Thursday, December 3, 2009

reNEW Minnesota Campaign: Candidate Interviews

Since I'm a member of reNEW Minnesota, I attended the candidate interviews tonight. There were three candidates: Paul Thissen, Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza. We'll be interviewing the rest of the DFL gubernatorial candidates on two other dates.

The format was as follows: the candidates arrived one at a time. Paul Thissen was first at 6:15, followed by Mark Dayton at 7:00. Matt Entenza was third and last at 7:45. Each candidate was asked a total of nine questions, which were presented by various reNEW Minnesota members and by the general audience. The first six questions were the same for each candidate; the last three were different. We decided on the questions before any of the candidates arrived. It was determined that I would ask my question regarding homeless veterans to Paul Thissen. After each candidate left, the audience/reNEW Minnesota members spent several minutes discussing the candidate's responses to the questions and whether his answers reflected the reNEW Minnesota vision. This was a very intelligent audience and was not easily swayed.

We were also given forms to complete asking various questions about how the candidates answered the questions and what our impressions were. After the evening was over, we turned these forms in to reNEW Minnesota staff.

The reNEW Minnesota Campaign, which is part of Take Action Minnesota, is a newer grassroots political organization that is growing very quickly. The people involved in this are going to have a great influence on which candidate gets elected to the governorship of Minnesota. To make a statement in reference to this, the moderators asked everyone who was going to be a delegate to stand up. Any candidate who wants this organization's endorsement and support had better acquaint him or herelf with its vision and platform and make sure that it's part of his or her own vision as well.

Here's some impressions of the three candiates who attended tonight:

Paul Thissen - I give him an A+ for thinking on his feet and an A for being an excellent communicator. He definitely knows how to talk to an audience and get his points across. Thissen commented that he carries his paper copy of the reNEW Minnesota vision everywhere he goes and especially on the campaign trail. Was this a clever trick to make his audience believe he's fully committed? The audience seemed to be divided in half about this. Some were wondering if this was the case; others believed that he was totally sincere and that he knew the vision backwards and forwards and fully supported it. Some thought that he was a little too slick. Personally, I thought he came across as being very sincere. He's got some excellent ideas of how he can make Minnesota a great state again if he is governor. He appears to know what needs to be done and how to do it. I do have one suggestion for improvement for him. He should slow down a little and soak in the deeper meanings of the questions. He needs to convey to the audience that he is pondering the question intently rather than speaking too quickly and appearing too clever for his audience.

Mark Dayton - I've heard better communication from him. He seemed nervous at first and stumbled a bit with his words. He used too many crutch words. It doesn't matter, though, since we're used to this. He did warm up, as he always does when he gets started on his passion for public service. His personality came through as he inserted humorous remarks here and there. Most realize that Dayton has been progressive since around 1968, back before it was even called progressive. He let the audience know that he was on Richard Nixon's enemies list and that he was one of the few senators who voted against the Iraq War. He also said he realized that many knew what he meant about Nixon, while others wondered, "Who's Richard Nixon." This audience was a mix of all ages. Dayton was doing great and really had the attention of the audience. He lost about half of them with his answer to the immigration question. I understood exactly why he answered as he did, as did one of the moderators. We discussed it afterwards. Many in the audience didn't understand at all. Dayton also lost a few with his remark about voters and nonvoters. It must be very difficult to come up with answers to impromptu questions while wondering how your answer will be construed by the audience. There are so many perceived ramifications to each answer. Of course no one ever asks my opinion...

The thing to remember about Mark Dayton is that his word is good. If he says he'll do something, he'll do it. He keeps his promises. Some of the audience thought he made too many promises during the course of his allotted time, but most of these remarks were from the younger crowd. After Dayton left, the audience seemed divided. He definitely had supporters in the room. It should also be noted that Dayton received applause several times until the moderator reminded us that we need to hold our applause until the end.

It's this writer's opinion that in choosing which candidate to endorse, one should look at all aspects, including past experiences in promoting the vision, the candidate's history of fighting against bigotry, discrimination and racial hatred as well as what the candidate has done in the past to promote equality and justice for all. Dayton has spent 40 years excelling in all of these areas.

Matt Entenza - He was soft spoken, as always. This is good in some ways and not so good in others. Where is his passion? If he has any, he keeps it out of his voice. One would never know from his speaking skills whether he has any passion and enthusiasm for the reNEW Minnesota vision or not. Also as usual, he kept referring to his growing up in Worthington, Minnesota. He referred to it too often. He again brought up his roots in a single-parent household. He plays on that far too much. Another item he keeps referring to is his idea of saving Minnesota through a clean energy economy. I think he knew he was referring back to it too often, for he commented that he was doing so because that's his message. Apparently he needs a new message because that one isn't doing it for him. Certainly clean energy can create jobs and help the environment. How long will it take? Minnesota needs answers quickly. Dayton said that after he wins the election there will be no party and no pomp and circumstance, but that he will get to work immediately. Entenza, on the other hand, states that he can't do everything so he's concentrating on clean energy. When Minnesota is in serious crisis, his meager platform won't get him elected. It doesn't appear that he has the inclination nor the know-how to delve into all the problems and issues that Minnesota faces. I would suggest that he quit name dropping. The reNEW Minnesota Campaign does not care which big names from which ethnicities are supporting him. We can decide for ourselves if we are going to support him or not. His name dropping will not help us reach our decision. Our final choice will be based solely on our perception of the candidate himself and whether we feel he is devoted and committed to the vision. Entenza appears to be a nice person, but not the right choice for governor at this time. After he left, the audience did not appear to be impressed.

In my opinion, out of these three candidates, Paul Thissen and Mark Dayton both thoroughly understand the vision and embrace it. Dayton, of course, has decades of experience over Thissen.

I'll post more after the next round of interviews.

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