Right behind the DNR building, just down from the Foot-Long Hot Dog stand, and across the street from Live Reptiles display, Marty Seifert stands outside his little State Fair political booth and chats with passers-by.
He’s not hawking any wares, just himself. And even if fairgoers aren’t flocking there in droves, as the only one of about 20 announced candidates for governor in 2010 with his own booth, Seifert is getting a fair amount of media attention from television crews and reporters trying to drum up some political news.
At this point, Seifert — a seven-term Republican House member from Marshall — doesn’t have to persuade all the adults among the 1.7 million Fair visitors to vote for him. He’s concentrating on the potential 2,000 state Republican convention delegates who will bestow the nomination next year on the candidate they want to see succeed Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
And if he wins that nomination, Seifert will have another chance at next year’s Fair to win over the general populace before the 2010 election.
I stopped by Seifert’s booth Sunday to see how things were going. He wasn’t there. Turns out Sunday was his family day, and they weren’t spending it in St. Paul. (His wife, Traci, and their two children, Brittany and Braxton, had been with him at the Fair Saturday.)
He plans to be at the Fair eight of the 12 days, spending between four and eight hours at a crack. Volunteers are on hand at in the booth every day, whether he’s there or not.
On Monday, I spent an hour with him, listening to what fairgoers had to say to a state legislator running for governor. Here’s what I observed:
Seifert, in a checked dress shirt, khaki pants and brown leather shoes, stands outside the booth with Bill Whitbeck, who recently stepped down after serving 61 years on the Republican Central Committee. “I’d been doing it long enough; time for someone else to get a chance,” he says.
They chat about party politics and “days gone by,” before Whitbeck heads off for more Fair fun.
That’s when Pete Giese of Hugo hurries up to Seifert.
“There’s a problem in this state, and you’ve got to fix it,” Giese says.
Seifert has to wonder which of the many problems — budget, taxes, health care, jobs, roads, bridges — he is talking about.
Giese, a blacksmith and an artist, is complaining about the complications of the state sales tax system that fall particularly hard on vendors like him who sell things in many counties and jurisdictions with differing tax rates. The confusion and paperwork are so bad, he says, that he won’t work events in Minnesota. It’s much easier in Wisconsin, Giese says, and he wants to see a uniform mobile vendor sales-tax rate instituted in Minnesota.
Seifert listens at length and says such a change seems to make sense.
Al Schwarting of St. Paul stands in the shade of a nearby tree, and although he makes no indication that he’s there to talk politics, Seifert sidles over and introduces himself. Given the opening, Schwarting offers the suggestion that a solution to the state budget problem might be revenue from slot machines at Canterbury Downs.
“It gives people a choice. If they want to pay it, they can,” he says. And maybe a state lottery game dedicated to the state budget.
He’s mad about education in St. Paul, too. One school he knows doesn’t have enough science books for all the students. “No wonder they can’t meet the guidelines,” he says.
Seifert nods and says, “That’s one thing I disagree with Pawlenty and Bush on — No Child Left Behind. I’m against it.”
Chuck and Caroline Erickson of Burnsville stop by. He’s a state convention delegate and brings Seifert a year-old newspaper clipping of the Republican National Convention that shows Seifert is in the background of a photograph, right behind Pawlenty.
As for his support, Erickson tells Seifert, “You can count me in.”
“It was probably your idea that got me to do it [run for governor],” Seifert says. (Several more times during the day he’ll use a variation of that theme — I think you’re one of the people who convinced me to do it — to mildly flatter other delegates and supporters.)
Seifert says he doesn’t eat too much during his Fair stints. When he does: “It’s usually the $1.50 hamburgers because I’m so darn tight. And Pronto Pups.”
The former House minority leader says he’s already talked at the booth with two dozen of the 2,000 convention delegates and tries to stop by the nearby Republican Party booth — between Ye Old Mill and WCCO-AM — at shift changes, to shake hands and talk with the booth workers during their shift changes. Many of the volunteers are delegates. At shift change, he can catch those coming and those going.
“When I’m standing around, I’ll strike up conversations, but I’m not a street hustler; that doesn’t seem real polite. I try to be a good Minnesotan,” he says.
Republican Rep. Carol McFarlane of White Bear Lake and husband Pat stop by to say hello.
Amy Larson of North St. Paul walks up.
“What do you have to tell me?” Seifert asks.
“I’m not in favor of health care changes. The government has got to leave us alone. They’re shredding the Constitution.”
“Have you talked with Sen. Klobuchar or Franken or [Congresswoman Betty] McCollum about this?”
“It’s not worth my time. They’re Minnesota liberals,” Larson says.
Dody Menk, a high school classmate from Morgan, Minn., and one of 39 in the Class of ’90, drops by for a quick hello.
As Menk leaves, Aaron Lange, Seifert’s roommate at Southwest State University, stops by with his wife, Renee, and three kids. With the kids starting school soon, they’re big on education issues, they tell him.
Bruce and Patricia Sherrill of Stillwater ask what Seifert thinks of the concealed handgun law.
“I voted for it, and if I was governor, I’d sign it,” he says. “I don’t know what your stand on the issue is, but that’s what I think.”
They nod and seem pleased.
With a shift change coming up soon at the Republican booth, Seifert ambles over there, wandering past the snow cones and deep-fried candy bars.
He greets many of the workers by name and knows their district and some of their parents.
But he skips right by when he sees a man holding a “Pat Anderson for Governor” sign.