Election 2014: Hennepin County Commissioner, District 4

I’m going to link again to this excellent article about why the County Board is important and why you should care about it.

In Hennepin County, they run your libraries, because Minneapolis handed over their entire system to the county. They appoint two of the members of the Three Rivers Parks District board of commissioners. The Three Rivers Parks district has some truly outstanding regional parks, though among parents it’s probably best known for Chutes and Ladders. (If you’re a parent of a child between three and twelve and you haven’t heard of Chutes & Ladders, you need to pull up that link, note down the address, and take your kids there IMMEDIATELY.)

It can sometimes be a little confusing about where the city stops and the county starts. In Minneapolis, your trash is picked up by the city. But if you have Household Hazardous Waste, which you can’t put in the trash, that’s handled by the county. There are county highways that run through the city and I’m not actually sure but it’s possible those are plowed and have their potholes filled by the county. Hennepin County maintains the office to end homelessness, which does most of its work in Minneapolis. The city has the fire department, which will come to your house if you call 911 about a fire, but I’m pretty sure that the county has the ice rescue team, who will come to try to save your life if someone calls 911 because you went through the ice. This seamlessness is mostly a good thing, I think; if things are running smoothly, you aren’t going to need to know whether a service is being provided by the city, the county, or the state. (And if there’s an emergency, you can just dial 911, and whether it’s a city, county, or state employee that responds to your emergency is not your problem.) But the net result is that a lot of county stuff is somewhat invisible to citizens. And they do a LOT.

Here’s who’s running:

PETER MCLAUGHLIN – NONPARTISAN
CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW – NONPARTISAN

Peter McLaughlin

Peter is one of those long-standing been-around-forever candidates whose names makes me bristle and I can’t quite remember why. I conferred with Ed, who said he was a former crony of Sharon Sayles-Belton. I remember several years of trying aggressively to vote out as many of Sharon’s buddies as possible, but clearly McLaughlin stuck around and at this point, it’s been over a decade and if I can’t find a more recent reason to hate him, I think “buddy of Sharon” is probably past its freshness date. (I mean, if you’re on the county board, you SHOULD be working well with the current mayor of Minneapolis, right?) But, he also supported Mark Andrew, so if you really hated Mark Andrew, there’s that.

Looking up Mark Andrew took me to this article, in which (totally independent and not Republican at all) mayoral candidate Cam Winton objected to the fact that Peter McLaughlin arranged to release a YouTube video (made with county funds) on the official Hennepin County channel about the program that built the Greenway that just so happened to be very flattering to Mark Andrew and which came out right before the election. The link in the article no longer works but I tracked down what appears to be the video on YouTube. Oddly, the video that’s now on YouTube was released November 12th (a week after the election) so the fact that it does not contain egregious quantities of Mark Andrew may not actually represent what Cam was complaining about earlier. The main thing I’d say is worth objecting to about the video is that it clearly represents significant time and energy on the part of some county employee and yet has a whopping 95 views. And that’s pretty representative of their overall viewership. GUYS. YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG. The silly video of a bad fashion tips demonstration made by my daughters and their friends has 107 views. SRSLY GUYS.

I felt like one of my lingering grudges against him was stadium-related, and yeah, McLaughlin was one of the Hennepin County people who not only passed a county-specific sales tax to build the Twins’ ballpark, but also arranged to circumvent the requirement to hold a referendum. He then did not support the Vikings stadium deal, but that didn’t matter since it was passed by the state and funded by the state. That article has sort of a hilarious bit about the suggestions for a referendum:

A referendum “doesn’t make a bad idea any better,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who voted for Target Field but dislikes the Vikings stadium proposal. “I don’t believe in government by referendum. It lets elected officials off the hook for making judgments about these things.”

Yeah, you know what? A referendum doesn’t make a bad idea any better. But it at least empowers people to say no to a bad idea, like a $1.024 billion sports palace, $498 million of which is coming from the public purse, and I was going to make a joke here about how bad the Vikings are, but frankly it doesn’t even matter. Even if they were the best team in the country, I think they should buy their own goddamn stadium (or continue playing in the one they already had).

Anyway, I guess we can’t blame that one on Peter, although there was a point where he was being awfully cagey about his feelings on the subject.

Overall, I’m not 100% sold on Peter. My general impression of him is someone who will do generally good work but will tuck in favors to friends here and there, and his friends may be people I don’t like very much. In his favor, he supports green energy and transit, he helped build the Midtown Greenway (which is awesome), and the county mostly runs smoothly.

Captain Jack Sparrow

Or, if you prefer, you could vote for a guy who cosplays a drunken, lunatic swashbuckler?

I am pretty sure that Jack wants you to take him seriously. He has an article on his blog about his past accomplishments; he’s spent about 40 years as an activist, focused largely on housing. In recent years he’s worked with Occupy Minnesota to make life hard for banks foreclosing on homeowners. Back in the late 1980s he founded an advocacy group called People United for Economic Justice, which used similar tactics (occasionally in collaboration with anarchist bowling-ball-throwers — I’m not making this up, Jack links to the wikipedia article about the other group because it mentions their collaboration with his group.)

Taking him as seriously as I can for a minute, I will note a couple of things.

* As an activist, he is extremely fond of the sit-in. Back in the 1980s it was HUD homes and the Gold Medal Flour building; now it’s foreclosed houses and banks. There’s a lot to be said about that tactic but when I’m looking at a person whose sole qualification is “activist” and considering them for elected office, I want to see a bit more range.

