The Minnesota DFL State Convention endorsed Margaret Anderson Kelliher for Governor, the first woman to receive this vote of confidence. It’s all over now, except for the primary in August — and the complaining.
While there are always a few less-than-fully-gruntled people at the end of this process, there are several main objections to Kelliher that I’ve seen out on the ‘net. In the name of DFL unity, I think it’s best to hit these head-on and move forward as boldly as we can.
A little perspective on this process is important, if only because so many people from outside the USofA read Barataria. We have a tremendously open process for picking our party leaders and standard-bearers going into an election, a process and history that is unique. In the contentious UK elections, for example, the three Parlimentary leaders were chosen by party elders in ways that are quite mysterious even to their biggest backers. Our system of public caucuses followed by conventions, ratified by a general primary, is about as open as things get around the world.
For all the openness, the one truth about Democracy is that you can always complain. I have seen the complaints about Kelliher fall into two main categories:
1) She is not the most progressive standard bearer, and won the endorsement largely because she was backed by party insiders and she was next in line, not necessarily the most qualified.
2) She has a long liberal record that will make her an easy target for the Republicans to skewer, a real liability when voters will be looking for the most centrist candidate.
Obviously, these two arguments can’t both hold. What’s less obvious is that they both have terrible flaws at the heart of them that are very similar.
The first argument cannot be made without completely discounting the role of activism in government, the push and pull that make up the yin and yang of a Democratic Republic. Such an argument is akin to saying that we elect a person to make decisions that affect our lives, checking in only every 4 years to see how its going. This ignores some of the most fascinating periods of true Progressive action, such as when FDR beat out Henry Wallace.
The second argument assumes that the policy choices of a candidate are the most important way that people pick their leaders. Yet there is considerable evidence that voters understand very well that issues come and go but the person who we elect remains for the whole term. A large number of voters are much more concerned with the character of the person they would place in charge. Is this person a fighter? Articulate? Do they understand my life and values? Do they listen?
I’ve heard many people tell me that they often vote for the candidate that they’d most want to sit down and have a beer with, a test that I have to say I agree with generally.
These two arguments both fail because no matter how you look at it, the most important aspects of an electoral leader in our system are the ability to engage, organize, and focus. The popular press may glance away from the horserace long enough to demand that issues be debated, but they’re still awfully far from what matters most in a leader. There is a minimum threshold that has to be met, certainly, but to emphasize matters of policy one way or the other misses the point of the critical leadership skills needed. It also misses how many people make their decision at the polls, and voters are often slyly wise on that score.
The other funny thing about these two arguments is that if you turn them around, the Republicans will have similar issues through their own cycle.
There is one more complaint about Kelliher that needs to be taken head-on, and that is the end of the 2009 Legislative session. After all, if the key test for being a good candidate revolves around character and skills, can we really say that Speaker Kelliher showed that she has what it takes?
A number of things went terribly wrong in 2009, some of which I can’t blame Kelliher for. The DFL caucus in the State House is full of strong personalities that are very hard to organize. The State Senate is led by Larry Pogemiller, who came close to facing an open revolt for his own prickliness but has clearly been unwilling to challenge Governor Patches when unallotment was the issue. Speaker Kelliher’s hand was very weak at the end of the session. If that sounds like an excuse, I’ll understand, but DFL leadership outside of Speaker Kelliher has been a serious problem. I’m not sure at all what else she could have done in this situation.
The endorsement of Margaret Kelliher for Governor of Minnesota was a major milestone. If we want to win the Governor’s race for the first time in a generation, we need to unite behind her. We can always complain, but a perfect candidate that satisfies everyone in a party like the DFL is absolutely impossible. Kelliher has the skills, the empathy, and the focus to be an excellent governor. That’s what matters at this point. Let’s go forward and make it happen!