Election 2014: Minneapolis School Board, District 5

Sometimes I do all my research by googling and reading web sites and articles. Other times I have questions I want answered. The problem with asking questions is that I never know how long to wait. On one hand, I don’t want to have to revisit races over and over as responses trickle in. On the other hand, I have both a deadline and a preference for doing things in order.

The other thing that’s hard about questions is that with Minneapolis races, I can no longer truthfully say that I’m trying to make up my mind about who to vote for and leave it at that. And when you tell people that you’re a political blogger trying to decide who to endorse, people get really wary, like they think you’re an absolute nut, at least if they haven’t heard of you.

Anyway, since I’m waiting on responses, it’s possible I’ll have to revisit this one. We’ll see.

The Minneapolis School Board has both at-large seats (there are two open, and four candidates; I wrote about that post already) and Districts (which are the same as the Park Board districts). I was happy when they implemented districts because as a Minneapolis parent who did not live in the bottom left-hand corner of the city I felt rather thoroughly ignored a lot of the time. It was particularly infuriating to drive past the gleaming windows of brand-new schools in Southwest Minneapolis when the district had spent years and years and years letting a closed-down school four blocks from me sit empty. (Not finding a new use for it, not selling it, just letting it sit there.)

They implemented the district-based seats four years ago and in fact almost immediately they came up with something to do with Howe. (They re-opened it, actually — it’s now grades 3-5 for Hiawatha-Howe, with grades K-2 down at Hiawatha. I have mixed feelings about that solution, but whatever, you know what, at least it’s not SITTING THERE EMPTY so I WILL TAKE IT.)

The guy who served as the District 5 school board rep for the last four years decided not to run again because it’s a high-stress full-time job that pays less than $15K/year. The candidates:

NELSON INZ
JAY LARSON

Nelson Inz

Let me just note quickly that if you go to the Secretary of State site and look up candidates, they’ll give you a link for Nelson’s website, but their link is wrong. They send you to a .com site, and it’s a .org site. I e-mailed Nelson’s campaign and suggested they call and have it fixed; I would expect that to be do-able but annoying. As of today, it’s not fixed. Fortunately for Nelson, he is VERY VERY easy to find with Google.

He’s endorsed by the DFL and by a long list of prominent local DFLers, including Jim Davnie (my former State Rep and one of my favorite politicians). There isn’t much on his website about issues, but as noted before, it’s rare that anyone says something in this race that everyone running wouldn’t sign on to.

The thing I found most interesting and startling about Nelson is that he’s a charter school teacher running for a district school board seat. (He’s actually served on a school board in the past — each charter school has its own board that hires and fires school administrators, allocates money from the budget, etc. Frequently some of the seats are reserved for teachers.) And, he’s endorsed by the DFL. I find this startling because charter schools have blown back up into controversy this year — Don Samuels is a fan of charter schools, and this is viewed by a fair number of people in the DFL as a good reason not to support him.

I e-mailed Nelson because I was curious how he was walking this particular line. I asked him to talk about his beliefs about charter schools vs. district-based public schools, and what the thought the Minneapolis school board’s attitude ought to be toward charter schools: partners? rivals? something else? He replied a day later to invite me to call him. I haven’t, because he said evenings were better and my evenings are pretty busy. (I think it’s safe to assume he doesn’t want me ringing him up at 11 p.m., especially given that he has twin toddlers.)

Anyway, I actually have a lot of optimism that someone who works for a charter school but was able to get the DFL endorsement might bring a balanced attitude toward charters. (Or, if he brings a superlatively negative attitude, at least it’ll be from a position of intimate knowledge?)

Jay Larson

Jay Larson is an MPS parent and mentions a lot of volunteering: he chairs the Site Leadership committee at his kids’ school (I’m not actually sure what that does), he’s on the PTA, and he represents Area B on the District Parent Advisory Committee. (I’m not actually sure what the DPAC does, either. When my kids were enrolled at Minneapolis Public schools, one of the things that drove me nuts were the endless robocalls, some of which were for things like the Area B Parent Somethingorother Meeting.)

His platform emphasizes that he’s an MPS parent. (I’ll note that Nelson is a parent, but not of an MPS kid; his twins are still toddlers.) He believes in strong community schools; since that’s kind of a no-brainer, I’m not sure if he’s actually trying to say that magnet schools are a bad idea or what. He wants to “support our awesome teachers.”

He lists no endorsements.

