State Sen. Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud is seeking the DFL endorsement (and only the DFL endorsement) for Congress from the 6th District. She’ll abide by the endorsement, meaning she won’t run in a primary if Dr. Maureen Reed, or someone else, gets endorsed. In that circumstance, she will seek to keep her seat in the state Senate and will remain as assistant majority leader.
Clark is pro-choice on abortion (“rare, safe and legal”). She knows Republicans will run against her as a tax-and-spend liberal. And, and did you know (it’s no big secret, but I didn’t know it) Clark was a Republican until the mid-’80s?
The race to be the 2010 challenger to two-term Repub incumbent Rep. Michele Bachmann has received a ridiculous amount of attention over recent weeks, especially from your humble ink-stained wretch, but it’s been outrageously lively so far in advance, what with the former frontrunner Elwyn Tinklenberg dropping out, Clark — a DFL rising star who has been rumored to considering running for several major offices over recent years — getting in and with Reed, whose only previous candidacy was on the Independence Party ticket for lieutenant governor in 2006, seeking both the IP and DFL endorsements but not making clear what she might do if she doesn’t get the DFL endorsement.
Reed also has a likely competitor for the IP endorsement, Bob Anderson of Woodbury, who was the IP nominee (sort-of) in 2008 and who plans to seek the IP endorsement this round. A bit more on that below.
Yesterday, I tormented Dr. Reed on the abiding and abortion issues and today I pass along Sen. Clark’s answers to some similar basic questions about her approach to the campaign.
Clark, 48, has been a community activist, has a law degree (worked in the Minnesota attorney general’s Office) and a master’s in education, and has been a senator since 2006. She grew up in Virginia, Illinois and Arizona before arriving in Minnesota in 1988.
A former Republican
A MinnPost reader stumbled on the fact that Clark was a former Repub and asked me to check it out. Sure enough, she grew up in a Republican family and voted Repub as a young adult, including for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 (ouch, don’t tell Walter Mondale).
Of that 1984 vote for Reagan, Clark says: “If I could take that back, I would. He [Reagan] was kind of the nail in the coffin” of her Republican sympathies.
During the Reagan years, she says, she saw her ancestral party abandoning the needs of families and failing to walk the walk on fiscal responsibility. She’s been a Dem ever since and served as deputy chair of the DFL. (An aside, because I happen to recall it, Rep. Bachmann was a Democrat as a young adult, campaigning for Jimmy Carter. The Reagan years turned Bachmann into a conservative Republican and Clark into a liberal Democrat.)
Clark gave serious thought to the governor’s race this year. When I asked her why she switched to Congress, she said that, “given my geography, there’s a lot of good people running [for guv] that could not possibly run here [for 6th district congressperson]. We need better representation in Washington, D.C.”
Clark once referred to Bachmann as a “devil in a blue dress.” Her current phrase of choice for criticizing the incumbent seems to be (in this version, from her announcement of andidacy):
“It’s time to deliver more than a sound bite. Representative Bachmann’s biggest accomplishments are creating controversy instead of creating good jobs, and working the talk show circuit instead of helping working families.”
Tax and spend
On the day after she filed papers of candidacy, Minnesota GOP Chair Tony Sutton released this statement:
“Tarryl Clark is a tax and spend liberal who has consistently voted to raise taxes on Minnesotans. As a state senator, Clark has voted to increase gasoline taxes, the metro wide sales tax, license tab fees and income taxes. Regardless of who the DFL puts up, the Sixth District will have a clear choice between Rep. Michele Bachmann, who opposes any new tax increases, and the Democrats who have long supported adding to the tax burden of hard-working Minnesotans.”
The 6th District is one of Minnesota’s strongest bastions of conservatism. And Bachmann favors cutting most taxes that can’t be eliminated entirely. I asked Clark how she would respond to the Republican portrayal of her as a tax and spend liberal:
“They were going to say that about anyone who ran,” she said. “They’ve gotten to point where they choose to run on fear and divisiveness and to turn people into things they are not. I think that’s unfortunate. I think Minnesotans and the people of the 6th District have seen them do this for a long time and can see through it. I intend to focus on the things that matter to people.” (Elsewhere in the interview, she mentioned economic and retirement security, education and health care.) “They’ve ran against me that way before and people around here know better than that.”
But, of course, Clark has indeed, as Sutton said, supported tax increases. Her response:
“First off, like with our current governor, Representative Bachmann believes in pushing the payment for key services onto others.” This refers to the DFL argument that Gov. Tim Pawlenty, by holding down state taxes, necessitated local governments to raise property taxes.
