After the third ballot among delegates at the DFL state convention in Rochester a few months ago, Becky Lourey, running mate Tim Baylor and their spouses went for a serious stroll along the Zumbro River just outside the Rochester Civic Center.
Campaign staffers peered out the windows of their temporary headquarters, trying to figure out how the conversation was going.
Lourey trailed both Mike Hatch (43.3 percent) and Steve Kelley (29.6 percent) to her 26.9 percent after the third ballot. Would the Lourey/Baylor ticket simply disintegrate? Lourey had already more than hinted at a primary run if she didn’t get the endorsement, as had Mike Hatch. Lourey returned to the Civic Center and said, “I am going to see you seriously in September.” Hatch would go on to win the endorsement after many contentious ballots against Kelley.
Lourey said the conversation along the river was important and powerful. “We were talking about what was best for the state,” she said. “We talked a lot about who would be most electable in November.” She didn’t seem surprised at the “drama factor” in the Hatch-Entenza squabble this summer or in the resulting shift in DFL energy and resources that the squabble inevitably brought about. “Because it’s Mike,” Lourey said.
Hatch and Lourey have notable style differences, as well as differing visions for the state. “There is a different thing that people look for in their attorney general than in their governor,” Lourey said while being interviewed at the State Fair on Sunday. Lourey strongly believes that her candidacy provides the best contrast to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and therefore, she’s the better DFL candidate to face off against him in November. One of her fliers highlights this contrast by inserting one of Pawlenty’s quotes next to one of her own.
Pawlenty’s statement at the Republican State Convention in June: “Now I know I may not be in some of your wildest dreams, but I can tell you what your worst nightmare is, it’s one of the big spendin’, tax raisin’, abortion promotin’, gay marriage embracin’, more- welfare-without-accountability lovin’, school-reform resistin’, illegal-immigration supportin’ Democrats for governor.”
Next to Pawlenty’s statement is Lourey’s: “I believe in the equal rights of all Minnesotans—regardless of their sexual orientation. For me, this is not just a political issue but a deeply personal issue. One of my children is gay and in a committed relationship. I have been fighting for the civil rights of GLBT for over 30 years. As governor, I will never back down from my commitment to the civil and human rights of all Minnesotans.”
Last year, Lourey was speaking at a Minnesota event around the same time as Cindy Sheehan and others were at Camp Casey outside President Bush’s ranch protesting the war. She announced to the crowd, “What am I doing here? I should be defending Cindy Sheehan’s right to free speech.” Lourey said people came up to her and said, “You should go.” She did go, and ever since then, Lourey has solidified her position as a strong state and national anti-Iraq war voice. One of Lourey’s sons, Matt, was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed in a helicopter crash just north of Baghdad. Family members had tried to talk Matt out of going back to Iraq, but Lourey said he had a strong sense of responsibility. While Matt prepared for the trip back, Lourey rallied against President Bush. “I don’t want any more chicken hawks making these decisions, lying to us about the reason,” she told the Washington Post last summer.
Lourey sees a strong link between the Iraq War and public policy. “There’s a void of leadership at the national level … States are suffering. People are suffering.” According to the Minnesota Budget Project, which is funded by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, $40 billion in overall federal cuts to state aid is expected from 2006 to 2010.
She went head-to-head with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a National Conference of State Legislatures a few years ago, calling him on the no-bid contracts Halliburton was getting in Iraq. Of the experience, Lourey said it “felt like I was beating my fist into a tree.”
A few weeks ago, Lourey was flanked by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Rep. Karen Clark, Women Against Military Madness founder Polly Mann and others when she announced her Minnesota Peace Initiative. “The Minnesota Peace Initiative rejects Washington politics and the claim that foreign policy is the exclusive domain of the President and Congress. It is time to step forward in our neighborhoods and in coalition among the states to move our foreign policy toward a peace strategy. At the same time, we must do more to help returning soldiers and their families.”
Components of the plan include demanding that the “compromised mission of the National Guard return to its appropriate state role, keeping the peace here and responding to emergencies within our state borders. The governor is commander-in-chief of the Minnesota National Guard. Our governor should join in a coalition of governors who will step up and challenge the improper, over-extended use of state militia.” Lourey said governors in Pennsylvania, Montana and Arkansas have showed interest in similar ideas.
On a recent local weekend television news interview, former Gov. Wendell Anderson expressed support for Lourey’s ideas. “The National Guard has always been considered the home guard,” Anderson said.
On the Zumbro River walk, Lourey and Baylor also talked about health care and education concerns in Minnesota. “We talked about the need for leadership in health care, and achieving universal coverage,” she said. “Education was one of the topics we discussed during our walk, with an emphasis on closing the achievement gap.” According to a recent Education Week magazine analysis, fewer than half of Minnesota’s black students –44 percent—graduated from high school in 2003. Only six states post lower graduation rates for black students, though Minnesota ranks eighth in the nation in overall graduation rates.
Lourey co-authored the MinnesotaCare plan in 1992, and has developed a plan to provide access to all who need health care by 2010, and has criticized Mike Hatch for touting “half-baked” health care reform plans, according to a Star Tribune report two weeks ago.
In the 2002 DFL primary election race for governor, Roger Moe and Ole Savior faced off. Moe received 199,103 votes, and Savior got 25,135 votes. According to secretary of state statistics, overall voter turnout for the 2002 primary was 18.5 percent.
In this year’s primary on Sept. 12, Lourey campaign staffers said they expect higher turnout in Congressional District 5 (which includes Minneapolis) and District 8 (Lourey’s home district), which they hope will translate into more votes for Lourey. Primary contests for Congress in both those districts will fuel those higher vote totals, said Jim Robins, Lourey’s press secretary. Voters with passion will turn out on Sept. 12, and “our voters are passionate,” he said.
Voter turnout for the 2004 primary election was a dismal 6.7 percent (or 250,561 voters) overall, which was attributed to the lack of major state races on the ballot that year. This compares with a 16.9 percent (or 602,690 voters) in 2000, which was a presidential election year primary, as well as a U.S. Senate primary.
Peace First!ers made a strong showing (20+ percent) at the DFL State Convention, and seemed to be primarily strong in the Twin Cities. That group would also include a large portion of Congressional District 4, where Lourey could also pick up a high number of votes.
Recent polls that pit Hatch against Pawlenty have varied widely. The Rasmussen poll shows Pawlenty ten points ahead of Hatch among likely voters, and a Wall Street Journal poll shows Hatch three points ahead of Pawlenty. Identifying those likely voters will be a challenge, since turnout usually falls below 25 percent of eligible registered voters. Pundits who try to predict the vagaries of state politics this election season could be cruising a hazardous course.
Lourey points to the buzz in a Star Tribune article two weeks ago—which said she was “best positioned to score an upset” in primary gubernatorial contests this year – as an example of the growing momentum against opponent Mike Hatch. On Sunday, surrounded by food and trinket booths and streams of people at the State Fair, Lourey said “I think we’re going to win.”