The DFL’s three leading guv candidates were asked about their biggest flaws. Their answers were … interesting

After months at town meetings, diners, union halls and businesses, you’d think the trio of leading DFL candidates for governor — Erin Murphy, Tim Walz and Rebecca Otto — might have heard every question by now. But at last week’s Faith in Minnesota candidate forum, one question gave each member of the trio pause, with all struggling to find an answer to satisfy a group that will have a lot to say about deciding who will become the DFL nominee for governor.

In fact, as the the political arm of  ISAIAH — a faith-based coalition of progressive congregations — Faith in Minnesota is expected to have 132 delegates and 70 alternates at the upcoming DFL convention in Rochester, said ISAIAH spokesperson JaNae Bates. That’s more than 10 percent of the convention’s elected delegates.

Which means that their responses were important — none more so than the one in response to a question posed at the end of each separate 30-minute interview conducted in front of a packed sanctuary at Richfield’s House of Prayer Lutheran Church. That’s when each of the candidates was asked to address what is the most serious reservation the group’s DFL delegates had about them.

It was like the dreaded “what are your weaknesses” job-interview question — but much more personal. And each got to the core of what many DFLers — especially those on the left of the political spectrum — fear is each candidate’s fundamental flaw leading into the convention, which begins Friday in Rochester.

Here, then, are their discomfortable responses — sometimes rambling, sometimes tearful — which are even more revealing given that the candidates were told of the question ahead of time. Each was given four minutes to respond. Below are excerpts of their comments.

Erin Murphy

Going first, State Rep. Erin Murphy was told that some delegates were worried that she couldn’t win the DFL endorsement or a primary. Javen Swanson, the associate pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, also told the candidate that some feel “you have not clearly articulated a compelling vision for how you will lead Minnesota.”

Murphy’s response: “I got into this race back in 2016 and I did that because I wanted to make sure we were taking all the time we needed to build the kind of campaign that I believe in, one that is rooted in us, one that is powerfully about us, one that is the kind of politics that is intended to improve people’s lives,” Murphy said. “And we have done that.”

State Rep. Erin Murphy
Photo by Emma Grisanzio
State Rep. Erin Murphy: “As I listen to Minnesotans across the state, they are very clear that they want more from us and they want more from our politics than we are delivering right now.”

Murphy recalled being told by a voter during her first legislative campaign that she needed to represent the whole state, not just a single district. “I have taken that to heart,” the St. Paul representative said. “I have spent the last 12 years all over the state of Minnesota. I have been in our schools and our hospitals and our clinics. I’ve been in our farm fields and I’ve been in our mines and our forests. I’ve been in our community centers and our businesses. And I know Minnesota like the back of my hand.”

“We have built an infrastructure that we can win in November and we can win in a primary and we can win an endorsement. I’ve built a strong campaign. I am talking about an honest and progressive vision for the people of Minnesota.”

Murphy said she will take on tough issues and not play it safe, a theme she has expressed from early on, and one that she’s employed as both an implied and direct criticism of Walz.

“We can sleep our way through this campaign,” she said. “We can poll and figure out what are the issues Minnesotans feel most comfortable about and talk about those and never, ever confront the hard issues in front of us. As I listen to Minnesotans across the state, they are very clear that they want more from us and they want more from our politics than we are delivering right now.

“If we are going to take on the toughest issues that we face — structural racism, a workforce shortage, take on single-payer health care — we need Minnesotans to be engaged and we need to use the campaign to set that stage,” Murphy said. We need to organize now to deliver on that over the next eight years.”

“I need you in partnership with me and I think that’s a pretty goldarn compelling message.”

Tim Walz

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz was told that some delegates were put off by his political persona, that of  a moderate who can speak to a wide spectrum of both DFLers and state voters. “We — Faith in Minnesota — want a candidate who is going to be a progressive champion, not a referee between powerful interests and the people facing oppression from those powerful interests,” said Imam Asad Zaman, the executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.

