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Advocating less partisan, more civil deliberation and aboveboard lawmaking

REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

There has been increasing interest in recent years on the part of voters for less partisan, more civil deliberation and aboveboard lawmaking. One survey earlier this year concluded that, without regard for political affiliation, two-thirds of U.S. voters had negative feelings about our political processes.

Despite this attitude, in Minnesota — the state that works — a nation-leading eight in 10 eligible voters turned up at the polls in 2016. (In 11 of the last 12 elections, Minnesota has led the nation in voter turnout.) One in four of our voters use absentee ballots, most often submitting them online.

According to a national survey by Pew, Minnesota voters are politically divided with 46% DFL, 40% Republican and 14% unaffiliated. When it comes to courteous, well-manned and productive governance, there really isn’t a single best approach owned by any political party or group; a lot of it is common sense.

Special-interest and money concerns

To many, our political process is too strongly influenced by money spent in campaigns and for lobbying of our elected officials.

This view is not new. One hundred and twelve years ago, during his 1907 State of the Union Address, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “The need for collecting large campaign funds would vanish if Congress provided an appropriation for the proper and legitimate expenses of each of the great national parties.” Public financing of elections, TR believed, would ensure that no particular donor has an outsized influence on the outcome of any election, and would “work a substantial improvement in our system of conducting a campaign.”

Chuck Slocum
Chuck Slocum
Over the years, I have regularly weighed in on political reform issues. I testified before the Minnesota House in support of ballot rotation in the 1970s when the winning party candidates (almost always the DFL) would be listed first on the ballot. I told U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) that I would not testify before Congress about repealing Minnesota’s first-in-the-nation Election Day registration, thus, I said, aligning our Independent-Republicans of Minnesota in opposition to making it easier for every qualified citizen to vote. Today, 21 states plus the District of Columbia have enacted a similar form of same-day voter registration.

I volunteered to help reformer John Gardner set up Common Cause and became a charter member with my focus on opening up our political process. I was actively involved with Minnesota’s League of Women Voters on several election-law issues. I worked for over a year in overseeing Minnesotans for a Single House Legislature. In the 1990s, I was selected to the board of an election reform commission headed by Joan Anderson Growe, Minnesota’s secretary of state. Our ideas are still accessible online [PDF].

Politics is into all of us

At a recent forum sponsored by “Clean Elections Minnesota” in which current Secretary of State Steve Simon was the featured speaker, he allowed that many “may not be into politics, but politics is into them.”

Those attending the meeting agreed that amassing the most money should not be the primary goal of candidates and campaigns. In the last presidential election three years ago, a record $6.4 billion was spent on the campaign while lobbyists in Washington, D.C., spent an additional $3.1 billion making their case during the same time period. At nearly $10 billion, this is big business.

According to Simon and others, efforts to expand citizen engagement in campaigns include the expansion of our state’s limited public financing for legislative candidates to help level the playing field, strengthening the timely public disclosure of campaign contributions, expansion of the $50 per taxpayer state tax credit for money given to either candidates or parties, and  generally maximizing voter opportunity and registration.

Changing the way that State House/Senate conference committees operate to find common ground — or even eliminating them altogether — is another aspect of concern to many familiar with the process.

The idea of altering the current Electoral College system was discussed, some advocating abolishing it completely and adopting a direct election for U.S. presidents.

High on the Minnesota agenda

Two additional suggestions deserve legislative consideration slated to begin on Feb. 11, 2020.

  1. Strengthening the role of the Minnesota’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board to assure widespread awareness of contributions, lobbyist interests and affiliations.
  2. Supporting the efforts to create a nonpartisan political redistricting process required every 10 years. Ideas range from creating an open-meetings-only nine-member board of citizens to a system that includes a judicial panel as a final arbiter when lawmakers cannot agree on population balanced boundaries for congressional and legislative districts. Minnesota has too often redrawn the lines as a result of costly lawsuits settled in our courts.

Minnesota has a deep civic ethic when compared to most states. We have the ability to manage the many aspects of honorable self-governance for many years, but we must be vigilant.

For the record, in the many campaigns for local, state and national offices in which I have been closely involved, I have not personally experienced organized cheating in any form.

Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. A former GOP state party chair, he began local electioneering — “I Like Ike — when he was 9 years old.


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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Marcia Wattson on 10/05/2019 - 07:38 am.

    Wonderful ideas. Why isn’t Ranked Choice Voting number 3 on this list – or number 1?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2019 - 10:26 am.

      Because rank choice voting isn’t a banal proposition.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 10/07/2019 - 10:31 am.

      Because Ranked Choice Voting is nonsense that accomplishes none of what he’s talking about. In fact, RCV advocates regularly mislead voters with false claims that RCV produces majority winners.

  2. Submitted by George Beck on 10/05/2019 - 08:59 am.

    Excellent article Chuck. We must get these common sense reforms adopted.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2019 - 11:12 am.

    I would just point out that a preference for bipartisan cooperation can’t be equated with a demand for mediocrity and bipartisan failure. Voters are NOT demanding a return or a continuation of political failure, stagnation, and elitism that leaves any major crises or problem unresolved indefinitely.

    Bipartisan “cooperation” that fails to govern effectively is not what voters are demanding, regardless of Party affiliation. Whether they be farmers trying to sell their crops, or commuters trying escape traffic, voters want a functioning government that meets it’s constituents demands and needs. As far as voters are concerned policies that work are more important than policies both parties endorse. The demand for “bipartisan” government has devolved into a circular trap of failed governance and gridlock.

    So let’s be careful of characterizing the Pew results as an endorsement of bipartisan stagnation and failure. And let’s not pretend that all policies and solutions are equal. Non-partisan doesn’t mean bi-partisan, nor does it dictate that least is the most we can ever do.

    The suggestions Mr. Slocum is making here aren’t “bad” suggestions, but they meet minimum requirement suggestions that have been on the table for decades and promise to do as little as possible.

    It’s nice to have a “board” but better to have disclosure laws that require transparent campaigns and contributions in order to stay on the ballot.

    We can “support” fair and non-partisan redistricting or we can require it by law, we already know that when the courts draw the maps, the maps are better, so let’s just take the process away from any Party.

  4. Submitted by Alan Muller on 10/05/2019 - 11:38 am.

    Interesting, especially the Growe Commission report.

    A observant person, on encountering the Minnesota Legislature, can observe that members’ primary relationships appear to be with funders, lobbyists, and established big businesses. In many ways the participation of “voters” (ordinary citizens) seems token. No wonder so many people regard the political processes with distaste, and feel alienated.

    It doesn’t help that many of the positions advocated, especially by Republicans, are irrational.

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 10/06/2019 - 03:43 pm.

    I am all for civility but I oppose the lack of partisanship.

  6. Submitted by Andrew Olson on 10/07/2019 - 08:19 am.

    The article states that “[o]ne in four of our voters use absentee ballots, most often submitting them online.” There is no way to cast an absentee ballot online. Rather, they have to be mailed or delivered to, or cast at, a location that offers absentee voting, such as a county elections office.

  7. Submitted by richard owens on 10/08/2019 - 10:08 am.

    I would suggest Mr. Slocum try working with Kurt Daudt, Steve Drazkowski and Jeremy Munson. Try to get them to cooperate on anything that benefits all Minnesotans (like funding roads and bridges before we lose the base and the piers).

    Republican attack dogs mixed in with reps that are old farmers or retired cops come with their own limitations on everything public that might cost money, that’s our (R) reps in the legislature.

    We can’t even get cooperation or help while drug companies deprive our citizens of a decent chance to live with diabetes by larcenous pricing.

    As for the lobbyists’ role, we get their pre-formed bills written by ALEC and the mining companies. When a local issue highlights a legislative need, Republicans unite in solidarity to stop the initiative.

    Mr. Slocum, the (R)s do not wish to cooperate. As civic minded as they may be, their leaders either cannot stand up to rank and file partisans, or cave to the dramatic characteristics of Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows.

    It’s hard to see winter coming on, but harder still to think we’ll see the same dyspeptic (R)s when the session begins, complaining about whatever just happened.

    Lobby for public needs, Chuck. Don’t expect help from your party.

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