Election Reflections

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In the wake of the election, here’s some brief reflections on lessons learned and future trends.

St. Paul mayor’s race: Whaddya know #1. Voters apparently don’t like being lectured on their so-called anger issues. My all-time favorite moment of the St. Paul race came when Randy Kelly—Mr. Rageaholic Himself—called a press conference to announce that people in St. Paul had an anger problem and needed to . . . like, get over it. So he had endorsed Bush. So what? Time to move on, people!

What was he thinking? I have no idea, although being Randy, he probably thought he was offering forgiveness—because after all, he felt so personally victimized  by all this strange anger over his little presidential hug at the Xcel Center last year.

Of course, Kelly’s press conference didn’t exactly smooth things over. Take it from me, the three most dangerous words men can say to women who are furious are: Just. Calm. Down. Because that doesn’t calm us down. That makes us rummage around for firearms. Apparently, the voters in St. Paul felt the same way because Randy was blasted out of office.

As Chris Coleman and other voters kept saying, the anger about Kelly’s endorsement wasn’t personal and it certainly wasn’t irrational. It was about Bush’s policies, the moral values those policies implied and what Randy’s endorsement implied. Voters logically connected the dots and in the end, Randy, hon, they just weren’t that into you.

Minneapolis mayor’s race: Whaddya know #2. Voters apparently don’t like being dragged into a campaign over DFL ascension rights. According to the old DFL guard’s order of ascension, Peter McLaughlin was supposed to be anointed mayor after Sharon-Sayles Belton.

Four years ago, everyone in the DFL got the same memo, but the upstart R.T. Rybak ignored it, beat Sharon and knocked off heir- apparent McLaughlin in the process.

So in 2005, it was payback time for Peter and the old guard. Alas, his challenge was basically one long “Bwaaaa! R.T. butted in front of me!” Everything else-all the fear-mongering about crime and the talk of the city falling apart – seemed like background noise in search of a campaign theme. Which was why many ordinary citizens were both baffled and bored.

In the end, voter turnout was 31 percent—on the low side, even for a municipal election. But there was no sense of “ohmgod, we must get to the polls and save the city,” despite McLaughlin’s negative campaign which was so over the top, by the end it was sounding . . . well, almost Republican.

After their loss, McLaughlin supporters bitterly complained about apathy. But honestly, how should voters have reacted to one man’s quest to avenge a breach in the proper DFL ascension to the mayoral throne four years ago?

Yawn. Shrug. Well, yeah. That’s how I felt too.

Honest budgets are the new sexy. Rybak campaigned on having a sound, sustainable no-gimmicks budget. He paid down city debts and presided over tax increases. According to conventional wisdom, this is that path to ruin. But it seemed to go over big in Minneapolis and not just for Rybak.

I live in Ward 13, in the far southwestern corner of the city where DFL- endorsed candidates haven’t won a council race in 12 years. Yet DFL newcomer Betsy Hodges just beat Lisa McDonald, the independent candidate by 64 to 36 percent.

Hodges ran on the platform of open, honest fiscal policy—which doesn’t sound particularly galvanizing. But at end of the campaign, at the only debate between the two candidates, I watched as Hodges talked passionately about a sustainable budget as the ultimate proof of what we value and whether we’re grown-up enough to be serious about it and people seemed riveted. They were nodding. You could almost feel the relief in the room—enough of the dumb accounting shifts, enough of promising everything but paying for nothing. Time to act like grown-ups!

The “T” word is no longer the big taboo. Statewide, 76 percent of the school referendums passed, the highest passage rate since 1999. People all across the state voluntarily raised their taxes to support public schools. Whatever will we tell David Strom?

Alert Lassie! Timmy may be about to fall down the same well as Randy. My other favorite political moment came in late October when I was driving around on a gorgeous fall day, listening to Gov. Tim Pawlenty being interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio. Tim was telling Kerri Miller that he’d stick with Bush no matter what; that running away just because the president’s approval ratings were in this little (temporary) dip would be the “weenie” thing to do.

As a Democrat, all I could say was, Be The Man, Tim! Hug that presidential tar-baby to your chest! You go guy!

But here’s my prediction: In less than a year, when Tim runs for his second term as governor, he’s going to find himself so very busy talking about jobs, jobs, jobs, (not to mention gays, gays, gays) that alas, he and W. won’t be able to get together for anything, not even a quickie little heterosexual hug at the Xcel Center.

But God forbid, it won’t be a weenie thing at all. It will simply be a scheduling thing.

Yes, I’m sure that’s all it will be . . . just a scheduling thing.

Lynnell Mickelsen is a Minneapolis writer.

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