DFL candidates should avoid the center and push for bold solutions

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After months of campaigning within the confines of their party, it must seem strange to DFL nominees that the 2006 campaign season has really just begun. Yet just home from Rochester, candidates are probably reevaluating their talking points and resculpting their platforms in hopes of appealing to a wider share of their Twin Cities districts.

In other years, this has meant tiptoeing away from the left of the political spectrum where bold proclamations supposedly turn off undecided and moderate voters. Moving toward the center may have worked for Democrats in the past, but in 2006, they should ditch that now-familiar habit.

This weekend I spent time with some of my favorite Minnesotans who had gathered to celebrate my brother’s high school graduation. There we were, toasting a gem of a June day with ice tea and watermelon slices.

Surprisingly though, the conversation continually turned to November – the month of gray skies, first snows and most importantly, election season. In a state known for trying winters, this unlikely anticipation of November showed Twin Cities residents aren’t just ready for state elections to arrive – they’re desperate.

Their reasons for impatience differed, but their hunger for drastic change was consistent. They worried about the condition of Twin Cities’ schools whose dwindling budgets are leaving administrators crippled and teachers in short supply. Just the other day, the Minneapolis school district announced it had to let go of more than 300 teachers. This is ironic and sad news at a time when Minnesota has just been identified as one of America’s smartest cities, a distinction that will surely move elsewhere if our teachers are forced to. What’s more, their departure surely won’t help curb the rise in juvenile crime city officials reported this week. And crime statistics aren’t the only rising numbers bothering my fellow partiers.

They said they feel powerless watching gas prices creep upward. This is only compounded by government responses falling somewhere between ambivalence and fatalism. They want to see sincere exploration of alternative energy sources and note that with an outstanding research university in town and ample agricultural resources right outside city limits, Minnesota is capable of increasing ethanol requirements and pursuing a greener future. They are convinced the state simply needs imaginative and optimistic leadership to provide an initial push.

Trumping all other issues for these anxious voters however, was health care. Thousands of Minnesotans are uninsured. More feel the squeeze of rising costs of prescription drugs. In a state that prides itself on a high quality of living, Minnesotans deserve better. And the voters with whom I spoke are prepared to fight for it. All they need to unleash this formidable political energy is a leader who personifies their passion.

That is why Democrats should sit out the dance toward the center in 2006. This year’s political climate will reward bold, principled candidates who are not so afraid of offending that they fail to inspire.

I am confident the DFL can provide gutsy candidates and daring vision. After all, this is the party of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, whose confident voice made his state and party proud. It’s also the one that invited independent-minded, but consistently popular, Sen. Russ Feingold to ignite delegates in Rochester with calls for courage and creativity. This year, the DFL’s newest nominees should model their campaigns on their example. They must offer Minnesota voters a true alternative to the Republican Party by running campaigns of strong conviction and promising a future of progressive change. If there’s any truth to the voter sentiment I encountered this weekend, come November, they will not regret their bold campaigns.

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