Minnesota Caucuses: What Actually Happens

One of the reasons why caucuses are fundamentally such a bad way to pick presidential candidates in Minnesota of all places is that Minnesotans are kind of hypersensitive to embarrassment and find it horrifying to be somewhere that everyone else knows the rules, and they don’t.

There’s this little booklet in Episcopal churches about What to Expect if you come worship with Episcopalians and one of the points on which they reassure you is that they will not embarrass you. If you’ve ever been in a church where they made all the newcomers/visitors stand up so they could clap for you, you know exactly why the Episcopalians put that note in.

So, yeah, caucuses. They don’t make newcomers stand up so they can clap for you! Well, maybe there’s a caucus convener somewhere who does, but it is definitely not part of the agenda. Also, if you want to go to a caucus because you’re a passionate supporter of some candidate but the whole process seems sort of freaky, definitely get in touch with the campaign and tell them your precinct and ask if they can set you up with a buddy.

You can watch the DFL’s “What to Expect at your Precinct Caucus” video, or keep reading for my take.

Something everyone should know going in: caucuses are run by volunteers. Many of these volunteers have never done this before; they maybe went to a two-hour training on how to run a caucus. If you find yourself thinking, “omfg I could do this better than these losers,” you are probably correct, and if you’re willing, you can almost certainly have that opportunity!

Arriving

Your caucus will probably be held at a school. Most likely, everyone in your ward will be at the same school, with each precinct in a separate classroom.

In a presidential year with an interesting contest, attendance skyrockets. If you’ve ever been to a caucus before, you should have received a reminder card in the mail, and apparently if you bring that along it can speed things up a bit. (I predict that maybe 1 in 100 people who receive that card will think to bring it.) The thing you really want to be sure you know before you go is your ward and precinct. In fact, I checked out my Senate District Convention’s caucus page (find your own local unit here) and they had all the info down to which classroom at the school my precinct will be in. The more info like that you can track down before you head over, the more likely it is that you can skip past the long lines and head straight to the right spot. The long lines are probably not people waiting for ballots: they’re usually people who need to be told which precinct they live in.

If you can walk over to your caucus, you’ll be happy that you didn’t have to park. If you drive, leave plenty of time for parking.

(If you’re reading this in 2017 or 2018 instead of 2016, disregard that advice: off-year caucuses are a vastly smaller crowd.)

Signing In

Once you’ve gotten into the school and figured out where you’re going, you’ll probably wind up in another line to get into the classroom where your precinct is. You will sign in at the door, and usually they hand out ballots as people sign in.

You do not have to be a registered party member of anything in order to attend a precinct caucus. However, when you sign in, you’re affirming that you consider yourself generally a Democrat (if you’re at a DFL caucus) or a Republican (if you’re at a Republican caucus). You’re also affirming that you’ll be able to legitimately vote on November 8th, and that you live in the precinct.

If you’re planning to move before November 8th, that’s fine, you can caucus in your current precinct and vote at your new address in November.

How the Meetings Are Run

These meetings are run Robert’s Rules type procedures, so there are a bunch of somewhat goofy hoops that get jumped through.  The caucus convener calls the meeting to order and then the group as a whole gets to elect a person to run the meeting. In theory, this could be a hotly contested battle. In practice, people are usually happy to vote for the person who went to the training session on how you run a caucus.

There’s an agenda, which the meeting adopts. People make motions and second motions. If you’re one of the 16-year-olds at the meeting, you are allowed to participate in those parts of the meeting. (Edited to add: letting 16-year-olds participate in caucus business may be strictly a DFL thing.)

If you’re at a DFL caucus, you should turn your presidential preference ballot in before eight. If you don’t want to stay for the meeting, you can come, sign in, get your ballot, vote, hand it back to a volunteer, and leave.

If you’re at a Republican caucus, ballots will be distributed as the first order of business and then collected. (You are then free to leave, if that’s all you wanted to do.)

Resolutions

One of the things that happens at caucuses are resolutions. If you want to bring a resolution, the DFL resolutions form is online. Print it out and fill in your action item. You can skip the bits that say “whereas” and if you insist on putting those in they’re supposed to go on the back and you’re not supposed to read them. (I support this change!)

The idea is that the resolutions from the caucuses are used to revise the DFL platform. You can find the DFL platform and the DFL Action Agenda online. Before proposing a resolution, I would encourage you to check to make sure it’s not already in the platform. If there’s time, you’ll get to present your resolution to your precinct caucus, speak briefly about why it’s needed, and everyone will vote on whether to adopt it. The resolutions that get adopted all get passed to a resolutions committee, which prepares them for the Senate District Convention. (More on that in another post.)

