Election 2014: MN Secretary of State

The Secretary of State, in Minnesota, oversees elections. In fact, to pull up the ballot that I'm looking at, I go to the SoS website's My Ballot site, which lets me pull up a list of candidates complete with links to their web pages (that was implemented in the last few years — when I started doing this, I always had to Google) and a PDF of a sample ballot.

There is other stuff they do, but I think the big job is the elections. Visiting the main SoS web page it looks like they also handle business filings (okay, that's probably a pretty significant job), notary publics, the Safe At Home program (which an address confidentiality program for people like victims of stalking or domestic violence), a bunch of forms, and some truly random miscellaneous stuff like the state symbols.

Do I really need to persuade anyone reading that it matters quite a lot who's counting the votes? Six years ago, we had a massive hand recount in the U.S. Senate race, in which among other things they had to try to decide what to do with ballots like these: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98272423 ("Lizard People," heh. I'd forgotten about that ballot. There was also someone who just randomly doodled over the whole thing, and a guy who voted for Norm Coleman for Senate, but wrote in Al Franken for Soil & Water.) Some of this stuff gets decided in court, but not all of it.

Mark Ritchie, the DFL Secretary of State, is not running again, so this is an open seat.

Our choices, courtesy of the above-mentioned website:

BOB HELLAND – INDEPENDENCE
DAN SEVERSON – REPUBLICAN
STEVE SIMON – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
BOB ODDEN – LIBERTARIAN PARTY

Bob Helland

Bob Helland is the Jessecrat. He pushes the point that someone who isn't either a Democrat or a Republican might be a bit more impartial, but he sort of buries that under his primary hobbyhorse, which is that the SoS should focus more on business life cycle management. Having looked at his page, though, I'm not really clear on what it is he wants to do, other than putting out proposals for how we should be adding stuff about this to the high school curriculum. He also talks about working to keep private information confidential and making public information available; is this actually in the job description for SoS or is it just something he's very concerned about? Especially with third-party candidates I don't entirely trust them to be running for the right office (and it's not just third-party candidates; see Matt Entenza.)

Anyway, he does at least have some relevant work experience; he's worked for the MN Department of Revenue and he's done computer stuff, which is a point in his favor.

Dan Severson

Here's something I was not expecting: a Republican for a major statewide office who comes across as more of a flake than the Independence guy. Instead of Issues or Positions his link is to "Causes," except it's only one: Count Military Votes First Petition.

I'll just C&P his explanation of the issue. "In the 2010 election in Minnesota less than 5% of Minnesota’s active duty military members votes were counted. Current state policy is to count those votes last after all others. We believe that our active duty military vote should be counted first and in its entirety. If you agree, please sign the petition below. This petition will be delivered on 9/11 to Mark Ritchie, current Minnesota Secretary of State and Rep. Steve Simon, Chair of the Minnesota House of Representatives Elections Committee."

So here's the thing. Absentee votes are counted last. But I'm pretty sure they're all counted; even if they won't swing the big race, you aren't going to know until you look at them whether they'll swing the downticket races, plus you need to get 5% of the votes in a statewide race to qualify as a "major party," which is a pretty big deal for Grassroots, Independence, etc. I was looking to see whether the SoS website confirms that they're all counted (the Iowa SoS does) and I didn't find that but I did find out that I totally could have voted in the primary election because we effectively have early voting now — I could've gone to my county election office and applied in person for an absentee ballot, filled it out, and given it back to them. (Given that statewide turnout was something like 2% of eligible voters I could have felt such a smug sense of moral superiority, too! Dammit.)

Anyway, it's true that a lot of military voters wind up disenfranchised. But it's not because absentee ballots get counted last; the problem is that there are a lot of ways for absentee ballots to get screwed up. The requests get lost, or the ballots get lost, or they arrive too late. As it happens, Minnesota does a lot of stuff right. You can request your absentee ballot via Internet. There's a web form to let you check the status of your absentee ballot. There are states that apparently fail miserably to get the ballots to service members the required 45 days before an election, and there are some U.S. Senators who have pushed for a law saying that if a state drops the ball, they need to foot the bill to express-mail the ballots out (and if things are really late, to express-mail the ballot back, as well). I'm not sure whether Minnesota has had issues with this, but in any case, he's not actually talking about any of the practical steps that we could be taking to ensure that service members overseas are not disenfranchised! Changing the order in which we count the ballots is both symbolic and obstructive (don't the machines actually count the ballots as they go in? at the very least, they put them all in a nice neat stack that can be run through quickly. Ballots get counted by hand for the instant-runoff races and when there's a recount; most of the time, we use machine counts.)

He does have a marginally more substantive set of policy statements tucked under his news posts: http://danseverson.com/severson-solutions-the-first-100-days/

But seriously, this guy is a crank. And yet not only did the Republicans endorse him, he ran unopposed in the primary. What the HECK, guys. You’re a major party. I expect real candidates with whom I passionately disagree, not people who sound like they’re running on the Cranky Old Fart party ticket.

Steve Simon

Steve is the DFL candidate. Not surprisingly, he prioritizes voting rights and will resist any attempt to get rid of same-day registration (seriously, same-day registration is so important, and there is zero reason not to have it — it's a crucial protection against stuff like the purging of the ballot rolls that happened in Florida in 2000). He wants to expand early voting. He was a leader in the fight against the Voter ID amendment that got voted down in 2012.

