Methodology

I had a couple of people ask me this year how I do my research. I just want to note again that I’m a hobbyist, not a journalist, so I can’t call people up and say “this is Naomi Kritzer from the local paper of record, calling to ask you questions about your campaign.” (I tend to assume that real journalists get quick responses to their questions, especially when they’re softball questions like “what makes you different from your opponent?” but I may actually be totally wrong about this. I’ll tell you this: “I’m a political blogger” does not open doors. People get this nervous, guarded look, like they think you’re probably a lunatic.)

My core research tool is Google, but there are some specific techniques I use and stuff I look for.

1. Get the slate of candidates.

In Minnesota, you can get the precise slate of candidates for your precinct by visiting the MN Secretary of State’s site and putting in your zip code and address: http://myballotmn.sos.state.mn.us/Default.aspx Once it gets to a month or so before the election you can even view a sample ballot.

The candidate list (though not the sample ballot) usually includes links to most of their websites. This is not perfect: some candidates, including one fairly high-profile one, wrote their URLs down wrong (or they got put in wrong at the elections office.) Nonetheless, the links can save time.

Getting the list is critical for the downballot races because they’re so rarely covered in voter guides.

2. Look at the websites of the candidates.

Interpreting a candidate’s website can be one of those areas where there’s no substitute for a base of local knowledge, because so often there’s subtle code. I mean, not always — sometimes, you have a nice straightforward choice between an obvious conservative and an obvious liberal and you can pick your political philosophy and be done with it. (And in fact, in a U.S. Senate or U.S. House race you should probably just decide whether you like Democrats or Republicans and stick with those candidates, because you’re not just voting for Jane Q. Minnesotan, you’re voting for her party to control that branch of government.) In local elections, though, this may be a whole lot less clear, and there are more likely to be highly contentious issues that don’t break down neatly along party lines.

“Fiscal responsibility” is something of a Republican buzzword and it can mean “I think teachers are overpaid and guidance counselors are a waste of money” but it can also mean “that sports stadium we are now spending a pile of money to build is STUPID and I wouldn’t have supported it.” “No handouts to billionaires” is a Democratic buzzword and it can mean “I think tax breaks for large employers are always a terrible idea, even when we’re offering incentives for hiring the long-term unemployed” but it can ALSO mean “that sports stadium we are now spending a pile of money to build is STUPID and I wouldn’t have supported it.”

One of the words you’ll see a lot in local elections is “transparency.” Sometimes this means, “I am totally convinced that if only we posted all our minutes on a website, people would take a sudden passionate interest in solid waste management.” Or, “We should hire someone to do VIDEO of all those solid waste management committee meetings and put THOSE on a website. Or local access cable! THE PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW. EVERY. DETAIL.” Other times it means, “I can’t actually claim that my opponent is corrupt but everyone knows he is, and I’m promising fewer no-bid contracts, back-room deals, and mutual back-scratching arrangements.” And occasionally it means, “I’m a corrupt jackass and I’m going to do that nifty political trick where I try to suggest my opponent has the exact problems that are my greatest weakness.” Again, some knowledge of the local people involved can help.

It’s always worth looking to see what they think the issues are, because that all by itself can be extremely revealing. When I’m evaluating politicians, especially at the local level, I’m a big fan of people who will commit to specifics. Everyone agrees that the achievement gap is a problem, so promising to erase the achievement gap is pretty meaningless if you’re not saying “…by doing x, y, and z.” (Of course, if people are promising totally ridiculous specifics, it’s totally fine to hold that against them.)

Endorsements pages are also often very interesting. First off, as a general rule, if someone has no endorsements, that’s a good indicator that they’re a flake. (I mean, get all your friends to endorse you. At least make it look like your trying!) Second, they may be endorsed by politicians you know you hate, even if they’re technically members of your party. (For the record, I loathed Norm Coleman back when he was a Democrat, too.) Or by people you know are nuts. You also get situations where the candidate is saying nothing particularly socially conservative anywhere on their website but has endorsements from socially conservative groups; that’s a pretty good indicator that they hold very socially conservative views, even if they’re keeping quiet about them this week.

If I’m having a really hard time sussing out what someone is like, I will sometimes go through the list of names on their endorsements page, Google the individuals, and try to figure out whether they run liberal or conservative. I mean, there’s limits, with private individuals, but often you’ll find out that they’re board members of some non-profit, or they work as lobbyists, or they’re high-level executives in some industry… this, however, can be a whole lot of work.

