Sept. 12 election critical to women candidates

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From Ramsey County Soil and Conservation Board to U.S. Senate, there are primary elections galore throughout the state. The Minnesota Women’s Press looks at the primary races of two strong women candidates, plus an intriguing general election candidate.

Insider, outsider
One woman is a lawyer who left the Minnesota Senate in 2000 after serving 18 years, including a stint as assistant majority leader. The other has run a successful small business and has 16 years of legislative experience in the Minnesota House and Senate, where she currently chairs the Senate Health and Family Security Committee. Neither is endorsed by her party (the DFL) for the office she seeks.

Yet Ember Reichgott Junge is often seen as an insider and a favorite in the race for U.S. Congress from the Fifth District, piling up campaign funds and endorsements, while Becky Lourey is seen as the outsider in the DFL governor’s race, fighting an uphill battle to raise money and be heard.

The Sept. 12 primary election will be decisive in the race for Congress from the Fifth District, which includes Minneapolis and 12 surrounding suburbs. In this heavily Democratic district, a candidate on the DFL side will be overwhelmingly favored to win November’s general election. The DFL-endorsed candidate is State Rep. Keith Ellison; other major candidates running in the primary include Minneapolis Councilmember Paul Ostrow and Mike Erlandson, the longtime chief of staff to retiring Congressman Martin Sabo.

In the DFL gubernatorial primary, State Sen. Becky Lourey faces endorsee Mike Hatch, who was first elected attorney general in 1998-after he defeated Ember Reichgott Junge, the DFL endorsee for that post, in the 1998 primary election.

Obviously, party endorsement doesn’t always mean victory in a primary. But most candidates still seek it vigorously, because along with a certain amount of credibility, the endorsement brings campaign volunteers, cash and access to the party’s coordinated get-out-the-vote efforts, such as the sample ballot.

Candidates who agree to abide by the endorsement usually score points with the party faithful. Lourey sought DFL endorsement but did not promise to exit the race if another candidate received delegates’ approval. Neither did Mike Hatch; only State Sen. Steve Kelley (who is now DFL-endorsed for attorney general) took that vow. In her race, Reichgott Junge said from the start that she would run in the Sept. 12 DFL primary, no matter who was endorsed by her party.

To Lawrence Jacobs, Ph.D., head of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, and a nationally known political commentator, there are two key differences in the Fifth District and gubernatorial primary races. One is the quality of the opponents: Lourey’s is a well-known statewide officeholder, Attorney General Mike Hatch, while Reichgott Junge faces six (all male) opponents who are more obscure. The other distinction is in the universe of voters: Reichgott Junge is running in the state’s most liberal congressional district, while Lourey must attract statewide support from areas with varying political leanings.

Overall, “this could be a breakthrough year for women candidates in Minnesota,” Jacobs said, noting that Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar leads in the U.S. Senate race, and Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum will definitely be joined by a woman from the Sixth District, where DFL-endorsed Patty Wetterling faces Republican State Sen. Michele Bachmann-and quite possibly the Fifth, where Reichgott Junge is “well-positioned.”

‘Remember Ember in September’
DFL primary for Congress, 5th District

Ember Reichgott Junge is getting good press, not just about her candidacy, but about her campaign. The online news service Politics in Minnesota opined on Aug. 2: “Reichgott Junge has had the most impressive campaign of any of the candidates … and should win this campaign if it continues as is.”

Reichgott Junge minces no words about why that is. She is quick to give credit where she thinks it’s due. “If I win this primary,” she said, “it will be because of the early support of the women’s organizations.” Groups like the National Women’s Political Caucus and EMILY’s List believed in her first, she said, and kick-started the momentum she now enjoys.

At a recent State Fair candidate forum, gender didn’t come up until Reichgott Junge mentioned “my life experiences as a woman” in her closing statement. But there is no doubt: Electing pro-choice women is hugely important to her. Reichgott Junge championed that goal while heading the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus after leaving the Legislature, and it’s one of the two main reasons she’s in this race. The second impetus was “totally unexpected”: After she left the Senate, four family members died. “We dealt with issues around home healthcare services, prescription drugs and mental health services,” Reichgott Junge recalled, “and those struggles made universal healthcare a huge priority for me.”