* Things he’s involved in seem to go awry pretty regularly. (“In the case of the St. Paul lawyer’s office, the order to move in to open the door never arrived. As a result, one of our members was charged with assault when a false claim was made that he had caused a woman who had been inside the office to fall after the door was forcibly opened, causing her an injury. The door was forcibly opened by pulling on it while it was being held from the inside, but the person accused was not involved and was found not guilty by a jury.” — Um, if your group forced open a door and injured someone, SOMEONE should probably have been found guilty by that jury. I mean, maybe I’m reading this wrong, but it sounds like he’s saying, because of a communication lapse on the part of the Occupy people, a false claim was made that someone had injured someone by forcing open a door. And in fact we DID forcibly open a door, it just wasn’t the person who got accused who did it! …if I AM reading it wrong, it’s because his explanation is awfully confusing. Poor communication skills: also not a plus in an elected official.)

* A lot of what he accomplishes seems to boil down to attention, rather than substantive results. Which shouldn’t be entirely surprising with someone who went to court and changed his legal name to Captain Jack Sparrow.

Anyway. Even setting aside the fact that he changed his name to Captain Jack Sparrow … he strikes me as someone who’d be profoundly ineffective in this job. But in any case I see no reason to set that aside. THE GUY CHANGED HIS NAME TO CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW.

I liked the Pirates of the Caribbean movies! They were a blast! Captain Jack Sparrow is a great character and terrific fun to watch! I DO NOT WANT HIM REPRESENTING ME IN ANY POLITICAL OFFICE, UP TO AND INCLUDING DOGCATCHER.

Hey, just what are your qualifications, anyway?

Hi! I am Naomi Kritzer, SF and fantasy writer and election-season political blogger. I lived in Minneapolis from 1995 to 2012, and now live in St. Paul. Before that, I attended college in Northfield. I grew up mostly in Madison, Wisconsin.

This blogging thing evolved gradually, mostly on LiveJournal. I was doing research on the bottom-of-the-ballot candidates like the people running for Soil & Water, and I was taking notes anyway, and I figured that probably some of my LJ friends would appreciate the information, so I put it in a blog post. I have continued to do this partly because some people find it useful and partly because I find it entertaining. I frame it as endorsements because, well, that’s what you call it when you’re telling people who to vote for, right?

I have no special qualifications and I make no pretense of being unbiased here. I’m a Democrat. I am guessing that there are Republicans who read my blog to find out who NOT to vote for in those down-ballot races, and that’s totally fine. (I am happy that you are finding them useful! albeit in the opposite way from what I might have intended.) My primary research tool is Google.

If you don’t find my political blogging to be either useful or entertaining, then by all means do not read it. If you feel that I am describing candidates in completely unfair or woefully incomplete ways then for goodness’ sake start a blog and write about candidates in a way that fully reflects their complexity and your own viewpoint. If you send me a link, I may even link to you. (Or you can leave a link in a comment, though I’m still figuring out the WordPress comment moderation functions and it’s possible I will accidentally delete it because WordPress marked it as spam and I clicked the wrong thing — anyway, I hesitate to make promises here because I might break them out of sheer technical ineptitude. But my INTENTION would be to leave the links in place.)

If you want to get in touch with me for whatever reason, my e-mail address is exactly what you would expect based on my name and my fondness for using Google.

Every year now, I get asked whether I would be willing to do this for other areas. If someone were willing to pay me in actual money, I would probably do it, but here’s the basic problem: within my own stomping grounds, I have a pretty solid knowledge base. If someone in Minnesota is talking about LGA, NRP, or LRT, I don’t have to look those acronyms up to find out what they mean. (Local Government Aid, Neighborhood Revitalization Project, Light Rail Transit.) I know what issues everyone agrees on vs. what is highly controversial and I’ve lived here long enough that I’ve seen those change over time. I know the history of certain politicians, so that when someone mentions they have an endorsement from Jackie Cherryhomes or Tim Penny, that sends some very specific signals about who they are. I know which suburbs are fancy and expensive and which are not, I know where the various immigrant groups live, and I know the political reputations of the various Minneapolis neighborhoods. I will not claim to recognize every dog-whistle term but I will for sure catch some of them.

The minute I step outside even my specific part of Minnesota that knowledge base is gone. So if, say, I were to research a school board race in Pennsylvania, first I’d have to find out how they even do school funding in Pennsylvania. (Minnesota has a somewhat unusual system. It’s excellent, actually, you should all switch to it.) If it was all property-tax based I’d need to know if this was a town that was, in general, pretty open-handed or not. When I scanned the list of endorsements, I would have no idea whether I was seeing the names of the people who killed last year’s property tax increase or the people who campaigned for it. So it would be vastly more time consuming and there’s a really good chance I would miss something, though certainly I could still make fun of people. (There’s no way THAT could go wrong…) At the request of a friend I looked up a suburban race last year and even though I was reading about a race in either Richfield or Bloomington, which are just barely south of South Minneapolis, I felt shockingly out of my depth.

If you have any questions about me or my background, please feel free to ask them in the comments.

