Follow Mike Hatch around to public events and union meetings and you begin to hear the same stories — stories about families whose college age students are graduating with mountains of debt, stories about seniors battling insurance companies to obtain needed health care, stories about workers treated as independent contractors without adequate pay, benefits, training and safety equipment.
“We can do better as a state,” insists Hatch, the AFL-CIO endorsed candidate for governor. “There’s so much work we have to do in Minnesota.… We’ve got to change this state around.”
Hatch won the endorsement of the DFL Party at its state convention June 10. He faces a DFL primary election challenge, however, from State Senator Becky Lourey. The primary election will be Tuesday, September 12.
Hatch twice has been elected Minnesota attorney general, the lead vote-getter on the DFL ticket who has run ahead of the party’s presidential candidates in the northern Twin Cities suburbs, where statewide races have been won or lost in recent years.
Hatch offers a sharp critique of Governor Tim Pawlenty’s policies and lays out a contrast between Pawlenty’s record of papering over state problems with gimmicks and Hatch’s no-nonsense, no-prisoners approach to the state’s needs.
In this campaign year, Hatch charges Pawlenty with practicing “fox-hole religion” by issuing a flurry of proposals regarding higher education, prescription drugs, and other issues in an attempt to run from his record of the past four years.
In the case of higher education, Hatch relates how — like Pawlenty — recent state governors all came from modest means but — unlike Pawlenty — all understood the importance of providing strong support to state colleges and universities. “All used the education system to work their way up the economic ladder,” Hatch notes.
Previous governors — Republicans Elmer Andersen and Arne Carlson, DFLers Wendell Anderson and Rudy Perpich — “stood as sentries to guarantee that ladder to everyone,” Hatch says.
Pawlenty, he continues, climbed the ladder — and then pulled it up after him.
Hatch tells the story of a Local 49er family whose daughter graduated from a state college with $50,000 in debt into a job with no health care.
“What kind of a governor would preside over a 50 percent increase in tuition?” Hatch asks indignantly.
“When I’m governor, I guarantee not one child will be able to use finances as an excuse not to go to college,” Hatch says, a line that brought him a standing ovation at the Minnesota AFL-CIO state convention.
Turning to health care, Hatch draws on his years of work to make insurance companies and the state’s giant HMOs more accountable to the working families and seniors who pay escalating health care premiums but must fight for the care they need.
“I’ve been working on health care for 20 years,” Hatch says. “I guarantee you, if I’m elected governor, we’re going to have universal health care and we’re going to contain the costs.”
“We can get [universal health care] within the dollars we’re now spending,” Hatch claims. “We can cut costs and expand health care.”
In contrast, Pawlenty’s response to the health care crisis: to cut 30,000 working poor from the state’s Minnesota CARE insurance program.
“Transportation — what a joke,” Hatch charges. Governor Pawlenty vetoed a bi-partisan transportation bill and now the state is losing millions of federal dollars by not initiating road projects. Also, in the case of the Crosstown Highway Commons project, the state resorted to asking contractors to front funds the state could not provide. Not one contractor submitted a bid.
“The state can make money off the construction of a road,” Hatch contends, because of the other economic activity generated by road construction.
Hatch talks about visiting the site of the Whitney Condominiums project, where the Building Trades’ Construction Organizing Taskforce has documented workers being paid in cash and working in unsafe conditions without proper training.
“It’s time the labor laws in this state are enforced,” Hatch says, promising to appoint a Commissioner of Labor to vigorously pursue labor law abuses.
The problem, Hatch says, is that “the people now in state government don’t believe in it.”
Hatch says he wants to do more to address a broad range of state issues but as attorney general he only gets to play two keys on the piano. “I want to become governor because you get 88 keys on the piano to play,” he says.
Referring to a reputation for sparring with the state’s largest corporations as former state commerce commissioner and now attorney general, Hatch jokes, “I’ve got sharp elbows. I get in fights a lot.”
This story includes reporting about Mike Hatch’s remarks to union members this summer at the Minnesota AFL-CIO convention and meetings of IBEW Local 292 and UFCW Local 653.