Republicans do this, too; I couldn’t find their resolution form online, though. (Edited to add: hey, they put it up! It’s here.)

If you’re in the DFL, this is one of the things you can do at sixteen! You can also vote for or against other people’s resolutions.

Speakers

Local politicians often pop in to speak at precinct caucuses. This includes both currently elected officials and people seeking office. Typically you’ll get visits from your state legislators and city council rep, if they’re members of your party. Occasionally you’ll get a bigger name, like your Congress person or Mayor. If you’ve got an open seat for something pending, you’ll almost certainly see candidates (or people speaking on behalf of candidates).

When someone pops in, they usually catch the eye of the person running the meeting, who will pause the proceedings and request that someone move to let your visitor speak. (You can say, “So moved!” to make the requested motion.)

Recruitment

Part of the purpose of a caucus is party-building, and there are lots of entry-level, truly grassroots volunteer positions that they will be recruiting for.

Sound like fun? Go for it. Seriously, if you hear, “we need a Precinct Associate Chair” and that sounds fun to you, you are exactly the sort of person the DFL hopes to recruit to do it. Don’t worry if you’ve never done anything like it before. There’s a whole elaborate party infrastructure for teaching you what you’re supposed to be doing.

On a more immediate level, they’ll recruit tellers — people to count those ballots everyone turned in.

Some of these volunteer positions are open to people who aren’t eighteen yet. If you’re interested, ask.

Electing Delegates to the Local Organizing Unit Convention

So the next-level political meeting is a convention. Typically things run like this:

  1. Precinct caucuses.
  2. Senate District or County Conventions
    (this is the Local Organizing Unit or LOU convention in the DFL; the Basic Political Organizing Unit or BPOU convention in the Republican party.)
  3. The State Convention
  4. The National Convention

At the precinct caucuses, you elect delegates to the next-level convention. This usually takes the form of the organizer requesting a show of hands, counting, and then passing around a list for people to sign up on.

If you don’t have enough slots, it gets more complicated. But that is actually pretty rare at this level. You do have to be 18 by November 8th in order to be a delegate to the local organizing unit convention.

If you’re a Republican, you may recall that four years ago, Rick Santorum appeared to win the Minnesota caucuses and yet we sent a whole bunch of Ron Paul delegates. This is because the Ron Paul people carefully organized to make sure they sent delegates to the BPOU conventions, and since their preferential ballot wasn’t binding and Santorum’s people didn’t show up … anyway, that seriously annoyed the Republican central committee and the ballot is now binding for both parties. You do not have to go to the Senate District convention (or whatever it is for you) to make sure your presidential candidate gets their due support. I’m going to write another post about what exactly this is and why you might want to go (or really prefer NOT to go) in another post.

Counting the Ballots

If you stick around, all the ballots from your precinct will get counted and they’ll announce the totals. That’s usually the last thing that happens before they adjourn the meeting and everyone goes home.

 

Advertisements

Minnesota Caucuses: The Basics

So let’s say you’re a Minnesota resident, and you’ve got an opinion about either the Democratic presidential candidates, or the Republican presidential candidates.

On March 1st, you can vote for your preference by attending your precinct caucus.

Location and Time

A caucus is a meeting. Caucuses can be held anywhere the party can arrange space, but for logistical reasons, schools are very popular. Often all the precincts in a ward will be held at some local school, and each precinct gets its own classroom. (I have never been to a caucus that wasn’t held at a school. Possibly because state law requires schools to allow political parties to use them for caucuses.)

You can find your caucus location using this handy online site: http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/

I would suggest that before you go, you note down your ward and precinct number, and if the website gives you a room number within the building, note that, too.

When I went to my precinct caucus in 2008, there was a huge, huge line leading out the front door of the building, down the block, around the corner, and down the next block. The thing is, the bottleneck was being created by people consulting ward maps to figure out which precinct they were in. I knew my precinct, so we found another door, went in that way, and just made our way to our classroom. (Which also had a line! But at least it was a shorter line. And indoors.) In a regular election, if you find a line, you just get into it, because you’re in line to get a ballot, and everyone needs to go to the same place. At a caucus, once you’re in the building there will probably be at least a dozen different rooms for each individual precinct caucus. Each room has its own line for people to stand in to sign in and get a ballot. So if there’s a line outside the building, you generally will not be cheating if you find a way around it. (Mind you, it’s possible all the other doors will be locked, but in 2008 it was definitely worth trying the other doors!)

