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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

June 11, 2018

Post Bulletin, June 6

Primaries temper the excesses of conventions

What’s the point of political party conventions?

It’s a reasonable question when candidates ignore the major business of the conventions — the endorsements — and just move on to the primary. That’s happening this year in the race for governor for both major parties.

Sure, there are the after-parties at the conventions, the enticing array of food trucks in places such as Rochester, where the DFL convention was held last weekend, and the platform-building. And some of the convention-endorsed candidates manage to avoid primary battles.

Conventions have value for those who are there, and for gauging the direction of political parties. But convention endorsements don’t matter like they once did.

On the DFL side, three-term incumbent Attorney General Lori Swanson failed to clear the 60-percent hurdle for endorsement on the first ballot and promptly dropped out. Minneapolis attorney and party activist Matt Pelikan received the endorsement, and Swanson announced she’ll run for governor instead, with outgoing 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan as her running mate.

St. Paul Rep. Erin Murphy won the endorsement for governor, but she’ll face Swanson, 1st District Congressman Tim Walz and maybe others in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary.

The intraparty campaign could be a bruiser, which would help Republicans. But at their convention in Duluth last weekend, the most formidable candidate for governor, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, didn’t even show up. Delegates endorsed Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, but he’ll have to get by Pawlenty in the August primary.

And then there’s the donnybrook that exploded Tuesday on the DFL side for attorney general. After the convention’s final gavel but before the filing deadline at 5 p.m. Tuesday, 5th District Congressman Keith Ellison filed for the office, as did former Attorney General Mike Hatch and Brooklyn Center Rep. Debra Hilstrom. (Update: Hatch later said he was dropping out.)

Ellison’s move triggered first-term state Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American elected to the Legislature, to file for his congressional seat.

With much less drama, Republicans endorsed state Sen. Karin Housley to take on appointed DFL Sen. Tina Smith, the former Destination Medical Center Corp. board chair, and state Rep. Jim Newberger won the thankless endorsement to take on heavily favored incumbent Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Smith faces a primary challenge by Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor and well-known CNN political pundit.

Some would say it’s a good thing that conventions don’t just rubber-stamp the choices of party bosses. In fact, it’s been decades since true “bosses” called the shots. The conventions are more often controlled by hardcore activists now, and they’re pushing candidates further to the left and right.

Swanson and Walz, for example, were considered anathema by some DFL delegates because of their moderate histories on gun control and NRA endorsements.

Conventions are for the party’s true believers, and their views are by necessity more provocative, aimed at energizing the base. Primary elections are about connecting with a more representative electorate. Voters can do their parties a favor on Aug. 14 by choosing candidates who can appeal to voters beyond their base and who show a genuine willingness to work across the aisle to govern.

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St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 6

Appreciating our ports — and Minnesota’s investment in them

It’s good to find an issue that can bridge both partisan and regional divides at the Capitol.

Support for upgrading vital port infrastructure around the state is rightly among such issues — and it matters here in St. Paul, the northernmost port for commerce on one of the world’s great rivers.

The bonding bill signed last week by Gov. Mark Dayton includes $5.2 million for a Ports Development Program advocated by the Minnesota Ports Association, which represents shipping operations on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Red Wing and Winona and on Lake Superior in Duluth.

“We have support on both sides of the aisle and from rural and urban legislators,” Kathryn Sarnecki of the St. Paul Port Authority told us. The agency owns and manages four St. Paul riverfront terminals, leasing property to about 30 businesses with about 1,000 employees.

In a video last week — https://is.gd/s8GCdh — she called the funds “a huge win for ports across the state.”

The advocacy effort, Sarnecki told us, is an opportunity to “let folks know about the environmental and economic benefits” of the state’s waterway shipping system, “what that means for our economy” and how it benefits people across Minnesota.

The industry “doesn’t just affect the cities where the ports are,” Sarnecki told us, noting benefits to agriculture statewide that include connecting farmers to world markets.

Grain typically is the No. 1 commodity moving southbound from St. Paul, while fertilizer for the farm fields that produced it is on the top-tonnage list among northbound products.

The shipping industry also touts its efficiency and environmental friendliness in keeping commodities off rail and road: One barge is the equivalent of 16 rail cars or 70 trucks, according to the National Waterways Foundation.

Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, ranking Democrat on the House Capital Investment Committee, emphasizes the ports’ impact. “People don’t often understand that waterways — the river particularly — are absolutely a part of our transportation system, one mode among many,” she told us.

Thriving shipping also contributes to a healthy, competitive economy, notes Hausman, who credits port operators — in particular the St. Paul Port Authority — for “very fine leadership that is always anticipating the need for maintenance.”

The port development funds from state bonding — borrowing — are administered by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and our Port Authority will be applying for a share, Sarnecki told us. Funds likely would go toward one of two key projects: upgrades at its Red Rock terminal near Pig’s Eye Lake or Southport terminal near the St. Paul Downtown Airport.

Activity on the river this spring in St. Paul started about a month late after our long, cold winter.

As a result, “we see a huge push in our terminals,” Sarnecki said, with folks “working longer days and longer hours to try and catch up and meet the demand of the market.”

As we’ve noted, the view from our office here on the West Side across from downtown gives us a daily appreciation for the river that has helped power St. Paul’s economic engine since its earliest days. It’s good to see a new shipping season underway — and leadership that will help secure its operations for many more.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 6

Why Minnesota should move its primary election to June

Too much time and too many resources are spent on intraparty fights.

Minnesotans who have long said they’d welcome more choices in primary elections have been granted their wish. By the time the candidate filing period closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, a spate of multicandidate primary contests unimagined only a few days earlier had plopped onto the Aug. 14 primary ballot.

Many can be traced to DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson’s abrupt decision to leave that office after three terms to run for governor. When Swanson opted to challenge DFL endorsee Erin Murphy, would-be candidates for attorney general similarly felt no need to honor the party’s endorsement of DFLer Matt Pelikan. When U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison joined the attorney general race, a mad dash brought eight DFLers into nomination contests for Ellison’s 5th District seat — which in turn made dominoes fall in several state House races.

By midday Tuesday, the Secretary of State’s elections desk had acquired a party atmosphere (complete with popcorn courtesy of Secretary of State Steve Simon) as newcomers and old political hands in both parties arrived to sign candidacy papers. The ballot lineups they created could still change. Candidates have until 5 p.m. Thursday to withdraw.

What isn’t likely to change is this take on Tuesday’s land rush: Primaries are now rapidly overtaking endorsing conventions as Minnesota’s preferred means for settling party nomination contests. Recognition of that reality should lead to a change in the political calendar long advocated by the Editorial Board: The primary election should move from August to June.

An earlier primary would not prevent a multicandidate scramble. But it would not let intraparty tussles such as the ones Minnesotans will see in the next 10 weeks steal resources and focus from the year’s main political event, the general election. June endorsing conventions followed by August primaries require candidates to spend too much time addressing their own party loyalists, not the broader electorate. That may enhance the clout of party insiders. But it inhibits bipartisanship among elected officials, and that inhibition is getting in the way of governance.

June primary bills got nowhere — again — at the 2018 Legislature. But House sponsor Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, said Tuesday she’s eager to try again in 2019. This year’s plethora of primaries should help make her case.

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