The candidate believes her years of legislative experience, including those as assistant majority leader, will put her on “a leadership track” to get results fast. She also points to her “progressive” voting record on issues such as human rights to answer those who might wonder if she fits the left-leaning district as well as DFL-endorsee Ellison.

Reichgott Junge maintains that a primary is uniquely necessary in this race “because seven weeks was not enough to vet the candidates.” (Incumbent Congressman Martin Sabo announced his retirement unusually late-after the March precinct caucuses, where the candidate selection process normally begins.) “A lot of Democrats have told me the endorsement in this race isn’t very meaningful.”

“There are some who will be with me in the voting booth,” she added, “but they can’t support me publicly-and that’s fine.”

Women differ on the best choice
Although she doesn’t live in the Fifth District, State Rep. Mindy Greiling is among those supporting DFL-endorsed Ellison, calling him “a great feminist.” While she acknowledged some guilt over not backing the woman candidate, Greiling said it’s eased by knowing “we either get the first woman or the first person of color [from the district], and we also need the voices of people of color in Congress.”

After a pause, she reflected, “The ideal would be a woman of color-then we wouldn’t have to choose.”

For Barbara Johnston, however, the choice was easy. The retired sociology professor may be Reichgott Junge’s most ardent supporter-and among her earliest. “I’ve known Ember since she was an 18-year-old student of mine at St. Olaf,” Johnston said. She lauds Reichgott Junge’s legislative accomplishments on domestic abuse and child protection. Though she has a personal relationship with Reichgott Junge, Johnston also feels her former student is the most qualified candidate. “Reichgott Junge could write a bill her first day on the job. Keith Ellison is a nice guy, but he’s in his second term in the [state] House. Let him serve a few terms and then go on to something bigger.”

From insider to outsider:
DFL primary for governor

It was classic Becky Lourey-making connections wherever she goes.

“I just met a woman in the hall,” she said, entering the room for an interview, “who told me her dyed-in-the-wool Republican husband heard my Humphrey Institute talk on the radio and said, ‘I’m voting for her.'”

Indeed, as if to counter any perception of her as the liberal “outsider” in this primary, Lourey stresses her ability to work both within and across party lines. There are hard choices to make, she said, so “we need a leader who works well with others.” (Her primary opponent, Attorney General Mike Hatch, is often criticized for combativeness.) Lourey is optimistic about her chances. Why? “People are hungry for a real discussion of the issues, not just sound bites with no meat,” she said. “I’m offering reality-based ideas on how to get out of the mess we’re in,” such as a fair tax system based on ability to pay. Universal healthcare, quality education, a better transportation system and renewable energy are her other key issues.

While she may not focus on so-called “women’s issues,” Lourey sees running as a woman as a plus. Pointing to the plethora of women candidates in Minnesota this year, Lourey said that “the more women you have running for office, the more likely they’ll win, because it reduces the novelty.” She cited Washington state, where the governor and both U.S. senators are women.

Lack of endorsement hurts Lourey
The lack of party endorsement means not all of Lourey’s admirers are with her this time.

“I have stood with Becky Lourey time and again, and I think the world of her,” said Jackie Stevenson, a Democratic National Committee member and president of the DFL Feminist Caucus. “But I would have advised her to get her message out some other way than through a primary. My heart and mind tell me it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Party loyalty isn’t so important to Claire Wilson, who supported Lourey’s 2002 gubernatorial endorsement bid and was disappointed when the DFL endorsed then-Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe.

“As soon as I heard she was running again, I said, put me to work,” Wilson recalled. Now, Wilson puts others to work as Lourey’s volunteer coordinator, an unpaid post for which she has taken a leave from her job.

On a recent Tuesday night “we had 30 volunteers packed into two rooms, and even though we don’t have unions providing volunteers, we have people door knocking almost every night,” Wilson said. “They feel passionately about Becky Lourey because she lives what she preaches-her life is her message.”

The question remains: Is it a message the voters are hearing? Lourey herself has publicly acknowledged difficulty raising funds. And she told the Minnesota Women’s Press that while Mike Hatch’s refusal to debate her (Hatch maintains that the race is between him and Gov. Pawlenty) has been frustrating, being excluded from events because she’s not endorsed by her party is even more problematic. Thus far the toughest pill to swallow was not being allowed to participate in a campaign forum at Farmfest, a large agricultural trade show.

