Tonight I attended the second set of interview screenings of reNEW Minnesota. The gubernatorial candidates we screened this evening were Tom Bakk, John Marty, Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Steve Kelley. The format was the same as last time. Candidates came into the room (at the Rondo Community Outreach Library on Dale Street in St. Paul) one at a time. Various members took turns asking them questions on aspects of the reNEW Minnesota vision for Minnesota. Here's the paraphrased answers of each candidate, along with the questions they were asked.
Question #1: The Politics of Inclusion. Since the reNEW Minnesota kickoff campaign, what have you done to enact the vision and how have you incorporated it into your campaign? Bakk told about how he grew up in a church camp in northern Minnesota. This experience taught him about compassion and tolerance. He thinks that Minnesotans will accept a tax increase. He told us that he doesn't remember all the components of the reNEW Minnesota vision. He says the candidates have to go through a lot. He will, however, have an administration of inclusiveness. Basically, he did not answer the question.
Question #2: What will you do about taxes and Minnesota's educational system? Bakk is the candidate who wants to have an honest coversation with Minnesotans about taxes. He's the Chair of the Senate Tax Committee. He kept telling us that. He still displays an aura of anger. He says Minnesota can't raise five billion dollars in revenue to pay off the deficit. We need jobs!
Question #3: What will you do about racial discrimination and disparities? Bakk said that it's the governor who sets the tone. He stated that public opinion is very important at the Capital. As governor, he will advocate non-discrimination and promote gay marriage. He said that a big burly carpenter governor such as himself would be able to reach men who would otherwise think that real men don't support gay marriage.
Question #4: How will you win? What strategies will you use? Bakk said he had lunch with former governor Wendell Anderson at the Lexington. They discussed why Minnesota hasn't elected a DFL governor in twenty years. Wendy said that our candidates haven't been genuine enough. If the people trust a candidate, they will give that candidate leeway on the issues. Genuineness is very important. Bakk told us that he is the best candiate. (They all say that.)
Question #5: How will you keep your eye on our vision and prioritize? Bakk responded that each committee has a silo of priorities. Each committee has to decide on their biggest priorities. Bakk's biggest priority is jobs. He will focus on jobs and Minnesota businesses.
Question #6: On Agriculture: What will you do to put family farms above corporate farms? Bakk is for growing trees. His district works the land. He's for small businesses and family farms. His heart broke when his community voted to close the school. They just couldn't feasibly keep it open. He will appoint a DFLer as the Commissioner of Agriculture. He will give the appointment to someone who comes from the agricultural community who has experience in farming. He would be willing to spend money in rural Minnesota for renewable energy with forestry.
Question #7: What will you do to help make an easier transion for exoffenders to reenter society? Bakk says there are way too many prisoners. We should rehabilitate them, not leave them in prison. He stated that many of them should not even be in prison.
Question #8: What will you do about the environment? He won't say that we shouldn't cut the trees down anymore, since forestry is a big part of his district. He really appreciates the beauty of nature. He lives on Lake Vermillion and wants it to remain pristine for his new grandson.
My impression: Tom Bakk was less gruff tonight than other times I've heard him speak. He smiled a lot more, too. He told the audience that he doesn't expect to get the reNEW Minnesota endorsement. It was decent of him to come, though. He said he hopes he gets it. You could tell by his demeanor that he really isn't counting on it. I think he lost the audience when he said he couldn't remember what all the points of the reNEW Minnesota philosphy are. I got the impression that most in the audience would be crossing him off their list of possible endorsements. I would like to add that I know Senator Bakk has worked very hard representing his district at the legislature. I also know that he understands taxes and the budget very well. He's got some good endorsements. He's just not what reNEW Minnesota wants in their top three candidates.
Question #1: The Politics of Inclusion. Since the reNEW Minnesota kickoff campaign, what have you done to enact the vision and how have you incorporated it into your campaign? John Marty has had the reNEW Minnesota vision for many, many years. He always supported the idea of ending poverty by 2020, yet really always wanted it to end right now. He said we can do it and we have to do it. He wants living wage jobs for everyone. He has worked hard as a state senator for this vision for 23 years. His campaign rhetoric has always been in favor of this. He fully agrees with the reNEW Minnesota vision of living in a state where the inherent worth and dignity of every person is recognized without exception.
