe that if you work hard you'll get a good job and have good benefits. He's taken this core belief to the legislature. His parents were first generation immigrants.
R.T. Rybak - He worked with Latino janitors to give them dignity and justice. Shouldn't he call them custodial engineers? (Should bloggers be called blogonians?) He says he has stood up with Latinos every step of the way. I think that's what he said. He was talking so fast I could barely keep up with him. Neither could the interpreter. Slow down, R. T. Take a deep breath and try to calm yourself.
Paul Thissen - He stated that his suburb of Richfield has been transformed by Latinos. He then blamed a bad administration (Pawlenty et al) for the bad economy. He ended his opening statement by saying that his campaign is about the future.
Next on the agenda was a set of four questions.
Question #1: Anti-immigrant attitudes and policy impact all Latinos, no matter our immigration status or how many generations of our family have lived in the U.S. - Many members of our community have been targeted and prevented from living their dreams. While we hope that our national immigration policy will be addressed at the federal level this year, we know there may be much more to do. Our current governor, Tim Pawlenty, has used his campaigns and office to play up fears of immigrants and stop legislation that would help our community. Pawlenty and others use their state platforms to influence local and national anti-immigrant policy. As governor, what will you do to influence national immigration policy and help Latinos in Minnesota fully contribute to and benefit from the larger community?
Paul Thissen - The best way to combat the fear policy of the current administration is to respond with hope and with pulling forth the best in Minnesotans. Current immigration policy tears families apart. It is in Minnesota's best interests to make sure everyone has access to health care. Thissen is committed to making a society of inclusion.
Matt Entenza - He wants to make sure Latinos and all communities are welcome in Minnesota. He talks about his Latino legislator who has endorsed him. He's name dropping again to try to impress the Latino community. He says he's already been to Washington D.C. to meet with senators on the immigration issue.
R.T. Rybak - He says the job of governor is like the job of mayor. He wants us to think that since he's a good mayor and accomplished alot, it goes without saying that he would be a good governor and would accomplish a lot. That would remain to be seen. I don't think he came into his mayorship with a multi-billion dollar deficit. Rybak relates how Pawleny ran anti-immigrant ads. Rybak says he is the opposite. He created the Minneapolis Promise. He believes that this state in the heartland of the nation can show the entire country what the Statue of Liberty is all about.
Susan Gaertner - Her mantra today is "whatever you have heard Pawlenty say or seen him do, I will do the opposite." She thinks her good record as Ramsey County Attorney will carry her through to win the election for governor. She can get it done, you know.
Steve Kelley - He grew up in Minnetonka when it was all white. (All the suburbs were almost all white back then.) He says we need immigration reform so that a Latino is not afraid to report domestic abuse for fear of being deported.
Mark Dayton - He wants comprehensive immigration reform. He says it's the humane and right thing - the left thing - the correct thing - to do. He is committed to an inclusive society. You can check Dayton's record on this. He has indeed been a long time supporter of human rights and has always fought for justice for all. He hates inequality and injustice.
John Marty - He said, "The further we can get from Pawlenty's policies, the better off we'll be. We have to bring everyone into the community." Marty's Minnesota Health Plan covers everyone with no exceptions.
Tom Bakk - He was born and raised, and still lives, on the Iron Range. He reminds us that the Iron Range has always been a melting pot of immigrants. All of his ancestors, he tells us, came from Scandinavia. He says we need to make sure that immigrants get economic opportunities in the form of jobs. Why does Bakk always sound so angry? He has a frightening voice.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher - She says she understands the presentation that proceeded the forum. That's good. Not everyone can understand a PowerPoint presentation. Then she crowed about her track record in the legislature. She says immigration is a justice issue and we need comprehensive immigration reform. What does she want that reform to cover, exactly? Could she be more specific? And less boastful about herself?
Tom Rukavina - He told the audience that Tim Pawlenty grew up in South St. Paul but forgot where he came from. Rukavina, on the other hand, never forgot where he came from. Now here's something new that I never heard before...he says that the KKK was on the Iron Range and that they tried to divide the people by using fear. He wishes Pawlenty were gone. (Will no one rid us of this troublesome governor?)