Yeah, this is the guy I want running the next election. No question. And honestly, if my top priority were ensuring that active-duty military people overseas were not disenfranchised, this is also the guy I would pick, given his commitment to making absentee ballots available.

Bob Odden

So right now, if you go to Bob Odden's website, you'll see his name and picture and a flag and then, if you read down the page, you see:

Sun Oct 26, 2014
MN Weapons Collectors Ass Gun Show
9:00 am
State Fair Grounds Coliseum
Falcon Heights, MN
I am a member of the MWCA and I will be manning a table for the Libertarian Party of MN.

I blinked at that in baffled disbelief and then googled and realized that (obviously) it is the Minnesota Weapons Collectors ASSOCIATION Gun Show. Not a show that specializes in Ass Guns, whatever those are.

Under issues, he notes that as Secretary of State he intends to carry a gun around and he’s going to encourage his staff to carry one as well. I was thinking that having armed people who are not, like, actual police officers wandering around the building might light a fire under the ass of our State Legislature when considering gun control but it looks from the map like the office of the Secretary of State has its own separate building.

He also has a suggestion for judicial elections: “If a judge quits before their term ends and a judge is appointed to fill that position, that judge can’t run in the next election. That seat must be open to encourage multiple candidates to run for that office. Remove ‘incumbent’ for judges on the ballot. Allow judges to inform the public on their positions and all issues that might come before them as judges.”

That is pretty much the opposite of what I think is a good idea, sooooo yeah, this guy is a big old NOPE.

tl;dr vote for Democrat Steve Simon. (And vote in this race, guys. IT MATTERS WHO THE SECRETARY OF STATE IS.)

Election 2014: Governor’s Race: Chris the Libertarian and Chris the Grassroots Party Guy

Okay, this is getting long. I am going to see if I can get through the last two in a single post. I mean, Hannah Nicollet is barely showing in the polls, but she’s at least from a party that has won statewide office at one point in the past. As far as I know, the Minnesota Libertarians and the Minnesota Grassroots Party people have never been elected to anything.

The candidates again:

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

Chris Holbrook

Chris is anti-tax, anti-trains, pro-pot, and pro-fireworks. (The fireworks get as much space as the government spending piece on his issues page.)

I just want to underscore that last one for city residents who might lean libertarian. Think about that one carefully. The 4th of July is annoying, but most of us can suck it up a few times a year. Chris’s take: “I believe that aerial fireworks should be sold, purchased, and used here in Minnesota at the discretion of the people, however any damage to another person’s property from careless use should carry strong penalty.” Dude. What about my right not to have explosives being shot off near my house at midnight? (This is the problem with libertarians. Your right to swing your fist doesn’t actually end just short of my nose: you need to keep your fist WELL AWAY FROM MY FACE AT ALL TIMES, actually. Your right to shoot off fireworks doesn’t start and end with you causing actual property damage; it ends when you seriously annoy your neighbors, and I know very few people who are not annoyed by fireworks.)

He was in the news in May because the Park Police arrested him for standing in a park gathering signatures for his candidacy. Dear Mayor Hodges: can you put “do something about the Minneapolis Police Department” on your agenda, please?

Chris Wright

Chris Wright’s top four issues, in order: (1) weed. (2) drugs generally. (3) energy independence, by which he means weed (“Simply stated, instead of boiling oil, let’s cook biomass carbon feedstocks like HEMP and switchgrass to produce GRASSOLINE a.k.a. bio-gasoline.”) (4) corporate personhood, which he was unable to connect to weed but probably not for lack of trying.

His issues page also mentions his agriculture policy (weed!), his economics plan (weed!) and his position on mandatory motorcycle helmets for adults (opposed).

I have to say, for those who wish to make the case that marijuana is harmless (and does not, contrary to popular belief, kill brain cells), I’m not sure the Grassroots Party really serves your purposes.

Both of these guys sound like complete doofuses to me.

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.

Election 2014: Governor’s Race: Republican candidate Jeff Johnson

Right. Hannah Nicollet was interesting enough to write about that she got her own stand-alone blog post. Turns out Jeff Johnson also gets his own. Here’s the ballot, 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

Jeff Johnson

So, just as I wanted to give you a little recap of Jessecrat politics over the years, I want to start by mentioning a few highlights about Minnesota’s GOP. In 1994, for example, there was a solidly popular incumbent Republican governor, Arne Carlson. The delegates to the Republican Party State Convention loathed Carlson, though, because he was too liberal (specifically he was pro-choice, but there was some other stuff, too), and endorsed Allen Quist, instead. Carlson handily defeated Quist in the primary and then crushed the sacrificial Democrat, John Marty, so it’s not like he was held back much by his party refusing to endorse him.

More recently, let’s talk about the 2012 Presidential Primaries. Minnesota doesn’t have primaries; we have caucuses. There’s a binding straw poll held at the caucus that functions as a primary, and Santorum surged in Minnesota. As I explained at the time, caucuses don’t draw your every-day casual party members, but the party FAITHFUL, the people who are willing to give up an entire evening to crowd into classrooms and listen to speeches. Not surprisingly, the Republicans willing to do this tend to be very, very conservative. Historically — by which I mean, “since I started paying attention to Minnesota politics at some point in the early 1990s” — the most consistent thing about Minnesota Republicans who turn up at caucuses is that they tend to be socially conservative purist ideologues and they tend not to be at all quiet about it.

