DFL governor candidates: Here’s how they fared at labor meeting

They had to have a very wide stage at Thursday’s AFL-CIO political meeting, wide enough to seat all 11 DFL gubernatorial candidates.

There they all were, from the officially running candidates to the unofficial. In alphabetical order: Sen. Tom Bakk, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, former legislator Matt Entenza, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, former legislator Steve Kelley, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Sen. John Marty, Rep. Tom Rukavina, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Rep. Paul Thissen.

“Please hold your applause until all are introduced,” said the emcee.

Good idea. Time was limited. The question-and-answer session with the gubernatorial hopefuls was scheduled to last only two hours.

How’d they do?  Well, nobody bombed. Here’s my rundown:

MOST PASSIONATE: (tie) Dayton and Bakk.  Both men clearly were in their element.

Dayton, who sometimes can seem so bumbling, was full of fire as he addressed a crowd that will hold considerable clout in determining who ultimately wins endorsement.

“Read my lips,” Dayton said. “Tax the rich. They can afford it — I know that.”

At another point, Dayton got off a zinger at Gov. Tim Pawlenty: “Tim Pawlenty’s running around the country saying, ‘I’ll do for you what I’ve done for Minnesota.’ God, help us all.”

Bakk, who has been critical of Dayton’s “tax-the-rich” over-simplification of the state’s budget problem, spoke from the heart, constantly referring to his union “brothers and sisters.”

“My dues are paid through the end of the year,” said Bakk, a union carpenter and business agent. “Everything I’ve bought in my life is thanks to that union card.  … Whoever can connect with workers is the next governor of Minnesota.”

Bakk also reminded the union leaders that the last DFL governor — a fellow Iron Ranger, Rudy Perpich — began with a simple slogan: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” He said he has his bumper stickers ready: “Jobs, jobs, jobs. Bakk for governor.”

DEEPEST UNION ROOTS: Rukavina. All but a couple of the candidates brought up their own union roots. But Rukavina could accurately say, “I was weaned on union roots.” Rukavina’s father, mother, daughter and a whole Iron Range full of relatives are union folks.

FUNNIEST: Rukavina. “I’m 5-3,” he noted. “I’ve had to do more with less all my life.”

At another point, he described his political philosophy by citing “a guy from Anoka. He called me ‘the love child of Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura.’ ”

MOST SURPRISING: Kelley. He has the reputation of being competent but bland. But Kelley connected with his audience on at least a couple of occasions.

When Kelley was asked about the state’s budget woes, he had this: “I teach public budgeting [at the Humphrey Institute]. I’ve thought of inviting Tim Pawlenty to take the class. But then, I hate flunking students.”

Kelley struck again later in the program when he described the DFL’s need to come up with a new approach to selecting gubernatorial candidates who will appeal to independents.

“We can’t get rid of this governor soon enough,” Kelley said.  “… There are two models. There’s the Skip Humphrey, Roger Moe, Mike Hatch model. That’s done a good job of reaching Democrats. … Or there’s the Amy Klobuchar, Obama model where you reach out.”

BIGGEST DREAM: Bakk, saying he wants Minnesota to re-emerge as a mining center by going after nickel and copper.

“My dream is that we’ll mine the copper and build the factories that make the pipe and the wire. From the mine to distribution, it will be all Minnesota.”

He was quick to add, “we’ll figure out how to do this and protect the environment.”

MOST COURAGEOUS:  Marty, who didn’t change his progressive message a bit for a crowd that is likely a bit more conservative than he is. Marty pushed an across-the-board platform of universal health care, concern for the poorest and investment in education and took on the subject of the stomping he took when he was the gubernatorial candidate in 1994.

“I’ve run and I’ve lost,” said Marty. “I know people talk about that.” He went on to explain he was running at the height of the Gingrich Revolution. “Obama and Paul Wellstone also lost by substantial margins [before making comebacks]. You win by not ducking the issues.”

MOST COUNTRIFIED: (tie) Kelliher and Entenza. Both emphasized their Greater Minnesota roots.

Kelliher, who represents an upscale south Minneapolis district, spoke of her farm roots as a child: “I’m a bridge from rural to city. … I can drive a pontoon, a tractor, a mini-van.”

Wealthy St. Paulite Entenza made a couple of long references to growing up poor in Worthington, the son of an alcoholic father who left his family.

MOST CITIFIED: Rybak and Coleman. The respective mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul made it clear they will be officially starting their campaigns soon, likely before November’s mayoral elections.

MOST INTERESTING COMPARISON: Gaertner. When asked about electability, Gaertner said, “I’ll get there the same way Amy Klobuchar got there. People trust prosecutors.” She also noted that polls show a 69 percent disapproval rating of the state Legislature.

MOST OPTIMISTIC: Thissen. “Minnesota is extraordinary and special,” he said. “We have to think big.”

