Year in review: the long road to next year

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2006 was easy. 2007? Not so much.

An election year has opportunities for reporting, breaking news, and fast commentary built in; there’s simply too much news for the traditional media to cover. Thus, the second half of 2006 was a great time for Minnesota Monitor to break into the scene with our own brand of news and analysis on the dozens of competitive races going on around the state.

Minnesota Monitor Editor’s note: As we count down the final days of 2007, we look back at some of Minnesota Monitor’s most interesting or important stories of the past year. Here’s the fifth in this ongoing series.

Then winter arrived, in more ways than one. Once the Tuesday after the first Monday in November had passed, political news started drying up fast. In 2007, one of my main foci was to cover the people who would soon become the names on the ballots set before the voters.

In February, I spoke with entertainer Al Franken, who had just entered the U.S. Senate race against Norm Coleman. In June I spoke with Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (who has since entered the race) and attorney Mike Ciresi, who had already done so. In July it was Bob Olson and Bob Hill, who were running to face off against Michele Bachmann in the Sixth District congressional race (Hill has since withdrawn). In August it was time for a new frontier; I spoke with Republican Brian Davis, who is seeking the GOP nomination to face incumbent Tim Walz in the First District in 2008. Steve Sarvi and Terri Bonoff were next, and most recently I talked with Kevin Dahle, DFL-endorsed candidate for the upcoming special election in Senate District 25.

What’s the goal? By the time major elections roll around, most candidates are saying the same thing over and over again, desperately staying on a time- and poll-tested message built to convince voters that they are the right guy or gal for the job, and their opponent is most assuredly not. If you’re watching with anything more than a passing interest, this repetititve schtick gets, well, a bit bland. Getting up close and personal before the 24/7 phase of the campaign (hopefully) can give readers an idea of who the candidate is and what actually makes him or her tick. If an informed decision is the goal, that’s what I would ask for on Election Day: a (mostly) unfiltered vignette of what the person behind the candidacy is really like.

There’s another positive aspect to interviewing candidates early in the election cycle: it helps the media and voters hold candidates more accountable down the road. In reviewing past interviews for this piece, I noticed one of Brian Davis’s answers on what he thought Tim Walz’s biggest misstep in office has been — he responded with “voting for pork-barrel spending.” However, more recently Congressman Walz published a list of his sponsored earmarks; few if any could be designated “pork-barrel” spending projects. If Davis’ criticism was aimed at the entire spending bill, he would have to blame Republican leaders in previous Congresses long before going after the current Democratic leadership, which has lowered earmark spending and opened up the legislative process to considerable public scrutiny. These are the kinds of things of which candidates in the modern political game need to be aware — everything you say is on the permanent record. The Google Cache and the Wayback Machine remember everything.

The jury may still be out on whether a candidate’s favorite ice cream flavor is significant, however.

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