You couldn’t get any more organic or green than a gaggle of gubernatorial candidates did Thursday night.
It was billed as the first forum for the herd of pols who are seeking — or “exploring” the possibility of — a run for Minnesota governor in 2010.
It was civil. The candidates were impressively informed. Did we say it was organic?
The sponsor was the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a powerful and effective statewide coalition of 80 tree-hugging, bike-pedaling, carbon-hating, bird-watching, clean-water-drinking, canoe-paddling concerned scientists groups, with more than 450,000 members who vote.
Governor wannabes go green
It was MEP’s annual meeting at St. Paul’s Town & Country Club and the governor wannabes were out in force to chat about their views on green jobs, mass transit, global warming and toxic substances.
At a long table with a white cotton tablecloth, as the sun set over the Mississippi River behind them, there sat Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former state Sen. Steve Kelley, Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, state Sen. John Marty, Minnesota Farmers Union President and former state Rep. Doug Peterson, and state Rep. Paul Thissen.
They were supposed to have been joined by Republicans, too. The presence of guv aspirants from the two major parties was to make the evening spicy. It attracted a larger-than-usual media throng in such anticipation. MEP invited GOP candidates. Former State House Speaker Steve Sviggum was the only Republican who, at some point, agreed to attend, but somehow a scheduling conflict arose.
Maybe environmentalism isn’t up the GOP’s alley.
Or maybe it was the pork. You know, Republicans are opposed to mixing politics and pork.
But that’s exactly what MEP had for dinner last night before serving up the six candidates. It was Food Alliance Midwest certified organic pork, no less.
If the evening’s final course was evaluating the skills, knowledge, record and passion of the candidates — and they all displayed varying degrees of each — the earlier courses were equally impressive.
To start, organic strawberry brie salad, with poppy seed dressing. Next, organic slow-roasted pork loins with roasted apples and cider reduction. (For vegans, there was the tower of Portobello mushrooms with mashed potatoes.) For dessert, organic local strawberry rhubarb crisp.
No rubber chicken for this maiden candidates’ voyage.
Exactly how the candidates were able to push away from their dinner tables to chat about the state’s pressing environmental issues was unclear. But they did, and with much aplomb.
Little disagreement on environmental issues
In the end, there wasn’t much disagreement among the sextet of DFLers, who are but a fraction of the Dem field.
Two other formidable DFL candidates, former state Rep. Matt Entenza and former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, sent letters outlining their environmental positions. But they didn’t show.
Live and in person, the candidates offered some nifty ideas for this early in a campaign that is sure to see attrition and tension until Election Day 2010, a full 17 months away.
Gaertner spoke of “stewardship” of the land and enforcing environmental laws. Kelley showed off his technical knowledge, what with his position as the director of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy.
Anderson Kelliher reminded folks of her agri-roots and her deer-hunting capabilities. Marty detailed his long environmental record, blasted big-energy lobbyists and called for 25-cent mass transit tickets.
Peterson emphasized the relationship between farming and a healthy environment and said, if elected, he would create a Department of Green Energy, Green Jobs and Efficiencies. Thissen argued for “places of solitude and quiet in our state” and linked environmental issues with personal health issues.
Lotsa talk of green jobs. Lotsa talk of reconciling rural and metro issues. Lotsa talk of accurate labeling on products and agricultural chemicals. Lotsa talk of a rational transit system. Lotsa common ground among the Dems, but with various shades of green.
Candidate jockeying well under way
As for the Republicans, their absence was overshadowed by news earlier in the day that early front runner, businessman Brian Sullivan, had already dropped out of the race. Sullivan gave Tim Pawlenty a run for his money in 2002. His personal wealth was seen as giving him a natural leg up. But he told MPR he wasn’t going to pursue the Capitol’s corner office.
This much was clear last night: Whether a candidate is “official” or not doesn’t seem to matter. Kelley isn’t official — although he’s got his own website and has been jockeying for the nomination for a while now — but he sure sounded official.
At first glance, if the smart former legislator stays in the race, he’s going to be our very own Al Gore. Now, these environmental and technological issues are in his wheelhouse. It’s what he’s been thinking about at the Humphrey Institute. His dropping of terms like “cellulosic ethanol,” his citing of European product ingredient policies and his support for the use of algae had the MEP audience swooning.
He told MinnPost after the session he’s looking at a midsummer formal announcement. But the man seems ready to rumble.
And then there’s that other unannounced candidate, Madam Speaker A-K. She began the night saying, with a smile, that she is “exploring the possibility of running for governor,” and then proceeded to speak with energy about storing wind and solar energy, said she was prepared to “stick with the tough conversations” about economic development and touted her holistic message that education drives her entire vision, mentioning the power of two-year colleges in the state and declaring, “Science should lead us.”
Sometimes it sounded as if she were running against Pawlenty, who, I believe, isn’t running for re-election. More than a couple times she was critical of what “we haven’t had in Minnesota recently.”
No, she told MinnPost after the panel discussion, she wasn’t running against the ghost of the governor. She was running against an era of “self-interested politics” and what she views as “a slide towards mediocrity.” She’s seeking a “return to prosperity.”
Meanwhile, like Marco Polo, Ponce de Leon and Ann Bancroft, Anderson Kelliher is just “exploring” these days. Right.
Her formal dive into the fray, Kelley’s eventual erudite entry into the race, the battle of the others to differentiate themselves during the lengthy campaign-to-come — those things all need to ripen over the next few months … organically, of course.
Jay Weiner can be reached at jweiner [at] minnpost [dot] com.