Election 2016: State Representative District 60A

(By request.)

This is a much more interesting race than a typical Minneapolis legislative race, because there’s no Republican at all and the Democrat is instead being challenged by an “Independent Progressive Liberal.”

The two candidates:

Diane Loeffler (incumbent, DFL)
Gabe Barnett (challenger, endorsed by the Green Party, chose to list his party as “Independent Progressive Liberal.”)

Diane Loeffler has been in the legislature for 12 years. Per her Wikipedia page, she has actual bona fide expertise on health care policy; she’s a health care policy analyst and planner for Hennepin County as her day job. Not surprisingly, if you click the Issues page on her website, the first thing you’ll see is a page about health care.

She supports “universal access” (“Universal access to affordable health care whether unemployed, self-employed or involved in a small business”) and doesn’t talk on her website about single-payer, even as a long-term sort of goal. In talking about costs, she focuses on “changes the promote health, prevention, and universal coverage,” which…okay. I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers here and I am not an expert, but. There’s only so much you can do to get people to voluntarily make changes that “promote health.” (We’ve successfully shifted societal norms around smoking, but that took literally decades.) I think the idea that we can control health costs by encouraging healthy lifestyle choices is really questionable. It’s a politically safe answer but I’m super doubtful, in part just due to all the many people I’ve known over the years who were perfectly healthy until suddenly they weren’t.

On the plus side, she talks about both “support for home care” and “an improved system of options when home care isn’t enough,” and it is really damn rare to see people address caregiving; she’s clearly aware of the importance of not incentivizing self-destructive behavior (if it’s expensive to get a mammogram, a lot of people will just skip it); and public health approaches.

I was thinking that I really thought there should be some up-to-date information on how she wants to deal with MNsure-related stuff but then I got to her “Fairness and Respect” issues page and saw that it includes “Formally recognize in law all long-term committed relationships, including gay and lesbian partnerships” and now I’m curious when she last updated this site in any way.

Gabe Barnett’s campaign site is a Facebook page. He has a little sidebar that links to gabebarnett.com but when I clicked, that just took me back to the FB page. A campaign FB is definitely better than nothing, but if you want to track down someone’s position on issues they’re a lot harder to find.

In his pinned post up top, he says, “Our community’s leaders should share our values of equity, justice, and compassion for all people, regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, or income. Our elected officials should share our passion for a truly sustainable approach to the environment, and remain steadfast in our goal of protecting our natural resources and stopping climate change. Our representatives in St. Paul should be leading the conversation on these progressive ideals, and pushing the envelope on innovative ways to address them with integrity and conviction.” Someone left a question asking how he differed from Loeffler, and he said, “Thanks for inquiring. We will be releasing my full platform in the coming weeks.” On his FB page, the closest thing I found to a platform is this image. I’ll note two things: (1) the image was posted in May, and he promised a full platform soon in June, so this is definitely not what he meant. (2) if you’re using a screen reader, images of text on Facebook are completely inaccessible. So if you’re blind, you’re not going to be able to read it.

I will admit that I feel some hostility toward people who talk a good line about progressivism, but even while campaigning, can’t be bothered to do a few really minimal things (like not posting important text in picture-only format).

I guess I’ll also note that the text starts out, “Together WE can… * get corporate money and influence out of Minnesota politics and restore power to the people. * eradicate institutional racism, sexism, and classism from the public sector” — so, no ableism listed. (It goes on for 15 more lines that I’m not going to type out. If you’re using a screen reader, I would strongly encourage you to e-mail Gabe at gabe.for.northeast@gmail.com and ask him to send you a text version.)

Fundamentally it looks like he doesn’t disagree with Loeffler on much; he thinks that in general the Northeast representative should be trying to push the Overton Window to the left and apparently doesn’t think Loeffler’s doing a good job there. Here’s his statement: “I believe that, as progressive and diverse as Northeast is, we should be boldly leading the conversation on making Minnesota an inclusively equitable and sustainable state, not meekly toeing a moderate party line.”

And, okay, I kind of get where he’s coming from here, but you know, I am pretty sure he is vastly overestimating the legislature’s overall interest in listening to anyone’s Bold Conversation.

