Election 2020: US Senate

If you’re feeling like you just voted for Tina Smith, that’s because in 2018 she was on the ballot to finish out the two remaining years of Al Franken’s term. This year she’s on the ballot for a whole six-year term.

On ballots statewide:

Tina Smith (DFL)
Jason Lewis (Republican)
Oliver Steinberg (Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis)
Kevin O’Connor (Legal Marijuana Now)

For extra fun and confusion while researching this particular race, I discovered that there is a Kevin O’Connor running for US Senate in the Republican Primary in Massachusetts, and there is a Senator Jason Lewis — a Democrat — in the Massachusetts State Senate. “Not the same guy” is super duper obvious with the other Jason Lewis but I was temporarily thrown by Kevin O’Connor because, for one thing, we had a Texan running against Tina in the primary so “but he isn’t from here?” isn’t the obvious answer you might think.

Tina Smith

I genuinely and honestly like Tina. When there’s some issue I’m being urged to contact my representatives about, I usually go look first to see what they’re saying or doing about the problem, and pretty consistently Tina has already released a statement, signed on to legislation, or in some way let us know that she’s on it.

There are areas where I wish she were a bit further to the left, and I have friends who voted against her in the primary because of her stance in mining, but since Jason Lewis is literally a climate change denier I hope anyone with concerns on that issue would be a solid Tina supporter in the general.

Do not assume that Tina has this in the bag — Amy K may have many elections behind her with comfortable margins, but Tina does not, and noted misogynist Jason Lewis may be more compelling to the Trump voters than Karin Housley was.

Jason Lewis

Jason Lewis is:

800BearDowntownStPaul

A black bear wandering around Lowertown in St. Paul.

He also thinks it’s the police who show up to handle stuff like wandering bears. (The police would really not deal with bears — if they’re causing problems, you really want to send Animal Control or the DNR. Most of the time, though, the solution to a black bear showing up is to make garbage inaccessible and let it move on.)

(I mostly included that anecdote because I wanted to include a picture of the bear. There are so many reasons not to vote for Jason Lewis that “he’s deeply clueless about how law enforcement works with other agencies” is barely on the list.)

He’s one of the Republicans who’s just a completely unmitigated asshole, which is why I’m worried; anyone turning out to vote for Trump will probably vote for Jason Lewis. Trump came unnervingly close to winning Minnesota in 2016 and we cannot be complacent about either this race or the presidential race.

Oliver Steinberg (Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis)
Kevin O’Connor (Legal Marijuana Now)

Why does Minnesota have two weed parties? Apparently they had a fight over the name.

In 2018, there were statewide elections where both a Legal Marijuana Now candidate and a Grassroots candidate got 5%, making them both officially major parties. And yet when I set out to research candidates last week, neither party had a working web page. LMN’s is now mostly but not entirely back up; Grassroots is no longer refusing to load due to a bad security certificate but doesn’t have any of its content restored.

It has been my belief for years that if you’re a real candidate who is actually running for office as opposed to a dilettante who paid $400 to see their name on the ballot, you will have, at minimum, a website with some information about who you are and what you stand for, a way to take donations, and a way for people to volunteer.

The Legal Marijuana Party’s website, with info on candidates, is at https://www.legalmarijuananowparty.com/. I see no fundraising link or any way to volunteer, and Kevin O’Connor’s only page is his profile on their Candidates page. They also have a Facebook page. Here’s a sample of what they’re posting there:

A Facebook post from Legal Marijuana Now MN saying "VOTE Nov. 3. Five-percent for Kevin O'Connor wins ballot access for Legal Marijuana Now candidates until 2024. Every vote counts! #LegalMarijuanaNow #MarijuanaRightsNow2020"

Kevin O’Connor’s incredibly common name makes it hard to dig for information about him, and I had a specific urgent question: was he one of the multiple alleged weed candidates who was 100% a Republican trying to siphon off votes from people mostly voting for Democrats? The Minnesota Reformer had a really good article about this — for example, Robyn Smith, a Legal Marijuana Now candidate in Grand Rapids, was recruited to run by a Republican and called George Floyd a “thug” in an interview.

While I am deeply unimpressed by Oliver Steinberg’s party organization, he is at least clearly sincere in his candidacy. He was one of the founders of the Grassroots party years ago and has been heavily involved in marijuana legalization advocacy for years. I e-mailed the Legal Marijuana party at a contact address I found to ask for info on Kevin O’Connor. They replied with an e-mail address for Kevin, so I e-mailed there. Got no answer.

I tried leaving a comment on one of their Facebook posts and got a swift answer — about the other weed party’s guy.