Anyway, I e-mailed him and asked him what he felt set him apart from the other candidate and made him different. He replied fairly promptly and asked me what my specific concerns were. (“In an effort to best answer your question, are there any specific things you know or are aware of in District 5 that concern you or hope to see different over the next few years?”) The District 5 specific concern I came up with: I know someone who wanted to send their kid to South High, whose kid was assigned to Roosevelt. This family pulled their kids from MPS entirely and sent them to a private school. I wanted to know what his solution would be here. Not so much because I feel like there’s a clear-cut right or wrong answer, just because I was hoping to get some sense of how he thinks about these problems.

He didn’t reply; it’s been four days. So, yeah, I don’t know. He said in his initial reply to me that he’s been getting several e-mails a day about his candidacy (suggesting that this was pretty burdensome) which makes me concerned that he has no real idea how much work serving on the school board entails. Also, “what makes you different from the other guy” is one of the most basic political campaign questions ever. It can be hard when you’re running against people whose values you generally share, but SURELY you have a reason why you continued your campaign instead of saying, “you know what, the other guy looks great. You should just vote for him.” Right? So tell me what that reason is!

My recommendation here is Nelson Inz. He’s qualified; his endorsements combined with his work history suggest that he’ll bring a balanced attitude toward charter schools, which I think is a good thing; he’s running energetically for the job.

Election 2014: Ramsey County Soil and Water Supervisor, District Four

Soil and Water Supervisor is one of those down-ballot races that doesn’t get a lot of attention. The Ramsey Conservation District is also sometimes called the water board; their job is to enact policies and encourage behavior to control runoff, both to conserve soil and to protect the bodies of water around the area (both lakes and rivers). Apparently people are a bit more aware of what they do in rural, agriculturally focused areas.

I think Hennepin County may have given up on electing these people, but Ramsey still does. There are two seats up for election this year; one is unopposed. In District 4, we have:

TOM PETERSEN
CARRIE WASLEY

Carrie is the incumbent. Neither has a web site.

Tom Petersen

I think I’ve mentioned that my main tool in doing this research is Google. That works a lot better with some candidates than others. If you google Jack Sparrow, you’ll get a million hits, but the vast majority refer to the movie character; if you add “mn,” you get a bunch of people who will impersonate Jack Sparrow for you (say, if you want a lewd and drunken pirate at your next party and can’t trust your friends to make that happen for you). You do at least get the occupirate site on the first page, though.

So let’s talk about “Tom Petersen.” Petersen is a ridiculously common name in Minnesota, up there with Johnson and Jacobsen. It is HARD to find information about him.

There is in fact a Tom Petersen who does Soil & Water stuff, though, on LinkedIn. (Hopefully that link takes you directly there.) He was a District Manager for the Ramsey Conservation district for almost 30 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

I also got a hit on a lobbyist registration for a Thomas Petersen lobbying for the Minnesota Farmers Union, though on closer inspection (i.e., when I clicked on the link to the Farmers Union lobbyists) they mention a “Thom Petersen” who’s the Director of Government Affairs. Probably not the same guy.

Finally, I found a piece about a marsh restoration that mentions a “Tom Petersen (Ramsey Soil & Water Conservation District)” as part of the project design team.

So….assuming it’s the same guy, he’s at least qualified, although I’m a little puzzled; did he get tossed out of office in 2010 and he’s trying for a comeback? I don’t know what the history is here.

Carrie Wasley

I found an awesome interview with Carrie over on the Minnesota Progressive Project site. They mention that she received the Public Service Award from Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, which definitely seems like a plus.

The interview has all these hints of frothing drama that has apparently been raging on the water board. “Over the last four years we have regained financial stability and we are now recognized as a knowledgeable and effective county asset,” she says, suggesting that five years ago they were not financially stable or recognized as a knowledgeable and effective asset. Regarding the value of teamwork, she says, “It is critically important that citizens and other conservation staff people feel that they are treated with respect, without doubletalk and effectively. This has not always been the case with the RCD but starting about four years ago the Supervisors decided to think first about the citizens and what we were trying to give them in education and effective programs instead of obfuscation and condescension. The past four years have seen a turn-around in teamwork and outreach into the community.” She mentions that her political hero is Winston Churchill and says, “The RCD has turned itself around because the Supervisors decided that the RCD provided a valuable service to the citizens of Ramsey County and we needed to get our agency in shape. We did.”