Walz has represented southern Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District since 2007 and is one of just 10 Democrats nationally who have won in what are considered rural districts. His ability to work across ideological lines is one of the skills he is selling, arguing that the DFL needs to win statewide, not just in the cities.

That isn’t an asset for some Faith in Minnesota delegates, however: “If you are elected, how will you stand with us and the people of Minnesota against the powerful interests to accommodate the bold solutions we set forth?” Zaman asked.

Rep. Tim Walz
Photo by Emma Grisanzio
Rep. Tim Walz, third from left: “I ran on the core shared values that shaped my life: of equality and opportunity and fairness and all of those things that were there.”

Walz, who shared his 30-minute interview time almost equally with his lieutenant governor pick, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan, took this question alone. “This one is at the core and I tell you this: I got elected right from the classroom,” he said. “I had no political experience other than as an active voter. I was teaching and coaching. I was elected from a district and I’m the second Democrat in 125 years.”

“And I ran on the core shared values that shaped my life: of equality and opportunity and fairness and all of those things that were there. But I’m also the rarest of the rare now. There are 10 rural Democrats left in America.”

Walz said that in trying to balance his beliefs with his district, “I’ve gotten it wrong at times. And when I think I’ve gotten it wrong, it is trying to understand that eternal conflict that goes on between representing a small geographic area and a commonality amongst people and that broader humanity or that broader government or democracy that we have.”

But he ultimately didn’t differ with his reputation as a bridge builder. “When I talk about bringing people together, I look at all people without assuming the worst,” he said. “I’m not Pollyannaish. I know that when some come to the table it’s not out of good will, it’s not going to end that way. But I’ve stood because it’s fundamentally who I am. I am a school teacher. I am labor.

“So I take to heart what you are saying. I take to heart too again, I want to find solutions. I live and work in a place where espousing a position without the ability to bring people to get it done — this is what we’ve been doing to people. Nothing moves through Congress, nothing moves through the Minnesota Legislature. Nothing brings real changes … And I think as a governor we are going to need someone who can do that. Who can go to every corner.”

Rebecca Otto

State Auditor Rebecca Otto, appearing last, was asked to speak to concerns that her appearance before a Latino-Latina convention the week before left many attendees unconvinced of her commitment to racial justice — and her ability to stand up to racism and division.

Otto, accompanied onstage with her running mate, Zarina Baber, had perhaps the hardest time with a question that called into doubt her commitment to racial justice. All three candidates had already been asked questions about dismantling mass incarceration, welcoming immigrants and Muslims, establishing climate justice, building a “caring economy” and fighting Islamophobia. And Otto had already committed to meeting weekly with representatives of Faith in Minnesota if elected.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto
Photo by Kathryn Lozada
State Auditor Rebecca Otto: “I did come from poverty…I have a very diverse family.”

Otto began by saying she would “call out the Republicans’ white nationalist agenda” and promised to “reach out to the communities that are impacted to hear directly from them of their struggles and their realities.”

She then changed tone to talk about the criticism itself. “When I got feedback after that forum I took it to heart,” she said. “Yesterday my campaign told me all the things I had to do and I said, no. I’m going to go reflect for a while. Because to me, I needed time to think about how I interacted, answers that I provided and somehow that I didn’t connect. And I was really disappointed with myself.

“So I will tell you that my experience going through this whole process of engagement, of questions, all the different formats … I have grown. You have helped me grow. It made me dig deeper and deeper and deeper. Because I know who I am in my heart. I must not be effectively communicating that to everybody. So I apologize. I thank you.

“I know I’m a privileged white woman and sometimes that puts people off,” Otto said. “But I did come from poverty. … I have a very diverse family. I have African-American nephews, who I love dearly. And my step-sister is Latino, my step-mother is Latino  — Latina, Latina, sorry, I’m nervous — I care about all people and so for me it is really about connecting more and when I show my heart …”

Otto stopped speaking and appeared to be trying to regain her composure. After 10 seconds or so, some in the audience began to applaud and she began again. “There’s a lot of love in here for a lot of people,” she said. “There’s a lot of pain for Minnesota. That pain is real. I feel the pain. I want to take away the pain.”