Which is why it is SO WEIRD that Jeff Johnson’s website has almost nothing on it at all about social issues: it’s wall to wall taxes and economic growth. Curious about whether there was a bit more openness about social conservatism in the primary, I actually sat down and watched an entire video of Republican candidates vying for endorsement debating back in January and there was not a single question about abortion or marriage equality, and no one seized an opportunity to bring anything like that up.

It’s like they had a meeting sometime in 2013 and pinky-swore to just sweep the social issues under the rug and leave them there.

In the debate I linked above, Jeff Johnson described himself as “an unapologetic fiscal — and social — conservative, although not in a loud or obnoxious sort of way, but more in a Norwegian Lutheran from northern Minnesota sort of way” — in his opening statement, he also urged Primary voters to view the candidates through the lens of the non-Republican voters they’d need to win over. (“Try on your neighbor’s shoes for a few minutes because they’re going to be crucial for us winning in November.”)

There were a couple of other really striking moments in that debate, actually. (I should note that I didn’t watch the whole thing straight through. If you hit the right-arrow key on your keyboard it’ll skip 5 seconds in a YouTube video, which makes it easy to fast-forward through the candidates you don’t care about.) About 40 minutes in, there’s a question about the fact that the GOP is seen as the party of rich white men, and did they have any thoughts about how to fix that? Johnson, along with a couple others, talked about reaching out to immigrants: “A lot of the new immigrants coming in are entrepreneurs…and they are socially conservative! But they are told by their leadership that WE ALL HATE THEM and we don’t want them to succeed. [...] It’s not about giving them a seat at our table. It’s about trying to get a seat at their table….that will help more than anything else we can do.”

And, I mean, I’ll give him credit for being smart enough to notice that. Of course, the reason why immigrants generally don’t vote for Republicans (despite often being relatively socially conservative) is that so many Republicans are vitriolically anti-immigrant. The Tea Party groups have been particularly nativist (which is a rather wholesome-sounding word for “bigoted”)….and when he wasn’t appearing at debates and talking about how the GOP needed to reach out to immigrant groups, Johnson was scooting around to every Tea Party group asking for their support. AWKWARD.

So, okay. Elsewhere in the debate (59 minutes in) everyone got asked about their faith; Johnson said, “I’m a Norwegian Lutheran so I don’t wear it on my sleeve very well.” (I’m curious what variety of Lutheran Johnson is. Lutherans range from the very-liberal mainline ELCA sort of Lutheran to the somewhat-more-conservative Missouri Synod to the much-more-conservative Wisconsin Synod to some totally off-the-wall groups of genuine kooks, although there are certain things they all have in common, like Jell-O salad, Reformation Sunday, and Norway, making his “Norwegian Lutheran” claim pretty non-specific. Anyway, his website — sensibly enough — doesn’t tell you.)

Moving on! I took a look at his website. I’ll note that in addition to the usual social media options (Twitter and Facebook), Jeff has a Google+ account, a YouTube channel, and a Pinterest board you can follow. He doesn’t have a ton of followers on any of these things; FB has about 7,000 people following, Twitter has 2,625, and Pinterest has less than 30. Over on his YouTube channel, only 433 people have watched his Ice Bucket challenge. (For comparison, the video my kids made with some friends from 4-H in which they did a Bad Demonstration of fashion tips has 104 views. Admittedly, about half of those may have been my kids watching themselves over and over again.)

On his Issues page, taxes are at the top — no surprise there, he thinks they’re too high — followed by education. He complains about the achievement gap and says: To do this we must reform our system to have the money follow the child to any school option their parents choose as the best choice for their child. That’s a call for vouchers, though he doesn’t say this. Right now, in Minnesota, the money already follows the child to any public school option their parents choose, and you can enroll your kid in any school where there’s space. If we wanted our kids to go to school in Eagan and were willing to drive them down there, we could just move them. I strongly support this system; funding everyone at the state level based on student population has some flaws but in general is a decent system. We do not, however, let you turn that money into a tuition voucher and take it to a private school. I’m not in favor of vouchers, but it’s a perennial Republican idea. The funny thing here is that he’s so careful not to say “voucher” even though that’s clearly what he’s supporting. He goes on to say that he will “reject programs like Common Core and No Child Left Behind.” Can I just say that it is a relief to see that the Republicans have finally come around to rejecting NCLB as vigorously as the Democrats.

He moves on to health care, parroting various Republican talking points. “Government has been messing up health care for decades” — in what respects? is he objecting here to EMTALA? — “and Obamacare will break the system altogether if we don’t get rid of it. I will work to eliminate MNsure and move toward a market-based healthcare system in Minnesota where consumers have more options and government is not making decisions for patients and doctors.” Naturally, he gives no details.

Under Family Issues, he says, “I believe that parents know best how to raise their children and that government should not undermine their right to do so.” For some of his statements I can suss out the tune he’s playing on his Republican dogwhistle but this one left me baffled. I sent him an e-mail, asking simply, “Can you expand on that a little? In what ways do you believe that the government is currently undermining the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, or in what ways do you see that right being threatened?” I’ve gotten no response. So, feel free to speculate. Maybe he was pre-emptively defending Adrian Peterson! (If a 200-pound man can’t beat a four-year-old child bloody with a stick, WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO?)

In that same section he notes he’s anti-abortion and anti-marriage-equality. Elsewhere, he elaborates on both of these a bit. On abortion, he says that if the legislature puts anti-abortion legislation on his desk, he will sign it. On marriage equality, he says he has no interest in repealing the marriage-equality law signed last year.