Election 2014: Ramsey County Commissioner, District 5

If you ever get the urge to go into politics, but you’re totally in it for the power and really not interested in the glory (because “glory” in the case of politics mostly just means people e-mailing you with complaints), run for County Board. At least around here, the County Board does an amazing array of stuff and yet people largely ignore it completely. How completely? Well, Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson has been on the Hennepin County Board for years and yet even in the metro area, an awful lot of people don’t even know who he is. (This excellent article talks about the problem in some detail, though it’s focused on Hennepin County, not Ramsey.)

(For the non-Minnesotans who read these posts for the snark and weird stories, I’ll just quickly note that Minneapolis and St. Paul are in different counties. Minneapolis is in Hennepin County; St. Paul is in Ramsey County. Both of these counties include a bunch of suburbs and Hennepin I think includes a little bit of rural land.)

In my part of St. Paul, here’s who’s on the ballot:

CHARLES S. BARKLIND – NONPARTISAN
RAFAEL E. ORTEGA – NONPARTISAN

Rafael Ortega is the incumbent. He has (1) the job, at the moment; (2) the DFL’s endorsement; and (3) yard signs (I’ve seen them.)

He does not have a web site that can be found with Google.

Well, he has a job web site, but the complete lack of a campaign web site kind of makes me wonder where people got the yard signs. I mean, obviously people had their methods back in the era before the Internet — heck, I pounded in yard signs for Ken Golden the first time he ran for Madison City Council — but seriously, don’t you want people to be able to get them easily? and more importantly, to donate money to you easily? He must not be very worried.

To clarify the DFL endorsement thing despite the fact that no party is listed: there are a bunch of offices that are officially non-partisan; the political parties in town can endorse candidates if they want and if they can agree on somebody. The DFL routinely does endorsements for the mayoral races, the city council races, the school board races, and the county board races. The Republicans in Minneapolis and St. Paul occasionally do endorsements but mostly just stay out of it because an endorsement from Republicans in Minneapolis isn’t going to motivate people to vote for you, it’s going to be the MARK OF CAIN that people point to and say “you can’t vote for this guy; he’s a REPUBLICAN.” The smart Republicans, like Cam Winton, run as Independents.

Rafael Ortega

His office web site says he grew up in a tough neighborhood in New York, where he learned firsthand about the importance of transit. He was a social worker and a director of a social services organization before becoming the first minority elected to Ramsey County board and the first Latino elected to ANY county board in Minnesota, which happened in 1994. So twenty years in, it’s no wonder he’s not super worried about getting re-elected.

His achievements list mentions, “Did critical site cleanup for Sholom Home East on West 7th in Highland Park, paving the way for what the Star Tribune calls the ‘future of nursing homes.'” Sholom Home is a genuinely nice facility: pleasant and (more critically) well staffed with people who are well trained, attentive to the residents, and friendly. My grandmother has lived in three different places since moving to the Twin Cities, and I toured several others, so I speak from a pretty good knowledge base when I say that Sholom Home is EXCELLENT. So I will happily give him points for that. That whole little corner went from a disused industrial site to a thriving mini-neighborhood; I think it was anchored by Sholom Home.

On the other hand, you could probably fairly blame him for some of the most annoying things about the Green Line, the LRT line that runs from Downtown St. Paul to Downtown Minneapolis.

Here’s the thing about the Green Line. (Why did they call it the Green Line? Why couldn’t it have been the University Line, like the Blue Line was and should have stayed the Hiawatha Line?) It runs down the center of University Avenue, and they didn’t feel that they could let it preempt the traffic lights, because Snelling (the biggest north-south street it crosses) is already a mess, and letting the Hiawatha Line preempt the lights created some seriously effed-up east-west traffic. Years after they opened the line, they finally had the technology installed so that the traffic lights could resume the cycle where it left off, instead of starting over from the beginning.

So to solve this problem on University they are not letting it preempt the lights for the north-south streets at ALL. Now, on Snelling: yeah. You can’t. I think it makes sense to not let the trains preempt Raymond, Fairview, Snelling, Hamline, Lexington, Victoria, Dale, or Western — all of which are stops, anyway. But there’s a light at Prior. There’s a light at Pascal. There are lights up and down all of University; making the train stop at Pascal is just ridiculous.

There is a fascinating, if someone technical, article from back in July about how they’re trying to fix this problem by timing the signals to create waves of green in both directions. When you do this right, cars and trains will get a whole long string of greens and then one red and then another whole long string of greens. Except I would think the trains would keep screwing this up by stopping at stations for unpredictable amounts of time, and in fact, the bus that used to run along University Ave was faster than the goddamn train.

Mind you, the Green Line is getting a ton of riders, despite all the annoying aspects; it’s way above ridership predictions and actually seems to be a huge success. And it has not made it any more difficult to cross University by car than it already was. (In fact, it’s a whole lot easier than it was during construction, when it was horrific.) I found a whole bunch of blog-type posts about Rafael at the Pioneer Press site and one of them quotes him saying that he doesn’t think cold weather will depress ridership, and I think he’s right; trains are nice year round, but they are particularly awesome when it’s snowy and the roads are a mess.

…and HEY, while hunting for information about Charles Barklind I found a voter’s guide that had a link and I FOUND RAFAEL ORTEGA’S WEBSITE. (I sent them a note suggesting ways they could make it a bit easier to find.) In addition to his transit stuff he mentions creating a program that offers mental health and chemical dependency treatment under one roof, protecting sex trafficking victims, and redeveloping land like the old Army Ammunition Plant.