Naomi Kritzer: Hello. I'm trying to research candidate Kevin O'Connor. All I'm finding is information about the Kevin O'Connor who's running for in the Massachusetts Republican primary. I assume (?) that this is not the same Kevin O'Connor, but because it's a common name I am finding zero info on his background, history of advocacy on this issue, etc. Dan Vacek: You know that Steinberg was convicted of attempting to murder a police officer in Madison?

Which, I have to say, is a hell of an answer to the question “please give me some information about YOUR candidate.”

(It also appears to be accurate; you can find an account of what happened in the New York Times from May 12, 1972, in an article with the headline, “VIOLENT ACTIONS REPORTED RISING: Frustration Also Mounts as Students Express Anger — U.N. Is Target” by John Darnton. Steinberg, then a 22-year-old, shot three police officers as they tried to arrest another protester for arson. He hit one in the wrist and two in the shoulders. This was in the midst of increasingly violent protests against Nixon’s escalation of the Vietnam War. Since I rely on the newspaper archives that are accessible through the St. Paul Public library remotely with a card, I don’t have a great way to get the followup info here, but I assume he served some time and eventually got out. I’ll also note that I am one thousand percent sure that there are voters in Minnesota who are significantly more likely to vote for the weed guy who once shot a cop.)

Anyway, I tried again and just asked my specific question:

lmn_facebook_3

I guess … they didn’t realize that their entire website was down? BUT OKAY. Someone who reads my Twitter tracked down the Web Archive link to Kevin O’Connor’s info (which is also now available again on their candidates page.)  Here’s his statement:

“No More Heroes, No More Whores”

“Stop looking for heroes to save us and stop voting for whores to serve us. Heroes are for children and whores only serve themselves.”

Kevin is a lifelong independent and with his endorsement by the Legal Marijuana Now Party, he plans to begin an independent movement that will serve the interests of the people of Minnesota rather than entrenched political Parties. “We don’t need any masters and excessive government is bad government”.  With a varied background of business, military, and volunteerism he can use his experience to better serve Minnesota.

Mr. O’Connor strongly supports the medicinal use of cannabis and any other plant which can be beneficial for the health of people without interference by the government. Kevin feels that these decisions and most others are the authority and responsibility of each individual to make.  “The war on drugs is a complete failure and has had many devastating consequences on our society; it’s time for that to go”.

“We are adults in a free society with authority and responsibility for ourselves and the government that we allow.  We have allowed FAR TO MUCH. The government that governs least governs best. Let’s get started.”

So, a couple of comments.

  1. The use of “whore” here is absolutely fucking gross across the board. It’s bonus levels of gross when you’re running against a woman.
  2. Sex workers are the last people who I would describe as “only serving themselves,” and his use of this metaphor makes me wonder if this guy is an incel.
  3. Pretty sure he’s actually the “Gunner Joe” type of libertarian, masquerading unconvincingly as “Stoned.”

Late yesterday I got an e-mail response from Kevin O’Connor.

I would say that the primary difference between myself and Grassroots is that I have a far wider agenda than marijuana alone. Frankly a very Limited Govt agenda. Getting the Govt OUT of our business. Grassroots is very much focused on marijuana alone. I hope to have my website up in about a week with more data. INDEPENDENT my entire life and won’t change.

And then he had a link to a website: http://www.indespirit.com

Here’s what you’ll see if you go there:

indespirit

They are so bad at this.

Meanwhile, Grassroots: their website is back up but still devoid of content as of 8/24 but you can see their page from August 18th (of this year) using web.archive.org and under “Our Candidates” they list Chris Wright, Judith Schwartzbacker, and Noah Johnson, who ran for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General, in 2018. Their Facebook page is barely used and last had new content — a new cover photo — in June. Archive.org did allow me to remind myself that their “platform” is simply a C&P of the Bill of Rights from the Constitution, which is a cute gimmick but doesn’t give you much information on, say, what they think would be a good transportation policy or how our country should get a pandemic under control. Historically the Grassroots candidates have been more weed-loving socialists than weed-loving libertarians but that’s not, in fact, something you’ll find in their party platform. 

Their website did at least have a “contribute” link and a “volunteer” link but you lose any credit for that when in August of an election year your “candidates” are still people who ran two years ago.

Oliver Steinberg at least had the good grace to be “annoyed” about the fact that Republicans are taking advantage of the Grassroots party’s major party status to try to swing close Senate races.

As well he should be, if he actually gives a crap about marijuana legalization. In May, the House DFL introduced what they’d promised would be the best marijuana legalization bill in the country. (They’d originally promised this back in February, but COVID response took precedence. And it’s a really good billIt would allow adults (21+) to possess and transport 1.5 oz of marijuana and keep 10 pounds at home. Adults could grow up to eight plants. Gifting to adults would be legal. A variety of businesses would be allowed and the ability of cities and towns to restrict these businesses would be curtailed. The Cannabis Management Board would have an office distributing grants to communities that “experienced a disproportionate negative impact from cannabis prohibition” and most past cannabis convictions would be automatically expunged. (The exception would be people who sold it to a minor.)