Oh, and in answer to a question about a time she stood up for people against a powerful organization, she said, “When RCD Staff came to me privately and said they could no longer serve under current management because of incompetence, RCD Supervisors and I were able to formulate a plan that would protect staff, get rid of the incompetence and provide staff with the confidence to go forward with our backing. Neither staff nor supervisors have ever looked back and our financial and community reputation attests to our taking the right action at the right time.”

Let me just note that I read the paper (yeah, an actual physical copy of the Star Tribune that gets delivered to my house) every day. I mean, I don’t always read it front to back, but I do pay attention to the news, and I actually will pay some extra attention to stuff about the Soil & Water people because I do this blogging, and it’s a race that’s always damn hard to find useful information about.

And….wow. Really? Seriously? This sounds like there was some MASSIVE DRAMA and I completely missed it. Possibly because the media completely missed it. Possibly because they don’t really know or care what the Conservation District does, either. (She notes this problem later in the interview.)

Apparently they’re changing the way these elections happen; they’re going to be done by district, rather than county-wide. I find it kind of weird that they do it this way — I don’t get to vote on the County Commissioner for Little Canada, so I’m not sure why I get to help pick a Soil & Water Supervisor for them. (Map is here, if you’re curious.) It looks like District 4 is my actual district — the western half of St. Paul.

I will admit I’m concerned about the hints of massive drama. On one hand, I ought to give you credit if you led the charge against incompetent management, restoring integrity and financial stability to whatever board you’re on. On the other hand, I feel this strong sense of suspicion to people who have that sort of drama swirling around them, when it’s them telling me what a hero they were. But, it’s Soil & Water; expecting someone ELSE to vouch for their heroism may be an unreasonable expectation, and if Tom Petersen wanted to give me the other side of the story, well, he hasn’t.

I’m provisionally endorsing Carrie Wasley.

Edited to add:

Tom Petersen did set up a website at some point, here: http://tompetersenforrcd.com/ He was a staff member for the Ramsey Conservation District. (“I was employed by the district for nearly 30 years and served with many of the very first elected supervisors. I am very proud of the Ramsey Conservation District, its Board of Supervisors, and how it has served both the citizens and natural resources of Ramsey County.”) I sort of wonder if he was involved in the massive drama Carrie’s talking about, but without more details, I’m not sure which of them to view as the hero and which as the villain here. Or if, in fact, it was drama that involved other people, and he just retired but wants to continue public service. (I have to admit that the fact that he stopped working as a paid job and is now running against an incumbent for an unpaid job makes me think it’s probably not the latter.)

The other detail I ran across is that Carrie Wasley is endorsed by the DFL.

I’m sticking with my endorsement of Carrie, although Tom Petersen’s web page suggests that he’s a committed and knowledgeable person as well and honestly I have no idea what to make of the backstory. No one’s dropped by to fill me in.

Election 2014: Minneapolis School Board

Welcome to the most mysteriously contentious race of the year! This is a surprising one, actually. You rather expect the acrimony to be found mostly in races for jobs you can imagine wanting. I mean, I don’t want to be governor, but at least being Governor of Minnesota is a job that comes with some decent perks. You’re paid enough to live on and they lend you a spiffy house. Whereas the Minneapolis school board jobs are genuinely terrible. You’re paid a part-time salary (under $15K/year) for a more-than-full-time job where being hated by lots of people is a major function and anytime you have to make some painful and complex decision like whether to close down a half-empty school, at your next big meeting you can fully expect people to show up and tell you to your face that you’re a terrible person.

This is a race that also tends to be ruled by the DFL endorsement — the action is often at the endorsing convention. This year, the wild card is Don Samuels, who had no shot at a DFL endorsement for school board (the teacher’s union does not like him at ALL) but has the profile and name recognition to make a serious run without it.

There are four people running for two seats:

REBECCA GAGNON
DON SAMUELS
IRIS ALTAMIRANO
IRA JOURDAIN

Rebecca and Iris have the DFL endorsement, and Rebecca is an incumbent.

I’ll start out here by talking some about how I’ve approached this race in recent years. First off, I almost always vote for incumbents, unless that specific incumbent has really ticked me off. I think there’s some value in institutional memory, and the incumbents far more than the new recruits have a clear idea of what they’re getting into. In addition to being poorly paid and overworked, school board members get blamed for budget shortfalls that are, for real, entirely outside their control. They don’t get to decide their budget; the state does. They get to decide what to cut, and after listening to all the other candidates at the DFL convention saying that they would NEVER increase class sizes NEVER EVER, incumbent T. Williams sardonically noted that it’s easy to make that promise, but sometimes you have to go where the money is.