Charles S. Barklind

Charles really truly does not have a website. He’s a man of many contradictions, though, so let me just go through a few things I found in semi-chronological order.

Back in 2010, when he ran for this same seat, he turned in some answers to a voter’s guide. This is a highbeam.com link but conveniently, Charles’ extremely succinct answers are in the teaser bit. In 2010, he was 62 and a golf caddy. Candidates were invited to submit a 100-word essay about the issue that was most important to them. I quote Charles’ essay in its entirety: “The University Corridor of light rail transit. I’m in favor of it.”

A year or two back, he got profiled on a blog that does news analysis. In the piece, he describes himself as a Republican, although mostly he sounds like a harmless crank with a letter-writing hobby.

This year, he’s got a profile in an East Metro voter guide. In response to the question, “What would be your top three priorities if elected?” he says, “Maintain our excellent credit rating. Take from the rich. Give to the poor.”

Anyway. I am not going to speculate about what precisely is going on with Charles, other than to say I’m glad he’s found a rewarding hobby in running for office and I’m glad he lives in senior housing where presumably there are people to keep an eye on him. He sounds like he’s probably both incredibly hardworking and very kind, and I hope the people in his life appreciate him. I don’t want him as my County Commissioner, though.

Election 2014: MN Attorney General

The Attorney General is the state’s chief legal officer, and represents the state in court on legal affairs that can range from defending against slip-and-fall lawsuits to appealing Supreme Court decisions that one of our laws is unconstitutional. The office is probably best known for its consumer protection and consumer advocacy.

Mike Hatch was our AG for a while; he scored enormous political points by going after the local HMOs like a rabid pit bull. I specifically remember two things that he got exercised about that I thought were BS: (1) Allina had hired a masseuse to give chair massages to a bunch of employees as a random perk during a busy season. You know what, there are thousands of corporations that spend money on random little perks every now and then, ranging from chair massages to free turkeys. Of all the things you could complain about an HMO doing, if this is what you’re going after, you are really stretching. (2) They also paid for their doctors to go to medical conferences that were held outside the midwest. As it happens, most of the big medical conferences are held in states with better weather, and doctors hear about a lot of new research at these things, it’s not a vacation. As irritating as all that was, I also remember chatting with another parent at the playground years ago whose very small private ambulance business had been driven under by a lawsuit from the AG’s office claiming that he’d overbilled, or something. (I can’t remember the exact details.) He said that he would never ever ever vote for Hatch for anything, or for anyone associated with Hatch.

Lori Swanson was Hatch’s protege. I am pretty sure that the first time she ran, I didn’t vote for her. (Which means it’s possible I voted for our current gubernatorial candidate, Jeff Johnson! Or maybe I went for the Jessecrat, I’m not sure.)

That said, I’m mostly fine with the job she’s done. But, if you’re inclined to vote for a third-party candidate in one race, this would be the one I’d pick for you, I think.

Who’s running:

BRANDAN BORGOS – INDEPENDENCE
SCOTT NEWMAN – REPUBLICAN
LORI SWANSON – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
ANDY DAWKINS – GREEN PARTY
MARY O’CONNOR – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
DAN R. VACEK – LEGAL MARIJUANA NOW

Brandan Borgos

Brandan has a JD from the University of St. Thomas. He doesn’t mention whether he works as a lawyer, or what exactly he does for a living, though he does mention he lives in Whittier, enjoys reading and martial arts, and does fundraising for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. I was curious whether he does work as a lawyer, so I looked on LinkedIn. Per LinkedIn, he graduated from UST in 2010 and works at “Borgos Law, PLLC,” which suggests to me that he’s in solo practice. Except you might think his solo practice would have a web page, which it does not (at least that I could find). The Chamber of Commerce website believes that Borgos Law, PLLC is at 898 Galtier St. in Saint Paul. I looked this up in Google Maps and from street view (which admittedly has its issues) this appears to be a vacant lot.

His platform, on his website, is unobjectionable. In the sense that there’s nothing in it that anyone from either the DFL or the Republican party would hesitate to put on their own website. He believes in evolving leadership; transparency; building community partnerships; and protecting civil rights. That said, just as an outsider I think he’s probably a bit more serious about protecting privacy and civil rights than the major party candidates. (On the other hand, as someone who may or may not have significant legal experience, I’m not sure he’d be at all successful in that goal.)

His Twitter actually has a bit more character than his campaign website: “Using the sword of justice on predatory lenders, student loans, polluters, & backroom government deals. Alter ego of @JutSao: fighter of cannabis prohibition.” His @JutSao page mentions that he’s the former Minnesota NORML chair. (NORML = National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, if you’re unfamiliar with it.) Maybe that’s what he was doing as his day job?

Not surprisingly for someone who used to work for NORML, he strongly supports legalizing pot. It would be interesting, you know, if an AG got elected who supported marijuana legalization but the governor did not. I am not sure he’d be able to do anything to undermine existing state laws, but he might be able to come up with something.

Scott Newman

Apparently the Republicans have decided to make themselves THE PARTY OF MINING because — like their auditor candidate — this guy has a whole bit dedicated to how awesome mining is. In fact, why don’t I quote it: “First, Northeastern Minnesota has experienced a lagging economy for too long. I lived on the Iron Range for many years. These hard working folks are not looking for a handout. They want a good job that provides for their families. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an arm of the federal government. For years it has been holding up permission to get non-ferrous mining operating on the Range. As your Attorney General, I will do all I can through the legal system to push back against the federal government and get our people back to work!”