Transportation: yay cars, screw transit. (I’m summarizing.) Agriculture and natural resources: yay mining, screw regulations. “I believe the people whose livelihood depends upon using those natural resources are better stewards of the land than any bureaucrat in St Paul.” Yeah, that never ends badly. Second Amendment: yay guns. (I’m sure you’re shocked by this.)

Finally, his campaign website has a “blog” but he seems to think that means “collection of actual press releases, complete with the FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” part. (You can pull up an identical page by going to News Room > Press Releases, although the URL is different.) This is particularly odd given that he actually has a real blog, or used to, which he kept as a Hennepin County Commissioner.

I poked through that blog to see if I found anything interesting. He complains a lot about government spending he considers wasteful. Probably the most stomach-turning bit is where he talks about how the HCMC ought to be turning away anyone who isn’t actively dying and doesn’t have documentation to prove they’re here legally. Spoken like someone who’s never waited in an urgent care clinic in a poor neighborhood, watching people arriving in obvious pain and being turned away if they didn’t have $50 cash up front. It doesn’t have to be a life-threatening condition to make your life feel like utter hell, for the record, and if you are unmoved by compassion for fellow human beings in pain, I will also note that from a public health perspective, you really do want sick people to be able to get care. It’s not like the pertussis virus is going to check someone’s immigration status before infecting them.

Anyway. Far and away the weirdest thing about browsing Johnson’s site and record is how little he talks about social issues, given that he’s a Minnesota Republican who got endorsement. Apparently McFadden is following a similar strategy, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed:

Burned before, GOP governor hopefuls quiet on abortion, gay marriage. (MPR)

MN GOP: The bargain of silence on social conservative issues (a blog over at MinnPost by someone who finishes by saying, “Don’t be fooled. We are being played on this one.”)

Fall from grace: how ‘Christian values’ became a non-issue in Minnesota elections (MinnPost again, this time written by Doug Grow — fascinatingly, he opens by quoting Allen Quist, who apparently said recently that he thinks the environment attracts more single-issue voters these days than the social issues.)

I chatted about this with my parents (because it really does almost sound like there was a secret meeting!) and my mother hypothesized that the secret meeting was convened by the Koch Brothers. (“They really don’t care about abortion or gay marriage; they just want lower taxes and no unions and NO REGULATIONS.” All that’s still firmly on the agenda, including a bunch of rhapsodizing about the Polymet Mine, although that might have been during a bit of the debate I didn’t transcribe.)

But okay, in writing all this up, I hit on another theory. Let’s go back to 2012 again, and the Santorum thing. In the end, Minnesota didn’t send delegates for Santorum to the RNC; our delegates were backing Ron Paul.

This is a story that got rather brief play, but I did catch the edges of it. From what I gather, the Santorum people had largely lost interest by the time the Senate District Conventions rolled around, because Santorum had dropped out of the race. But the Ron Paulites weren’t actually in it to win the nomination (they knew — well, most of them knew — at the outset that this wasn’t going to happen.) They were in it to make a point — to have seats at the Republican National Convention. So their delegates showed up again. And again.

And maybe THAT is the crucial piece of backstory I was missing.

Maybe the meeting where the shift took place was anything but a secret back room: maybe it was the convention hall floor in St. Cloud.

Anyway, as it happens, I am not a Ron Paul fan either. He’s a creepy little racist demagogue. This is a man who lost a full-time campaign worker not to a political rival but to pneumonia because the guy had no health insurance and no money for care. Who uses terms like “honest rape” when talking about abortion rights, who sponsored a law that would gut Griswold vs. Connecticut.

NOPE.

But, that said, I find Ron Paul’s supporters to be vastly more reasonable overall than the people who turned out for Santorum. They differ from me philosophically, but they have arguments for their positions, not just Bible verses. While I am not going to vote for Johnson, and I would encourage my readers not to vote for Johnson, if the Ron Paulites have taken over the Minnesota GOP, I look forward to a markedly better crop of candidates in the future. Some years back, John Scalzi wrote about how the Republicans seemed to be embracing the nuttiest wing-nut end of their political spectrum, and he wanted to see that STOP, because he believed that it’s good for the U.S. to have two functioning parties. (Alas, I couldn’t track that post down, though I found this one.) Maybe this is a sign that we’re going to once again see the Republicans as a party of ideas that go beyond “whatever the most powerful Democrat is doing, WE HATES IT PRECIOUS FOREVER”? Am I being overly optimistic here?

(Of course, right now Johnson and McFadden are both struggling just with name recognition, and I’m not sure their bland affability is helping them as much as they’d have hoped.)

Next up is Dayton. I feel like he should get a whole post of his own too, but I’m not sure how much I have to say about him.

Election 2014: MN Governor’s Race: Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet

Before I get into the Governor’s race here, a brief recap of the Independence Party.

Back in 1992, eccentric Texas billionaire Ross Perot ran for President as an independent. He was successful enough to get on the ballot and into the debates, but not successful enough to actually get an electoral votes. He then founded a political party, the Reform Party, which stood for … you know, I can’t really remember. “We’re not the Republicans or the Democrats” was probably their biggest platform plank. My recollection is that Perot was opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement, anti-debt, and not particularly socially conservative. In 1996, Perot ran again, and did somewhat less well. In 1998, the Reform Party hit what was probably its high-water mark: Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota. Two years later, in the 2000 Presidential race, racist demagogue Pat Buchanan took over and got himself on the ballot as the Presidential nominee, and around that time the Minnesota Reform Party renamed itself the Independence Party. Lots of people called them Jessecrats.