I also want to note that while I am not anti-union and I am definitely not anti-the-teachers’-union, I think it’s also worth remembering that it is their job to represent the interests of the teachers. Which is fine because teachers deserve representation and advocacy. But sometimes the interests of the teachers and the interests of the students do not fully align. The board’s job is to negotiate with the teachers’ union when the contract is up for renewal, so while on one hand I have no interest in a school board that will try to screw over the teachers, on the other hand I think it’s legit here that they’re sitting on opposite sides of the table; hopefully the negotiation process will not be acrimonious but it is a negotiation and not just “here, teachers’ union, everything you want is obviously what should happen.” Being disliked by the teacher’s union does not necessarily mean you’ll be a terrible school board member. It really depends on what it is they have against you.

Rebecca Gagnon

I was not super impressed by Rebecca when she ran the first time, but she definitely gets credit for running again. And although a ton of problems remain (like the achievement gap and the dropout rate), MPS has gotten markedly better over the last four years. They’ve stopped closing schools and started re-opening them. In a weird way, I think MPS benefited from the economic meltdown, financial crisis, and slow recovery. Minnesota does school funding through the state budget, and your district gets more money the more students you have. The recession and financial crisis were a complete disaster for private education; sending your children to a private school is totally optional, and will probably drop to a low priority if you’ve just lost your job or are afraid you’re about to. Anyway, a lot of Minneapolis-based students came back to the Minneapolis public schools.

But, they’d have left again just as quickly if their parents had felt their kids were getting a substandard education. In fact, there are a lot of good schools in Minneapolis. There are a lot of extremely experienced, committed teachers. There are at least a few really talented principals.

(Can I just note that people focus really strongly on quality teachers and tend to overlook the importance of principals? Good principals can make a huge, huge difference to a school. I’m not even sure how. I mean, half the time I’m not sure what they do. It’s clearly a really complex skill set, because for one thing, you have to manage teachers. Managing teachers is DAMN HARD, because a lot of teachers are very fond of working with children and not wild about dealing with other adults and in particular they want to run their own classroom and have the principal leave them the hell alone. Anyway, a good principal can turn a school around. A bad principal can ALSO turn a school around. I’m not even sure how they evaluate principals, especially given that the old principal at Molly and Kiera’s former school was once “Principal of the Year”…)

Her website says she’s in favor of balanced budgets, she voted for the new discipline policy designed to reduce suspensions (that’s a point in her favor, IMO), she supported the Safe Schools initiative (that’s an anti-bullying policy that particularly strives to protect LGBTQ students), and she helped to pass an Equity and Diversity Policy “that requires all board decisions pass the equity and diversity impact assessment to ensure we are identifying, addressing and eradicating institutionalized racism throughout all levels of MPS.” This is all good stuff, although for Minneapolis school board candidates, not exactly controversial.

I’ll add here that she refused to participate in a forum because it was co-sponsored by Students for Education Reform, a probably-astroturf group that has been campaigning for Don Samuels. She also refused to fill out the questionnaire from Educators for Excellence, which I think is rather unfortunate given that what they did with the responses was put them together in a convenient booklet. (I guess you might be concerned about lending them credibility, but frankly, I find agenda-driven questionnaires to be useful in ways not necessarily intended by the people with the agendas.)

Apparently SFER and E4E and various other lobbying groups have been spending absurd amounts of money in this school board race. (Specifically, pushing Don Samuels.) There was a blowup a few weeks back because Iris Altamirano (endorsed DFL candidate) appeared at an event with Don Samuels. I’d say there’s an overall perception that Dan is running against Rebecca; everyone seems to like Iris, and few people are taking Ira all that seriously. So, I can understand her suspicion of the groups that are Don boosters, although I kind of think she may be shooting herself in the foot by treating them like they contaminate all that they touch.

Don Samuels

Don ran for mayor last year, and I remember thinking that given how focused he was on education issues (which the mayor of Minneapolis has very little to do with) he ought to be running for school board. And now he is. And…I have some big hesitations about him.

