Historically, Minnesotans forget to visit the polls for the September primaries. Scores of volunteers and activists are trying to prevent that as they frantically canvass campus before the Tuesday vote.
Democratic candidates are fighting for a chance to run for the highly sought-after U.S. House seat in the 5th District in the Nov. 7 general election, and each candidate has tried to reach out to college students with issues such as affordable education and the Iraq war.
Martin Sabo has held the seat representing much of the metro area for 28 years. Immediately after announcing his retirement, hopefuls lined up for a chance to run in his place.
Seven candidates are on the ballot for the Democratic primary. As a traditional Democratic stronghold, this district’s primary might very well determine who sits in Congress this January. As such, policy buffs and political experts are carefully monitoring the race.
Andrew Favorite, Gregg Iverson and Patrick Wiles are three relatively unknown candidates, but four other candidates have run vocal campaigns.
Dozens of University students volunteered their time over the summer and in the first hectic week of school to campaign for candidates Keith Ellison, Mike Erlandson, Paul Ostrow and Ember Reichgott Junge.
Their success, as well as that of the countless campaign volunteers, is about to pay off when one candidate goes on to the general election to face Fine, Independence Party member Tammy Lee and Green Party member Jay Pond.
Keith Ellison lost the endorsement of the Star Tribune to Erlandson, but he got the DFL endorsement. He also had the support of a group of University students Wednesday night.
Ellison stood outside Oak Street Cinema before a screening of Carry It Forward, a documentary about the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. Students gathered around as Ellison greeted each one personally, asking about his or her major.
One student asked whether representatives should vote based on what the constituents want, or if they should follow their consciences. Ellison said he was torn when some members of the Minnesota Legislature pushed an amendment banning gay marriage. He said clergy in his district asked him to support it, but he couldn’t.
“There is no ‘this is just a black movement, this is just a gay movement.’ It’s a human rights movement,” he said.
Ellison grew up in Detroit and attended law school at the University. He said that, despite receiving a fellowship, he had to pay back loans by going into commercial litigation before he could devote himself to public service.
Ellison stressed that student debt prevents many from entering less lucrative public-service careers, and the government needs to double Pell Grants, the Hope Scholarship and stop taxing student loans.
The former Minnesota representative repeated several times to students Wednesday, “Please lead your life inspired.”
As Martin Sabo’s chief of staff for 13 years, Mike Erlandson is not quiet about his belief that he can fill Sabo’s shoes.
“If I didn’t have (Sabo’s) support, I wouldn’t be a candidate,” he said Aug. 31 at a downtown fundraising event at Gluek’s Bar.
Erlandson doesn’t have the endorsement of the DFL, but he said he and his staff have run an efficient campaign nevertheless.
Erlandson grew up in Fridley and attended St. John’s University, where he said he supported himself with two jobs and graduated with “the maximum amount of student loans.”
He said the government must make college affordable for students as tuition goes up faster than wages.
“So many students have to work full time, but need to focus on their education,” Erlandson said.
Despite a staff including former and current University students, Erlandson said, “It’s sad that so few young people pay attention to politics.”
He said he hoped to turn that around by following Sabo’s record to keep tuition down and fund research grants.
Another important issue to Erlandson is the Iraq war, and he said he supports U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., and his plan to pull troops out of the region within nine months and replace them with an international peacekeeping force.
Erica Prosser, a volunteer on the campaign, said she thought Erlandson is the “most progressive candidate,” with experience to boot.
She said he won’t be sent to Congress with “training wheels,” since he knows the ropes from his time in Sabo’s office.
Paul Ostrow, a Minneapolis City Council member for eight years, said he decided to take a stab at Congress after seeing a “failure in Washington” on behalf of local government.
The campaign road hasn’t been easy for Ostrow, whose campaign manager recently resigned for allegedly smearing fellow candidate Keith Ellison. He also is trailing the other candidates in fundraising, but said, “this is not a big-money campaign.”
Instead, Ostrow said he relies on old-fashioned strategies like door-knocking. He has employed up to 12 college students at a time and said they were responsible for knocking on 1,200 doors per night.
“Students really need to be energized to take charge of their future,” said Ostrow, who added that he was the first legislative intern to Martin Sabo, back when Ostrow was a junior at St. Olaf College.
As a congressman, Ostrow said, he would work to increase Pell Grants, reduce rates on student loans and support programs that recruit teachers in economically depressed areas.
He said education is his first priority and that it needs to be improved from an early age to postgraduate education. Graduates not only worry about student loans, he said, but also will have to take on the national deficit and risk losing Social Security benefits.
Those are some big issues facing a city council member, but Ostrow said his experience would only help him in Washington.
“Local politics is a way to serve people in a very personal way,” he said.
Ember Reichgott Junge
Ember Reichgott Junge is the clear leader of fundraising in the race for the 5th District U.S. House seat. Elected to the Minnesota Senate at 29, she ended the session last year serving as assistant majority leader.
Despite running without the DFL-endorsement, Reichgott Junge said she believes she’s attracted a lot of support, and the endorsement is not as meaningful in a primary race. Her endorsements include women’s rights groups, Lavender Magazine (a GLBT publication) and the Fraternal Order of Police.
Education is a major issue for Reichgott Junge, she said, having set specific goals for higher education. She said Pell Grants need to be increased, loans should become more affordable and Congress needs to pass the Dream Act, which would allow some children of immigrants to pay in-state tuition at universities.
Reichgott Junge is vocal about the war in Iraq and said she calls for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. She said she supports pulling out American troops over a year and replacing them with an international peacekeeping force, as well as setting up a congressional committee to oversee American operations in Iraq.
She is vocal on women’s issues such as abortion and fighting sexual discrimination and assault. She has a radio show called She’s Got Something to Say on Air America.
“(One) of my most fun hobbies is debating conservatives on television,” Reichgott Junge said.