Gubernatorial candidates focus on worker issues at AFL-CIO forum


Union members who attended a gubernatorial forum sponsored by the AFL-CIO are of two minds. On the positive side, they have many good choices. And on the negative side, they have many good choices. “They’re all good candidates,” noted Minnesota AFL-CIO Chief of Staff Brad Lehto, who set up the forum. “Any of these candidates are going to be a major improvement over the current governor.”

Eleven announced or potential candidates, all members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, participated in the two-hour forum Thursday at the state AFL-CIO’s political conference.

All of them said they would be proud to have labor support in the 2010 election. Therein lies the rub. Next year, it will have been 24 years since a labor-endorsed candidate was elected as the state’s chief executive. That was DFL Governor Rudy Perpich, who lost in 1990 to Republican Arne Carlson.

Carlson served two terms and was succeeded by Independent Jesse Ventura, who was followed by the current incumbent – Republican Tim Pawlenty – who is not running and is pursuing presidential ambitions. Several Repubilcans have announced their interest in the governorship, but none participated in the AFL-CIO forum.

Considering the enormous clout the governor wields – from vetoing legislation to administering key services and setting the state budget – union members are hungry for a victory, Lehto said.

“We need a candidate that can actually win,” he told the union members gathered for the forum. “It’s important to think about . . . who is going to be most electable in your eyes.”

Laura AskelinDarrell Beaty
Laura Askelin of the Southeast Area Labor Council quizzed candidates on their plans for the economy.Darrell Beaty of Education Minnesota posed a question about job creation in Greater Minnesota.

The candidates answered questions posed by members of the AFL-CIO staff and union members in the audience, with the focus in three areas – jobs, education and health care.

In general, they agreed the state needs to raise more revenue to fund vital services like schools and transportation. They said Minnesota needs to return to a system of progressive taxation that is both transparent and fair. And they cited health care as a major issue for all Minnesotans – and condemned Pawlenty for speaking out in opposition to federal action on health reform.

With the pressure to get behind candidates early – and to raise the massive amounts of money needed to run in today’s election system – it will be difficult for unions to unite in support of one candidate, especially before next spring’s DFL Party convention. But at this point, they’re trying. Earlier in the week, the Communications Workers of America held a “meet and greet” for members to get to know the candidates.

On Oct. 9, AFSCME Council 5 will host the first televised debate between the gubernatorial candidates during the union’s convention at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.

The two-hour debate will be taped live and broadcast Saturday, Oct. 10, from 5-7 p.m. on MY 9 (Northland’s News Channel 9). It will also be rebroadcast on KBJR-TV (Channel 6, the NBC affiliate in Duluth) and on public access channels statewide, the union said.

Selected comments from the Oct. 1, 2009, AFL-CIO gubernatorial forum
(Candidates are listed in alphabetical order)

Tom BakkChris ColemanMark Dayton
State Senator Tom Bakk: “In 2010, the candidate that can connect with workers is going to become the next governor.”St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman: “Labor is my partner in governing the city of St. Paul and labor will continue to be my partner as governor of the state of Minnesota.”Former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton: To fund schools and other services, “we need to raise revenue. Read my lips: Tax the rich.”


Matt EntenzaSusan GaertnerSteve Kelley
Former state Rep. Matt Entenza: “I believe education is the best long-term investment to grow jobs.”Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner: “We need to make the investment in our infrastructure, in our educational system.”Former State Senator Steve Kelley: “We have a structural budget deficit and we need to raise additional revenue . . . in a fair and transparent way.”


Margaret Anderson KelliherJohn MartyTom Rukavina
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher: “Other states are doing better than us . . . we need to be one state in our economic development future.”State Senator John Marty: “We have to refocus our entire economic development system . . . we need single payer universal health care.”State Rep. Tom Rukavina: “I come from the Labor wing of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party and I still believe the only fair tax is a progressive income tax.”


R. T. RybakPaul Thissen
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak: “Those at the upper ends of income, who have made enormous profits in recent years, have to pay a greater share.”State Rep. Paul Thissen: “We need to make sure the good laws we’ve passed, the health and safety and prevailing wage and other labor laws, are enforced.”