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 05/30/2018 - 11:56 am.

    Hmm, maybe one had to be there?

    Or else I’m missing something here, because I am reading nothing in these three responses that sets off alarms…except perhaps the facts that ‘religious’ types are pressing for answers about how the candidates will represent THEM (over and above others? separation of church and state!) and also perhaps the fact that they are seeking more allegiance than they should.

    Additionally, one person, no matter how qualified, can never represent ALL, ALL of the time. It is a constant juggling act, a balancing of many needs versus that representative’s personal ethics and beliefs and commitments and time.

    I feel like these 3 candidates are being treated like they are running for the office of God, not for governor.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/30/2018 - 03:15 pm.

    Real answers

    Murphy’s biggest problem is that she’s an urban liberal and that won’t play well outstate.

    Walz’s biggest problem is the opposite of Murphy’s – obviously guns plus other votes he took repesenting a rural district. Lots of metro DFLers don’t like him.

    Otto probably should have mentioned her failed auditor lawsuit. Spending taxpayer money to sue rural counties (defended by taxpayer money) is going to make easy pickings for the Republicans if she’s the nominee. Frankly, I can’t believe she’s even still running. Let’s hope the DFL is smarter than that

    • Submitted by Michael Hess on 05/30/2018 - 07:40 pm.

      Thought the Same thing

      I though Otto might acknowledge the failed frivolous lawsuit as a learning experience. In the general election I’m sure the counties and cities she sued which spent probably hundreds of thousands as it was appealed to the state Supreme Court, those politicians will lobby against her and highlight her willingness to fight local control. That’s a big vulnerability come November.

    • Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 05/31/2018 - 12:13 am.

      even in 64A

      Erin got about 800 fewer votes than Hillary. Her opponent got 1,400 more votes than Trump. This despite Erin being a local 5 term rep and Hillary having all sorts of things working against. In fact, Erin Murphy only outruns other candidates when said candidates are in three way races and she is in a two way race.

      Tim Walz, on the other hand, outruns everybody in his district. Obviously, in 2016 even if he almost lost, he still outran the top of the ticket by 15 and got 40,000 crossovers

      I think the “Walz holds the rural vote” argument therefore bears more fruit than “Murphy turns out the urban vote”

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/31/2018 - 08:55 am.

        Erin

        I lived in her district a few years ago and found her to be very underwhelming and not very intelligent, but won’t there usually be a drop off from presidential votes? People who just vote for president and don’t follow local races?

        • Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 05/31/2018 - 06:10 pm.

          She underran Dick Cohen

          And more people voted between Murphy and the GOPer than between Clinton and Trump (not counting Stein/Johnson/McMullib)

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/31/2018 - 09:05 am.

        The Oakland Raiders & Al Davis

        With the clear possibility of a GOP House & Senate in 2019, a lot of lefties, including urban lefties, have adopted the philosophy of the late Al Davis, one time owner of the Oakland (and sometimes LA) Raiders:

        Just win baby!

        Walz will do fine here in the ‘hood.

  3. Submitted by Don Casey on 05/30/2018 - 04:04 pm.

    separation?

    Personally, I find the involvement of spiritual leaders in partisan politics is unsettling.

    As individuals — setting aside their spiritual leadership roles — they certainly are entitled to their political perspectives. But it is another matter when they mix partisan politics with their roles as spiritual leaders. Churches benefit from the “separation” principle (tax benefits immunity from some secular laws, etc.). If churches are free from political involvement in their functions, why should they involve themselves in politics? Shouldn’t separation be a two-way street?