Question #2: What will you do about taxes and Minnesota's educational system? He stated that we must invest in taking care of problems up front. He voted against tax cuts. He's a firm believer in progressive taxes. He will bluntly say so and has done so at the legislature. Besides going back to a progressive tax system, he will also consider taxes on things that will change consumer behavior, such as a carbon tax.
Question #3: What will you do about racial discrimination and disparities? He will (and does) address all aspects of this issue. He truly believes in the inherent worth of everyone with no exceptions.
Question #4: How will you win? What strategies will you use? He, as Wellstone did, has passion for his beliefs and the courage of his convictions. He knows that the biggest issue people have about him is that he ran for governor before and lost big. His response is that he was fifteen years ahead of his time back then. That's no longer true. The time is now! Minnesotans know there is something wrong with Minnesota and they're ready for a change. They're ready for Minnesota to do the right things again.
Question #5: How will you keep your eye on our vision and prioritize? Have the vision first, then govern around the vision. We together decide how to make it happen. We need the leadership of someone like Floyd B. Olson.
Question #6: On Agriculture: What will you do to put family farms above corporate farms? He will appoint a Commissioner of Agriculture who believes in sustainable agriculture. That person must be able to address public health issues. He will choose someone from an organization such as Clean Water Action or the Farmers' Union.
Question #7: Discuss jobs for women and people of color and the role of MNDOT and METCOUNCIL. John Marty wants decent jobs for everyone regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. He will appoint a MNDOT commissioner who will adhere to this core principle. He will make sure that Metropolitan Council has people on the board who also share these humanitarian principles.
Question #8: Homelessness in Minnesota is becoming a big problem. People are losing their jobs and losing their homes. There are also over 4,000 homeless veterans in Minnesota. What, precisely, will you do to eliminate homelessness from Minnesota and what is your timeline? John Marty cares deeply about the homeless problem. As governor, he would give it a top priority. Shelter is a basic human need and no one deserves to be denied this basic necessity. He was very passionate about this. Many in the audience gave him a standing ovation.
My impression: I always liked John Marty. I really like his ideals, his passion for those ideals and the courage of his convictions. I, too, thought that perhaps he's too far left to get elected. I'm far left on these issues, too, but I know a lot of voters are not. On the other hand, if we keep thinking that way, we're playing right into the Republican ideas of greed and scarcity. We know that Minnesota has enough resources to solve the problems. We are tired of living in a state that doesn't seem to care about its poorest citizens. We are tired of living in a "Thank God that's not me" state. I have moved John Marty up to one of my top three candidates. He could really change this state around. He's got high morals and ethics, too, and doesn't take PAC money or money from lobbyists. When I really think about it, I'm getting awfully excited about the idea of a Minnesota such as John Marty envisions.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Question #1: The Politics of Inclusion. Since the reNEW Minnesota kickoff campaign, what have you done to enact the vision and how have you incorporated it into your campaign? Margaret Anderson Kelliher stated that she supports things that lift people out of poverty. She fought to keep GAMC. She thinks that the Metropolitan Council should work with the Department of Education to get things done. She wants everyone in the state to share in future prosperity.
Question #2: What will you do about taxes and Minnesota's educational system? We must stabalize the state budget and then focus on education. Kelliher wants fair taxes. She amused the audience when she said "Hark! I hear an echo!" This was in reference to a comparison between today and 1934. Kelliher also is in full support of the New Minnesota Miracle. She wants to first make taxes fair by making the wealthy pay their fair share. Hey! That's Dayton's line! We should just vote for him and be done with it.
Question #3: What will you do about racial discrimination and disparities? Kelliher said that we have to begin with respect for everyone. Our state government has to respect the diversity of Minnesota. The institutional barriers that she will prioritize are the poverty gap, the achievement gap and the racial gap.
Question #4: How will you win? What strategies will you use? She claims to have a unique campaign differentiation in that she offers a different way of looking at Minnesota. She has lived for twenty years in rural Minnesota and twenty years in metropolitan Minnesota. If she is governor, her administration will not tolerate whiners (no room here for Matt Entenza). She will make sure that the governor and the legislature will come together to get the work done. She thinks that grassroots organization will get her elected. She will go anywhere to talk to people, including the quilt shop down the street.