Question #2: Local and national politicians have used fear and hate mongering to blame immigrant workers for accepting sub-standard wages and stealing "American Jobs." While this is the rhetoric, the reality is that wage theft spirals out of control, holding down wages for all Minnesota workers. The Minnesota Department of Labor (DOL) estimates that almost half of all "minimum wage workers" are paid less than minimum wage due to wage and hour violations. Latino workers frequently suffer these and other violations in many industries including construction, agriculture, meat-packing, janitorial, and food service. But nationally and in Minnesota, there is far more focus on enforcement of immigration status than protection of workers' rights. Do you believe that all workers deserve equal protection under the law - without exception? And, if so, how will you work with us to strengthen and enforce the labor laws that protect all workers?
Tom Rukavina - He chairs the higher education and work force committee. He believes in collective bargaining. He was raised that way. He states that working people need someone like him in the governor's office to protect them from unfair labor practices.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher - She wants to make sure that loopholes are eliminated and the hourly wage is enforced.
Tom Bakk - He's been a carpenter for 34 years. He understands hard work and he understands the benefits of collective bargaining. He has walked picket lines. He wants to protect workers.
John Marty - He says we need stronger laws and they need to be enforced in order to make sure that the rights of workers are protected. He maintains that every job needs to make a living wage.
Mark Dayton - He promises that when he is governor, he will fine employers who abuse employees and would even put them in jail. Here's something new I hadn't heard before. He once walked a Target picket line. I'd like to hear more about that. What did his family think of that? Interesting. You have to admire someone who will even go against his family in order to do what's right. Mark Dayton once again got applause even though the audience was supposed to hold their applause until the end.
Steve Kelley - He says that it's not just about protecting worker rights, but that it goes beyond that. He says it's civil rights as well as worker rights.
Susan Gaertner - She stated that people need to be able to report employers who break the law and not be in fear of repercussions.
R.T. Rybak - He said that Minnesotans need to have an honest conversation about how we can't survive without immigrant workers. He believes that they should have a full share of the Amercian dream.
Matt Entenza - He stated that we come from many backgrounds, but we're all one state. Everyone should participate. Now he's off on his clean energy economy. Oh, and now he wants to fire Steve Swiggum. I think many of the candidates agree with that.
Paul Thissen - He wants to enforce labor laws. He's committed to the economic security of all Minnesota families. He will reach out to everyone and involve us all.
Question #3: We know that one of the things that has made Minnesota strong historically is the quality of our education system and the opportunities a good education offers our young people. We want that opportunity to be there for everyone. Currently only 40% of Minnesota's Latino students graduate high school within 4 years, compared with 80% of white students. There may be many facors in this disparity - including insufficient school funding, language barriers, and the lack of college options available to undocumented students to name a few. As someone who wants to be governor of Minnesota, why does this disparity matter to you and what is the state's role in ensuring that Latino students receive a quality education in Minnesota?
Paul Thissen - He states that we can't survive as a state without every single child having a good education. Kids give us hope for the future. It's a good thing this wasn't a Toastmasters' speech contest. He would have been disqualified for going over his allotted time by more than 30 seconds.
Matt Entenza - Oh, his poor, poor childhood. I feel so sorry for him. He sure uses that story a lot. He says he's glad his son learned Spanish in school. He also says he wants to stop Latinos from being left behind.
R. T. Rybak - Look what he's done in the Minneapolis schools. Yup, we know, R.T. We give you a pat on the back. Good job. Rybak. Apparently he created The Minneapolis Promise. This looks like a great program. Rybak knows that the Latino community needs their kids to succeed. He wants to give them college aid and opportunity.
Susan Gaertner - She asked the audience how the translator would translate "diddly squat," which is a term she uses. Good question. Does that translate into Spanish? Or is it just an American idiom? She got laughter from the audience with that one. I like Susan Gaertner more every time I hear her. She's so real. Gaertner wants all kids to graduate. She also wants to get rid of cultural disparities.
Steve Kelley - He stated that all kids ought to graduate from post secondary education and that this is important to everyone. He claims that this will be the measure of our economic success. He says that he got the Dream Act passed.
Mark Dayton - He told of his first job out of college, which was teaching in a school on NYC's lower east side. He says that his conscience was seared by this experience. I'll bet it was a culture shock for a Preppie. It was an excellent experience for him. Because of that and other experience he would have, he developed a deep sense of social justice and became appalled by inequality. That's why he spent the next 40 years of his life trying to right social wrongs. As a candidate for governor of Minnesota, he promises to increase funding for education every year of his governorship for grades k - 12 with no exceptions and no excuses.
