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11 gubernatorial candidates make their pitches to large activist crowd

Eleven gubernatorial candidates appeared at Monday night's forum.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Eleven gubernatorial candidates appeared at Monday night’s forum.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about last night’s gubernatorial candidate forum at Macalester College was that people showed up. Here it was, cold and snowy, and still hundreds of people were on hand to listen to 11 candidates talk about their views on transportation, land use and the environment.

This was a liberal crowd — the forum was sponsored by such organizations as Sierra Club, MPIRG, faith-based ISAIAH and Transit for Livable Communities.

That pretty much explains why the two major Republican candidates, Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer, didn’t bother attending. (The one Republican on the dais was environmentalist Leslie Davis, who is preaching an anti-tax message and who these days is wearing a tie. But it’s unlikely that the Republicans ever will endorse a guy who’s been busted for such things as chaining himself to trees and who doesn’t own a car.)

It was, however, a crowd filled with people who are likely to show up at precinct caucuses next week, which made it somewhat surprising that such DFL candidates as Tom Bakk, Paul Thissen, Matt Entenza and Steve Kelley didn’t attend.

General agreement on issues, differing enthusiasm levels
There were no great surprises in the forum. The DFL candidates all came out in favor of better transit, better roads, bike paths, walking paths, smarter growth.

The Independence Party candidates — there were three on hand — apparently support those things, too, but not with so much enthusiasm as the DFLers.

In fact, when DFLers started talking excitedly about more effective land use laws, one of the IP candidates, Rob Hahn, was greeted with stone cold silence when he said, “I personally hate sprawl. But I have a hard problem telling someone you can’t sell your land if someone else wants to buy it.”

Much of the evening was predictable.

As always, it was Rep. Tom Rukavina, the feisty Iron Ranger, who got the laughs and lots of nods of agreement with his comments. For example, he managed to tie his belief in higher taxes on the rich to the Vikings’ loss on Sunday.

“Twelve men in the huddle,” muttered Rukavina of one of the final blunders that cost the Vikings a trip to the Super Bowl. “These millionaires [the players] can afford to pay a little more taxes.”

The people in attendance laughed, proving that even left-leaning, tree-hugging, bike-riding Minnesotans are still smarting over the Vikes’ performance.

Dayton strikes a chord
As always, former Sen. Mark Dayton got positive feedback with his stands. On this night, Dayton not only called for taxing the rich, which is his standard line, but also took some brutal shots at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“It should be called the Minnesota Pollution Cooperation Agency,” said Dayton scornfully.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Sen. John Marty both were clearly popular with the crowd.

But the most telling moment of the night may have involved a little showdown between House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and the person who most likely will be the IP’s candidate next November, Tom Horner, who described himself as “a reformed Republican.”

Horner didn’t expect to wow this crowd, but he’s looking to make connections wherever he can.

His oft-repeated message last night was that Minnesota needs a governor who can bring diverse groups together.

“There are a lot of people with great ideas in Minnesota,” he said. “What we need is to be able to elect a leader who can have the 400 of you here sitting down with people from the Taxpayers League and start coming up with solutions.”

DFL candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher, right, looks on as IP candidate Tom Horner addresses the crowd.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
DFL candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher, right, looks on as IP candidate Tom Horner addresses the crowd.

Over and over, Horner pounded on the idea of governor as the great consensus-builder. But late in the evening, he took that a step too far, at least in the eyes of Kelliher.

Horner took a shot at the “lack of courage in the Legislature,” and the inability of the Legislature and the governor to get things done.

Kelliher takes on Horner
Kelliher had heard enough.

“Being governor is not a neutral position,” she said, anger in her voice. “People deserve to know where you stand. … There is no lack of courage at the Capitol.” She went on to say there has been a lack of leadership from the governor.

Three things were interesting about this momentary break from forum normality:

• Kelliher so often seems to hide her personality behind a carefully crafted message. The result is that she can come off as bland. She’s not, offering evidence of real emotion last night.

• The Independence Party forces likely will play a significant role in the November elections. They’ll try to sell what Horner was selling. That a “neutral” governor can move Minnesota away from the party-line bickering that has become the norm.

• This little moment was a foreshadowing of a portion of what we’ll see in November, when both Republicans and DFLers will be trying to undercut the IP message.

Mostly, though, what the night showed is that Minnesotans remain interested and involved. On a cold and snowy night, they went to a forum.

Horner was trudging through the snow and wind, en route to his car at the end of the evening.

“When they said 400 people would be here,” said Horner after it was over, “I figured, ‘Well, maybe 200 will show up.’ But they really came.”

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/26/2010 - 10:02 am.


    Thanks for using the word “liberal.”

  2. Submitted by Karen Lee Rosar on 01/26/2010 - 10:56 am.

    As the article states “…two major Republican candidates, Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer, didn’t bother attending”. Apparently they are not interested in efficient tax use, public health and the environment.

  3. Submitted by Sally Paulsen on 01/26/2010 - 11:59 am.

    Of course the legislature has taken a stand — unfortunately it’s not for the people of Minnesota. Democrats and Republicans are forced to take a stand for the special interests that feed their campaigns and dictate their party dogma. Ideas and solutions are hardly the seeds in the minds of our elected officials. Legislation is bought and paid by special interests long before any effective compromise is reachable. The State’s political agenda is written by the PACs instead of the people.

