Primary Elections 2022: Minnesota Senate 65

Long-time State Senator Sandy Pappas is running for re-election. Two other people are on the ballot, but only one is seriously campaigning.

Sandy Pappas
Zuki Ellis
Sheigh Freeberg

Zuki Ellis has a website and remains on the ballot, but seems to have largely stopped campaigning — she’s not responding to interview requests or returning questionnaires. I’m treating this as a race between Sandy and Sheigh.

Two years ago, I looked at Sandy vs. a long-shot challenge from Laverne Knighton, and commented on the fact that Sandy had been in the legislature since the 1980s and her website highlighted the fact that she’d authored the first legislation to allow growlers to be sold in brewpubs. Sandy either took that criticism to heart or was just a lot more nervous this year, because her website is much improved. For each category she talks about her “vision,” her “values,” and her “victories,” which is a good framework for someone who’s been in the legislature for decades but has been in the minority party for a lot of the time.

Sheigh Freeberg is a union organizer. He first got into politics as part of the “recall Walker” fight in Wisconsin, burned out on that, then got into union organizing and has been there for most of the last decade.

The Minnesota Reformer ran an article on Sandy vs. Sheigh that’s worth reading. They describe Sandy as a “reliable workhorse for abortion rights, workers’ rights and reforming the criminal justice system.” Sheigh makes the case that Sandy “isn’t showing up where and when her constituents need her” — that she casts votes and goes home.

“Where are people showing up, in the sense of their physical presence” is an interesting question that can at least partly be answer by their Facebook pages. Sandy’s campaign page is here and her Senator page is here. Sheigh’s campaign page is here. In the last couple of months, both talked about going to National Night Out events; Sheigh picketed with the Nurse’s union; Sandy went to an abortion rights rally; Sheigh went to a different (I think) abortion rights rally (and also this one, in June); Sandy went to a “Safe Summer Nights” event; Sheigh went to a health care for all event. “Sandy doesn’t show up for stuff” was actually one of the points raised by Laverne two years ago: Laverne noted that “in the almost 25 years she’d lived in this district, she had met Sandy maybe twice. Her church has held forums and invited Sandy and Sandy has never come.” (Sandy is Jewish but “please come to an event to meet our members, who are your constituents” is a reasonable request to make across religious lines, IMO.) Laverne worked for a domestic violence shelter for years and was the area director for the United Negro College Fund, and these both seem like roles where, if you don’t feel like you know your state legislator, that’s not a great sign that your legislator is trying to meet people they should be trying to meet.

I’ll also note — I have absolutely been known to get stuff entirely wrong. Sometimes when I say, “this long-time legislator seems to be out of touch?” I get an avalanche of replies on Twitter or in the comments section from people who want to let me know about how that particular legislator helped them or helped their organization. This didn’t happen with Sandy, at least not in 2020, although possibly the Twitter share feature wasn’t working because I can’t find my own Tweet with that post, weirdly. (One final note about the 2020 race — one of her constituents sent her an e-mail asking her for her position on a bunch of things and got a message back from Sandy typing on her iPhone that said, “who are you and why are you asking for my positions [on] such a wide range of issues?” Which I still find kind of hilariously hostile (and also startling, because usually when you send a politician a long list of questions, they just don’t answer you at all.)

Sandy did respond to the questionnaire from the West Saint Paul Reader. Sandy’s new district includes a chunk of West Saint Paul, which is a separate city (and was genuinely horrified to see that a bunch of them had been grouped with Saint Paul for their Senate District, judging from some of the comments in their town’s Facebook group.) One of the questions they asked all the candidates was, “What differences do you see between West St. Paul and the rest of the district? How will you address the needs and concerns of West St. Paul residents?

Sheigh’s reply:

West Saint Paul is its own unique city with its own unique values. Many of them are working class that value fair pay for fair work. Expanding issues statewide like increasing the minimum wage, stabilizing rent, and making healthcare affordable will help working people and their families in WSP. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that they are part of Dakota county and the leadership now needs to work with local governments from both districts to help build the community. 

Sandy’s reply:

I see many similarities. Many WSP folks grew up or lived in St Paul prior to before moving to West St Paul. I see there are also many citizen activists in both cities.

One difference is that WSP is a small city, a close knit community with its own traditions and celebrations. St Paul has some of that too but more in its various neighborhoods.

I will be an active supporter and advocate for the needs of WSP. I’ve already met with city officials and council members to get updates. And I’m hearing from residents as I go door to door.

I’ll be honest: Sheigh’s answer strikes me as a lot better. Poking through the WSP Facebook group I was pretty struck by how many people assume they’re going to be an afterthought for their rep, and Sandy’s answer here wouldn’t really alleviate that.

