Election 2020: MN Senate 65

Long-time State Senator Sandy Pappas is being challenged in the DFL primary. On the ballot:

Sandy Pappas
Laverne McCartney Knighton

Sandy Pappas was first elected to the Minnesota State Senate in 1990 (after serving in the Minnesota House for five or so years). Given her 30-year career I find it genuinely odd that her campaign website has the following paragraph about her accomplishments:

Senator Pappas was named a champion for racial equity for her efforts in legislation addressing racial equity. Over the years, she has passed legislation to protect and develop the Mississippi Riverbank in downtown St Paul, and to provide state funds for the dignified housing at the new Dorothy Day Center. Senator Pappas also co-sponsored the law that allows microbreweries to create tap rooms – opening the door for Tin Whiskers, Bad Weather, and Wabasha brewery tap rooms in our neighborhoods. Senator Pappas authored the first legislation to allow the sale of growlers in brewpubs.

Thirty years in office and the accomplishment you bold-face-highlight is the sale of growlers? Also, what legislation addressing racial equity, I would love some specifics here, and for that matter, I’m kind of curious who named her a champion for racial equity, it’s not that I don’t believe that this is an issue important to her, but specifics matter.

I feel like I need a term for DFLers who absolutely stand for all the right things, who will always vote the right way, but if they’re going to move the needle on anything, it’s going to be growlers, not police reform. A reliable Senator is not the worst thing to have in office, and in some districts is absolutely the best you’re going to get, but I do not blame my friends who look at these legislators and say “what else ya got,” KWIM?

I’m not sure how many times since 1990 Sandy Pappas has faced a serious opponent (she had an opponent in 2012, who she beat 77%-23%). Her opponent this year is a Black woman, Laverne McCartney Knighton, who is one of a large group of Black women who are running for various offices this year. Laverne worked as a department store buyer for a number of years before moving to nonprofits, managing a domestic violence shelter and then becoming Area Director for the United Negro College Fund. She tells a really compelling story about being denied access to public Kindergarten in the segregated town where she grew up, but getting preschool at the in-home day care run by a Black woman instead, and getting a strong enough foundation that she became the first African American valedictorian at her now-integrated high school in 1973.

Laverne’s platform focuses on police reform, early education, and economic justice, although none of her proposals are particularly radical. (Her specific goals for police reform: restructure the Peace Officer Standards Training board; remove the ban on residency requirements; reform how emergency responders are dispatched.)

One of the things I noticed browsing through Laverne’s site was that she’s very religious. This signals completely different things to me from a Black candidate than from a white candidate, FWIW, but this did also make me want to get her take on abortion, something she doesn’t talk about on her site. (Sandy Pappas doesn’t either, but she’s endorsed by Planned Parenthood, so presumably her record on this is solid.) Anyway, I e-mailed her to ask, and then, because if I contact one candidate, I try to contact the other as well, I e-mailed Sandy. In Sandy’s case I brought up a problem currently on my mind regarding police reform, which is that the un-elected, non-representative Minneapolis Charter Commission, which just “delayed” a vote on the proposal to replace the police department with a Department of Public Safety, is mandated by state law.

Sandy, interestingly, has you put in your address when you use her “contact me” link (the one on her campaign site). So she knows I’m not a constituent, making the whole “judging from how responsive she is when asked a question during her campaign, how responsive is she?” calculation more difficult.

But, one of her constituents DID send her an e-mail about the campaign. This person made a spreadsheet of their top 20 issues and where the various candidates stood on each issue, then contacted the candidates asking for their views on whatever wasn’t clear from their website. Sandy e-mailed back, possibly the same day:

I will admit that as someone who’s been e-mailing candidates for over a decade, I find this response hilarious. Here’s my advice to anyone who wants to get answers from a candidate: send at most two questions. If you send more than that, they’ll think “oh, this is going to take some time, which I don’t have right now, I will come back to it later,” and then they will forget to come back to it, probably forever. This is literally what I do. (If you sent me an e-mail in July and I never replied, this is probably what happened, and I’m very sorry about that, please feel free to e-mail me again.)

Anyway, just failing to answer is fairly normal but this “who even ARE you” response is kind of not? That’s so weird and hostile!

Laverne e-mailed me back and asked if she could call me. I sent her my phone number and said “now is fine!” and she did not call. The next day I sent her my phone number again and said “when would be good?” and did not hear back. But this afternoon, my phone rang, and it was her, so we chatted.

When a politician wants to call you instead of e-mailing, it can mean a couple of things. Sometimes what it means is, they hate e-mail. Sometimes they’d rather not put their response in a written form. Most often, it’s because you’ve asked a somewhat complex question, and they want to chat a little to find out what this question means to you. Good politicians are good listeners, and if you ask a question that hints at personal pain, or a story, they want to get you on the phone so that you can tell your story and they can start by empathizing with you. Or maybe it’s just a somewhat complicated question and the answer could go in a dozen possible directions.

“What is your position on abortion” is a question that most politicians find perfectly straightforward, these days, though.

Anyway: Laverne seemed pro-choice politically; I think she’s personally pro-life. (I don’t have a problem with that.) I have a friend who works for UnRestrict Minnesota; Laverne was not familiar with them, but when I ran Minnesota’s existing restrictions by her she was generally in favor of repealing them.

Since I had her on the phone I asked her if Sandy did anything in particular that was wrong. She started by saying that she’d been asked to run (by Black Women Rising) and that she didn’t have anything against Sandy, who’d been her state senator I think since she moved to Minnesota. But she also noted that in the almost 25 years she’d lived in this district, she had met Sandy maybe twice. Her church has held forums and invited Sandy and Sandy has never come. I mentioned above that Laverne used to work for Tubman Family Services and she’s the Area Director for the UNCF. She also shows up for political events, I found when I browsed her Twitter (there are a bunch of Tweets from a Mayor-vs-Mayor event held with Jacob Frey and Melvin Carter in 2019.)  (The most endearing thing about her Twitter is that she mostly seems to go on Twitter to yell at Trump and McConnell. I admire people who take the time to tilt at that particular windmill.)

If someone as generally engaged with her community and her electeds as Laverne has met Sandy less than a handful of times in 25 years, that’s not a great sign. If Sandy is turning down invitations for forums at Black churches, that’s really not a great sign.

I think Sandy Pappas is going to win. And that’s okay, because she’s okay: she’s a reliable Democratic vote, and someone who’s been around a long time and knows how to get things done.

But if I lived in SD65, I think I would vote for Laverne.



2 thoughts on “Election 2020: MN Senate 65

  1. Damn…..we did our mail in ballots this week. Had I seen this I probably would have voted for Luverne. Sandy has always rubbed me the wrong way.

    • Yeah, sorry, most of these are too late to be useful because I had to spend July on novel revisions. Unless I get a surprise round of additional edits, I’m going to try hard to get the general election posts done in September because mail-in ballots are important this year.

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