    Certainly churches want to help the less fortunate. Why ask government to do it, rather than acting independently to do it themselves?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/30/2018 - 06:44 pm.

      The Constitution forbids churches

      and their leaders from -endorsing- candidates.
      It is less clear that it prohibits churches from allowing candidates to discuss issues.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/30/2018 - 09:16 pm.

      Sorry – you do not get it!

      It is fine for religious leaders on the left to be leaders in politics. Rev. Al , Rev Jackson, Jeremiah Wright, etc. These political/religious activist are celebrated in the liberal, “real journalism” media.

      It is only conservative religious leaders that are shouted down by the phrase “separation of church and State.”

    • Submitted by Bethany Waldron on 05/30/2018 - 11:10 pm.

      Why Ask Government?

      Churches cannot legalize adult use marijuana to reduce systemic racism and equity gaps. Government can. This delegation, and every constituent has the right to expect the governor to work side by side with them. Every single candidate even said they can’t do this alone and they don’t want to either. I persoballynthink it’s refreshing.

    • Submitted by Ric Studer on 06/01/2018 - 01:52 am.

      Separation!

      As a 501c4 non-profit organization, Faith in Minnesota is authorized by the IRS to endorse political candidates. Faith in Minnesota is made up of individuals and not congregations. It is supported by individual contributions, grant, and corporate awards, just as any other non-profit. It does not ask for donations from congregations. Donations to FiMN are not tax deductible.

      Holding a candidate forum and sending delegates to an endorsing convention is well within the rights of this organization and does not represent active campaigning for partisan candidates. In fact, FiMN is absolutely not a partisan organization as they have delegates attending the Republican convention this weekend in Duluth. As you might imagine though, there are many more faith delegates heading to the DFL convention than to the GOP.

      The power of the DFL faith delegation voting bloc is palpable. This is why the media is making FiMN look like a partisan organization. We all know that often the media only gives us part of the story. Motivation through moral values and an agenda of caring recognizes no political boundaries. Both the DFL and GOP have failed to act for the benefit of the people of Minnesota.

      This is just a start. There are many moral and good Republicans. And Faith in Minnesota’s faith agenda for Minnesota will resonate with them also. Soon it will be clear to candidates from both major parties that in order to be elected you must co-govern with the people, by faithfully upholding the will of the people to be treated as our shared moral values dictate.

      Contrast this with pastors who have told their parishes who to vote for from the pulpit. Some have allowed one political party to set up informational tables inside their churches. And church leaders who have distributed pamphlets and DVDs telling their flock that only one party supports their dogma. These actions may skirt the legality of what a church may do politically but they certainly violate the implied law of separation of church and state.

      Separation of church and state means that government may not establish a state religion and forces everyone to join or face consequences. It prohibits laws designed to favor any one religion over the other. It does not prevent individuals informed by their faith, whatever that may be, Atheist to Zoroastrian, from participating politically in our democracy, based on those values.

      Churches have been actively involved in social justice issues for centuries, either in support or in opposition. And that’s being generous considering some of the Roman Church’s horrific “political” activities such as the Crusades, witch hunts, or the Inquisition. Social justice issues are always settled in the political arena. It can’t be avoided.

      And don’t get me started on that tired old “the churches can take care of people who need help”. I’ve had with this stuff. Christ says in the gospels that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked etc. Who is this “we” he speaks of if not we the people. People get on their high horse about this being a Christian nation. Ok then be a Christian nation and take care of the expletive people for his sake.

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/31/2018 - 10:34 am.

    They all showed their humanity

    I want a human being representing me who is going to fight for the right of all Minnesota families to raise their children to be successful adults, have good paying jobs, make their own choices without the rich and powerful pushing them around and living in comfortable retirement looking back at a life well lived.

    It is not good enough to ensure that the wealthy and powerful have exclusive rights to the good life. If that satisfies you, vote Republican.