Question #5: How will you keep your eye on our vision and prioritize? She told us that she has lots of ideas. I didn't catch what they were. I don't think she answered the question. Maybe she didn't understand it.
Question #6: On Agriculture: What will you do to put family farms above corporate farms? This was a good question for Kelliher as she grew up on a dairy farm. (Did you know that?) She said that she will appoint a Commissioner of Agriculture who believes in organic family farming. She wants all her commissioners to have experience, expertise, and the ability to manage people. For Agriculture, she will look at people from such organizations as the Farmers' Union.
Question #7: What will you do to make sure that, as the new LRT route comes through the Rondo neighborhood, people of lower and moderate income and diverse cultures won't get displaced? Kelliher said that she wants the Met Council to work with the community to find workable strategies for all the issues that will arise.
Question #8: What will you do about the Health Care issue? She talked about the difference between health care and health insurance. She stated that health insurance no longer works. She believes that health care is a basic right. She fully supports the Minnesota Health Plan.
My impression: The audience seemed to be divided in half in regard to Kelliher. Some liked what she said; others thought she wasn't sincere and perhaps couldn't be trusted. One TakeAction member said that he really wanted to like her and support her but he was having a hard time doing so. I knew what he meant. I feel the same way. Kelliher has excellent communication skills. There's no doubt at all about that. Something is missing, though. I heard someone say that she's as close to being a Republican as a Democrat can get. Do they mean she's a Blue Dog Democrat? I don't know about that. I don't see it. On the other hand, I don't think that on the inside she's the most progressive of all the candidates. Sometimes I think she's saying what she thinks the audience wants to hear. She makes good points, as any good debater learns to do in order to win a debate, but I don't hear the sound of speaking from the heart. I don't hear the passion of John Marty. I don't hear the sincerity of Mark Dayton. I don't see the courage of her convictions. If she does win the DFL endorsement and the primary, I could support her at that point. But not before then. There are DFL candidates who would follow the vision better.
Question #1: The Politics of Inclusion. Since the reNEW Minnesota kickoff campaign, what have you done to enact the vision and how have you incorporated it into your campaign? Kelley talked about how to close the achievement gap. He didn't really answer the question of how he is putting the reNEW Minnesota vision into his campaign.
Question #2: What will you do about taxes and Minnesota's educational system? He agrees that we need a progressive tax system. He supports a carbon tax. He stated that we must control inflation and health care costs.
Question #3: What will you do about racial discrimination and disparities? He embraces diversity in this state. He said that diversity makes us stronger. He wants to bring representatives of diverse groups into the government just as he has done in his campaign and continues to do.
Question #4: How will you win? What strategies will you use? First, he will get the DFL endorsement. Then he will unite DFLers and Independents. He said that after the last guvernatorial race, many voters had "buyer's remorse." That got a chuckle from the audience.
Question #5: How will you keep your eye on our vision and prioritize? He will call on people all across Minnesota to make the vision happen. People have to make decisions on how to consume less energy. All of Minnesota has to come together to get things done. We have only one governor but we can have five million heros.
Question #6: On Agriculture: What will you do to put family farms above corporate farms? Kelley talked about nutrition in schools. He stated that rural life is important and that we need to teach rural people about business and economic development. He wants to expand the broadband infrastructure of rural Minnesota communities. He asks who trusts in an agricultural community and then said that it's the people who are active in it.
Question #7: What will you do about burial sites for the Hmong community, particularly soldiers who fought alongside of us? Kelley didn't know that this was an issue but he is a support of burial rights for everyone. He will look into this issue further.
Question #8: What will you do to stop the unfair foreclosures? He supports the Homeowner/Lender Mediation Act to prevent premature foreclosures.
My impression: Steve Kelley has some good ideas and definitely understands budget issues. He's got the credentials, as he teaches a budget class at the Humphrey Institute. I don't think he will become on of reNEW Minnesota's top three candidates. He doesn't meet the criteria. For example, he does not support the Minnesota Health Plan. When MUHCC asked him this question: As governor would you sign the MN Health Act if it passed in the legislature? He replied to all the other questions on their survey but did not respond to that one.
My pick: Out of these four candidates, the only one I can pick for one of my top three candidates is John Marty. He's the only one who fully agrees with and supports all of the visions of the reNEW Minnesota Campaign. One audience member said it was like Paul Wellstone came back.