On the evening of January 19, reNEW Minnesota had its third and last set of candidate interviews. This one included Susan Gaertner, Tom Rukavina and R. T. Rybak.
You know the routine. I'll take each candidate separately, state the questions they were asked, paraphrase their answers, and then give my take on it. Each candidate was asked a set of six identical questions and two questions unique to each candidate. Here we go:
Question #1: Since the reNEW MN kickoff last fall, what have you done to enact the reNEW MN vision into your campaign? Gaertner stated that she will make the system more fair for everyone. She has been bringing people together on her campaign trail. She asks them what solutions they want. She continues reNEW MN conversations. Her focus is on the inequalities of the criminal justice system and the disproportionate number of minorities who are incarcerated. She talks to people on the campaign trail about how we're all in this together and we must all work together.
Question #2: What will you do about taxes? Gaertner replied that we need to take care of things now or we will pay for it in the future. She promotes a progressive tax system and stated that property taxes are regressive. She says we need more than we can get by just raising taxes on the rich.
Question #3: What are your solutions to racism, particularly in the educational system? She plans to talk about it. She again mentioned a program she knows of called Baby Space, where children are nurtured from a very early age. She talked about disparities in education, Chinese immersion and that funding for education needs to be fair in order to solve the disparity in education problem.
Question #4: What makes your campaign unique? Gaertner said that it's unique because she's not afraid to take people on. She assured us that she can win the Independent vote as well as that of the DFL pragmatic voters who will realize that she's the one who can get the job done.
Question #5: How will you maintain the vision and not park the reNEW MN bus? Gaertner states that she has listened to diverse groups of people to find out their perceptions of the problems. She is convinced that institutionalizing problems marginalizes them.
Question #6: What are your views on corporate farms vs family farms? Gaertner says she has a great deal of commitment to the family farms. She has a big concern about childhood obesity and how it relates to the way that our food is grown. She would look to various resources to pick a Commissioner of Agriculture.
Question #7: Would you honor tribal gaming? Gaertner stated that she respects sovereign nations. She doesn't like gambling, including the lottery. She will not support the expansion of gambling. She will support tribal casinos.
Question #8: What is your stand on global warming and the environment? She will acknowledge that we do have a climate change problem. She's not a big ethanol supporter. She prefers wind and solar.
My take on Gaertner: I like to listen to Gaertner speak because of her use of language, voice inflection, witticisms and body language. She does use too many crutch words, which is annoying. I wonder if she would consider visiting a Toastmasters' meeting?
I think Gaertner has some good ideas and she probably really would get the job done. However, I don't think she sees the reNEW MN vision as clearly as a couple of the other candidates do. What I don't understand is why she's going to the primary even if she doesn't win the endorsement. Where will she get the money, since she doesn't buy lottery tickets? Maybe she thinks that her husband got Jesse elected so he can get her elected too. I wish her well. She'd be an interesting governor.
Question #1: Since the reNEW MN kickoff last fall, what have you done to enact the reNEW MN vision into your campaign? Rukavina declared that he has lived our vision throughout his entire political career at the Capital. He has always had an open door policy with absolutely no exclusions and no exceptions. He said that his parents were immigrants so he can relate to the immigrant issues and communities.
Question #2: What will you do about taxes? He has been in favor of progressive taxes for a very long time. He then referred to Pawlenty as our crybaby governor who wants deficit by design so government will fail.
Question #3: What are your solutions to racism, particularly in the educational system? Rukavina again stated that he grew up in an ethnically diverse community. He believes in a good education for everyone. He wants a fair tax system that funds education. He wants the old Minnesota Miracle because we can't afford The New Minnesota Miracle right now. He wants input from everyone.
Question #4: What makes your campaign unique? Rukavina says that he will win by raising hope, not just money. He is refreshingly honest, although he admitted that he wanted the slogan to be brutally honest. He travels all over the state to get delegates.
Question #5: How will you maintain the vision and not park the reNEW MN bus? He is following his goals for jobs, education and the immigrant population. He talks to people about principles and what we stand for.
Question #6: What are your views on corporate farms vs family farms? Rukavina stated that he likes hippie farmers. He believes in the family farm. He believes in livestock research. He wants to keep agriculture money in the pockets of family farmers. He said that livestock and farm animals should roam free and not be kept full of hormones and cooped up in cages.
Question #7: What is your stand on a second chance for ex-prisoners? Rukavina stated that he voted against 22 criminal justice bills. He will not make criminals out of kids who make a mistake. He believes in giving people a second chance.
