Not making it to the State Fair this year? Or perhaps you made it, but didn’t veer far enough from the barns or the Midway or bacon booth to find the political exhibits that pervade the Falcon Heights fairgrounds at the end of each summer, election year or not?
Fear not. MinnPost wandered the nooks and crannies to find the purveyors of politics — and their fair wares — so you don’t have to. Granted, with no legislative, state, or federal elections this year — it’s a little calmer out there. But there is still plenty to wade through. And because it’s the fair (and because our editors told us to), we decided to add our completely subjective ratings to help guide you. Enjoy. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Rand Paul for President
Nelson Street, near Carnes Avenue (east of the DNR)
Paul’s booth, located between Playland and Foot-Long Hot Dogs, is the only stand-alone presidential presence at the fair. (There are, of course, presidential components inside the Republican and DFL party booths.) A young volunteer there, Nick Krinkie, said the candidate wants the country to spend within its means, be wise with the military and secure the border. Got it, Nick. Rating: 3 stars (out of 5): It’s a so-so booth, but at least there’s somebody there willing to answer questions.
Republican Party of Minnesota
Carnes Avenue, between Nelson and Underwood streets
This booth is getting a fair amount of attention for a “corn poll” that’s about as unscientific as it gets. Anyone can ask for a small cup of corn and then distribute it into jars for the 17 candidates in the running. All for one; some for all; some for some; etc. We saw kids doling out the kernels and there seemed to be no way to keep someone from coming back again and again. The jars for Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker and Rand Paul had the most at the moment we arrived. Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee had some, while George Pataki, Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham appeared to have the fewest. Rating: 3.5 stars. Lots of action, free water, but the corn poll feels like pandering.
Minnesota DFL Party
Dan Patch Avenue, between Cooper and Cosgrove streets
The DFL booth is a hodgepodge of tables and candidate posters and signs and a parade of live candidates appearing at various times. Sen. Amy Klobuchar had been there on opening day morning, but the big question was: Would Hillary show up during her Friday visit to the state for fundraisers and a DNC meeting in Minneapolis? “We hope so,” one volunteer said. She didn’t. Rating: 3.5 stars. It’s a bit chaotic, like the party itself, but there’s plenty of information.
Independence Party of Minnesota
Dan Patch Avenue, next to Cheese Curds
Until last fall’s election, the IP enjoyed major party status allowing their candidates easier access to the ballot and state funding. But that’s no longer the case. Party Treasurer Sally Paulsen was in the booth and said they’ll continue working to find good candidates to further their platform, which includes legalizing marijuana and Sunday liquor sales. What about the big orange buffalo out front? It’s a bison, they said, and party officials chose it as the party mascot. It beat out a wild turkey and — in what I think would register as an upset — a bald eagle. Rating: 2.5 stars. Good location, cool mascot, but sad (non-major party) vibe.
U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken
The corner of Judson Avenue and Underwood Street
Franken was up for re-election last year, so things were hopping at his booth during the 2014 fair. It’s much quieter this year. But that’s an anecdotal observation, because staffers in Franken’s booth wouldn’t be quoted; better check with their communications people to get an official comment on relative year-over-year booth busyness, they said. All was quiet at Booth Klobuchar, too. She’d been there early Thursday, attracting many followers. But sans senator, during an off-year, there’s not much action, despite the buzz about her new book and presidential ambitions. As with Franken’s booth, my attempt to get anybody to say absolutely anything resulted in directions to call the press people. Stay brave, people. Rating: 2 stars. For offering a profile in courage.
Underwood Street, between Carnes and Judson avenues
Thanks to an abundance of chairs and tables on a patio, this booth was hopping. Of course, it helps that it’s next to the wine building, and its easier to enjoy a fine Minnesota vintage while seated. Bruce Johnson was engaging people about their platform of all things Constitution, all the time, and said anyone is welcome to sit down. But, in what may horrify many a Minnesotan, party activists may try to engage you, particularly if you show any indication of being tired of the two-party system dominating the nation’s political landscape. Rating 4 stars. There’s wine next door and plenty of places to sit down.
Nelson Street, near Judson Avenue
Below a big yellow banana-esque banner rippling in the breeze, Kevin Bradley said he’s finding many fairgoers interested in the party’s message and picking up T-shirts and buttons. “Sometimes they try to change our minds,” he said. Rating: 3 stars. For the banana-like banner, and the candor.
Upstairs in the Grandstand
Stephanie Upchurch had just started her shift at the booth, next to a steam mop demonstrator, so she hadn’t talked with any voters yet. But when they came, she was going to urge them to support the party and it’s call for a $15 minimum wage, ranked choice voting and the Black Lives Matter movement. Rating: 2.5 stars. Hard to get there.
Taxpayers League of Minnesota
Volunteers here initially were put off by my statement that I was assessing the fair’s political booths. “We’re not political. We’re a nonprofit,” they said. OK, but it involves politics, right? They said they had information on how legislators voted on tax-related bills, so voters could see who’s protecting their pocketbooks. And did I know that Minnesota is one of the few states that has no tax-break for Social Security income? “Some people are telling us they’re moving to Florida because of that,” they said. Rating: 3 stars. Tons of info; interesting definition of what is and isn’t political.
Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House of Representatives
Along the back wall of the Education Building, the two houses of the Legislature have an annual presence. They say they want input on the issues of the day, and each booth has a poll on political issues. This year, said Senate Staffer Scott Magnuson, immigration is a hot topic. State Sen. Bev Scalze, of Little Canada, said she “always looks” at the results and is happy to visit with people from around the state, as well as her District 42 constituents. Lyndon Carlson, Sr., from Crystal, with 43 years in the House, was getting his picture taken with a young man. A constituent? No, it was his grandson. “I’ve been bringing him here to the fair since he was 2, and now he’s 17,” the lawmaker said. Fairgoers were asking him about a gas tax increase and Sunday liquor sales. He’s in favor of both. Rating: 3.5 stars. Real live legislators often on hand.
Secretary of State Steve Simon
Grandstand lower level
A small wheel of fortune is the eye grabber at the SOS booth, but it’s related to a trivia game, not a example of how to select a candidate. This booth moved this year from the stodgy Education Building to the hipper Grandstand, to get a different cross-section of visitors, said Jeff Narabrook, a staff member. “In the Education Building, almost everyone who came through was already an election judge.” In the booth, you find a list of dozens of municipal and school board elections scheduled around the state this year. You can also register to vote and learn about the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Rating: 3.5 stars. For the ability to register while perusing knick-knacks.
Attorney General Lori Swanson
The booth is lined with handbooks on ways to handle many consumer issues, such as probate, home buying and seniors’ rights. Hot stuff. Got more questions, they’ll give you a phone number for the right person in the main office! Rating: 3 stars. For the phone numbers, and you can get a St. Thomas bag to carry all the pamphlets.