DOWN WITH THE EPA. TO HELL WITH CLEAN WATER. YAY MINES.

Next!

Lori Swanson

As noted up front, I am not a huge Lori Swanson fan but I actually think she’s done an OK job. Specifically on the health care front, rather than going after chair massages, she went after grotesquely inappropriate debt collection practices. She also opted not to defend a 101-year-old Minnesota law that could have caused me to be slapped with a large fine if the wrong person had taken issue with one of my statements about a ballot initiative. She’s sued fraudulent debt-collection companies and a patent troll.

Her website says, “Her industry-wide agreement stopped hospitals from charging uninsured patients up to four times more for the same services than insurance companies pay. (Minnesota is the only state with this agreement.)” — I had missed that! If she actually pulled that off, that is a HUGE deal, actually. It is consistently appalling how much uninsured patients get screwed over. She also went after two of the local for-profit colleges for deceptive practices. (Should’ve gone after all of them, IMO, but I’m not sure what sort of evidence she needs for that.)

On the other hand, I’m not sure she’s done anything about the collection agencies using law enforcement agencies to do their dirty work. A lot of the “Debtor’s Prison” articles that hit the media in 2010 and 2011 at least involved people who’d failed to pay fines. The Star Tribune found people arrested in Minnesota because they owed money to collection agencies. Also, the gun lobby likes her just fine.

I will probably vote for her this year because I like her better than the Republican. But if you want to vote for someone else, I’m not going to yell at you.

Andy Dawkins

Andy is my parents’ neighbor. They like him. He was a DFL legislator for 15 years and spent 35 years working as an attorney, so he has actual experience working in an office that isn’t a vacant lot.

He’s got about the positions you’d expect for someone running to the left of the Democratic incumbent: he’s pro-pot, pro-campaign donation limits, pro-privacy. He opposes pretty much all nonferrous mining. He wants to take action on climate change (which is mostly outside the domain of the AG, actually, but he wants to divest state pension funds from fossil fuel companies.)

He is the only Green running for a statewide race, and they’ve focused a lot of efforts on this one in the hopes of getting 5% of the vote and regaining major party status. This MPR piece explains some of what that means.

If you hate Lori Swanson, he’s a viable alternative, in the sense that he could do the job if elected. The risk is that you’ll get Scott “Yay Mines!” Newman instead. (The other risk is that with major-party status, the Greens will be empowered to act as a spoiler in the statewide races. The solution the Greens propose to this is instant runoff statewide — Andy has a whole bit about IRV on his website — but that’s unlikely to be implemented soon.)

Mary O’Connor

So here’s the question I have about Mary: is she actually an attorney? Does she have a JD? The state constitution does not actually require the AG to have a JD degree, but it seems like kind of a self-evidently good idea. I e-mailed Mary, left a question on the Libertarians of Minnesota facebook post about her, and Tweeted my question to the Libertarians of Minnesota. So far, radio silence. Oh, I also looked her up on LinkedIn but the Mary O’Connor in MN that I found did not look like her.

I did find some information about her on the Libertarian Party officers page. She’s the state party treasurer. According to her bio there (why on earth is there no bio on her candidacy page? they could just C&P this) she has been a Libertarian for five years, she served for three years on the Brooklyn Center City Council (05-08), and had run for “many offices over the last 11 years.” She worked for the U of M for almost 40 years and is now retired (which does not sound like a lawyer sort of job, but it’s possible she was doing that with a JD.) It also notes, “O’Connor wrote a paper on solving the healthcare problem in the United States and sent it to many elected officials. She has an interest in reducing government and rightsizing public education.” (“Rightsizing” is one of those euphemisms for “cutting” that particularly makes me twitch.)

On the issues page of her website she says that she’s anti-eminent domain (“Government should not be seizing the homes and property of Minnesotans for Light Rail Transit or other unnecessary projects”), pro-marijuana, anti-regulations of businesses (“A business owner has the right to make a living and the government should not deny this right by forcing unnecessary regulations and paperwork onto their business,”) and that as a member of the Pardon Board she’ll work to pardon offenders who’ve committed victimless crimes (I’m guessing mostly she means drug offenses here.)

The line about business owners having the right to make a living free from regulations and paperwork is pretty fascinating. How far does she extend this? Should restaurants be free from inspections of whether they’re following food safety guidelines? Should food manufacturers be free from burdensome regulations requiring that they accurately label their products? Are we including minimum wage laws here? Restrictions on child labor? The requirement to pay overtime if you make someone work more than 40 hours in a week?

I would suggest that if you’re tempted to vote for her, you cast your vote instead for Brandan Borgos, instead, since the Independence party shares many of her values, and he actually has a JD.

EDITED TO ADD: I heard back from Mary. She does not, in fact, have a JD, “but justice is not hard to understand.” She added, “As Attorney General I will work to defend the rights and freedoms of Minnesotans. Government, not businesses or nonprofits, is the main entity taking away our rights and freedoms. Are any of the other candidates for Minnesota Attorney General talking about defending our rights and freedoms? Is our current Attorney General working to protect our rights and freedoms that are taken away by government? We Minnesotans can choose not to do business with fraudulent businesses or nonprofits but we risk being arrested if we choose to not obey an unconstitutional law that government imposes on us.”

