Christmas Arrives For Minnesota Political Parties

Christmas Arrives For Minnesota Political Parties

Ken Martin
Chair, Minnesota DFL

Keith Downey
Chair, Republican Party
of Minnesota

Dear Party Chairmen:

This holiday season would be a good time to reflect upon the gifts that we Minnesota voters have recently conferred upon you. In fact, most of us are surprised that there’s been a paucity of apocalyptic emails begging for money on an almost hourly basis for candidates, many of whom none of us have ever heard of. That may have been the new meaning of the holiday season.

Many of us share to some degree your driving concern about election outcomes. After all, the State of Minnesota is the largest employer in our state, followed by the federal government. The University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are also in the top 10, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The current biennial budget for general fund expenditures is in excess of $38 billion, while the biennial budget for all fund expenditures is in excess of $69 billion; in other words, big bucks. So we all pay attention when the largest employer that spends the largest amount in Minnesota asks for our input (votes) on who should lead the enterprise. And for this Christmas season, the Minnesota voters have turned the Minnesota House of Representatives back to GOP control. This is a hopeful sign for the GOP, because it had been grinched out of state government since the government shutdown in 2012.

But this electoral gift is also less heartening for both of you chairmen. Not only was total voter turnout one of the lowest in recent elections, but it was typified by an exacerbated rural-urban split. With rare exception, legislative districts that touch I-94, I-394 and I-694 or are located inside those freeways are DFL. And with the exception of St. Cloud, all the major urban areas in the state are also exclusively DFL. Suburban districts have stayed solidly DFL. And it’s not just that voters did not show up in droves (in spite of the new ease in casting absentee ballots)—a lot of candidates didn’t show up either.

An analysis by the Secretary of State of the midterm elections indicated that nearly 400 offices sat vacant without a single candidate signed up. Most of these vacancies were for city council seats, mayors or other positions in small towns—the very bedrock of candidate development for higher office. Tim Pawlenty started on a city council, and many officeholders at the state level first served on school boards or planning commissions. The fact that neither of your parties could fill these positions or interest candidates in running is not a gift to the state.

Most holiday gift exchanges feature one surprise or gag gift, and this election was no different. In the main, there were no surprises—the people predicted to win won. And the state House of Representatives reverted to its nonpresidential election year form of going GOP. It was not a surprise that Chairman Martin’s party continued its monopoly on statewide offices. And just like the Christmas tie that gets regifted, Chairman Downey’s explanation for this lack of statewide success was basically a failure to “get out their message.” That regift is currently being peddled by the White House and is generally given to us by every party leader following electoral disappointment. But there was one gag gift that I’m sure you both chuckled at.

The former spokeswoman for Dan Severson who ran (for the second time) for the open Secretary of State’s office publicly lamented that the Republican Party was not more aggressive in attacking Steve Simon. She was particularly contemptuous of the party’s effort because it played entirely “too Minnesota nice.” I can see it now, future negative attacks on Steve Simon: A person dressed up in a scaly, reptilian costume slithers through the grass while a voice whispers in sibilant tones (emphasis on the “S”) “S … Steve S … Simon S … Secretary S … State – it’s time to get the S … SNAKES out of the Secretary of State’s office! Elect Severson.” Otherwise, a pretty normal gift season.

Except to your two political parties: great gift, no third party achieved the 5 percent threshold to be automatically listed on future statewide ballots. This means that one of you will lack the usual third-party excuse for a future major office defeat. It also means for those of us who are taxpayers that some small amount of our taxpayers’ dollars will no longer go to these political parties. The Independence Party can now disappear like the black helicopters that Ross Perot accused of interfering with his daughter’s wedding. Groups and organizations that occasionally like to endorse with a holier-than-thou attitude about the political system will now have to choose between two likely alternatives (you know who you are, Strib).

Finally, you both get the gift that keeps on giving—Obamacare. If the state exchange, MNsure, is more successful than last year and has a better consumer experience, while at the same time moderating premium increases and making subsidies more widely available, merry Xmas, Ken Martin. On the other hand, if the state exchange stumbles as badly this year as it did last year, the premium increases look more like Preferred One and fewer people get accurate subsidies, merry Christmas, Keith Downey.

A merry holiday season to all of us. The campaign season starts in earnest on January 2.

Vance K. Opperman
Friend of the Holiday Season

Vance K. Opperman ( is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.

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