There’s a nice article about Gabe that ran in a freebie local paper. He starts out complaining that too many people ignore “down-ballot politics.” (Tell me about it, Gabe.) He also notes, “Whether it’s gay marriage, or smoking bans, or medical marijuana, these things happen when this city does it, then that state does it, then that county does it, then this city does it, and all of a sudden it’s a national movement” — and yeah, I think he’s often correct. He goes on to say he was inspired by Bernie (cool) and that he’s undecided on the Presidential race (less cool). (He does say that if it looks close in Minnesota he’ll hold his nose and vote for Hillary, and he isn’t super impressed by Jill Stein, either.) This article also talks about his in-person outreach to the community: “Social media’s a great tool…but again, local politics should be about community engagement.” To which I would say that community engagement is great, but when you’re talking about an area with almost 18,000 households and over 40,000 people, there are some real advantages to having a centralized place with a bunch of information about yourself, like a website. With your platform.

Gabe comes across as super young to me, but he’s actually 35, so not that much younger than I am. He’s a musician (a fairly successful one — his band, Gabe Barnett and Them Rounders, has performed at First Ave).

Fundamentally, here’s what strikes me about this race.

There’s a legitimate philosophical question about what you want from your elected representatives. Do you prefer someone who is pragmatic, who will set smaller, more achievable goals and get more of those things done, or would you prefer someone who is idealistic, who will have big goals and try to inspire people to work toward that goal, and who (honestly) probably won’t get anything done in the short term? If what you want is something big and sweeping, do you think you’re more likely to achieve it in baby steps, or with the revolutionary, aim-for-the-moon approach?

At this point in my life, I will pick the pragmatist pretty much every time. Half a loaf is not only better than no loaf, it’s way more than I was expecting. Typically I feel like I’m doing pretty well if we get 1/4 of a loaf. But I have very close friends whose views I respect who want their representative to throw that loaf to the side and say “you motherfucker, that is HALF. HALF A LOAF. For people who have NO BREAD. Why should we take this?”

I guess what I really want (and what I definitely feel like I had in my old district and have in my current district) is a legislator who will grab that half a loaf and put it somewhere safe and them come back to the table and pitch a fit about the missing half.

Is that what 60A has in Diane Loeffler? This is one of the things that’s harder to know from outside the district. Even if she’ll just shrug and take the half-loaf, though, that’s who I’d want representing me in the legislature because so much of what the legislature is about is fighting for these incremental changes in the face of complete intransigence. (I mean, the titanic fight that got us passage of one of the strictest medical marijuana laws in the country would be a good illustration of this.)

Diane Loeffler’s “Results” page has some hilarious examples of what I mean, though. It includes, “Diane worked to make more aware of property tax refunds (1/3 of those eligible don’t apply).” This is one of those tiny accomplishments that nonetheless put a chunk of money in the pocket of a bunch of people who were probably able to make good use of it. She got $24 million allocated to replace a bridge in the Northeast that was in particularly poor condition. She mentions helping to pass the graduated licensing law, which restricts new teenage drivers. (Some of this stuff looks really old. I think this really might have been a good year to update her site, though possibly she checked out her opponent’s FB page and the fact that he never got a platform uploaded made her figure she didn’t need to bother.)

If I lived in this district, it’s possible that Gabe would door-knock me and blow me away so much I’d vote for him. But part of my attitude here (which also heavily influenced my preferences during the Democratic primary) is that I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, immersed in the talk-a-good-line, never-get-shit-done school of progressivism, and I’m kind of over it. If you have goals like “make Minnesota’s public colleges tuition-free” I have a lot of questions. Where are you going to get the money? How are you going to set this up so it’s not just a blank check for the university to spend money on stupid shit? How long will individuals from other states have to live here to qualify for residency, and how will this impact the ability of Minnesotans to get in to our colleges and universities? Will this be an unlimited sort of deal or four years only? What if someone changes their major? What about students who come in needing remedial work? …I mean, it’s not that I don’t think this is a good idea. At the very least, I think that public college tuition should be something that every student can pay for by working part-time in a crappy job. (I also think that if someone got B’s and A’s in college-preparatory classes at their high school and arrived at the university and got told they needed remedial classes, their school district should be on the hook for the cost of the remediation.) And finally, how are you going to accomplish this when the legislature wasn’t even able to pass a transportation bill? There are 5.457 million Minnesotans; the House Rep for 60A will represent 40,000 of them.

(If you have a request for an analysis of a Minneapolis or St. Paul race I haven’t written about, feel free to let me know. I don’t do suburban or outstate races because I’m insufficiently versed in local jargon, hot-button issues, etc.)

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