Ventura’s biggest appeal was his bluntness. In 1998, the other candidates were Skip Humphery and Norm Coleman. Let’s say that in a public forum debate someone asked the candidates to agree with his stance that the sky was green. Skip and Norm would have both tried to find common ground on the idea that it was teal or turquoise which is really a shade of green and what ARE colors, anyway, and let’s try to steer the conversation back to their current pet hobbyhorse in the most disingenuously political way possible. Jesse would watch all of this and then say disdainfully, “The sky is blue.” That is why he won — it wasn’t so much a collective disgust with the other parties as with the other candidates. The press also adored Jesse, because he was basically a sound-bite machine; all you needed to do was throw him periodic straight lines and then go home and transcribe and you’d have a great article.

Alas, he really wasn’t prepared for success, and as governor he was less than the sum of his parts. Thin-skinned, easily worn out when it came to the political games that are inevitable when you’re trying to get anything done, he got hung up on the wrong projects (he wanted a unicameral legislature) and then quit after one term. (And became an increasingly batshit conspiracy-theorist who was most recently in the news for suing over libel.)

No one in the Independence party has even come close since that Governor’s race, but I’ll add that this is also a reason why polling in Minnesota can be so important. A lot of people look at the polls and vote strategically. Ventura was rising in the polls on Election Day, which is why so many people jumped to the third-party column — they believed he really had a shot. (Plus, I don’t think I did a fully adequate job of communicating just how uninspiring Coleman and Humphery were. I voted in the morning that year, because I KNEW that if I waited until after work, when I was tired and demoralized and grumpy, I would totally vote for Ventura.)

Anyway! That’s the background. On to this year’s candidates.

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

Hannah Nicollet

So the very first splash page of Hannah’s website nails rather neatly a big piece of the appeal of the Independence Party. She asks:

Why is that although 76% of Minnesotans favor legal medicinal marijuana, 68% oppose publicly funded sports stadiums, and 59% desire Sunday alcohol sales, politicians refuse to carry out the will of the people? In each of these cases lawmakers voted in favor of influential lobbies and private interests over the public’s interest. Independence is the answer.

Right? I mean HOLY CRAP, guys. WHAT IS IT with the sports stadiums? Back in 2001, I campaigned for RT Rybak in part because Sayles-Belton had backed some dumbass stadium deal. Here we are in 2014, and while RT was mayor, Minneapolis got not one but two overpriced sports palaces, paid for by taxpayers, crammed down our collective throat against the municipal law that demanded a referendum (they can’t ever put these to a referendum vote because THEY WOULD ALWAYS LOSE.)

Everyone wants Sunday alcohol sales. (Except the liquor store employees who like having a consistent day off.) Everyone agrees that allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana is a no-brainer (I mean, we let doctors prescribe Fentanyl, Seconal, and methamphetamines, right?) There’s so much we don’t agree on; when there’s overwhelming agreement on something as straightforward as, “sports teams should buy their own damn stadiums,” why does the will of the people get overruled again and again and again?

But — if Hannah sounds like an ordinary person asking the sort of common-sense questions that we all ask, the problem is that she’s also an ordinary person repeating stuff she’s heard without checking on it particularly closely. Under “Economy,” she says, We also have a permit and licensing obsession that must be addressed. Did you know that in Minnesota, more classroom time is required to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer? And becoming a manicurist requires twice as many hours as a paramedic?

She cites a source on that: this editorial. Which starts out stating baldly, “In Minnesota, more classroom time is required to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer. Becoming a manicurist takes double the number of hours of instruction as a paramedic.” But (a) it’s an editorial, not an article, and (b) it’s completely unsourced. So I dug up numbers and checked out the claims here.

To get a cosmetology license, you need 1,550 hours of training. Those are clock hours, but they’re not actually spent in the classroom. The Minnesota School of Beauty explains the curriculum a little bit on their website. Because I’m a completist, I called them up and asked them to go over their curriculum for me. (They assumed I was a prospective student, which was sort of sweet. I would be the worst cosmetologist EVER, even with 1,550 hours of training.) It’s a ten-month program. For 2.5 months, you go to classes with textbooks and listen to lectures on hair cutting techniques and how to dye hair so it doesn’t wind up green. And then you spend 7.5 months in “clinic,” which is to say, practicing on people under supervision. And then you take an exam. Is that excessive training to require of someone who wants to cut, dye, and style hair? Maybe? I mean, for some styles they’re messing around with hot stuff and caustic chemicals right by your scalp; I think I probably do want someone to have some mandatory training so they’re not going to injure me.

But, to make their point that this was excessive they were comparing it to being admitted to the bar. To be licensed to practice law in the State of Minnesota, you need to pass the bar exam; you also need a JD or LLB degree from an accredited institution. (And you have to be eighteen years old and “of good character” and there’s some other odds and ends, but that’s most of it.)

So what does it require to get a JD? I found the ABA’s requirements here. The ABA requires 67 credit hours to actually happen in the classrooms of the law school and Washington University requires 86 credit hours overall (I’m not sure if that’s actually part of the ABA’s requirements for accreditation but I’m guessing they do require more than 67 credit hours overall.) Note that “credit hours” are not “clock hours.” According to the wikipedia page on the subject, a credit hour is an hour of instruction once a week for a semester, or between 12 and 16 hours in a semester. Let’s say 14 hours x 86 = 1,205 required hours in the classroom, which is, in fact, less than the 1,550 hours required by the State of Minnesota for Cosmetology school.