The DFL majority in the House supports this bill; Walz supports this bill; the obstacle is the GOP’s razor-thin majority in the Senate. You would think, if someone’s actual priority was marijuana legalization they’d really want to see the DFL take the Senate, but the Legal Marijuana Party in particular is super straightforward about their priority this cycle:

A Facebook post from Legal Marijuana Now MN saying "VOTE Nov. 3. Five-percent for Kevin O'Connor wins ballot access for Legal Marijuana Now candidates until 2024. Every vote counts! #LegalMarijuanaNow #MarijuanaRightsNow2020"

Their priority is not legalization! Their priority is their party’s ballot access.

Since Kevin O’Connor thinks the party stands for more than just weed, but their current “About Us” page is entirely blank, I went digging through the web archive snapshot of their website from before it went down and here’s what they had:

Defending Your Right to Garden the Earth

    • Legalize homegrown cannabis

    • Erase past marijuana convictions

    • Ban employment drug testing

    • Abolish the DEA

    • Combat global warming through the sustainable use of hemp

If you’re wondering: Tina Smith also supports legalization. (Jason Lewis, back in 2017, worked on a law that would keep the Feds from prosecuting people in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. So he’s not absolute steaming trash on this issue, but Tina is solidly better if this is an issue you care about.) I’m not sure if “the sustainable use of hemp” is part of her global warming mitigation policy but since Jason Lewis doesn’t believe it’s actually a thing, once again you are clearly better off with Tina.

In any case, there are multiple reasons not to vote for either Oliver Steinberg or Kevin O’Connor, but here’s the biggest: if you would actually like to see marijuana legalized in the state of Minnesota, you do not want either the Legal Marijuana Party or the Grassroots Party to have major-party ballot access. That access is going to do nothing — at all — to advance marijuana legalization in Minnesota. All it does is maximize the odds that right-wing trolls will coast onto ballots, and keep Paul “not something I would consider a priority issue” Gazelka as the Senate Majority Leader (along with his buddy, Scott “only if law enforcement supports it” Newman, R-Hutchinson.)

If you want to see marijuana legalization, support Democrats who support marijuana legalization. Voting for the weed parties in the current cycle is basically the definition of empty posturing.


I took the time to look over on Donors Choose for some Minneapolis public school teachers who could use some financial help during These Difficult Times and in particularly with distance learning. I’ve got three two small projects, and one big project, to point everyone to.

  1. Ms. Stenzel, a teacher at Lucy Laney (an elementary school in North Minneapolis), is thinking about ways to doing distance learning with her students and would like a rock tumbler to get them interested in geology. She needs $167. — FUNDED. Thank you!!
  2. Ms. Stenzel would also like some books for herself to help her improve her teaching. Titles include books on teaching kids mindfulness and self-calming strategies, and also books on anti-racism. She needs $326.
  3. Ms. Stephanie, who teaches autistic and developmentally disabled students at Andersen United School, would like materials that she can send to her students’ homes to help them engage with distance learning. She needs $581.
  4. Finally: Ms. Stone is a teacher at Cityview Elementary in North Minneapolis. She will be teaching third graders this year, and to help them succeed with distance learning, she is requesting a set of Chromebooks for her class. To equip this class of children with the basic technology they will need for distance learning will require another $8,456 to be raised by October 3rd. Can my readers raise that much? If not, can they at least get it to within sight of the finish line so a corporation or foundation will be inspired to swoop in and match our donations? I think it’s worth trying.

(I don’t have a patreon or a ko-fi but I take a lot of satisfaction from seeing projects fund after I point people at them. Please donate!)

3 thoughts on “Election 2020: US Senate

  1. I would just like to note that this is the first time I’ve heard that there’s a Kevin O’Connor running for US Senate in the Republican Primary in Massachusetts, and I live in Massachusetts. Also, our primary is next week, and I voted in the Democratic primary, but even Mr. “I’ll sue you if you say I didn’t invent email” has been getting at least a little attention.

  2. Thank you for this post. I am actually very worried about the Tina Smith race and agree with your assessment that 45 supporters will be inclined to vote for Lewis as well. They are both absolutely vile and attract the same selfish jerk bigot voters. I have been wondering why I am seeing no mention of this race in the local FB groups? I think it’s going to be a very close race because she lacks the bipartisan support and name recognition of Klobuchar.

  3. If you email Oliver Steinberg directly (vonlogau@gmail.com) he will be more than happy to explain his reason for running and his opinion on Tina Smith’s work around marijuana legislation.

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