He’s a board member at Teach for America. You know, I really appreciate the energy, drive, and idealism of people who teach with TFA but in point of fact, very few teachers are all that good their very first year. I do support alternative certification programs; I think there’s something really nutty about the fact that if you have a PhD in Physics, you can’t teach science to high school students unless you go and get a Master’s degree in Education. (I’m not saying you should be able to waltz in off the street with your PhD and teach high school students, I’m just saying that demanding a whole separate graduate program is not enforcing professionalism, it’s enforcing hoop-jumping.) But the thing about TFA is that it’s all about teaching for two years and then doing something else, so basically a bunch of kids in the neediest schools are getting one teacher’s Probable Worst Year Ever after another. This is not helpful.

I mean, with a newly minted teacher, someone has to be the first year, just as someone’s going to have to be the first patient intubated or stitched up by that new resident in the ER. If the person’s goal is to become a teacher as a career, then you know, some class full of kids will have to suck it up. But I have some huge reservations about providing an endless stream of two-year teachers to the students who most need really GOOD teachers.

If I were going to set up a program like TFA, I would exploit the enthusiastic recent graduates by employing them as EAs and one-on-one reading and math tutors and after-school enrichment providers. I might even add a coursework component and make this an alternative certification option.

Here’s the other thing about Don: I am super hesitant about these groups backing him. On the other hand, he’s also endorsed by RT Rybak and a whole lot of City Council members (past and present) as well as two former school board members.

So, looking at his actual website, there’s stuff I like and stuff I don’t like. “We often hear that poverty is a barrier in education that cannot be overcome. We know that is just not true. Two of Minneapolis’ best schools are Harvest Prep Academy and Hiawatha Academy, and those schools serve 99%+ kids of color, 95%+ free or reduced lunch kids, and yet their outcomes beat the state average by double digits every year.” Harvest Prep and Hiawatha Academy are both charter schools. And he’s right; they do a stunning job. Higher Ground Academy in St. Paul does, too, with a similar population. It’s absolutely worth asking what these schools are doing and how they’re doing it and what strategies can MPS try.

On the other hand, he wants a longer school day and year. At my kids’ old school in Minneapolis, they got twenty minutes total for lunch and recess, K through 8. Six and a half hours with a ten minute recess is bad enough. If the school day is getting extended, they also need to make recess (real recess) mandatory.

He talks about useful and timely data. He doesn’t acknowledge that he’s talking about still more testing. He talks about teacher quality: “Teachers cannot be viewed as interchangeable parts. We need to identify great teachers, no matter what their background and training, and empower them to succeed. Once we’ve done that, we should be aiming to get the best teachers in front of the neediest kids.” Here’s the thing about that. I can tell you about great teachers I had, and great teachers my kids have had. I can even tell you precisely what made some of them so great. But I cannot tell you how to measure it. I can’t tell you how to incentivize it. Neither can anyone else. The problem with identifying great teachers is that way too often it involves identifying teachers who are particularly good at teaching to the test, or teachers who are particularly good at being well-liked by their peers. You can use metrics with some professions but teaching is a really, really, really hard one to measure.

He also talks about Early Childhood Learning (which is great, we agree on that completely) and on the role and importance of parents (ditto).

Iris Altamirano

Iris has a compelling political biography: she was the daughter of a school custodian who went to Cornell University, shocking the socks off the local school superintendent who pulled her mother aside and said, “why YOUR DAUGHTER?” (to which she responded, “why NOT my daughter?!?”) (Don Samuels also has a compelling political biography: he’s an immigrant from Jamaica who came over, was really successful in business, and turned to community service. He still lives in one of the more challenging neighborhoods in Minneapolis.)

Her issues page emphasizes kindergarten readiness (by funding High 5), thinking about the needs of students who are new immigrants, good teachers and principals, and community building.

You know, this really is the problem with figuring out who to vote for in school board races in Minneapolis.

To be honest, I would love to see a candidate say that they want to say to hell with kindergarten readiness, let’s think about what kindergarten was originally supposed to be for and focus on first grade readiness. Originally, kindergarten was supposed to be universal preschool, where kids could learn their colors and work on their fine motor skills to get better with crayons and scissors and learn school behaviors like sitting down and paying attention. Over time we’ve transformed kindergarten into what we used to refer to as “first grade” and defeated the whole entire purpose of that preparatory year so now once again we’re dealing with a readiness gap between those kids who arrive knowing the letters of the alphabet and those kids who arrive never having experienced any sort of formal school environment in their lives.