“I’ve lived on a farm for 30 years and spent 16 years on legislative agriculture committees,” Lourey said.

“[Yet] I sat in the audience, wanting to be up there answering the questions.”

The politicization of Lucy Gerold
From cop to candidate

You can’t say she’s got time on her hands.

Lucy Gerold is a deputy chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, where she oversees investigations, crime lab and licensing/regulatory functions. She’s overseen multi-million-dollar budgets, played key roles in community-based policing and the CODEFOR crime reduction approach, and hammered out labor contracts through the collective bargaining process.

In her spare time, she works out, gardens and hangs out with her many relatives in the area. Oh, yeah, and she just got back from her honeymoon.

So why is she taking an unpaid leave of absence from the MPD-and borrowing against her retirement-to run for state auditor on the Independence Party ticket?

Gerold sees the position as a natural fit. “The auditor is the only statewide office that deals specifically with local government,” she said. “I’ve spent my entire career in local government, and I’ve seen the deteriorating relationship [between local governments and the state].” She believes she can repair that relationship.

Still, when approached by Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson to seek the office, she had to think it over. “It was so antithetical to how I thought about my career-I had always been fiercely nonpolitical,” she said.

Gerold finds campaigning “energizing,” and though she’s seeking a relatively obscure office as a third-party candidate, getting her message out has been “fairly easy.” Although she has no primary opponent, which means she is guaranteed a spot on the November ballot, she’s not letting any grass grow under her feet: Gerold spent each day of the State Fair at her own booth, and then hit the road to southeastern Minnesota to visit about 50 small towns in six days.

With so much ground to cover in a statewide race, did she consider postponing her (out-of-state) honeymoon until after the election?

“We already had put down some money toward the trip,” Gerold said, “but I spent about three hours on the phone every day, making fund-raising calls.”

Ah, politics-the art of compromise.


Just the facts, ma’am
Women elected officials in Minnesota & beyond

• Minnesota women hold 37 percent of the state’s public school board seats, 12 percent of county commissioner seats, and 26 percent of city council seats.

• The number of women in the Minnesota Legislature more than doubled to 63 in the last 20 years.

• In Minnesota, women hold 26 out of 67 seats (39 percent) in the Senate and 37 of 134 seats in the House (28 percent); women make up 31 percent of the Legislature overall.

• Fewer than 60 percent of women legislators in Minnesota are pro-choice.

• No woman of color has ever been elected governor of a U.S. state.

• In Congress, only 59 out of 435 seats (14 percent) in the U.S. House of Representatives are occupied by women.

• In the history of the United States, only 233 of the 11,744 members (2 percent) ever elected to Congress have been women.

• Out of 100 U.S. senators, only 14 are women. Reprinted from “Equality Report,” courtesy of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. www.wfmn.org

Sources: Office on the Economic Status of Women, Minnesota Women’s Consortium, Vote, Run, Lead, and “Closing the Leadership Gap,” by Marie Wilson, president of The White House Project, Penguin Group, 2004.


Your primary handbook:

Who’s eligible?
You can vote if you’re:
• 18 years of age or older;
• a citizen of the United States; and
• a resident of Minnesota (not necessarily at your present address) for 20 days immediately preceding election day.

Minnesota’s primary system is a party system- that means that you must select a party and choose between its candidates. No messing with another team’s lineup. If you know which party you identify with, this is a no-brainer. If you go back and forth, you can take your choice. If there’s a candidate you really want to vote for in November, select her or his party in the primary. Or select the party with a majority of candidates you support.

Who actually does it?
Not as many as you might think, even in a state known for relatively high turnout.

With no major state races on the ballot, Minnesota’s voter turnout on primary election day 2004 was 279,132, or 8 percent-the lowest in over 50 years. This compared to 15 percent in 2002 and 17 percent in 2000. In 1966, primary turnout reached a high of 39 percent.

Why should I?
Your primary vote will have even more weight than your vote in the November general election, when more people will turn out.

You want your party to field its best candidate, right?

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

To find out where you vote, contact your political party headquarters, or go to: pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us/