    These three DFL candidates all fit the bill. None are perfect or presumed to be. For that, look no farther than disgraced Missouri governor who is not the perfect person he proports to be, or a Tim Pawlenty whose failed governorship is not enough to prevent him from running for the same job.

    DFL voters will make their choice and take it from there, working to make Minnesota even a better place to live,

  5. Submitted by Richard Mensing on 05/31/2018 - 07:06 pm.

    Murphy and Otto called immediately for Franken to resign

    Both Murphy and Otto called for Al Franken to resign almost immediately after the Tweeden photo emerged. I believe Walz expressed disappointment but was more wait and see- Franken deserves due process. It will be interesting to see how this factors in the delegates’ decision, if it at all. I believe the expectation now is that it will take several ballots before any candidate wins endorsement. If Walz gets an early endorsement, he can beat the expectation game.

    • Submitted by A. Svendsen on 06/01/2018 - 01:44 pm.

      Murphy called for Franken to resign before Al even made a statement. I believe this shows poor judgement and reasoning skills on her part. A person who would fire someone based on a second hand information without even hearing from the person it involves is not someone I feel comfortable being in charge of Minnesota. No private employer would be so reactionary, for good reason.

      Rebecca Otto was indicted by a grand jury for allegedly distributing false campaign material. She said the charge was politically motivated. The charge was eventually dismissed by a judge. After that experience, knowing what it is like to be falsely accused of something, I think it is very hypocritical of her to ask Al Franken to resign to “set an example” without the ethics investigation he requested. It also makes me question her ability to judge the consequences of her decisions, because that resignation sets a bad precedent. Indeed, after Al announced he would resign, someone immediately produced a fake sexual harassment settlement by Chuck Schumer listing phony allegations that he sexual harassed a staffer. I campaigned for Rebecca Otto for state auditor, and I was deeply disappoint in her choice to say Al should resign.

      I don’t appreciate elected officials using the amplified voices their jobs give them to override votes by demanding resignations. A vote is pretty much the only political voice I have and both of them chose to steal the power of my vote by demanding Al’s resignation. I think both were more interested in optics than whether MN voters wanted Al to resign.

      I will not vote for either of them.

  6. Submitted by Paul John Martin on 06/01/2018 - 01:26 pm.

    Separation of Church and State.

    It’s only natural that people such as Don Casey will be concerned about the separation issues that arise from Isaiah’s unprecedented involvement in this year’s Minnesota elections. I’m happy to explain some.
    Isaiah is a multi-faith organization that empowers people of faith to band together to advance a progressive and inclusive vision of society. Their issues and values are shared by people of many faiths and none. Have a look: < https://isaiahmn.org> Supporters are simply exercising their right as citizens to ‘petition’ their government and candidates, using strength in numbers to get their attention. A great counter to the era of “one dollar, one vote.”
    For the election cycle, Isaiah’s lobbying work is coordinated by their sister organization, Faith in Minnesota. That is a 501c4 body, and so receives no tax advantages. There is a huge upsurge in interest in politics in Christian, Jews, Muslims, and others, and they have catalyzed this and provided training in how to caucus, etc. A few are involved with the GOP, though the great majority are Democrats. There is no faith ‘litmus test’ of any sort.
    As I said, those issues unite hundreds of thousands of all faiths and none. They range from action for the environment to sensible gun control to access for all to healthcare to the need for good immigration laws, and many more. They are not specifically faith issues. For instance, their education policy advocates for equal access to good schooling for all, as opposed to those who lobby for vouchers that effectively subsidize faith-based schools.
    As I write, my wife is en route to Rochester as a delegate to the DFL Convention. She has never been involved in party politics before, but is moved by the shameful pandering to the rich and corruption in DC and St Paul, and the resulting failure to address the needs of the most vulnerable in society. Her faith is propelling her to exercise her civil rights for the good of society, not the church. That is a Christian stance in which she is happy to join Muslims, Jews, agnostics, atheists, and others of goodwill.

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