Doors will open no later than 6:30 p.m. (Many caucus conveners are planning to be there earlier.) The meetings are supposed to be called to order at 7 p.m. Balloting runs until 8 p.m. (and if you’re standing in line at 8 p.m. they’re supposed to abide by the way it works during a regular election: you’re there, so you’re present, and you get to vote.) (Edited to add: that’s true for DFLers but not Republicans! Republican balloting is done at the beginning of the meeting, so get there on time.)

Who Can Caucus?

You do not have to be a registered party member to attend a caucus, but you are supposed to be a person who generally considers themselves a Democrat (to attend the DFL caucus) or Republican (to attend the Republican caucus). When you sign in at a DFL caucus, you are affirming the following: that you live in the precinct; that you will be 18 and eligible to vote by November 8th (in order to cast a preference ballot) or that you will be 16 (in order to participate in caucus business); that you consider yourself a member of the DFL and are not an active member of another political party; that you agree with the principles of the DFL party.

You are not actually registering as a party member by signing in, exactly, but you’re affirming that you consider yourself a Democrat. It’s a somewhat fine distinction.

If you sign in to a Republican caucus, you’re affirming a similar set of things but mentally cross out “DFL” and insert “Republican.”

(For the recent transplants and the non-locals: the DFL is the local Democratic party. It stands for “Democratic Farmer Labor” and is used interchangeably with “Democrats.”)

All that said, there’s no quiz. The only scenario where someone might care is if you are very publicly a member of some other party — for instance, if you hold public office as a member of some other party. (There is actually a procedure for “challenges” but I have gone to these meetings for years and this has never come up. In theory, if someone thinks you’re not there legitimately, they can challenge you, and your precinct caucus will then vote on whether or not to let you stay. In practice, we are talking about Minnesotans. The reanimated zombie of Ronald Reagan could turn up at your precinct caucus and no one would say a word because oh god that would be confrontational.) The one thing they really don’t want anyone doing is caucusing for two parties on the same night. (Note: if you try that trick, you’ll be breaking state law. Don’t do it.)

(The caucus-finder website lists only Republican and DFL caucuses at the moment, but in fact other parties are caucusing that night as well. More info on the the Green Party caucusesLibertarian party caucuses, and I went looking for information on the Constitution Party but they don’t appear to hold caucuses.)

Note that you can totally caucus and cast a presidential preference ballot if you are 17 years old right now but will turn 18 before November 8th! And if you will be 16 by November 8th, you can “participate in caucus business,” which basically means that you can propose and vote on resolutions. (Edited to add: that’s a DFL thing, I think.)

The Presidential Preference Ballot

Assuming this works more or less like it has before, they will give you a ballot when you sign in. They’re pre-printing ballots with candidate names, but they may run out, in which case your ballot will be a piece of blank paper on which you write your candidate’s name. (All reasonable spellings will be counted. However, eight years ago, there were two very confused Republicans who came to my DFL precinct caucus and cast ballots for McCain and Romney, and that will not work. If you want your vote to count, you really need to go to the correct party’s caucus.)

If all you want to do is come, sign in, cast your ballot, and leave, you can totally do that.

Our presidential preference ballots are binding. This is true this year for both the Democrats and the Republicans. (Four years ago, it was not true for the Republicans! But it is now.) Essentially our caucus is a very inconvenient primary (because you have to come during that 90-minute period and the lines are much more of a hassle) with absolutely no absentee balloting.

The DFL has a five-minute video on what to expect at your precinct caucus, which is pretty accurate. The one thing I will note is that precinct caucuses are held every year, and they are much, much less crowded in an off-year.

Be ready for crowds this year. That means that if you’re driving to your location, expect parking hassles. If it’s a cold night, be aware that you may wind up stuck outside for a bit before you can get in.

(Edited to add: Republicans will get ballots as the first agenda item at the meeting, not when they sign in. They can vote and leave, though, if they want.)

Accommodations

If you have a disability and need accommodations to participate in your caucus — for instance, if you can’t stand in line for a long time — you have a couple of options. First, you can contact your precinct chair or the chair of your Senate District. You can find your local contacts on the DFL site. The Republican site only gives people down to the Congressional District level, but I first started trying to get answers to my questions back on New Year’s Eve, and I e-mailed Jim Carson, the GOP party chair for Congressional District 4. I heard back from him within hours. (Don’t get me started on the Democrats. Really, don’t.)

The other option is to contact the campaign of the candidate you’re planning to support and see what they can offer. You specifically want their Minnesota campaign office, because they should have local people who can help you out. Bernie’s got a very, very informative page with lots of people you can call on. Hillary’s contact information is somewhat less helpful: here.

