Pop quiz for politics junkies: What’s the most interesting thing about the roster of those supporting Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek’s re-election bid?
Is it the fact that labor tops the list of groups endorsing Stanek, who is a Republican, a creature about as common as an aardvark on union-approved lists?
Or is it that the list includes the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation (MRLF), which is a major player in another local race in which a candidate has been threatened with the loss of her DFL endorsement for attending events where non-endorsed candidates are present?
The correct answer is, of course, both. This being MinnPost’s education column, we are going to focus on the second item today.
Last week, this space carried a story about a dust-up involving the four candidates vying for two at-large seats on the Minneapolis School Board. The story quoted Minneapolis DFL Chair Dan McConnell warning that candidates who “undermined” their partisans risked losing the party’s support.
McConnell is also the treasurer of the MRLF, which by last week had raised more than $138,000 to influence this year’s local elections. That’s almost the $140,000 figure that political insiders say they have been told is the budget for the DFL’s coordinated campaign on behalf of endorsed school board candidates.
In two of this year’s school board races DFL-endorsees are running uncontested; a third two-person contest in Minneapolis’ District 5 seems to be at a bare simmer. By contrast, the four-way citywide race is red-hot.
The third rail this year is the same as in the contests of the last decade: Concerns that the traditional process of selecting candidates is stacked against minorities and the teachers union’s outsized influence.
McConnell sees no contradiction
Contacted for this story, McConnell explained that the prohibition he issued in the school board race concerns “personal support,” which he distinguishes from institutional support: “There are rules for endorsed candidates that they need to follow.”
A school board candidate’s attendance at a function where non-endorsees are present is different from the federation endorsing a candidate who is running against the DFL’s choice for sheriff, Eddie Frizell, he added.
“I don’t see a contradiction there,” McConnell said, noting that his home union, the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, has also endorsed Stanek.
“Just because of a job I have doesn’t say anything about who I will vote for,” he said. “Do you believe every person at MinnPost should follow their endorsement?” (Actually, MinnPost has an explicit policy of not endorsing candidates.)
The school-board spat started earlier this month when an activist named Eli Kaplan complained on the online Minneapolis Issues Forum that DFL-endorsed candidate Iris Altamirano was scheduled to attend an open house being held by a former school board chair. Non-endorsed candidate Don Samuels would also be present, he noted, suggesting that this meant Altamirano would in effect be campaigning against the DFL’s other endorsee, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon.
Kaplan supports Gagnon, whose public endorsement he enjoyed during his 2012 run against DFL-endorsed incumbent Carla Bates.
Additional irony for Altamirano supporters
Gagnon did not seek labor endorsements, sparking an additional bit of irony for Altamirano supporters, who complained that one effect of the contretemps is that the unions were standing more resolutely behind someone who didn’t ask for their label than a union organizer.
Among other things, Altamirano has worked as an organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). She placed third in the August primary. In order to win she must draw votes from supporters of Samuels and Gagnon.
A number of activists countered that there is a photo of Gagnon in circulation on Facebook with a fourth candidate, Ira Jourdain. Jourdain, who appears unlikely to win, has expressed support for Gagnon and has also explained that the picture was taken at his son’s sporting event and is not campaign literature.
In response to the complaints, the DFL’s McConnell sent out a sharply worded e-mail containing “rules of engagement” he developed based on state DFL bylaws and school board policy. It is unclear that they are binding without a vote of the party unit’s central committee.
“Candidates that are part of the DFL ticket should not be undermining these efforts,” McConnell wrote. “If individual candidates cannot honor these basic expectations, the DFL’s efforts may not continue.”
According to disclosures filed earlier this week, those “efforts” are substantial. In addition to the aforementioned six-figure MRLF war chest, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has given $30,000 to the city DFL.
Look for a more complete accounting of spending by and on behalf of education groups in this space soon. With some reporting deadlines set after the election and “dark money” impossible to track, the full extent of the spending may never be known.