BEST CLOSING: (tie) Bakk and Dayton. In his summation, Bakk apologized for not being able to attend a social function with the union leaders last night. He explained that he had to travel quickly back north: “Yesterday, I became a grandpa.”

Dayton, the last of the candidates to sum up his positions, promised to be brief.

“Never stand between your audience, the bar, the buffet and the bathroom,” he said.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by frank watson on 10/02/2009 - 10:37 am.

    As far as slogans go,

    I was raised that Education, Education, Education,Education was the key to jobs, jobs, jobs.

    While union jobs are nice and pay well what options do you have if that’s all you have, union card? Go ask an auto worker.

    If DFL plans to court Union Workers what type of jobs are they promising?

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/02/2009 - 10:54 am.

    Unemployment hit 9.8% this week; by spring it is projected to be well past 10%.

    Between those numbers are the millions of people that have accepted significant pay cuts and mandatory, non-paid time off to help their employers stay in business (My co-workers and I have given back 20% so far this year).

    Standing out on this landscape like beacons of ignorance are union hacks, especially public sector unions, that loudly announce their absolute refusal to give an inch until the day the machinery starts getting moved out.

    Then they all get together to squirt “poor me” tears in the street.

    P-BO’s stimulus was targeted towards the few remaining unionized industries and local governments…it was doomed to fail and it has delivered a *huge* failure.

    Now, savvy political pundits are projecting deep looses for the Democrat party next fall, and if you don’t count Arne Carlson, there hasn’t been a Democrat Governor in Minnesota since Rudy P.

    So what does the DFL do? Why strut out a slate of catatonics, Commies, creeps and kooks to tap dance on union hall stages.

    Best news I’ve heard in months.

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/02/2009 - 11:49 am.


    A person willing to work in the government sector without the protection of a union has a name. He or she is called an “idiot.” With political winds blowing from both sides, there lives would be miserable. Can you imagine what Pawlenty would do to state employees if they were protected? The government would essentially shut down when the economy improved, ,which I guess is what Pawlenty really wants anyway.

    And if it wasn’t for unions, you wouldn’t have a 40-hour work week and health insurance.

    You make it sound like the unemployment issue is the fault of the unions. Its hyper-conservatives letting Wall Street and the banks run wild without a stitch of oversight. Never has so much money been held by so few. It’s not the unions that are screwing this country. It’s their bosses.

  4. Submitted by Brian Davis on 10/02/2009 - 11:54 am.

    Mr. Swift, your lack of knowledge on this subject is astonishing. I know people in the “public sector unions” still taking “non-paid time off” sacrifices, who were also going without salary increases during the late 90’s when those of us in the private sector were enjoying substantial bonuses. If you really want to comment on these stories, come up with something other than tired cliches offered up by (using your term) “pro-Chamber of Commerce hacks”.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/02/2009 - 12:23 pm.

    Thomas: The stimulus is to cover spending over a few years, not just this year, in order to create new manufacturing jobs that will add to a green economy and help the U.S. wean itself of as much oil as possible. No one ever promised an immediate end to unemployment.

    Unions have been under attack by the Right since Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers. Although greatly weakened by all the anti-union corporatists who have run both industry and — in the Bush administration — government, they need help from elected officials in order to become strong enough to again protect workers from wage-slave salaries and other employer abuses.

  6. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 10/02/2009 - 12:58 pm.

    Oh, Tom Swift. I should have known who you were by your comments before I saw your name.

  7. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 10/02/2009 - 01:04 pm.

    How’s that hope and change working our for you? About 9.8 on a scale of 1 to 10? Face it, liberals, the Obamination is the greatest economic disaster to hit America since Jimmy Carter.

  8. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 10/02/2009 - 01:17 pm.

    Great, here we go again with the labeling: commies, creeps and kooks. This type of screaming is so loud my ears hurt and I can’t hear what is being said.

    That is the problem with labeling others. Once this type of screaming starts, any good point that is made is lost. Imagine, the best idea that could save the world might be lost amidst screaming.

    How about just presenting the best ideas that could save the world?

  9. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/02/2009 - 02:58 pm.

    Not one new idea! It sounds like the old “tax and spend” message. I just hope they have the courage to broadcast the “tax more and spend more” message on the campaign literature.

  10. Submitted by ellen wolfson on 10/02/2009 - 03:18 pm.

    Doug Grow’s column made me realize how difficult it will be to choose a DFL candidate for governor. We have an unlimited supply of possibilities.

  11. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/02/2009 - 03:24 pm.

    Ron: NOT taxing and NOT spending on the state’s infrastructure, education, health care and other essentials is responsible for most of the problems we have today. Thank Tim P and the other anti-tax / anti-government / anti-worker crowd for that.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/02/2009 - 04:21 pm.

    Jeremy Powers cautioned: “And if it wasn’t for unions, you wouldn’t have a 40-hour work week and health insurance.”