Hillary’s less-than-optimal local organization info is better than anything I could find for any of the Republicans. Trump has a Minnesotans for Trump Twitter account. Cruz has a Facebook page. I couldn’t find anything for Kasich. “Rubio for Minnesota” got me a Wikipedia page for a Timberwolves player and here’s Google’s most helpful information on Bush for Minnesota.

(FYI, I tried a bunch of different searches and still came up dry.)

All caucuses are supposed to be held at wheelchair-accessible locations unless they literally can’t find anything within a reasonable distance of the precinct. Also, under state statutes, you have the right to an ASL interpreter if you need one, Braille materials if you need them, etc., unless they literally can’t find you an interpreter. Let them know in advance what you need.

Other Obstacles to Caucusing

You have the right to take time off work to go to your caucus, though you are required to give your employer 10 days notice.

You are allowed to bring your kids with you to the caucus. They can’t participate unless they’re old enough, but they can be in the room. How well this will work depends heavily on your kids.

If you are out of town that day, if you’re home-bound, if you’re sick … you are S.O.L. There are no absentee ballots for the caucus.

I totally agree that this sucks. I think this is a stupid way to pick a presidential candidate, and we should switch to a primary system. My recollection from the last time this got proposed is that the state doesn’t want to switch because they’d have to pay for a whole extra election in March every four years and that’s a lot of money. Under the caucus system, the parties bear the cost.

Oh yeah, that reminds me!

They will totally hit you up for a donation at your caucus. There’s usually a can that gets passed around and they may even suggest a sum.

This donation is entirely optional. You do not have to contribute. It’s nice if you can: there are costs for holding the event that your party has to bear. But you have the legal right to participate without digging out your wallet.

 

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: 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: 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: Governor’s Race: Democrat Mark Dayton

Governor Dayton’s turn!

The gubernatorial options, just to remind you:

HANNAH NICOLLET AND TIM GIESEKE – INDEPENDENCE
JEFF JOHNSON AND BILL KUISLE – REPUBLICAN
MARK DAYTON AND TINA SMITH – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
CHRIS HOLBROOK AND CHRIS DOCK – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
CHRIS WRIGHT AND DAVID DANIELS – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Mark Dayton

In addition to the usual social networking options (Facebook, Twitter), Mark Dayton’s campaign has a Tumblr: http://govdayton.tumblr.com/ (I’m really curious how many tumblr followers he has but I don’t see a way to find out). Tumblr skews really young, so that’s definitely a gesture of electronic outreach toward the youth vote. (It’s a low-volume tumblr but hopefully as they get close to Election Day there’ll be a bunch of stuff about how you should remember to vote! and make sure your friends remember to vote! and drag your friends bodily to the polls! and so on. Young people are overwhelmingly liberal but also have a tendency to not vote.)

In a fundamental sense, Dayton’s in a good position with this campaign, because the question, “are you better off than you were four years ago?” is going to be an emphatic yes for a lot of people. The recovery’s been kind of rocky and has varied a lot around the country, but in Minnesota we’re doing pretty well. I started seeing “help wanted” signs all over about two years ago. The housing market has largely recovered. The tax base has recovered and we can pay for schools again.

His website glosses over the MNSure rollout, which was a serious mess. We get our health care through the exchange; Ed is the one who dealt with it. By the time he signed up, he was able to get it to work, but I had friends who were NEVER able to sign up online (they had to go in via phone, which had its own set of issues). This wasn’t a Minnesota problem so much as a national problem, but it sure as hell was frustrating. (And the Minnesota website is really poorly designed; when I tried to look at plans, I wanted to be able to right-click the various options and pull them up in separate windows. But they’d used scripting instead of linking so I couldn’t do that; I had to look one at a time, and then it crashed when I’d try to back up, so I kept having to start over from the beginning. It was reminiscent of the classic “make them have to reboot after every typo” Dilbert strip.)

But on the other hand, having Democrats in charge meant that Minnesota fully participated in the Medicaid expansion. And that has been terrific for a number of people I know. Friends of mine who had not seen a doctor or a dentist in years are now getting the care they’ve needed. (I would be a fan of single-payer health care, but given all the screaming over how the ACA was SOCIALISM and we were LOSING OUR FREEDOMS I am not going to hold my breath.)

Dayton’s website also doesn’t mention one of the other great things that happened under his watch: marriage equality. I have other friends who are finally able to see doctors and dentists because they can now be covered under their spouse’s insurance policy because they were able to legally marry.

Anyway, I am not a huge Dayton fan in some respects. I find him affable but a little bland. I think he was too much in the pocket of the law enforcement lobby when making the call on the medical marijuana law. But in general, I’m happy with how he’s governed in the last four years (and I’m certainly a lot happier than I was with Pawlenty). He’s got my vote.