I’m going to upgrade her to full-on weirdo.

Don R. Vacek

I was expecting to get to make a joke about the People’s Front of Judea vs. the Judean People’s Front (because, what, we need a Grassroots Party AND a Legal Marijuana Now party?) but as far as I can tell, Don’s not actually running. If you look at his web page, it says, “Because Minnesota does not allow citizen initiated voter referendums. Every vote represents a voice of the cannabis community.” I suppose if you really truly do not care who’s the Attorney General of MN you could try to use this, as suggested, as a referendum in favor of legalizing marijuana, except this is not going to crack 1%, so it’s kind of self-defeating.

Since he’s not actually running to try to serve as AG, I’m not sure how much it really matters whether he’s qualified or not. His Facebook page mentions a few things about him (he works for Ramsey County, he studied social work, and he lives in St. Paul). It doesn’t appear that he has a JD or any particular legal experience, which may be why he figures that the AG race is a good one to use for a symbolic “vote yes for weed” campaign.

Election 2014: MN State Auditor

State Auditor is an interesting and poorly understood office. They do not do audits of businesses or non-profits; rather, they audit local governments and (I think) school boards. Their office FAQ provides a decent explanation for what they do. Matt Entenza probably should have read that FAQ before he filed.

On the ballot:

PATRICK DEAN – INDEPENDENCE
RANDY GILBERT – REPUBLICAN
REBECCA OTTO – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
KEEGAN IVERSEN – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
JUDITH SCHWARTZBACKER – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Patrick Dean

He starts out by saying that he’s “the guy who’ll stop and give you a jump start when it’s 20 below.” It’s rare to run into that sort of statement on candidate web pages but being neighborly in winter weather came up in the Republican primary debate I linked to the other day. The thing about being the helpful jump-start guy is that apparently these days most newer cars can’t be jump started from another car. (At least, this is what we were told by the guy from AAA after we unsuccessfully tried to jump my minivan from Ed’s car with no luck.) The Republican candidates for Governor focused more on snow removal. Being the guy who’d stop and help push you off a snow berm is also kind of extra evocative, although looking at his picture, I think if he stopped and wanted to help push me out of a drift I’d be reluctant to let him. He’s pretty old and I wouldn’t want him to get hurt.

He then goes on to tell you that “For 19 years I worked in St. Paul, Minnesota and ran a for-profit business for the St. Paul Port Authority. During my time there I found evidence of diversion of pledge funds. I spoke up and that made some very powerful people very, very angry. And then the matter went to litigation and the Supreme Court of Minnesota said I was right. It’s all a matter in the public domain and you can take a look for yourself.” He then links to a Google search: https://www.google.com/search?q=St.+Paul+Port+Authority+876+Bonds&oq=St.+Paul+Port+Authority+876+Bonds&aqs=chrome..69i57.929j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8 …which, okay, but I don’t even know what he means by pledge funds and who’d be diverting them, and following the most helpful-looking result to a Star Trib article didn’t make me feel a whole lot more enlightened. I do, however, think that his “made some very powerful people very, very angry” line may possibly be him trying to make himself sound super badass for filing a lawsuit.

That said, he looks at least reasonably qualified and his plans for the job he’s running for appear to involve doing the job he’s running for. He’d probably do okay. (And if your battery goes dead while you’re in downtown St. Paul near the capitol, you’ll know who to call!)

Randy Gilbert

I will note for the record that the State Auditor job is one I’ve actually voted for a Republican for. Admittedly, the Republican in question (Judi Dutcher) changed parties a few years later.

Anyway, given that this guy’s campaign has focused on the fact that Rebecca Otto is not wholeheartedly pro-mining. He has a whole page about mining complete with a picture of himself in front of the Polymet building with two thumbs up.

Yeah, nope.

Rebecca Otto

So one thing I’ll note about Otto is that her opposition to the mines she voted against (in her position on the State Executive committee) was not even environmentally based: “Rebecca is not pro-mining or anti-mining; she is pro-taxpayer. It is part of the State Auditor’s job to watch out for the best interests of Minnesota taxpayers and make certain they are not left holding the bag after a nonferrous mine closes. The State Auditor sits on the State Executive Council, where in 2013 she voted against the approval of 31 leases to mine nonferrous minerals because of potential taxpayer exposure to cleanup costs. Rebecca is pushing for an open and transparent process when it comes to the setting of financial assurances for new copper mines, which are like damage deposits, so that taxpayers are protected.”

I totally get that people in outstate want mining because heavy industrial jobs pay a whole lot better than tourism jobs. I am not necessarily opposed to mining. But the mining companies sure as heck do not get to leave a big mess for the people of Minnesota to clean up; that’s a bad deal.

Anyway, overall I think she’s been doing a fine job and I’m planning to vote for her.

Keegan Iversen

It took me about fifteen minutes of googling to be pretty sure that this Keegan Iverson is NOT in fact the hockey player. (That Keegan Iverson is also from Minnesota! But younger.)

Edited to add: I cleverly misspelled his last name when googling. Iversen is the politician, Iverson is the hockey player.

Keegan Iversen the Libertarian politician has a picture on his web site (in the gallery of rotating photos) of somebody getting arrested, and I’m curious if it was him, but the existence of the hockey player makes it really hard to turn up news stories about an obscure political activist. (Anyway, it doesn’t look like him. I have no idea why it’s on there; he doesn’t say.) (Edited to add: correctly spelling Iversen did not help me find much more than I’d already found.)