Except in order to get into law school, you’re going to need a Bachelor’s degree. It’s not actually in the requirements as written for admission to the bar but it’s in the requirements for programs where you get a JD (and the JD is required.) Also, just as most of those cosmetology hours are actually supervised practice rather than sitting in a classroom, most of the hours spent in law school are spent reading, writing papers, and studying, it’s just that you don’t have to do those under supervision because no one’s worried you might actually stab someone with scissors. (Maybe they should be.) If it were possible to do law school in ten months rather than three years, there’d be a program for it out there. There isn’t. I looked. (I did find someone who thinks law school should be a two-year program and he mentions there are a few schools out there that cram three years of work into two years.)

So that part is marginally accurate misleading bullshit; by contrast, the manicurist/paramedic comparison is straight up bullshit. Manicurists need 350 hours of training. Paramedic programs range from 1000 to 1500 clock hours, according to the organization that accredits paramedic training programs. The thing with manicurists, hair stylists, and estheticians, though, is that all of the training requirements are about requiring supervised practice, not classroom instruction. Should we be requiring training? I mean, I guess this is one of those areas where we could go the libertarian route and say that it’s on you to check into the training and credentials of your manicurist, waxer, or hair stylist. That’s a lot more reasonable than expecting you to check into the training and credentials of the paramedic on the ambulance that responds to your call about chest pains. You can make a case for keeping the government out of beauty salon regulation, but don’t make your case by saying, “more classroom time is required to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer,” because that’s true in only the diciest possible sense of technical accuracy.

Moving on.

It’s Hannah’s Food Freedom section that got me curious enough yesterday to e-mail her, and then, at her request, call her. (Props to her for availability, seriously. I e-mailed Jeff Johnson’s campaign with a much briefer question and have not heard a peep.)

Here’s what she says:

Minnesotans should have the freedom to drink the milk they wish, have tap water that is free from chemicals and use natural plants to treat their illnesses.

I was pretty sure that by “the freedom to drink the milk they wish” she was talking about raw milk. (There’s a provision in state law that lets farmers “occasionally” sell raw milk and raw milk products directly to consumers, but they can’t sell it at farmer’s markets. There is a farmer at a market I used to go to who sold raw milk cheese as “fish bait.” Obviously there’s no law against eating stuff you bought as fish bait, right?) Anyway — I have mixed feelings on this, in that I think it’s reasonable to take risks with your own health, but there are people out there who are convinced that raw milk is magical unicorn juice that cures all ills and want to feed it in large quantities to their children, and who will insist loudly that when a farmer selling raw milk has his product embargoed because he gave eight people e. coli, and who continues selling it anyway and people also come down with campylobacter and cryptosporidium, this is not evidence that he is a really bad bet for a safe raw milk source but the VICTIM OF GOVERNMENT PERSECUTION.

Anyway, she confirmed yes, she was talking about raw milk. The “tap water free from chemicals” was indeed a reference to municipal fluoridation (although she’s also not a fan of fracking) and “natural plants to treat their illnesses” was mostly a reference to pot. I wanted to know how she felt about cases like Daniel Hauser, a thirteen-year-old boy who back in 2009 had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a set of parents who were very, very, very into woo. Daniel wanted to forgo chemo in favor of “natural therapies, such as herbs and vitamins.” I linked to a blog post rather than a news story because it gives a comprehensive overview, but also gets into some discussion of why this is such a particularly bad idea with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There are cancers where the primary treatment is the surgery; chemo reduces the risk of recurrence, but if you skip the chemo, you can get lucky and be cured anyway. That’s not the case for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Chemo is THE TREATMENT. And it’s also incredibly effective in kids with this cancer at the stage his was at. Anyway, after some drama and legal battles, Daniel had the chemo and went into remission. His father got cancer a year later, treated it with pureed vegetables, and died in 2011. I respect Anthony Hauser’s right to make stupid, misguided decisions about his own health and medical treatments, but a thirteen-year-old lacks the perspective and maturity to make these sorts of decisions. (Or, to quote the Supreme Court’s opinion on Prince vs. Massachusetts, “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”)

Anyway, it was clear from our conversation that when she posted about using “natural plants” she was not thinking about parents making choices for their children (or, inasmuch as she was, she was thinking about the parents who want to use cannabis-based treatments for their children’s seizures). But it was also clear from our conversation that this is a woman who buys into some unadulterated woo.

She doesn’t talk about vaccinations on her website, but the red flags here prompted me to ask about her thoughts on mandatory vaccinations for school and day cares. She cited the rumor that the CDC was suppressing information about vaccines causing autism and added, “It’s not like we have some plague that’s overtaking the land!” and then said it should be up to the parents.

…so yeah.

The thing about “common sense” approaches to political problems is that it’s really important they be backed up with facts and accuracy. Because in fact the real world can be really counter-intuitive.

A couple of other notes about Hannah: she originally went to the Independence Party convention wanting to be their Senate candidate; she got talked into running for Governor when they realized they didn’t have ANYONE trying for endorsement for the governor’s race. You may recall that the Independence Party guy in the Senate race was a complete whackjob. It turns out he was not the endorsed IP candidate; he won in the primary.