Steve Kelley - He maintains that we owe all of our kids a good education. He wants more funding for k - 12 and also for post-secondary education. He is against tax cuts because they lower funding for educaiton.
Tom Bakk - He said, "Minnesota has always been a high tax state, but we have more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other state. We need to invest again in education."
Margaret Anderson Kelliher - She believes in early education and feels it is important. She reminded us that she authored the Dream Act. She states that we need to invest in our greatest natural resource - our people.
Tom Rukavina - He told the audience that a good education makes us invent new and better things. He stated that he's the one who passed the Dream Act. Everyone in our state is guaranteed a good educaiton in our constitution. Then he wondered why we're not obeying our constitution in this matter.
Question #4: A primary cause of our nation's foreclosure crisis has been lenders encouraging buyers to take subprime loans. This was done to increase profits in the financial sector - plain and simple, it is greed. Minneapolis - St. Paul - Bloomington has the second highest racial disparities in the distribution of subprime loans of any metro area in the U.S. In fact, our metro area is one of only 8 in the country where Latino borrowers are more than twice as likely to receive a subprime loan comapred to whites. This discrimination is hurting families, neighborhoods, businesses and our state. What will you do to put an end to discriminatory lending practices and help more people of color, including Latinos, purchase and keep homes?
Tom Rukavina - The greatest sin is greed. It has taken over. He will appoint a Commissioner of Commerce who will not bow down to the banks.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher - She says the Commissioner of Commerce will need to stand up for people's rights and that this is a civil rights issue. She states that the Metro Council must stop discrimination. Then she went into a spiel soliciting our support and praising her own virtues.
Tom Bakk - He supports government regulation of lending practices. His first priority as governor will be to find jobs for people. He knows what it's like to not have a job to support his family. He's been through it, you know.
John Marty - He says to fight greed. He wants to stop predatory lending practices. He wants a better future for all Minnesotans with no exceptions.
Mark Dayton - Made the statement that greed ran rampant under the administrations of Pawlenty and Bush. We need a moratorium. Let's put Pawlenty on probation. Dayton belives in an inclusion policy that includes everyone. He has fought his whole life against injustice. It's true. He has. I'll vouch for him.
Steve Kelley - He knows we need more affordable housing. If he is governor, he will use the moral authority (?) of the governor's office to make sure that the laws are followed.
Susan Gaertner - Predatory lending is her business in the County Attorney's Office. She put an end to it. As governor, she would care about every Minnesotan. She will restore social justice. She says she is very electable. Huh.
R. T. Rybak - He talked about what he did in Minneapolis to make it a great city. He thinks he can get elected as governor based on what he has done as mayor. Maybe he can. Maybe not. He said he sued someone on behalf of Minneapolis citizens and won. He supported the Dream Act. He supports college access for all. He's talking way too fast again. Slow down, R. T., and take a deep breath again. Try to relax.
Matt Entenza - He's still trying to make us believe that Entenza means "governor." (heh heh heh...let's go along with him just for fun...) He claims that he went after those who didn't obey housing discimination laws. (Did he catch them?) He says that if he is governor, we will be a state of opportunity for all people. (Could you be more specific?)
Paul Thissen - He says that we need a governor who will stand up against all discrimination. His campaign is all about the future...2015, 2020, 2025.
Today we heard much of the same that we've heard over and over again before. It's new to those who were at a candidate forum for the first time. For those of us who have been to so many of them, it's redundant. I was glad to hear a few new things today that I hadn't heard before.
Note: Paul Thissen came up to me and pulled the reNEW Minnesota vision out of his pocket to prove to me that he really does carry it around with him. Hey Paul, you probably knew I was going to be there...That's ok. I believe you. I really do. Anyway, it means you read my blog so you must have good taste...
Here's my favorites for the day just from this particular forum (in no particular order):
The next candidate event I'll attend is on Monday December 7, which is a DFL sponsored gubernatorial debate. Location is the Weyerhaeuser Chapel at Macalester College in St. Paul.
I was glad to see my new blogger friend Holly Cairns at the forum today. And it's always good to see Katie from Mark Dayton's office and Orrie from Tom Rukavina's office. Special thanks to reNEW Minnesota staff and to all the Latino VIPs. You all did a great job putting this together.