Question #8: (This was my question.) Homelessness has greatly increased in Minnesota due to loss of jobs and foreclosures. Also, there are over 4,000 homeless veterans in MN. What will you do to alleviate the homelessness problem and what is your timeline? Rukavina stated that he would not talk about a timeline but he would raise money to alleviate the problem. He would use levy bonds to make homes affordable.
My take on Rukavina: I like Rukavina's sense of humor. It reminds me of Wanda Sykes' humor. Straight up and to the point. Tom Rukavina is a natural speaker. He's not shy and knows just how to speak up and how to work an audience so they know he's speaking right to them. He zooms in on individuals then zooms out again to continue the conversation with everyone. He knows how to make use of his floor space, has great gestures and body movement and projects his voice strongly and clearly. I didn't hear any crutch words at all. I strongly suspect that he could easily hold his own in a debate with any opponent.
Tom Rukavina is definitely one of my top three choices for my reNEW MN vote. (Each member will vote for 3 candidates on January 31.) Tom should come to Toastmasters and show the rest of us how it's done.
One last thing for Rukavina: I really liked it when he said he will win by raising hope. We need to have our hopes raised. I think a lot of Minnesotans have lost hope. If Rukavina can raise hope and passion and excitement the way that Wellstone or Kennedy or even Hubert Humphrey did, I'd say he would have an excellent chance of winning. Hey Orrie, tell Tom to use music in his campaign. That's what people always did in the 1920's and 1940's. It worked, too! The right type of music can do wonders for a campaign.
R. T. Rybak
Question #1: Since the reNEW MN kickoff last fall, what have you done to enact the reNEW MN vision into your campaign? Rybak stated that reNEW MN has been transformational for him in his campaign. The vision is helping him to reconnect Minnesota. He brings this message with him on the campaign trail.
Question #2: What will you do about taxes? He explained that we have to invest as well as make changes to the budget. He further said that we need a progressive tax system but that alone won't fix the budget. He then crowed that he's a better fiscal manager than Tim Pawlenty.
Question #3: What are your solutions to racism, particularly in the educational system? Rybak claimed that he has more experience with racial issues than any governor in history. He has always stood up on issues of immigration.
Question #4: What makes your campaign unique? He knows how to mobilize at the grassroots level. He can get the vote of the Independents as well as the DFLers. He runs a strong campaign. He stated that no one can outcampaign him.
Question #5: How will you maintain the vision and not park the reNEW MN bus? He engages in the Wellstone way of thinking. He knows how to build a good team. He learns from both his successes and his failures. He has learned so much just by talking to people and by going to forums like this one. As mayor of Minneapolis, he has remained laser-focused on Minneapolis issues and thereby got things done. He will do the same as governor of Minnesota.
Question #6: What are your views on corporate farms vs family farms? He will promote a progressive food policy. He said that when he is governor, Washington Honey Crisp apples won't be sold in Minnesota. He'll concentrate on Minnesota grown food for Minnesota.
Question #7: What is your position on the health care issue? Rybak advocates a debit card to use at the clinics that have all our medical information on it. He claims that this will save millions of health care dollars. He maintains that preventative medicine is very important.
Question #8: What will you do about the achievement gap in our educational system? Rybak stated that the way in which we currently test kids does not test the full brain. Then he said that we need to forget about No Child Left Behind, as it's not working. He advocates using innovative teaching techniques, such as using music to teach math.
My take on Rybak: My opinion is that Rybak has an excellent chance of actually winning the governorship. He's definitely in the top half of the candidate list. The word on the street is that he's done a fantastic job in Minneapolis and he could do the same as governor. Can he get the outstate Minnesota vote? That remains to be seen. He's not at the top of the list for that because his name is not as well known as it is here in the Twin Cities. He can change that on the campaign trail. It'll be interesting to watch.
I like many of Rybak's ideas, including the use of music to teach math. The two are so interconnected. He's the only candidate I've heard come up with that idea. Of course I'm never able to make it to the outstate forums and debates because of a safety issue with my car.
As far as Washington Honey Crisp apples not being sold in Minnesota, I don't think he can keep them out. Free enterprise, you know. Personally, I'd rather have Beacon apples from Pine Tree Apple Orchard in Dellwood. And Haralson.
I do think that Rybak learned a lot about campaigning when he campaigned for Obama. I could easily support Rybak for governor, not as my first choice, but as someone I'd be happy with if he won.
As far as his communication and presentation skills, Rybak is very good. He makes good use of his floor space. He's good at gestures and body movement. He rarely uses a crutch word. Most of all, he engages his audience with the interesting things he says. I love the phrase he used when answering question #5: laser-focused. Rybak is definitely a candidate to watch.