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Chapter Nineteen

 

The Election Results, Some Fall out, and a Happy Ending to the Year

What happened? What does it mean?

Back at home, I went straight to the Secretary of State’s website to check the latest election results. My share of the vote was around 7 percent. In the following days, additional votes trickled in for all the candidates. The final result for the 5th congressional district race at this time is:

candidate party
number of votes
percent of total
       
Keith Ellison DFL
228,776
70.88%
Barb Davis White Republican
71,020
22.00%
Bill McGaughey Independence
22,318
6.92%
write ins  
633
0.20%


Well, the campaign was a success by the criteria that I had set - 3,500 votes. I had received more than six times that number of votes. This was my best election result ever. To keep things in perspective, however, I had received less than a third of the votes that Barb Davis White received; and she had received less than a third of the votes that Keith Ellison got. Mine was a third-party candidacy, after all.

Another way of measuring the result - more favorable to me - was “bang for the buck”. (I’m sure the Star Tribune hates this kind of measurement.) Keith Ellison had raised $1.5 million for his campaign, though he spent much of that for other purposes. Barb Davis White had raised $43,000. I had raised $175 from other people and had spent between $500 and $1,000. Looking at the race that way, I did quite well. My wife, in fact, complimented me for that achievement. Saving money was important to her, too.

Being still on Keith Ellison’s email list, I received an amusing message a week after the election. The header read: “Your hard work brought victory.” Yes, it had, depending on what the Congressman meant. “Change has come to America ... and we all helped make it happen.” I was hearing the same thing on the Internet from many different politicians. I made it happen.

It was a good question, though, how my “work” had contributed to the election result. I did an analysis of my percentage of the vote by precinct using data from the Secretary of State’s website. The results for me were markedly better in the suburbs than in the city of Minneapolis. Suburban voters, who comprised 39 percent of the total voters in the 5th district, gave me 8.24 percent of the vote compared with 6.00 percent for Minneapolis voters.

Among areas, the small town of Hilltop was tops with 15.6 percent of the vote. Northern suburbs such as Columbia Heights, Crystal, Fridley, and Spring Lake Park gave me 10 percent. Ward 1, with 8.11 percent of the vote, was my best ward in Minneapolis; it bordered Columbia Heights. Ward 12, on the southern edge of the city, was my second best. My worst vote-getting area was my own ward in Minneapolis, Ward 5, where I received 4.06 percent of the vote. My other bad areas were also in Minneapolis: Ward 2 with 4.73 percent of the vote; Ward 8 with 4.74 percent of the vote; and Ward 6 with 5.35 percent of the vote. My overall average for the district was 6.92 percent of the total vote.

How could I interpret these results in terms of my campaign effort? The fact that I had performed worst in the area in which I live could mean that the people who knew me best voted against me. However, the fact that Keith Ellison also lived there and had represented the area in the state legislature for two terms could also mean that it was a pro-Ellison vote. North Minneapolis was heavily populated by minorities. Generally, I did worse in the inner-city parts of Minneapolis, both on the north and south sides. Was that because I was an inner-city landlord or was it simply because voters there were more likely to vote DFL? It was anyone’s guess.

Why, on the other hand, did I do comparatively well in the northern suburbs? In the case of Crystal and Columbia Heights, it may have been, in part, due to the fact that I had actively campaigned in their commercial strips. On the other hand, I did no campaigning in Fridley or Spring Lake Park. The cable show produced in Blaine by North Cable TV may have had a positive impact, as well as Jim Justesen’s cable show.

I suspect, however, that my vote performance in those northern areas had less to do with my own campaigning than with the fact that we were getting into an area that tends to favor Independence Party candidates. The sixth Congressional district, just north of the Twin Cities, is traditionally the best one for our candidates. I also suspect that I was riding Dean Barkley’s coat tails. Thanks to news coverage, the public was well aware of his campaign. Hardly anyone knew of mine.

Regarding some of the other Congressional races, the top Independence Party candidate in terms of vote percentage was David Dillon in the 3rd district. His 38,970 votes were 10.56 percent of the total. Bob Anderson, listed on the ballot as the Independence Party candidate in the 6th district, received 40,663 votes - 1,700 more votes than Dillon - but his percentage of the total in that district was only 10.04 percent. The Independence Party candidate in the 1st district, Gregory Mikkelsen, lagged behind in both respects. He had 14,904 votes, or 4.48 percent of the total. As previously noted, it was a reversal of the order seen in the September primary.

The story in these races was how the Independence Party candidacy might have affected the election result. In my case, of course, Keith Ellison was so far ahead that my campaign made little difference. The same was true in the 1st district, where the DFL incumbent Tim Walz beat his Republican opponent by a two-to-one margin. This gap was much larger than Mikkelsen’s vote. In the 3rd district, David Dillon’s candidacy might have made a difference if the DFL candidate who lost, Ashwin Madia, picked up most of his vote. But that was unlikely. Erik Paulsen, the Republican who won, beat Madia by 28,000 votes and Dillon’s vote total was 39,000.

