POLITICAL JOURNAL First-time Rochester voters get closer look at candidates
A number of Rochester high school and college students are getting ready this year to exercise their right to vote for the first time, and a slew of candidates gathered Monday night at a private home for the chance to woo members of Minnesota's "political future."
The candidates -- including 1st District DFL congressional candidate Steve Andreasen, Sheila Kiscaden, an Independence Party candidate running for state Senate, and Eric Starnes, a Dover DFLer seeking to unseat Republican Rep. Bill Kuisle -- gave their spiels to roughly 45 Mayo High School students and graduates who stood and sat in every nook and cranny of the living room.
Most of the teenagers will be 18 or older by the time the general election rolls around on Nov. 5
Eighteen-year-old Joe Sixta, an organizer of the event and a former Mayo High class president, said it was "really cool" and "neat" to meet the candidates and learn about their interests and issue positions.
Behind the Generation Y label -- or is it Gen-Z? -- lies an intense desire to get involved in the political process from the earliest possible age, and Sixta said he was encouraged by Monday's turnout.
Matt Dinusson, who will turn 18 on Aug. 29, also helped organize the event and said he's "very excited" about the prospect of voting for the first time.
"I finally get a chance to exercise my voting rights and it's given me more of an incentive to be involved," said Dinusson, a recently elected DFL precinct chairman and onetime page for the GOP caucus in the U.S. House.
The group was particularly interested in Andreasen's background as a national security adviser and asked his opinions on a possible war with Iraq and how to assess progress in America's war on terror.
Sixta and Dinusson said the event was successful, and many teenagers walked away with voter registration cards and brochures from candidates of all party colors. But Dinusson expressed one regret.
"We were disappointed that none of the Republicans showed up," Dinusson said. "We wanted a nonpartisan event."
Although its organizers have DFL-leanings, the group had invited a number of Republican candidates, including 1st District Rep. Gil Gutknecht, U.S. Senate candidate Norm Coleman, gubernatorial hopeful Tim Pawlenty, and Carla Nelson, who is running for southern Rochester's House seat.
IP gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny and Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone sent representatives.
A change of heart?
A month ago, Sen. Steve Murphy, a Red Wing DFLer, told me he fully supports Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe in the race for governor. He said Moe would be an "excellent governor" and dubbed him "great for greater Minnesota."
In that same conversation, Murphy described his first encounter years ago with IP gubernatorial candidate Penny, then a DFLer in the Legislature. Murphy had trouble securing a payment due from his GI Bill and left a message with Penny's office. Penny then "called me personally at home," Murphy said.
"I got my check the following week," Murphy said. "I decided then that if anybody would go out of their way for me, I'm going to go out of my way for him -- Tim Penny was a big reason why I'm in this game anyway."
Murphy then joined Penny's re-election campaign and it seems now that old IOUs die hard.
This week, Murphy did a public about-face and told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that he would be supporting Penny for Minnesota's top office, not Moe, even though the latter is Murphy's party-endorsed candidate.
"If push came to shove, and somebody said I had to make a choice, mine would be Tim Penny," Murphy told the newspaper. He added that he would campaign for Moe if called on to do so.
The DFL Party's state chairman, Mike Erlandson, gave his assessment of Murphy's recent move.
"He has a leadership position in the Senate caucus because of Roger Moe," Erlandson said, referring to Murphy's appointment as majority whip and chairman of the agricultural committee. "But (Moe) won't be back in the Senate next year. If (Moe) is in the governor's office, that might be a bit of trouble for Steve."
Erlandson added that despite the breakaway from DFL lines on the gubernatorial race, he still supports Murphy's re-election campaign to Senate District 28.
Erlandson also took some time this week to reflect on the campaign of Andreasen, the DFL'S 1st District congressional candidate.
Erlandson said Andreasen "ran a great campaign down here" to secure the DFL endorsement. But he hinted that Andreasen has since been flying "below the radar" in his efforts to win the seat.
"But I think he's going to come out with a plan soon," Erlandson said. "Right now, if I were running for Congress, I'd be wearing out my shoes and my gas tank would be empty from here to Worthington."
Penny may have taken some lessons from Wellstone, whose campaigns have been synonymous with his green touring bus.
This week, Penny launched his first tour on the "Common Cents Express," a bright orange bus that has begun a statewide journey. He and his campaign staff will encourage citizens along the tour to sign his bus, which has been emblazoned with the four tenets of what Penny and his running mate, Sen. Martha Robertson of Minnetonka, call the "Petition for Common Sense Politics."
Gov. Jesse Ventura was the first to sign the bus Monday.
Sen. Julie Sabo, the DFL Party's endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor, toured Winona State University Thursday and addressed a group of students there. Her topics of choice? The importance of higher education and the political process. The message? Vote on primary day and general election day.
DFL Secretary of State hopeful Buck Humphrey called attention Thursday to an error that resulted in the mailing of erroneous voting cards to thousands of Rochester residents. Humphrey faulted his Republican opponent, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, for the errors and suggested that she knew of potential problems in the system for a year and took no action. Kiffmeyer blamed Olmsted County officials and said they inaccurately entered district information into the state computer system. The "I am rubber, you are glue" campaign season is in full swing.
Carla Nelson, the Republican Party's nominee for House District 30A in southern Rochester, has received the endorsement of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, has received the endorsement of the Minnesota Association of Realtors. Davids is seeking re-election to House District 31B in Houston and Fillmore counties.
Lenora Chu covers state government for the Post-Bulletin.