Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. November 16, 2022.

Editorial: Where have all the candidates gone?

Quality contenders are in short supply, and too many Minnesota elections are one-horse races.

Increasingly, Minnesota voters are encountering ballots with too-few options. They’re used to seeing only one candidate in judicial races. Still, there’s a bigger problem with a lack of quality competition — or no competition at all — in a growing number of local contests.

The number of uncontested races has gone up, meaning that the electorate has less say in representation. In many cases, the decisions made by political parties and insiders lead to fewer choices. And some would-be candidates have been scared away by divisiveness and what they see as thankless work.

That’s not good for voters, for candidates, or for governing bodies such as school and county boards, city councils and the Legislature. Elected bodies need members who are more representative of the variety of people that they serve. And they need members with a range of skills, professional backgrounds and abilities to oversee taxpayer dollars and public policy.

Five of nine seats were open in this year’s Minneapolis school board elections, and all went to newcomers with little experience. Of the five, two ran unopposed.

In Ramsey County, both the sheriff and county attorney ran without opposition. And in rural and metro areas, voters in 24 races had just one candidate for a state House or Senate seat. So of the 201 seats in the Legislature, candidates in just under one in eight races were unopposed.

That’s the highest number of uncontested races since 2008 — the last year there were no unopposed legislative candidates. It’s been more typical in the previous two decades to have about five to seven races with only one candidate.

So why is this happening, and can anything be done about it? According to some party leaders and analysts, the nasty, contentious political environment and late legislative redistricting hindered candidate recruitment in House and Senate races. And the window for campaigning was shorter than usual.

Political expert Larry Jacobs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School told a Star Tribune reporter that politics has become an often “horrible process: horrible for the candidates, horrible for their families. It’s gotten more and more brutal.”

Earlier this month, in an interview with an editorial writer, Jacobs said some of that can be changed by the voting public. “Voters need to demand vastly more coverage of public policy issues. We need to place more value on that,” as well as more face-to-face debates and other forums with candidates.

Before the Nov. 8 election, the Star Tribune Editorial Board made a similar case in arguing for higher-quality campaigns. Having more quality candidates willing to run for public office is also critical.

“The polarization in politics generally has made it harder to get people who aren’t (already) involved in politics interested in running,” Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota DFL, told the Star Tribune. “Given how toxic the environment has become, it’s very difficult to convince people to give up a job that pays them more to become a member of the Legislature.”

Constituents can help by toning down their criticism of elected officials, or at least approaching disagreements without anger and abuse. They should encourage and support more well-qualified candidates to step up for public service. And political parties should work harder to field candidates even in districts they believe the other side will win.

The news media also has a role to play by focusing on issues-based political coverage and giving candidates a forum for constructive disagreement. We all can do better — especially given Minnesota’s rich history of civic engagement and good government.

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Mankato Free Press. November 20, 2022.

Editorial: Government: Democrats should build record, avoid overreach

The election victory celebrations in Minnesota DFL circles may include glee and legal THC, but there should also be plenty of doses of reality and fiscal restraint.

The DFL leaders in the House and Senate have razor-thin majorities. While Gov. Tim Walz won by a wider margin of 7.7 percentage points, the quality of the opposition candidate made the choice for voters much easier than thinking about policy positions.

The DFL should view this opportunity as a moment to take measured steps to approve bipartisan policies in some cases (easing voting registration, for example), and yet build a record of accomplishment and problem solving.

There are plenty of places to start. We believe first and foremost, Democrats should put forth a bonding bill. The failure to pass one in the last session left many critical projects idle and more expensive.

Mankato’s wastewater treatment plant is in dire need of a $60 million upgrade, one that would directly benefit regional cities and indirectly help other cities up and down the Minnesota River. Local legislators had lobbied to get half the funding through the bonding bill without success.

Dozens of other projects are critical needs rather than wants. While the bonding bill has often become a negotiating tool for end of session deals, that strategy should be rejected. Waiting will only increase the cost of projects. The Mankato wastewater plant project’s cost increased 30% in just a few months this year.

Keeping property taxes down should also be a priority. Some homeowners have seen double digit increases in property taxes due to wildly rising valuations and declines in the valuation of commercial property. Basic city services, like police and fire protection, have been hit with inflation in wages and equipment. Raising local government aid should be a priority.

A $9 billion to $11 billion surplus is historic, but taxpayers should get some of that back. We would prioritize removing any Minnesota tax from Social Security payments as well as other tax relief.

The deal struck last year between Democrats and Republicans that the GOP reneged upon would be a good starting place. That called for $4 billion in tax relief and $4 billion in spending investment in things like education, with the rest put toward a healthy reserve fund.

Reserves should be higher than they normally would be due to the huge economic risk of pandemics. Experts have said it’s not a matter of if we have another pandemic, it’s a matter of when.

Many small but significant programs were hurt by last year’s stalemate. Mankato’s domestic abuse program CADA will have to go without critically needed additional funding. The group needed the legislative money as funding from the crime victims fund has been flat for eight years.

With skyrocketing caseloads and stagnant funding, CADA and other shelters are left in desperate funding positions and have to rely on voluntary fundraisers.

Democrats and Republicans also failed to pass a comprehensive public safety bill last year that would have boosted public safety funding, put more officers on the streets, increased diversity ranks and otherwise boosted public safety. That compromise bill, or something close to it, should also be a priority for Democrats.

There are areas of a DFL agenda that have less public and bipartisan support and those should be lower on the priority list. Mandated paid family leave is a good idea, but Democrats should consider the concerns of the business community, which worries about implementation and costs.

We hope overreach on hot button topics is avoided. Minnesota abortion laws have stood up to legal challenges and seem secure for the time being, but codifying a right to an abortion seems reasonable given the overwhelming public support for such.

In the end, Democrats have a historic opportunity to pass long held priorities but also govern for the sensible center and approve policies that will benefit and or protect all Minnesotans.

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