Where the wild things are in 64B

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The Highland area of St Paul, district 64B, held its forum for the state house seat opened up by Michael Paymar’s retirement. Six possible candidates are going for the DFL endorsement: Greta Bergstrom, Melanie McMahon, Gloria Zaiger, Dave Pinto, Matt Freeman, and Beth Fraser.

Unaccountably, a small room was picked for the forum so there were about 4 rows of standing people, with people also lining the sides. If people left because of standing room only, then they should be told that a video will be posted.

Every candidate was much better in their ability to answer questions from just a month ago. Every candidate said at least one thing that impressed me, even though I cannot vote in this election. So there are some really good choices for 64B people.

Since the DFL candidates are basically the same on issues, how does one distinguish between the candidates?

One can look at experience and accomplishments. Three candidates stand out in the amount of experience and the depth of accomplishments. Dave Pinto is a prosecutor with a long history of working for victim rights. Greta Bergstrom led the Take Action messaging on the constitutional amendments. Beth Frazer has 17 years experience that includes getting a corporate responsibility amendment. However, one can also argue that experience is merely an indicator of age, and that young people should get a break. This forum was a chance for younger people to show leadership.

This forum was great in that it asked the more interesting questions instead of standard questions about issues. We can predict where DFL candidates stand on issues. Kudos to this forum for asking questions of character and leadership.

The most amusing question of the night was “What is your favorite living Republican and why?” Candidates kept trying to name dead Republicans, causing great laughter. It was also a good example of poise under pressure.

The missed opportunity of the night was the question asking about whether one would vote the district’s interests or the state’s interests first. Basically everyone said vote the state’s interests first and that Highland Park would have the same interests as the state. I would have answered differently. I would have said that I would vote for the state’s interest and that I would also ask for a future favor for my district. Some day refurbishing the Ford Plant area is going to require some state funding, so a smart representative would be banking favors for that future vote.

Now I was taking notes standing up, so please forgive me if I miss something. For complete info, pleased do check the video when it comes out.

Progressive means standing up for values. Given my notetaking, I didn’t get exact wording. The relevant questions were:

1) “Do you compromise? If so, why and when do you compromise?”.

2) “When do you break a promise?”

The answers split the candidates into two groups: the compromisers/collaborators group and the true-to-core-principles group. Everyone said there were times to compromise and that included letting the constituents know the reasons why.

Answers more on the side of compromise and collaboration:

Gloria Zaiger loved compromise. It avoids gridlock. Given that her focus is environmental issues, one wonders how this is possible. A compromise on the standards for Polymet pollution means that we would still have to build expensive filtration for drinking water and brewing industries for more than 500 years. Gloria Zaiger answered something like being a strong advocate was the promise, not a specific goal.

Matt Freeman uses the word “collaboration” because apparently that leaves off the negative connotations of the word “compromise”. Matt Freeman was rather revealing in that he said that he likes to avoid promises by just promising to be a strong advocate and promising to work hard.

Answers more on the side of being true to principles and vision:

Beth Fraser said stay true to principles. Fraser would act in the best interests of the state because that is what progressive means. She was rather eloquent.

Dave Pinto said that a person is elected to exercise judgement and then be held accountable for those judgements. Decisions have to be made looking at the long term value of will this help our future and will this help our children.

Greta Bergstrom said that frequently we are set up with false choices presented as compromises. Bergstrom went to the heart of the question when she promised to listen to the people of 64B and not the many lobbyists that come to every legislator’s office. Bergstrom would not compromise values. She would change her mind when her district would change its mind.

Melanie McMahon said that she would stay true to principles. McMahon said that making law means trying to get as much as you can, even though that ranges from 2% to 98%. McMahon made good points that one compromises on budgets to avoid shutdown, but policy decisions are different. McMahon said that to be effective in politics, one’s word had to mean something so one could be counted on.

The question that made everyone shine was the oversight question asking what investigation each candidate would like to do:

* Melanie McMahon – review every budget line item and every program for effectiveness

* Dave Pinto – review all expenditures for effectiveness, review all taxes for purpose, cap and sunset provisions

* Greta Bergstrom – review all large tax breaks for corporations and large incomes. We would have enough revenue if we examined and reviewed our tax breaks.

* Matt Freeman – review the influence of money in elections. Those with the most money should not have the loudest voice.

* Gloria Zaiger – review the Polymet and Stadium paperwork rigorously

* Beth Fraser – review money in politics and review the technology of surveillance being used to invade our privacy

A representative must focus to be effective. So a number of questions drilled to what is the core focus of each candidate like asking about committee choices. Based on the answers, here is my judgement. For your own judgement, you could review the video:

Beth Fraser – social justice, elections, accountability

Melanie McMahon – education, property taxes, transportation

Dave Pinto – education, victims of violence-public safety, finance

Greta Bergstrom – health, finance, elections, taxes

Matt Freeman – education, minimum wage, environment, agriculture

Gloria Zaiger – environment, agriculture, education

A fun and rather revealing question was what book would you have the whole legislature read:

Matt Freeman – Where the Wild Things Are

Gloria Zaiger – 1984 and Animal Farm

Beth Fraser – All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Melanie McMahon – Nurture Shock

Dave Pinto – To Kill a Mocking Bird

Greta Bergstrom – Last Child in the Woods

I said that I found something good in every candidate. I find that this is the most popular list that never gets me in trouble. Here is the best of the night list:

* Melanie McMahon said the most savvy statements about actually working in the legislature like one has to compromise on budget but not on policy issues. She also said one has to be known for keeping promises to be effective.

* Matt Freeman spoke eloquently of influence of money in our politics. Indeed he seems to have focussed on the key source of our political problems.

* Dave Pinto said our basic value is to “take care of each other”.

* Greta Bergstrom makes promises and she has delivered. She promised to alway put the people of 64B over lobbyists.

* Gloria Zaiger speaks on my most important issue and that is protecting our drinking water from Polymet mining.

* Beth Fraser speaks about reframing our discussion about good government in a powerful way, which to me, is the most important focus.

I also have a talent for picking on every candidate. I find that this always gets me in trouble. But you know that readers love this part. Here is the “could have been done better” list:

* Gloria Zaiger – “ditto” – if something is important, you should have your own eloquent words

* Beth Fraser – “17 years” – which if you don’t list the actual accomplishments then this sounds rather empty

* Melanie McMahon – “education champion” – every DFLer is for education, isn’t there something else?

* Dave Pinto – “healthy vibrant…” – repeating the same words on every question makes it seem like marketing not like a true statement

* Greta Bergstrom – “who decides” – I don’t want a decider, I want a leader

* Matt Freeman – “avoid promises” – who wants to trust a person who will not even promise to do great things

In mainstream reporting, one hides one’s bias. I don’t believe in that. I admit that I see three top candidates in this order for demonstrated leadership and trust:

Greta Bergstrom – because Bergstrom has a proven ability to persuade statewide including the ability to persuade people on the other side

Beth Fraser – because good government is the cause, and everyone of Fraser’s accomplishments speaks to building better government while taking on corporate interests

Dave Pinto – because I always know where his heart is at and I trust him 100%

In my discussions with others, it is clear that opinions are not yet settled. Many people are doing multiple rankings because of the expectation of candidates having to drop out. So what happens now and at the convention is very important. I trust the people of 64B to make a wise choice.

Special Credit goes to Matt Freeman for the listing the book “Where the Wild Things Are” so I could use that as a theme here.