Anyway, this guy has no particularly relevant experience (I think he most recently worked as a military contractor doing weather forecasting in Iraq) and his position statement says that he plans to “eliminat[e] positions and redundant departments,” which is pretty far outside the job description for the Auditor.

Oh, and he accepts donations in Bitcoins.

If you want to be all iconoclastic in this race and vote for a third-party candidate, go for the Independence guy. He has relevant qualifications AND he will jump start your car for you.

Judith Schwartzbacker

Judith has no link because she has no web page, Facebook group, or any useful information about her online beyond the fact that she filed for office and wants to legalize pot.

In googling her name I have also discovered that in 1988 she was a graduate student in Philosophy at the U and gave a talk called “What is Existentialism” at Normandale Community College. She left a comment on a post about philosophy in 2011 and she goes to a Nietzsche interest group meetup.

So basically, her hobbies are weed, philosophy, and filing for offices you’re not actually running for (although she seems to have only done that once, so maybe that doesn’t quite qualify as a hobby yet.)

Don’t vote for her. Legalizing pot is well outside the job description of the State Auditor anyway.

Election 2014: MN Secretary of State

The Secretary of State, in Minnesota, oversees elections. In fact, to pull up the ballot that I'm looking at, I go to the SoS website's My Ballot site, which lets me pull up a list of candidates complete with links to their web pages (that was implemented in the last few years — when I started doing this, I always had to Google) and a PDF of a sample ballot.

There is other stuff they do, but I think the big job is the elections. Visiting the main SoS web page it looks like they also handle business filings (okay, that's probably a pretty significant job), notary publics, the Safe At Home program (which an address confidentiality program for people like victims of stalking or domestic violence), a bunch of forms, and some truly random miscellaneous stuff like the state symbols.

Do I really need to persuade anyone reading that it matters quite a lot who's counting the votes? Six years ago, we had a massive hand recount in the U.S. Senate race, in which among other things they had to try to decide what to do with ballots like these: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98272423 ("Lizard People," heh. I'd forgotten about that ballot. There was also someone who just randomly doodled over the whole thing, and a guy who voted for Norm Coleman for Senate, but wrote in Al Franken for Soil & Water.) Some of this stuff gets decided in court, but not all of it.

Mark Ritchie, the DFL Secretary of State, is not running again, so this is an open seat.

Our choices, courtesy of the above-mentioned website:

BOB HELLAND – INDEPENDENCE
DAN SEVERSON – REPUBLICAN
STEVE SIMON – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
BOB ODDEN – LIBERTARIAN PARTY

Bob Helland

Bob Helland is the Jessecrat. He pushes the point that someone who isn't either a Democrat or a Republican might be a bit more impartial, but he sort of buries that under his primary hobbyhorse, which is that the SoS should focus more on business life cycle management. Having looked at his page, though, I'm not really clear on what it is he wants to do, other than putting out proposals for how we should be adding stuff about this to the high school curriculum. He also talks about working to keep private information confidential and making public information available; is this actually in the job description for SoS or is it just something he's very concerned about? Especially with third-party candidates I don't entirely trust them to be running for the right office (and it's not just third-party candidates; see Matt Entenza.)

Anyway, he does at least have some relevant work experience; he's worked for the MN Department of Revenue and he's done computer stuff, which is a point in his favor.

Dan Severson

Here's something I was not expecting: a Republican for a major statewide office who comes across as more of a flake than the Independence guy. Instead of Issues or Positions his link is to "Causes," except it's only one: Count Military Votes First Petition.

I'll just C&P his explanation of the issue. "In the 2010 election in Minnesota less than 5% of Minnesota’s active duty military members votes were counted. Current state policy is to count those votes last after all others. We believe that our active duty military vote should be counted first and in its entirety. If you agree, please sign the petition below. This petition will be delivered on 9/11 to Mark Ritchie, current Minnesota Secretary of State and Rep. Steve Simon, Chair of the Minnesota House of Representatives Elections Committee."

So here's the thing. Absentee votes are counted last. But I'm pretty sure they're all counted; even if they won't swing the big race, you aren't going to know until you look at them whether they'll swing the downticket races, plus you need to get 5% of the votes in a statewide race to qualify as a "major party," which is a pretty big deal for Grassroots, Independence, etc. I was looking to see whether the SoS website confirms that they're all counted (the Iowa SoS does) and I didn't find that but I did find out that I totally could have voted in the primary election because we effectively have early voting now — I could've gone to my county election office and applied in person for an absentee ballot, filled it out, and given it back to them. (Given that statewide turnout was something like 2% of eligible voters I could have felt such a smug sense of moral superiority, too! Dammit.)

Anyway, it's true that a lot of military voters wind up disenfranchised. But it's not because absentee ballots get counted last; the problem is that there are a lot of ways for absentee ballots to get screwed up. The requests get lost, or the ballots get lost, or they arrive too late. As it happens, Minnesota does a lot of stuff right. You can request your absentee ballot via Internet. There's a web form to let you check the status of your absentee ballot. There are states that apparently fail miserably to get the ballots to service members the required 45 days before an election, and there are some U.S. Senators who have pushed for a law saying that if a state drops the ball, they need to foot the bill to express-mail the ballots out (and if things are really late, to express-mail the ballot back, as well). I'm not sure whether Minnesota has had issues with this, but in any case, he's not actually talking about any of the practical steps that we could be taking to ensure that service members overseas are not disenfranchised! Changing the order in which we count the ballots is both symbolic and obstructive (don't the machines actually count the ballots as they go in? at the very least, they put them all in a nice neat stack that can be run through quickly. Ballots get counted by hand for the instant-runoff races and when there's a recount; most of the time, we use machine counts.)