3. Google the candidates.

If a candidate has a very common name, or if they share a name with a celebrity, I’ll try adding the state, the city, the county, the job they’re running for, their political party if I know it, each political party in turn if I don’t, and various relevant issues.

Sometimes, I will look specifically for news stories. You can adjust the dates on Google News if you click “Search Tools” on your results page, and look for stuff that’s less recent. There are certain local sources I’ll always click on. One of my favorites is the City Pages, because their searchable archive goes way back and they’ve always liked covering scandals. Obviously I’ll click if I spot a Star Tribune link. I also like minnpost.com and tcdailyplanet.net. If I hit a really old article that looks promising but appears to only be in a paid archive (Highbeam, for instance), I make a note of where it appeared and visit my local library’s website; they have paid access to a bunch of news databases. Usually, the stuff I’m after doesn’t require archaeological skills, but every now and then I really have to dig. (It helps a lot if I have some idea of what I’m digging for.)

I look for candidates’ Twitter feeds and Facebook pages; sometimes I can get more information on them that way (sometimes they’re just very, very boring — serious campaigns for high-level offices always have Twitter feeds but they tend to be shockingly dull.)

If I’m really digging (especially in minor races where I haven’t been able to find much) I will look people up on LinkedIn. That can be a good way to see if this minor candidate has some qualification for the office they’re running for. Also, sometimes there’s stuff that will tip you off about their views and/or agenda.

Blogs are great. I’m always really excited when I find a blog, especially if it’s from a few years ago, before this person was thinking about running for public office, and they might actually say what they think instead of couching everything in politically palatable euphemisms.

Minneapolis has a long-standing mailing list called the Issues List which is archived online. Sometimes I can find a fantastic gossipy discussion full of invective that relates to a particular candidate. It’s fun when it’s people talking about them; it’s even MORE fun when they were a participant.

Interviews with candidates are basic but sometimes very solid. Interviews from a partisan source are more likely to be interesting. (Bonus points when the candidate forgets that Democrats AND Republicans will be able to read this interview.) Voter’s Guides, of course, if they filled them out. If they refused to fill out a Voter’s Guide that can also be revealing. (Sometimes what it reveals is, “this is not a serious candidate.”)

4. Watch video / listen to radio.

This is not my favorite research method but I will do it occasionally. It can be particularly interesting if you can dig it up from primary season. Something I realized this time is that you can make a YouTube video skip five seconds forward or backward by using your arrow keys. (You have to start it, pause it, and restart it in order to activate that feature. It’s possible it doesn’t work on all videos.) This is especially good to know if you’re trying to watch a primary-season debate during the main season because who cares what Kurt Zellers said?

Sometimes, candidates will put all their substantive ideas on videos so you have to sit through them yammering to find out what they think about anything. I hate that approach so profoundly that all by itself it’s going to be a huge strike against any candidate who does it. I have a lot of races to research and a lot of candidates to sift through, and I can read a lot faster than I can listen.

5. Ask questions.

Sometimes I want to know something about a candidate’s stance that’s not on their website, and I will e-mail them to ask for more information. I’ve had a wide range of responses to this, from prompt helpful e-mails back to “can you please call me so we can chat? here’s my number” to complete radio silence.

I get mixed results with this. Jeff Johnson (GOP candidate in the governor’s race) ignored me. Hannah Nicollet (Independence candidate in the governor’s race) asked me to call her, which I did, and we talked on the phone for a bit. Nelson Inz asked me to call him, which I ended up not doing. Jay Larson e-mailed back to ask me for a more specific question, but then did not follow up with a response to my more specific question. (I’d asked him how he differed from his opponent; he wanted to know a more specific concern so I asked him about the District 5 high school options. No reply.)

Asking me to call is fine. E-mailing back is fine. Having a campaign worker e-mail back is also fine. For someone in a local race to never respond at all is not fine and communicates a tremendous amount of arrogance, IMO. If I really want an answer I may try Twitter and the campaign Facebook page as well. (I tried that with Mark Andrews during last year’s mayoral race and he did not answer me ANYWHERE. I sort of wondered if he was avoiding me because he thought I was nobody, or if he was avoiding me because he knew who I was and did not expect a favorable writeup?)