Sandy also made a huge misstep this year with a postcard claiming endorsement from a bunch of people — mainly from West Saint Paul — who had not endorsed her. From the article: “Many of them were delegates and supported me at the convention,” Pappas said. “They’re all DFLers, I made the assumption that they were supporting me, and it’s true, I neglected to get that in writing.” Further down she said, “The conversation was, ‘Will you do a photo with me?’ And in some cases, like with Julie, we sat down and had coffee together and did a photo,” Pappas said. “I will have to ask them what did they think I was going to do with that photo? But you’re totally right, by the letter of the law I did not get a written endorsement from them.”

I’m going to say, if a long-time Minneapolis politician said “what did they think I was going to do with that photo?” there’d be “whatever you do, don’t hold still next to [politician] or you’ll find out two months later you’ve endorsed them” jokes on Twitter forEVer.

But OK: let’s go back to the Minnesota Reformer article for a minute. In the article, Sandy says pretty straight out that she’s running because she really (really really) wants one more term where she’s part of the majority. “What if the DFL doesn’t take the Senate?” gets asked and she groans and says “Move to Canada? I don’t know” and admits she probably wouldn’t have run if she hadn’t thought the DFL was going to take back the Senate. Sheigh, meanwhile, got asked about this and “said his organizing skills will help get his agenda passed” (which is a standard line from Democrats but has not worked in a while).

Asked by the West St. Paul Reader for their top issues, Sheigh listed affordable housing, fully funding education, and universal healthcare; Sandy listed a robust bonding bill “that supports the essential infrastructure needs of our state and our communities: clean water, transit, roads, parks, affordable housing,” paid sick and safe time (a project she’s been working on for years), and a pension plan for low-wage workers. Sheigh’s sound more aspirational; Sandy’s are more directly related to the specific things she’s been working on and has power over. (She’s the ranking minority member on the Capital Investment committee, and will have a ton of power to allocate money for projects if the Democrats take back the Senate. I’ll note that she does talk about Education on her “Vision and Values” page.)

Anyway. I like Sheigh a lot; he’s a regular on Twitter who consistently speaks up against sexist bullshit (which is nice, because it’s a lot safer for men on Twitter to do that than for women to do so). I appreciate his energy, his organizing skill, his commitment to showing up even when he’s not the one in front of a mic. The surge of interest in unions and unionization over the last year could be very good for the Democrats in general — Sandy has, historically, been extremely good on labor issues but she was not, you know, actually out there organizing people two weeks ago.

I also appreciate Sandy’s long-standing reliable votes on a bunch of issues I care about, and the position of power she stands to gain if the DFL takes the Senate. Sandy is 73 years old; I suspect that if she wins this time, she’ll retire before the next election. We also lost a shocking number of women from the State Senate this year because redistricting paired them with men. I am hesitant to replace yet another woman with a man, even though I like the man.

This is one of those races that comes down to, “if I lived in the district, I would probably have a stronger sense of what Sandy is like as a representative, and that would inform my vote.” If I lived in West Saint Paul, and Sheigh had doorknocked me and Sandy hadn’t, I would probably vote for Sheigh. If I’d had Sandy as my rep for years and she’d responded promptly and helpfully to my e-mails complaining about stuff, I would probably vote for Sandy. (If I thought the Republicans were going to hold their State Senate majority, I’d probably vote for Sheigh. I probably should expect the Republicans to hold their State Senate majority but I’m always an optimist.)

So, I don’t have a solid call on this race, and the election is tomorrow, but hopefully there’s enough information here to help the people in SD 65 clarify their own decision-making process.

ETA: Someone left the following comment: “I lived in Sandy Pappas’s district for ten years, and I never got the impression she was doing much of anything. I’m sure she was voting and otherwise showing up for work, but she never bothered to campaign in any way I really noticed, and her email newsletter was anodyne to say the least. (The one I remember best was when lieutenant governor Tina Smith got appointed to the US Senate, and the state senate president automatically got promoted to LG; Sandy for some reason sent out a newsletter reflecting that would have been her if it had happened a few years earlier when she was senate president.) Her recorded convention speech for the digital DFL convention in 2020 was of her sitting on a folding chair and reading off some printed remarks about how we couldn’t expect to accomplish anything that session. I guess the labor movement considers her a champion, but to my eye as a constituent she always seemed like just a longtime incumbent who stuck around because she could.” If that’s your experience of Sandy: absolutely positively vote for Sheigh.

In addition to writing political commentary, I write science fiction and fantasy. My book that came out in April 2021, Chaos on CatNet, takes place in a future Minneapolis. It’s a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and signed copies of both books are usually available from Dreamhaven. You will also be able to get them from Uncle Hugo’s when it reopens at 2716 E 31st St! (and maybe by mail order now? I’m not sure how much mail order Don is doing while getting ready to re-open.)

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I also went looking and found two DonorsChoose fundraisers for classrooms at Bethune Community School in North Minneapolis: math manipulatives for pre-K students (this is such a good idea) and a nice book organizer for a first-grade classroom where the shelving is coming apart.