I know, this is crazy talk. You would never ever ever in a million years hear a DFLer say that in Minneapolis, but I really think it’s worth considering as a strategy. They did, at some point after Molly’s (truly disastrous) Kindergarten year at her Minneapolis school, assign an aide to every kindergarten classroom, which is a really good idea. When Kiera was in preschool, I remember that in the younger rooms, the lead teacher would assertively lead everyone over to the rug for storytime while two assistant teachers would round up and redirect the kids who were having trouble changing over to this new activity. If a kid got restless during storytime, it could still continue while the assistant teachers soothed, quieted, distracted, or (if all else failed) removed the disruptive kid. It really helped with the process of socializing kids to the norms of a classroom.

Anyway, Iris has a truly impressive list of endorsements that includes Keith Ellison, most of the City Council members, a bunch of state legislators including the House Education Chair, a long list of current and former school board members, the DFL and all the unions (except for the Teacher’s Union, which opted not to endorse directly and instead instructed its members to vote for whoever the DFL endorsed).

Ira Jourdain

Ira was an extremely distant fourth in the primary. (Rebecca came in first with 31%, then Don with 27%, then Iris with 23%, then Ira with 6%.) This is largely being treated as a three-person race for two seats. Turnout for the primary was super low, though, making it hard to really suss out what’s likely to happen on Election Day.

Ira’s from the Red Lake band of Ojibwe (I think) and works at one of the human services organizations that serves Native Americans. His “platform letter” says that he thinks MPS is putting its resources in the wrong places. “For our youngest students kindergarten classes are too full. For our oldest students our high schools do not completely offer culturally relevant curriculum that engages them and welcomes them into their learning environment.”

I totally agree with him on class sizes. Minneapolis has appalling class sizes. The standard class size is 27 students K-3, 32 students 4-5, and I’m not even sure what happens in the upper grades. It’s ridiculous. The charter schools, all of which get less money per student, all manage to have much smaller class sizes. For a while Minneapolis blamed the fact that they had a bunch of half-empty schools that they were paying to heat; then they closed a bunch of schools so I’m not sure what their excuse is now.

I have some real hesitation about “culturally relevant” curricula. I went to an elementary school that was wildly enthusiastic about being RELEVANT and somewhat less worried about supplying factual content. Also, what kids need varies a lot. (He talks about that, too, saying that we shouldn’t use a one-size-fits-all standard of teaching.) There are kids who will learn science better if they’re exploring culturally relevant topics like ethanol and the water quality of the nearest lake; other kids want a more methodical and structured curriculum rather than a topic-driven one.

He also talks about wraparound services; this is the approach that says, “a kid is not going to do well in school if he’s not getting health care, if he doesn’t have enough to eat, if his family is homeless,” and tries to make sure that services to provide nutrition, stability, and health care are being provided. I totally agree in principle while also kind of resenting the fact that we’re dumping yet more stuff on schools. (It really should not be the school’s job to make sure kids have access to health care; it should just be a societal given.)

I think I’m going to come down on the side of Iris and Rebecca but I may change my mind before the election.

Election 2014: Minneapolis City Questions 1 and 2

Minneapolis has two charter questions on the ballot. The fact that these rules are currently written in the charter means that in order to change them, they have to pass citywide referendum. Here are the two questions:

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)
FILING FEE FOR CITY ELECTED OFFICES
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to increase the filing fees for candidates seeking City elected offices from the current fee of $20 for each office to $500 for the office of Mayor, $250 for the office of Council Member, $100 for the office of Board of Estimate and Taxation Member, and $100 for the office of Park & Recreation Commissioner and, as an alternative to payment of a filing fee, allow a candidate to submit a petition of voter signatures as provided in state law?

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)
REMOVE MANDATORY FOOD REQUIREMENTS FOR WINE LICENSES
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the requirement that businesses holding on-sale wine licenses in the City must serve food with every order of wine or beer and to remove mandatory food to wine and beer sales ratios?

CITY QUESTION 1 (Minneapolis)
FILING FEE FOR CITY ELECTED OFFICES

I will admit that on a very personal level, I am torn about this. Blogging about all thirty-five mayoral candidates in Minneapolis last time was kind of fun. If you raise the fee above the current $20, you’re going to lose the candidates like the “WAKE THE **** UP, MINNEAPOLIS!!!!” guy, the Laurist Communist, and Chris Zimmerman, who conscientiously blogged about every other candidate with the question, “would they actually be better at this job than I would be?”

I have occasionally thought about how if I were the Hat Guy from xkcd, I would approach all ballots with the question, “what would be most entertaining to me, personally?” But I’m not, and I don’t, and I think people should vote “yes” on this question.

