“Why start at the top?” asks Kerry Miller. “You don’t have a lot of academic experience. You really don’t have a lot of business experience. You haven’t traveled the world that much…. Shouldn’t the person who goes to Washington to represent Minnesota in the U.S. Senate have the benefit of some kind of life experience beyond 29?”
You have to give Independence Party U.S. Senate candidate Robert Fitzgerald a lot of credit. For someone who’s two months shy of being legally able to enter the U.S. Senate, the kid’s got a lot of poise. Kerri Miller challenged that poise on MPR’s Midmorning show today, and the kid did just fine.
Fitzgerald is indeed young and inexperienced in politics, though he will be the constitutionally legal age to serve in the Senate by inauguration day should by some miracle he be elected. He has traveled extensively in the U.S., including a 2100-mile solo bicycle trip from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, as well as abroad in Latin America and Europe. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and an MBA. He has run a public TV station and has been a foster parent. That’s damn good for someone his age. But is it good enough to be a U.S. senator? Miller asks.
“The average age in the Senate is 60 years old,” he says. “It doesn’t seem that legislative experience has translated to fiscal responsibility in Washington.”
“Young people are not represented in Washington,” he says. Debt keeps mounting up. The major party candidates don’t discuss the issues. “All we see are these 30-second ‘nastigrams’ on TV.” That’s why he has been traveling the state doing face time with Minnesota voters.
Isn’t that really because you don’t have the money to buy ads? asks Miller.
It’s a matter of principal, he replies. When you accept dollars from PACs and special interests, “your hands are tied when you get to Washington.” Only 4% of Americans give to political campaigns. “The rest of that money is coming in from special interest groups [and] political action committees that have way too much influence on the way legislators are voting in Washington.”
Fitzgerald admits he “can’t stand” fundraising, which is no doubt one reason why only $7,000 has come into his campaign coffers.
If he’s going to represent young people, Miller asks, why aren’t they contributing to his campaign? They don’t have any money, he says, which means, of course, they don’t have any political power. And that’s why he wants to go to Washington.
It’s the catch-22, “Well, duh!” moment of the interview.
Winning and being right are not the same thing
Early in the interview Miller notes, “At least one poll respondent who considers herself an independent voter said she’s leaning towards Klobuchar because she’s convinced Fitzgerald can’t win.”
“At least one” is one of those euphemisms that newspeople use. It translates roughly as “Yeah, this is just one person, but I know and you know there are a whole lot more out there who would say the same thing.” And in this case she’s correct. Independence Party candidates have a tough row to hoe precisely because voters aren’t presented with fair choices. In this state most candidates don’t win by achieving a majority in the election; they only need to outdistance the next highest candidate by a single vote.
Most voters are not always sure about whom they want to win, but they’re damn sure about whom they DON’T want to be elected. Hence, they cast their votes for candidates who are most likely to defeat the politicians they are dead-set against.
This fall, voters in Minneapolis will be able to decide on whether they want to institute instant runoff voting (IRV) in that city. The system will allow citizens not only to vote for their candidate of choice, but also their second and third choices. Such a system will mean that a vote for a candidate who is less well-known or less well-financed than other candidates does not become a wasted vote. It also means that if that candidate does not finish among the top vote-getters, the voter’s second choice is then counted.
This country was founded by men mostly in their twenties, thirties and forties — men with youth and exuberance but little or no political experience. And the system of democracy they set up has lasted for 230 years, the longest-lived in the history of the planet. Yet Fitzgerald’s longshot candidacy and Miller’s choice of questions underscore the fact that age and money have co-opted the process that our Founding Fathers so presciently midwived. No wonder that young people of Fitzgerald’s age, the same ones he is trying to represent, feel little connection to that process.
Yes, the reality is that experience and money do determine elections today. But are they the best and most representative, most democratic criteria? Robert Fitzgerald doesn’t think so.
And judging from the state of the nation this October 5th, he might well be right.