Night after night. Town hall after town hall. Let’s see, it’s Thursday … this must be Richfield.
The skies were threatening, and the winds were blowing as Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the DFL-endorsed candidate for governor, moved from the parking lot to the basement meeting room of the Richfield Community Center to meet with about 50 people, most of them pretty solid supporters.
“Rain won’t stop us, tornadoes won’t stop us,” the House speaker told the gathering. There was polite applause.
This was billed as a “No Stone Unturned” event, one of a series of meetings throughout the state. Kelliher hears the stories of Minnesotans looking for work and responds to those stories, noting that she will leave “no stone unturned” in bringing jobs to Minnesota.
In the past, there had been some criticism that the Kelliher campaign lacked focus. Well, it’s focused now. “No Stone Unturned” has been the mantra for the last couple of weeks.
The campaign says that the phrase actually isn’t actually some new addition. It was used in campaign literature before the DFL convention.
“We decided to pick it up again,” said Kelliher, before the meeting.
Jobs her No. 1 issues
New or not, it’s the right theme, according to Debbie Goettel, the mayor of Richfield who is a Kelliher supporter. Goettel, who recently lost her regular job, says that in every meeting of metropolitan area mayors, the No. 1 issue is jobs.
“People are still losing their homes, because they don’t have jobs,” Goettel said. “I understand that. The hardest thing I’ve had to do [as the volunteer mayor] is put my gavel down on cutbacks in which we’ve had to lay people off. Good-paying, sustainable jobs are the big issue. Everything else revolves around that.”
What can Kelliher, and the state, do to improve the jobs climate?
The DFL’s endorsed candidate offers a litany of proposals, including increased bonding bills, programs to support small businesses, and more pro-active involvement from the Department of Economic Development.
At the meeting, Casey MacCullum, stood and gave testimony. He was a city planner in Jordan but lost his job because of cutbacks. He has serious health issues and a small child. He couldn’t find work anywhere — until he came across a program that Kelliher “had led” through the Legislature in 2009. The federally funded program authorized language for creation of weatherization jobs. MacCullum took a one-week course and now is a weatherization inspector for a nonprofit organization.
“She got me back to work,” MacCullum told the gathering.
That brought applause.
“That’s a story of what happens when you get knocked down,” says Kelliher. “You get knocked down, you get back up and you keep fighting.”
Her comments brought another round of polite applause.
There are conflicting reports as to just how the Kelliher campaign is doing as the candidate tours the state turning over stones. Late last week and earlier this week, there were optimistic rumblings around Kelliher that the DFL’s endorsed candidate was starting to pull ahead of her primary rivals, Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza.
But last night, the results of a new KSTP/Survey USA poll showed that it’s Dayton who’s pulling ahead. The poll showed Dayton with 39 percent, Kelliher 26 percent and Entenza moving up at 22 percent.
A campaign spokesman, Matt Swenson, released this response: “Margaret has come in first or second in every poll to a candidate who has been in DFL politics for 40 years. Tonight’s poll results don’t tell us much about who will win this race. It’s too early to tell where voters will be in August.”
Kelliher has shown resilience
Certainly, Kelliher has been resilient. After a long campaign against a dozen opponents, she was the one emerging with the DFL endorsement. And she is the candidate who has been pulling down the vast majority of endorsements from unions in the weeks since the DFL convention, with another “major” labor endorsement expected to come this afternoon.
In her talks to Minnesotans, she frequently makes references to “getting knocked down and fighting back.” And, invariably, she tells of the travails of her parents, with the help of Margaret and the kids “fighting back” to save the family farm during the ag crisis of the 1980s.
The huge unknown all DFL candidates face is just whose supporters will show up for the Aug. 10 primary. None of the campaigns, so far, seems to have attracted large numbers of true believers, and no DFL candidate seems to have the sort of personality that creates tight emotional bonds.
Kelliher is pushing traditional DFL union buttons. She stresses her expertise in state government. She’s quietly notes the gender card. (One of her campaign buttons reads: “MARGARET Anderson Kelliher MAKE HISTORY.” The history, of course, would be that she’d be the state’s first female governor.)
Although the Richfield meeting was centered on jobs, it quickly evolved into a discussion of a large cross section of state issues.
Does Kelliher have a plan for seniors?
“We’re seeing a silver tsunami,” Kelliher agreed, talking about the aging wave across Minnesota.
That led her to propose two “cabinet-level” positions that she would consider creating in her administration. One office would deal with early education, for pre-school kids. The other cabinet level position would focus on seniors’ issues. “I believe we could more effectively spend the dollars we have.”
She also would support the New Minnesota Miracle, a funding mechanism to support public education. She’d create a “buy local” program for state government to help stop the erosion of jobs. On Day One, she’d sign an executive order that would put the health care of the poor into a federal medical assistance program, which she said would help cut the state deficit and put people to work.
Of course, before the night was over, she had to deal with the stadium question. Why, a woman wondered had she supported the bill that allowed Hennepin County to levy a tax (without a referendum) to build the Twins’ stadium? Would she support a Vikings’ stadium as well?
“I was reluctantly brought on” to the ballpark bill, she said. She finally was won over by the bill’s inclusion of funding for libraries and youth sports.
“Overall,” she said, “it [the ballpark] has been a community benefit.”
So would she support a Vikings’ stadium?
“No general fund dollars,” she said, before adding that it is important to keep the Vikings.
There was sort of a collective “hmmm” from her audience regarding the stadiums. But mostly it seemed there was quiet, solid support for Kelliher at the conclusion of another meeting in another community center.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.