I was curious how many signatures it took to get around this. To avoid paying the fee, you need either 500 signatures OR 5% of the number of ballots cast for that office in the previous election, whichever number is smaller.

The only thing here that seems unreasonable is the $100 to file for BET, given that it only pays $20/month. At the same time, though, the last thing you want is to make the BET the job that all the nuts run for.

But in general this seems like a really reasonable move. The $500/500 signatures requirement is not going to seriously impede anyone who’s got an actual campaign going; it will, however, deter the hobbyists. And while I find the hobbyists to be great fuel for snark and hilarity, I do not think it’s good for Minneapolis voters to have to wade through the weirdos when voting.

CITY QUESTION 2 (Minneapolis)
REMOVE MANDATORY FOOD REQUIREMENTS FOR WINE LICENSES

It used to be pretty common to require restaurants to sell a certain amount of food to demonstrate they’re not a bar. However, as craft beer has become more popular, even in restaurants that truly are restaurants, it can be really easy to screw this up and get in trouble.

In general I think Minneapolis over-regulates alcohol. This is one of my grew-up-in-Wisconsin biases. Ed and I got married in Madison; we had a picnic the night before the wedding for all our out-of-town guests, held at a picnic shelter at Hoyt Park, and provided a keg of beer. Ed wanted me to call the Madison parks department to make absolutely sure this was legal, because in Minneapolis, it totally would not be. Here’s more or less how the call went.

Me: Hi. I have the shelter at Hoyt Park reserved on [date] and I was planning to get a keg of beer.
Madison Parks Lady: {puzzled silence}
Me: …aaaand I just wanted to make sure that would be okay.
Madison Parks Lady: You’re just going to drink the beer, right? Not do anything…weird?
Me: Yeah, we’re just going to drink it.
Madison Parks Lady: We don’t allow glass containers at any of the beaches, though, if you were holding your party at a beach you’d need to drink it out of plastic cups.

Anyway. Yeah, I think restaurants should be allowed to serve expensive beer and not worry that this will bite them in the ass when people spend too much on booze. If a specific restaurant is creating actual problems then that should be dealt with — but the solution is to deal with the businesses that create actual problems, not to assume that restricting alcohol for everyone will solve things.

So my recommendation is to vote YES on both of these.

Election 2014: Hennepin County Sheriff

So FYI, I’m not going to blog about uncontested races unless someone’s running a very serious write-in campaign. In Ramsey County, the Sheriff (Matt Bostrom) and County Attorney (John Choi) are running unopposed. In Hennepin County, County Attorney Mike Freeman is running unopposed, but there’s a race for County Sheriff.

Also, for some reason Sheriff is one of those words I can never spell. I always want to put in two r’s. So I apologize in advance if I get it wrong somewhere in this post.

Here’s who’s running:

EDDIE M. FRIZELL
RICH STANEK

Eddie Frizell

Eddie works for the Minneapolis Police Department; I’m not entirely clear on how they’re organized, but he oversees a bunch of stuff including some precincts plus the Emergency Preparedness unit, the Emergency Services Unit, and Special Operations Unit (which includes the SWAT people). He’s also served in the MN Army National Guard for 25 years. It’s worth noting that one of the things done at the county level is a lot of the emergency preparedness stuff (I think) so the fact that he’s done it in Minneapolis is a good sign.

I actually went to a random EMS open house a few years back that was being held behind the police station in my precinct. They had fire trucks and ambulances and stuff that you could check out, and a K-9 unit with a dog you could meet. Anyway, I actually asked the guy from the Sheriff’s office what they do that’s different from the police department and the one thing that I actually remember is water rescues. The county has some boats and special equipment for cold-water dives, or something like that. (Obviously in a truly enormous disaster like the 35W bridge collapse, it’s all hands on deck.)

Anyway. Theoretically this is a non-partisan office but I will note that Eddie is endorsed by the DFL. Rich Stanek is a Republican (he served in the state legislature for a while) but is endorsed by a number of Democratic politicians. (I’m sure the Republicans would have endorsed him, too, but that’s a minus not a plus in Hennepin County.)

Eddie was also endorsed by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputies Association, which is to say, the people who report to Rich Stanek endorsed Eddie. They voted 75% to endorse Eddie, with 15% saying no endorsement and only 9% saying “yeah, Rich!” AWKWARD. (Extra awkward if Rich wins.)