As a legislator, Clark said: “I have voted against tax increases when I felt that was the right thing to do. I also know when you’re in the middle of a multi-billion-dollar deficit, you have to be able to both cut and to make sure that we have adequate revenues… Saying ‘no’ is really not a solution.”
I pressed Clark (and Reed) for their abortion positions because the 6th has been the most anti-abortion of Minnesota’s Congressional districts and part of Bachmann’s political strength has been her reputation as a complete social conservative. It may be difficult for any abortion-rights supporter to win in the district, which is surely why both Democrats tried to answer a basic question about whether women have the right to choose an abortion in the early stages of a pregnancy with an answer about preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Me: “You are pro-choice, I take it?”
Clark: “I have worked hard to reduce abortions. I will continue to do that. The three things we can and should be doing — and I think most people agree with this — is to reduce unwanted pregnancies, increase adoptions, help with family stability issues. We can eliminate 90-95 percent of all abortions and it would be good to have representation that understands and has actually worked on those issues…”
Me: “But you nonetheless do support a woman’s right to choose?”
Clark: “If somebody wants to be voting for someone who’s going to reduce abortion, I’m the one with a track record…”
Me: “But there’s a basic question that you’re dancing around. For people who are interested in the basic pro-life, pro-choice division…”
Clark: “We can eliminate 90-95 percent of all abortions but then at the end of the day you want it to be rare, safe and legal.”
The IP situation
In Jesse Ventura’s 1998 win for governor, the 6th District was his best. Although the party hasn’t won much else, the Independence Party has remained active in the 6th — as elsewhere — and close races have left behind arguments about whether the IP candidate drew more heavily from one side and may have determined the outcome. In 2006, the IP candidate for Congress from the 6th received 8 percent of the vote. In 2008, IPer Bob Anderson received 10 percent.
In 2008, the IP actually endorsed the DFL endorsee, El Tinklenberg. But state law prohibits a candidate from appearing on the November ballot under two different party banners, so Anderson — who had sought and lost the endorsement to Tinklenberg — ran unopposed in an IP primary (Tinklenberg couldn’t be on the IP primary ballot because he was the DFL nominee) and won the IP ballot position.
Anderson, 51, a dental technician, has said he might run again, and if he does he would seek the IP endorsement. Since I’ve been tormenting all the other candidates on the abiding question, I asked Anderson this week whether he would abide by the IP endorsement. He said yes, he would, as long as it didn’t involve a cross-endorsement like last time. He was unwilling to defer to Tinklenberg since Tinklenberg would be on the ballot as the DFL candidate (and, presumably, if Anderson hadn’t run, there would have been no IP candidate on the congressional ballot).
This year it’s Reed who seeking both the DFL and IP endorsements. She refuses to say whether she will abide by the DFL endorsement, which means (although she won’t acknowledge this) that she reserves the right to run in a primary against Clark if Clark wins the endorsement. (Clark has flatly promised to abide and said that if Reed or anyone else wins the DFL endorsement, she will drop out of the congressional race and seek to keep both her seat in the state Senate and her position in the DFL Senate leadership.)
Reed also said that she would not run on the IP ballot line, because she intends to run on the DFL ballot line. She is unwilling to make her intentions completely clear, but it creates the possibility that, if Clark wins the DFL endorsement, Reed could either run in a DFL primary or — especially if she wins the IP endorsement — run on the IP ballot line in the general election.
But Anderson says that the IP is reconsidering its policy on cross-endorsement and might, at an October meeting, adopt a rule that it will only endorse candidates who are exclusively seeking the IP nomination.
At this point, my eyes are crossed trying to game out the possibilities.
Most DFLers seem to think that the IP in general and Anderson in particular cost the DFL the last election in the district (Bachmann, 46.4 percent; Tinklenberg, 43.4; Anderson, 10.04). The logic seems to be that the voters are voting for or against Bachmann and the IP candidate splits the anti-Bachmann vote.
But I did ask Anderson about his abortion position. He is strongly and firmly pro-life (“I’m a Catholic,” he said). Reed took an ambiguous middle position on abortion. It’s possible to imagine that the presence of an anti-abortion IP candidate provides a harbor for strongly pro-life voters who are turned off by other aspects of Bachmann’s persona, but would not vote for a pro-choice DFLer.