  4. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 01/26/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    I would hate to be the caucus chair on Tuesday night in any precinct across Minnesota. It is going to wild. Most people, even most DFL activists, have no idea who their favorite candidate is.

    The troubles that this state has – aging demographics, real or perceived lack of economic competitiveness, increasingly ugly politics – I do not see a candidate that is seriously up to the challenge based on their past performances.

    Balancing the state’s budget this year and into the future will require some new ways of doing things. If you are 25% short on your budget and 75% of the budget is k12 and nursing homes, you are in a real fix. Not even Republicans will say that they will cut nursing homes and schools.

    Good luck!

  5. Submitted by Mike Owens on 01/26/2010 - 01:08 pm.

    I think it’s useful to note the candidates who were in attendance. Left to right in the top photo (DFL unless noted): Leslie Davis (R), Mark Dayton, Susan Gaertner, Rob Hahn (IP), Tom Horner (IP), Margaret Anderson Kelliher, John Marty, Tom Rukavina, R.T. Rybak, John Uldrich (IP)

    There were 10 candidates on the panel. One other Republican was introduced at the beginning, but was not included in the panel because he hadn’t officially filed.

  6. Submitted by T J Simplot on 01/26/2010 - 01:38 pm.

    Ms. Rosar,

    The Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters (MAHU) hosted a health insurance panel discussion this past Friday at their annual convention in Brooklyn Park. Two democratic candidates were invited but bowed out at the last minute. Does than mean they are not concerned about health care? By your logic, it must.

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/26/2010 - 01:54 pm.

    Some good comments. Doug how do you keep on doing it? Ritalin, sitting on nails, double shots of coffee. Can anyone think of a real gamechanger who would appeal to mass youth?

  8. Submitted by Paul Thissen on 01/26/2010 - 02:53 pm.

    Sorry I missed the event. It was my daughter’s 11th birthday.

    Paul Thissen

  9. Submitted by Elizabeth Halvorson on 01/26/2010 - 08:41 pm.

    I fear that people are making some generalizations here that are not based on facts. Had you observed any of the budget hearings last session, you would have seen a legislature trying hard to come up with a balanced budget over the constant misleading and stonewalling of the governor’s office. The legislature did get a budget together—and then the governor vetoed it. So please, when you’re talking about the dynamic between the legislature and the governor, please don’t coat those who tried with the tar you ought to be using on the real culprits.

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/26/2010 - 09:24 pm.

    The numbers next session (five billion) are so bad and nobody agrees on the facts. The DFL doesn’t want to talk about it when they’re trying to spend more on education and social services. The GOP doesn’t want to talk about it because that would put tax increases on the table. Slogans are easier to sell than philosophy.

    We have a governor who is focused on how can he run for president, and at the same time face up to the real financial challenges of Minnesota. So he will defer those decisions until he is out of office. Which is a good example of political ambition becoming a substitute for good governance.

    It is going to be very difficult for the GOP and the DFL candidates to make all sorts of promises that can’t be kept. This has got to be one of the best years for an Independent candidate to run. A good moderate who just tells the truth and puts together a good coalition. I think that person could win.

  11. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 01/26/2010 - 11:28 pm.

    “A good moderate who just tells the truth and puts together a good coalition.”

    That’s amusing. I think most of the candidates are telling the truth. There’s not much to joke about. The funny part is the coalition. A candidate puts together a campaign team during a campaign, a transition team after winning an election, and a staff after taking the oath of office. So what is a candidate’s coalition? Their list of endorsers and supporters?

  12. Submitted by Leslie Davis on 01/27/2010 - 04:11 am.

    Doug Grow thinks the Republicans will not endorse me because I don’t own a car. I don’t get it. Why would I need a car when one will be provided to me as governor? And a driver too. It seems wasteful to have a car when I profess to be a conservative conservationist and Minnesota’s premier environmentalist. Anyone wanna compare records with me? BESIDES…I already told the Republican Party leaders that I am going to the primary in September, with or without the endorsement and Chairman Tony Sutton is fine with that.
    The public has a great chance to make history with Leslie Davis as the next governor or they can have misery with any of the others. It’s their call…history or misery.

  13. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/27/2010 - 09:38 am.

    Aside from partisans and ideologues. I think that the majority of those that vote have open minds about who they want to see in the governors office. I believe they are called independent voters. Those who are not married to an ideology or identify with a particular party affiliation.

  14. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/27/2010 - 03:33 pm.

    I’m looking for a pragmatic candidate who agrees with my perspective, but don’t see one on the horizon. Our situation is more complex and more dire than most current candidates seem ready to admit. We aren’t going to be able to simply tax our way out of it, anymore than we are going to be able to rely solely on reduced spending and accounting gimmicks. The trouble is here and needs to be fixed now, not rolled over to the next biennium. Maintenance may need to be further delayed, work forces reduced, tax revenues increased, among other things. To put it crudely, we all need to suck it up. Sadly, it seems we all expect the other guy to bear the burden.

  15. Submitted by Carl lewis on 09/28/2010 - 05:57 am.

    “A good moderate who just tells the truth and puts together a good coalition.”


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