The other sort of hilarious thing is her party affiliation. In her In the News section, she links to one article that mentions her staffing a Libertarian Party table at a gun show and to another that describes her as a Ron Paul supporter (which suggests to me that in 2012 she registered as a Republican and went to the GOP Caucuses.) It’s not actually that surprising that she’s been affiliated with three parties in three years; the fact that she highlights that on her campaign website is an interesting strategy, though.

This got so long I decided to just make this post all about Hannah Nicollet. Will do the others in a separate post (or multiple separate posts, it depends on how much on their website I find myself wanting to respond to).

Election 2014: Minnesota State House, Districts 63A and 64B

So I’m just going down the ballot in order, and next up on your ballot will be State Rep. I used to live in 63A, where I was represented by Jim Davnie. Now I live in 64B, where I am represented by Michael Paymar but won’t be for very much longer because he’s retiring.

All the interesting stuff in 64B actually happened back in March, when there was an endorsing convention. I went. It was, to my surprise, significantly faster and more efficient than the endorsing conventions in Minneapolis have ever been. The DFL endorsed candidate is Dave Pinto, who I like quite a bit, though he wasn’t my first choice going in. (My first choice going in didn’t even make it to the second round of voting, alas.)

Anyway, I’ll do Minneapolis first. For State Representative District 63A, your choices are:

KYLE BRAGG – REPUBLICAN
JIM DAVNIE – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Kyle Bragg appears to have no website. When I googled for his name, I found a union organizer who lives in Queens; I’m thinking this is probably a different Kyle Bragg. (I mean, there are Republican union members — it does happen — but you can’t run for the Minnesota House of Representatives if you life in New York.) The New York Kyle Bragg actually sounds pretty damn cool

The Minneapolis Kyle Bragg has a LinkedIn profile that says he’s a lease specialist for an office machines company; his Facebook page has a lovely picture of Minnehaha Falls in winter, so I’m pretty sure I’m looking at the right guy.

Anyway, the bottom line is, he’s not a serious candidate; if you can’t even be bothered to set up a Facebook page for your candidacy, you’re not actually running for office even if you’ve filed for it.

Jim Davnie

I have known Jim for over fourteen years; I was pregnant with Molly (and his wife was pregnant with their older daughter) when he ran for office the first time. Jim is smart, funny, honest, thoughtful, and an amazing speaker. If you live in his district, not only should you vote for him, you should seek him out at neighborhood events to chat. Jim is freaking awesome. I would vote for him for anything. Well, maybe not Attorney General. I think you’re supposed to have gone to law school to be AG.

On to St. Paul.

This district has been represented by Michael Paymar since 1996. Paymar is stepping down at the end of this session, so there’s no incumbent. You might think this would have led to a bunch of people filing, but nope. For State Representative District 64B, your choices are:

DANIEL SURMAN – REPUBLICAN
DAVE PINTO – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

According to the Pioneer Press, Daniel Surman is an office director for a Republican campaign office covering the 4th Congressional District. In the MNGOP notice about the endorsing convention they held in July, they note that Daniel Surman is the only candidate who filed, and adds, “With the retirement of former-Rep Michael Paymar, he hopes to rally Republicans in our community to make sure our next State Representative will be a Republican!”

So possibly the problem is “rallying Republicans in our community.” I mean, I know there are a few. But you’d be hard-pressed to find them. Even though Daniel is so Republican he works for the party, and even though he has a Twitter, a blog, and another blog (this one’s with a group of bloggers), he doesn’t seem to have a campaign site of any kind. In other words, like the guy in 63A, he filed but he’s not actually running.

If you’re a Republican you’ll probably vote for him anyway, although you might ask yourself, don’t you want a State Rep who acts like he wants the job of representing you?

Dave Pinto is a county prosecutor. During endorsement season he held “conversations” (with topics) rather than meet-and-greets, which was an interesting idea. He doorknocked us at least once and I also talked with him on the phone; I found him thoughtful and engaged. When he doesn’t have an answer, he’ll ask for your ideas (as opposed to pulling buzzwords out of his ass to try to make it sound like he has all the answers.)

Anyway, I think Pinto’s going to be an excellent State Rep, and I’m planning to vote for him.

Election 2014: U.S. House in District 4 and District 5

Both District 4 (St. Paul and some suburbs) and District 5 (Minneapolis and some suburbs) are rather solidly DFL districts. The 4th District was last represented by a Republican in the late 1940s; the 5th in the 1960s. We do have Republicans running in both these districts this time around and strange things do happen, but these are not generally considered to be competitive races.

In District 4, here’s who’s on the ballot:

DAVE THOMAS – INDEPENDENCE
SHARNA WAHLGREN – REPUBLICAN
BETTY MCCOLLUM – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Dave Thomas

So whereas the Independence candidate in the Senate race was running somewhere to the right of the Republican, the Independence candidate here (who is actually endorsed by the Independence party, unlike the guy in the Senate race) is running to the left of the Democrat. Whereas the Independence guy in the Senate race is your embarrassing bigoted uncle, the Independence guy in the Congressional race is your extremely liberal and overly enthusiastic very young cousin whose Facebook feed has more than its share dubiously sourced re-shares about the dangers of plastic water bottles or whatever it is this week. When you talk to him at family parties, he wants to buttonhole you about some ISSUE that he is currently passionate about. One Thanksgiving it was the paleo diet; another it was marijuana legalization. You don’t actually disagree with him about much of this stuff, mind you, but his passionate declarations of fervent belief make you realize that you’ve gotten old.