He does have a marginally more substantive set of policy statements tucked under his news posts: http://danseverson.com/severson-solutions-the-first-100-days/

But seriously, this guy is a crank. And yet not only did the Republicans endorse him, he ran unopposed in the primary. What the HECK, guys. You’re a major party. I expect real candidates with whom I passionately disagree, not people who sound like they’re running on the Cranky Old Fart party ticket.

Steve Simon

Steve is the DFL candidate. Not surprisingly, he prioritizes voting rights and will resist any attempt to get rid of same-day registration (seriously, same-day registration is so important, and there is zero reason not to have it — it's a crucial protection against stuff like the purging of the ballot rolls that happened in Florida in 2000). He wants to expand early voting. He was a leader in the fight against the Voter ID amendment that got voted down in 2012.

Yeah, this is the guy I want running the next election. No question. And honestly, if my top priority were ensuring that active-duty military people overseas were not disenfranchised, this is also the guy I would pick, given his commitment to making absentee ballots available.

Bob Odden

So right now, if you go to Bob Odden's website, you'll see his name and picture and a flag and then, if you read down the page, you see:

Sun Oct 26, 2014
MN Weapons Collectors Ass Gun Show
9:00 am
State Fair Grounds Coliseum
Falcon Heights, MN
I am a member of the MWCA and I will be manning a table for the Libertarian Party of MN.

I blinked at that in baffled disbelief and then googled and realized that (obviously) it is the Minnesota Weapons Collectors ASSOCIATION Gun Show. Not a show that specializes in Ass Guns, whatever those are.

Under issues, he notes that as Secretary of State he intends to carry a gun around and he’s going to encourage his staff to carry one as well. I was thinking that having armed people who are not, like, actual police officers wandering around the building might light a fire under the ass of our State Legislature when considering gun control but it looks from the map like the office of the Secretary of State has its own separate building.

He also has a suggestion for judicial elections: “If a judge quits before their term ends and a judge is appointed to fill that position, that judge can’t run in the next election. That seat must be open to encourage multiple candidates to run for that office. Remove ‘incumbent’ for judges on the ballot. Allow judges to inform the public on their positions and all issues that might come before them as judges.”

That is pretty much the opposite of what I think is a good idea, sooooo yeah, this guy is a big old NOPE.

tl;dr vote for Democrat Steve Simon. (And vote in this race, guys. IT MATTERS WHO THE SECRETARY OF STATE IS.)

Election 2014: Governor’s Race: Chris the Libertarian and Chris the Grassroots Party Guy

Okay, this is getting long. I am going to see if I can get through the last two in a single post. I mean, Hannah Nicollet is barely showing in the polls, but she’s at least from a party that has won statewide office at one point in the past. As far as I know, the Minnesota Libertarians and the Minnesota Grassroots Party people have never been elected to anything.

The candidates again:

HANNAH NICOLLET AND TIM GIESEKE – INDEPENDENCE
JEFF JOHNSON AND BILL KUISLE – REPUBLICAN
MARK DAYTON AND TINA SMITH – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
CHRIS HOLBROOK AND CHRIS DOCK – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
CHRIS WRIGHT AND DAVID DANIELS – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Chris Holbrook

Chris is anti-tax, anti-trains, pro-pot, and pro-fireworks. (The fireworks get as much space as the government spending piece on his issues page.)

I just want to underscore that last one for city residents who might lean libertarian. Think about that one carefully. The 4th of July is annoying, but most of us can suck it up a few times a year. Chris’s take: “I believe that aerial fireworks should be sold, purchased, and used here in Minnesota at the discretion of the people, however any damage to another person’s property from careless use should carry strong penalty.” Dude. What about my right not to have explosives being shot off near my house at midnight? (This is the problem with libertarians. Your right to swing your fist doesn’t actually end just short of my nose: you need to keep your fist WELL AWAY FROM MY FACE AT ALL TIMES, actually. Your right to shoot off fireworks doesn’t start and end with you causing actual property damage; it ends when you seriously annoy your neighbors, and I know very few people who are not annoyed by fireworks.)

He was in the news in May because the Park Police arrested him for standing in a park gathering signatures for his candidacy. Dear Mayor Hodges: can you put “do something about the Minneapolis Police Department” on your agenda, please?

Chris Wright

Chris Wright’s top four issues, in order: (1) weed. (2) drugs generally. (3) energy independence, by which he means weed (“Simply stated, instead of boiling oil, let’s cook biomass carbon feedstocks like HEMP and switchgrass to produce GRASSOLINE a.k.a. bio-gasoline.”) (4) corporate personhood, which he was unable to connect to weed but probably not for lack of trying.

His issues page also mentions his agriculture policy (weed!), his economics plan (weed!) and his position on mandatory motorcycle helmets for adults (opposed).

I have to say, for those who wish to make the case that marijuana is harmless (and does not, contrary to popular belief, kill brain cells), I’m not sure the Grassroots Party really serves your purposes.

Both of these guys sound like complete doofuses to me.