    What’s this 40-hour work week you speak of? And if some union hack is supposed to be paying for my health insurance, he’s slacking big time. Someone call Hoffa.

    Brian Davis assured: “I know people in the “public sector unions” still taking “non-paid time off” sacrifices, who were also going without salary increases during the late 90’s.”

    Who *are* these union heroes of which you speak? They need to know their sacrifices are being wasted by their vociferous brethren.

    Bernice Vetch intoned: “No one ever promised an immediate end to unemployment.”

    How about a little slowing, Bernice?

    Unemployment has risen more than 6% since P-BO’s $trillion dollar porkulous was tossed out, and as I pointed out, there’s no sign of it slowing down on the horizon.

    Bernice continued: “they [unions] need help from elected officials in order to become strong enough to again protect workers from wage-slave salaries and other employer abuses.”

    Since Obama and the Democrat party took control, Bernice, millions of workers no longer are bothered by wage-slave salaries or employer abuses of any sort.

    Mission accomplished!

    Rebecca Hoover complained: “Great, here we go again with the labeling: commies, creeps and kooks.”

    I’d be happy to name names and provide detailed justifications, Rebecca, but it would never get past the MinnPost censor. In the absence of free speech, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

  13. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 10/02/2009 - 07:42 pm.

    Nothing, NOTHING can change the mind of a conservative: not The Great Depression, Watergate, Iran/Contra, The Iraq War debacle, The Great Recession. They are ingenious in turning all the blame on Democrats so that they can continue on their merry way, enriching the already rich, which usually includes themselves, of course.

    Minnesota cannot afford any more Republican control of the Statehouse.

  14. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/03/2009 - 05:51 am.


    Please push for your candidate to broadcast your agenda. Please have your candidate say that the “people of MN need to be taxed more and government needs to spend more.” Please have your candidate run on the platform that the bi-annual double-digit growth of Government over the last 3 decades is not sufficient to take care of the DFL special interests.

    If this happens, and your candidate will broadcast your agenda, can you say “Skip Humphrey?”

  15. Submitted by Susan White on 10/03/2009 - 12:54 pm.

    I understand that the iron rnge people need jobs. But please do not elect someone who wants to mine nickel and copper. Nickel especially is disastrous to the environment. Drive up to Sudbury, Ontario sometime and look at the miles of wasteland (literally) that were created by open pit nickel mines — no trees, nothing green, black rock everywhere. The environment of the north woods would be devastated.

  16. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/03/2009 - 01:06 pm.

    Swifteem, It’s funny that you feel you’re qualified to advise on economics just because you have a bank account. Just more of your “Tom Foolery”.

    Time for a reality check.

    snip//Between 2000 and 2007, US households led a national borrowing binge, nearly doubling their outstanding debt to $13.8 trillion. The pace was faster than the growth of their incomes, their spending, or the nation’s GDP. The amount of US household debt amassed by 2007 was unprecedented whether measured in nominal terms, as a share of GDP (98 percent), or as a ratio of liabilities to disposable income (138 percent). But as the global financial and economic crisis worsened at the end of last year, a shift occurred: US households for the first time since World War II reduced their debt outstanding.

    Over the past decade, rising US household spending has served as the main engine of US economic growth. From 2000 to 2007, US annual personal consumption grew by 44 percent, from $6.9 trillion to $9.9 trillion – faster than either GDP or household income. Consumption accounted for 77 percent of real US GDP growth during this period – high by comparison with both US and international experience.//snip


    Fair to say that the country as a whole went on a 20-25 yr spending binge. Where personal debt rose from 45% to 138%. Now we are re-balancing.

    Conservatives have miscast history to such a degree that it is almost as if “conservatives” were not in complete control of government from 2001 through 2007 when many of these issues were born.

    Swiftee, where are these Republican politicians who are genuinely in favor of limited government? As I’ve said before, I’m still waiting for Reagan to get rid of the Department of Education. If you behave as Republicans have, you will increase the size of government, and cut taxes on top of that. The *only* Presidencies since WW2 that increased the national debt as a percentage of GDP were Reagan, Bush and Bush, by a combined 67%.

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/05/2009 - 08:36 am.

    How cutting and pasting statistics on a topic completely unrelated to the issue at hand provides a “reality check” eludes me; but then I’m not as scary smart as most MinnPost readers.

    However, the question about the lack of genuinely conservative Republican politicians has merit.

    No one is more disappointed about the lack of follow through than I. And make no doubt that I haven’t expressed that disappointment when any opportunity to do so is offered.

    Many on the right were vocally expressing outrage at GW Bush’s spending spree, but unfortunately, many on the left were too busy planting stupid little pictures of Bush into dog piles on the sidewalk to notice much of anything else.

    However, at the end of the day, I’m still left with the choice between someone that promises to govern frugally and competently, but too often fails to do so, and someone that usually follows through with promises of legislative lunacy and the expansion governmental intrusion into every nook and cranny of our lives.

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