Dave Thomas doesn’t give a bio on his campaign website, which had me wondering if he was still in college. His Facebook page, however, says that he is “an Iraq War veteran, volunteer firefighter and works in the special education department at Brimhall Elementary in Roseville, MN. He is happily married with two beautiful children.”

Anyway! He wants a system of state-funded tuition-free public higher education, and in the meantime we should forgive all loan debt. He wants universal paid maternity leave. He wants a manned mission to Mars and a 5% increase in our National Park lands. He wants energy self-sufficiency in eleven years, he wants marijuana legalization, he wants the NSA to be defunded.

To pay for the stuff like tuition-free college, he wants a new tax code: “A sliding scale, percentage-based flat tax on all income generated (from the federal level) would rectify most of the problematic situations that our current code perpetuates.” I’m not sure what a sliding-scale flat tax is, other than contradictory sounding.

Under Veteran’s Affairs, he suggests that when members of the Armed Service go through extensive training equivalent to a technical degree, we call it an Associate’s Degree. This strikes me as possibly really reasonable (and wouldn’t cost anything extra — essentially it’s a way of upgrading the credentials soldiers are already coming home with into something employers recognize). I wonder why this isn’t what they do now?

Possibly the funniest, from the National Security section “It should be illegal to sell any seed which is unable to produce viable offspring.” So just to be clear: he thinks it should be illegal to grow seedless watermelons. (Marijuana: legalize and tax. Seedless watermelons: BAN.) (I’m sure he’s actually thinking of some of the varieties of corn developed by Monsanto that are specifically designed to make it impossible for you to save seeds. But his proposed legislation basically bans hybrid garden vegetables.) Dammit, Dave Thomas, YOU CAN HAVE MY SEEDLESS WATERMELON WHEN YOU PRY IT FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS.

Sharna Wahlgren

Sharna is the Republican. She provides a fairly standard political bio (community service on non-profit boards, work ethic honed by high school labor at the State Fair) and states that her priorities are fiscal responsibility, local solutions, and job growth. She’s got a paragraph about each. I salute her willingness to run in a race she’s going to lose, and her pragmatism in accepting that this is not a campaign worth investing a lot of time in.

Betty McCollum

Betty is liberal and hardworking, and has so far avoided embarrassing us with any scandals or criminal behavior. I kind of preferred being represented by Keith Ellison just because he upsets so many Republicans just by existing, but I really have no complaints about Betty. I’m going to vote for her.

In District 5, here’s who’s on the ballot:

LEE BAUER – INDEPENDENCE
DOUG DAGGETT – REPUBLICAN
KEITH ELLISON – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Lee Bauer

I clicked on Lee Bauer’s website with trepidation, eager to find out which variety of Independence nutbar I’d find.

I don’t really want to make fun of him, but I wouldn’t vote for him, either. Lee is a blue-collar, working class, gay single father. (Based on the age of his kid, I’m guessing he had a brief marriage to a woman.) He’s earnest and means well but is overly fond of exclamation points and doesn’t know much about most of the issues.

For example, here’s his comment on drug costs: “Prescription drugs, by bring down the price of will benefit the ones with chronic symptoms and the older folks. How about asthma for instance, There is a drug called Albuterol, it was put on the market 1968, the year I was born, Albuterol 5 years ago was $17.00 cash with no insurance, but today it’s $57.00, and if you were to buy in Mexico its less than five dollars for three bottles. One bottle would last a month for most and this is one drug of many that can be lowed.”

I had basically the same question last year — WTF is up with albuterol prices? This is not a new drug; why does it cost so goddamn much? It turns out that this is due to environmental regulations. The old inhalers contained CFCs. CFCs were banned by an international treaty in 1996 because they were causing ozone layer depletion; the albuterol inhalers that used CFCs were phased out in 2008. The new formulation is legally a new drug and so it’s under patent again (or maybe it’s the inhaler design that’s new? I am not 100% sure.) Anyway, that’s why albuterol suddenly costs so much. There were a lot of things that the government could have done differently to mitigate the situation; I would be a lot more interested in his ideas if he got into any of that, but he doesn’t.

Anyway, a lot of his website is like that.

Doug Daggett

Doug has another fairly standard political bio (his first job was delivering the morning paper). He’s 50, married, a tech sales person, and reasonably competent with Twitter. He presents himself as a fairly moderate Republican, suggesting changes to the Affordable Care Act rather than demanding it be immediately repealed. (He thinks people should have catastrophic coverage policies and HSAs.)

The bit that made me roll my eyes and think, “so very Republican” was this bit on education:

We all want our children to have a great education and great opportunities. Yet in Minneapolis, most likely 1/2 of our children (46%) will not graduate. This is an economic and social disaster for all of us in the 5th Congressional District! We need a leader who will get Washington DC out of our schools and allow teachers and parents to decide what’s best for our children. Doug Daggett is that leader.

Minneapolis is doing a crap job, therefore get Washington DC out because local control is the answer!

Keith Ellison

Keith is a solidly liberal, hard-working Representative who so far hasn’t embarrassed his constituents with scandals or criminal behavior.

But what I really adored about Keith Ellison back when I was living in Minneapolis was being able to tell my out-of-town friends that I was represented by a pro-Choice pro-marriage-equality Muslim black guy. Keith Ellison has been making right-wing heads explode since he took his Oath of Office on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran.

Were I living in Minneapolis, I would definitely vote for Keith.