When a candidate persistently ignores me I always wonder if they ignore reporters, too. I don’t usually lead with “I’m a blogger” — I just tell them I’m researching candidates for the upcoming election and I have a question about X, here’s my e-mail address, thank you. But, if they Google me, they’ll find my blog. And I know some of the local politicians know who I am! (I am “Minnesota sci-fi writer and astute local political commentator,” thank you, Gawker. I think I’m going to put that on my business cards.) But fundamentally, when I write to a candidate, I’m writing as a voter. And I think I deserve as much of a response as any other voter. I don’t expect a personal reply when I write to Obama or Franken or Dayton (or McFadden or Johnson, before yesterday). But I do expect a personal reply when I write to my State Legislator or my City Council Rep — not necessarily from them, but from their staff or a volunteer.

When I wrote to my City Council rep in St. Paul to grouse about the horrifying road work being done on Ford Parkway this fall and the fact that it was happening at the same time as Montreal Ave was closed, I got a fairly lengthy and apologetic e-mail back from their aide explaining why the scheduling happened the way it did. (It involved a fight for funding in one case, and a lawsuit regarding who they hired in the other, and then a desperate attempt to get everything done ASAP before winter. Annoying as hell, but it would be worse NOT to do the work, so…) When I wrote about the horrific mess that was Hamline Ave last spring, I got a similarly apologetic e-mail along with a promise that they were going to re-pave Hamline before winter. Which they did, hurray!

On a super fundamental level, that’s what accountability looks like to me: a willingness to answer my questions, to respond to me when I have a complaint. I don’t expect that to be instant; my elected officials have lives, kids, other jobs, other constituents. I don’t always expect to get what I want; all resources are limited, and (hopefully) my elected officials have a broader perspective than I do on what those short-term hassles will get us in the long run.

Anyway, if someone won’t answer my questions before they get the job, they’re certainly not likely to answer my questions after they get the job.

6. Share.

If you’re going to do this sort of work researching your local political races, your friends will appreciate it if you share, especially if they hold similar political views. I don’t know how big my readership is at this point, just that it’s way beyond my circle of personal friends because they found it useful enough to pass along.

Before I post stuff online, I try to organize my information: I want to have links to my sources. If someone dislikes my opinion, they can follow those links and form their own. My writeups tend to have a lot of snark, because that’s part of what makes this fun for me. I do, however, try to avoid committing libel. If something’s been alleged, I try to remember to say it’s an allegation. If I’m expressing an opinion, I try to make sure it’s expressed as an opinion.

I usually break do a separate post for each race, but if I have a lot to say about the candidates in some race I might break that one down by candidate because novella-length blog posts are annoying both to write and to read.

Shortly before the election I collect all my endorsements onto one page.

Local elections matter a lot. I was talking about this today with a friend on Facebook. It’s weird to me that people focus so heavily on the national elections, to the exclusion of the local races, given how much of your day-to-day quality of life is the result of stuff your state legislature and city council are doing (or not doing). You are not under any obligation to be exhaustively thorough: you can just sit down with your sample ballot and check out a few websites and ignore anyone who isn’t easy to find.

Election 2014: 4th District (Hennepin County) Court, Judge 53

I did most of the research on this one a few days ago and then let it sit because it was one of those races where I just didn’t feel like I had that much to say, and for some reason that felt a lot harder to sit down and do than the races where I pretty much can’t shut up.

This is an open seat. Judge Jane Ranum isn’t running again.

Running for this seat:

Bev Benson
Chris Ritts

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Election 2014: 4th District (Hennepin County) Court, Judge 43

One of the oddities this year in Hennepin County is that there are, in fact, three actual open seats in the judicial races. I did a cursory look at all three races and it looks like there’s one that’s a battle between two liberals; one that’s a person with a bunch of supporters vs. a person with no supporters; and one that’s clearly a liberal vs. a conservative.

This one is a liberal vs. a liberal:

PAUL SCOGGIN
BRIDGET ANN SULLIVAN

I’m going to use a cut tag now that I’ve figured out how to do that.

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Election 2014: Associate Justice – Supreme Court 3

I’m going to be honest: this is the sort of juicy, hilarious trainwreck of a race that I love blogging about. Or at least Michelle’s half of it is; David Lillehaug is thoroughly respectable and has been endorsed by loads of people on both sides. So if you’re really only reading these to get a list of who to vote for, just make sure you vote for David Lillehaug. If you’re not actually in Minnesota anyway and read these because election drama can be so entertaining, go pop yourself some popcorn because you are in for a SHOW.

MICHELLE L. MACDONALD
DAVID LILLEHAUG

(I’m going to use the “More” tag to try to cut this, because it’s long.)

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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: 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.