Philosophically, Eddie talks a lot about community policing. I find that really encouraging. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin in the era of Police Chief David Couper, who is probably the closest thing to a real-world Paladin I have ever encountered in real life. (Complete with a genuine commitment to the Lawful-Good way of life.) Couper was a big fan of community policing, possibly in the sense of inventing the concept (the Isthmus article says he invented it, but, well, Madisonians can be a little bit parochial.) (Incidentally, if you want to know more about David Couper, he has a blog about police work which is worth a look at.) Eddie notes that you won’t make much headway in fighting crime just with policing; he wants to see community engagement, partnerships, and rebuilt trust.

I’m a big fan of all that stuff. It would be really nice to see a Minneapolis Police Department that was doing some of it. Or even just going to meetings even if people are planning to show up and disagree with them.

Rich Stanek

Rich is one of those people who gets called “controversial” and “polarizing” a lot. Also sometimes “grandstanding,” “attention-seeking,” and “ambitious.” My impression as a Minneapolis resident was that he was a huge, enormous dick, though at least he was also reasonably competent and mostly effective. He has shown a stunning degree of tenacity simply in returning time and again to electoral politics and building alliances to overcome past scandals.

Back in 2004, then-governor Tim Pawlenty appointed him Public Safety commissioner. Rich then went down in flames over a couple of allegations, including the fact that he’d used the n-word during an off-duty altercation over a car accident in which he also beat up the other driver. The altercation itself happened in 1989, though in 1992 he had to testify under oath about his use of the n-word (which was apparently pretty extensive).

Given all that it’s pretty amazing that he not only made a comeback but won over a lot of black voters (the City Pages link above is to an article titled, “The Rehabilitation of Rich Stanek,” published in 2006).

While Sheriff, let me see. In 2012 he apparently had a woman arrested for trespassing when she was hanging out on a public sidewalk because she’d previously pissed him off. If you’re a supporter of marijuana legalization, be advised that Rich Stanek claims to have “seen firsthand in Hennepin County that there is a direct connection between marijuana and violent crime.” He goes on in that editorial to claim that “In the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center, marijuana is the most commonly detected drug among the 36,000 inmates who are booked into the facility each year. According to our most recent data, approximately 54 percent of males arrested for violent crime test positive for marijuana in Hennepin County.” — let me just touch on those claims really quickly before I move on. (a) Marijuana stays in your system a lot longer than most other drugs, so you’re way more likely to detect it with ANY drug test. (b) What percentage of the males arrested for violent crimes are drunk? (c) A lot of people use pot. Including some violent criminals. I’m not even going to get into the issue of people who self-medicate with street drugs — just, I mean, a lot of people use pot. If you’re an otherwise law-abiding, non-violent person who uses pot and knows Rich Stanek socially, you probably don’t invite him to smoke a bowl with you, and Rich might want to consider the issue of the pool of his research subjects here.

Anyway. I kind of think it’s a little unfair to hold against a law enforcement officer that he’s in favor of enforcing laws, but I’ll also note that he went to a whole lot of trouble to get the county to fund a cell phone tracking system that will let law enforcement know where you’re going even when you’re not using your phone, if you’re carrying it and it’s on.

I’m not honestly sure how much to worry about the KingFisher thing (which incidentally Jeff Johnson voted for, and now says he regrets). But despite being pretty blase about what corporations know about me (if you want a smartphone, you kind of get to pick: do you want Apple, or Google, to know basically everything there is to know about you?) and despite the fact that if they used this system to track me it would probably be because I’d been kidnapped, I think we are right to be extremely suspicious of law enforcement’s belief that they totally need to be able to track our location with sophisticated technology.

In 2007, Rich also got criticized for using public money to make a video bragging about the 35W bridge collapse response, taking credit for stuff that wasn’t actually his to take credit for. And last spring his son went driving off-road with a pickup truck through an environmentally sensitive area and got so mired in the mud he had to be pulled out. I don’t actually think politicians are responsible for the actions of their 22-year-old offspring, but the fact that no charges were filed afterward had me raising an eyebrow. But actually since I started researching this, charges got filed. I’m a little baffled by the gap — it’s one thing when someone is badly hurt or when it’s a really big crime and you’re gathering evidence or whatever. Does it normally take that long to go from incident to arrest when you do something that essentially amounts to vandalism on public land, and are caught while doing it?

Bottom line — I would vote for Eddie Frizell.

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.