In the 6th district, however, Bob Anderson’s Independence Party candidacy clearly made a difference. He won 40,643 votes and Michele Bachmann’s margin of victory over Elwyn Tinklenberg was only around 12,000 votes. If Anderson had not been in the race, most of his votes might have gone to Tinklenberg because he had been Commissioner of Transportation in the Ventura administration. In fact, the Independence Party had endorsed Tinklenberg rather than Anderson in the 2008 race. The party label assigned candidates on the ballot did not indicate that fact.

Michele Bachmann had received national attention because of remarks that she had made about Barack Obama to Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Obama, she said, had associated with terrorists, meaning Bill Ayers. Many, including former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, interpreted this as an example of gutter politics. He endorsed Obama not long afterwards. Bachmann took heat for this remark and for her conservative stance generally. She was a particular target of disapproval for gays and lesbians. Donations to Tinklenberg’s campaign soared, and Bachmann’s lead in the polls dwindled. However, Bachmann beat Tinklenberg in the end. Many blamed the third-party candidate, Bob Anderson.

So we come to Dean Barkley and the race for U.S. Senate. Barkley received 437,404 votes in his statewide race, good for 15.16 percent of the total. At this point in time, the Secretary of State’s website says that Norm Coleman, the Republican candidate, received 1,211,590 votes, or 41.99 per cent of the total; and Al Franken, the Democrat, received 1,211,375 votes, or 41.98 percent of the total.

However, as most people in Minnesota and elsewhere know, this tabulation does not mean that Coleman has won. Today, on the last day of 2008, Franken is unofficially ahead by 50 votes after a recount. That has dominated the news. As the process drags on, the Minnesota Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, my old friend, has become a household name. There are still other disputed ballots to be decided, and the election result is likely to be disputed in court. Minnesota’s other U.S. Senator, Amy Klobuchar, has asked for extra staff to handle the work of two Senators as the uncertainty of seating either Coleman or Franken runs into January.

left: voting at Heritage Commons on November 4, 2008 --- center: a disputed ballot in the Franken-Coleman recount --- right: recounting ballots in the race for U.S. Senate

On the day after the election, however, I knew how the Star Tribune would spin this story: Barkley had blocked Franken’s election. On that day, November 5th, I posted this message preemptively on the Minneapolis e-democracy forum:

“I don’t know what Star Tribune reporters are trying to prove.  It looks as if, assuming Al Franken narrowly loses the race for U.S. Senate, Dean Barkley is being set up to take the blame.  The article on page 16A of today’s paper states: ‘Returns showed Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley trailing a a distant third, but also pulling enough Democrats and independents to possibly cost Franken the race.’  And again: ‘Contrary to earlier indications, the exit polling showed that Barkley made a bigger dent in Franken’s support, pulling slightly more Democrats than Republicans into his camp.’ Yet, if you look at the previous page (p. A15), the table giving exit poll results say that if Barkley had not run, 24% of his voters would have voted for Norm Coleman, 24% for Al Franken, and 45% would not have voted.  To me, this seems that Barkley drew evenly from the other two candidates.”  

The punch line was this: “Mr. Star Tribune reporter, those were not ‘Franken votes’ that went to Barkley; and they were not ‘Coleman votes’.  They were votes cast for Dean Barkley.  Your party does not ‘deserve’ votes cast for another party’s candidate unless you win them at the ballot box.”

Sure enough, on page A19 in Thursday’s paper, November 6th, the Star Tribune ran an article titled: “Recounts and close calls raise charge that IP is a spoiler.” The article enlisted support for this view from David Dillon, the IP candidate for Congress in the 3rd district, who was quoted to the effect that  “we have to wonder what our (the Independence Party’s) purpose is if all we’re doing is ruining the results for one side”, meaning the DFL. Characteristically, the paper was letting someone in our camp make its case. Dillon should have been more careful about granting interviews to those people.

Then, on November 7th, the Star Tribune published a letter to the editor titled “INDEPENDENCE PARTY  The GOP’s best friend.”  Here a letter writer from St. Paul proposed that the Independence Party rename itself “Republican auxiliary” - RA, for short.  The letter concluded:  “ Perhaps the RA candidates should consider that (their spoiler role) before they undertake their quixotic quest ‘to offer an alternative.’”  It was another demonstration of the Star Tribune’s trademark combination of one-sided reporting followed up by ridicule.

More bad news and finally some inspiration at the end of the year

Eventually, however, Dean Barkley and the Independence Party faded from view as the Franken and Coleman camps argued over a recount of ballots cast for the U.S. Senate. Whichever candidate wins, I am left with pride in Barkley’s achievement, my own, and that of others who upheld our party’s banner. The issue is not whether a Republican or Democratic office holder is better but that the bipartisan government itself has failed the public. It failed to stop the war in Iraq. It failed to stand up to Paulson’s demand for $700 billion in taxpayer money. After it let commercial banks become gambling casinos, credit became tight and the economy faltered.

The Big Three auto executives took heat for flying to Washington in private jets, but the fact was that this industry was in trouble not so much because of its poor management but because customers did not have money to buy cars. And that was Congress’ fault and the Administration’s fault more than the fault of anyone in Detroit. I resented the fact that this industry and this city, where my father once worked, was judged inadequate by corrupt Washington spinmeisters. The politicians were experts in blame shifting, but we, third-party people, were not buying their bipartisan excuses. Our reputation was not sullied - we had not been in power yet - and we could talk straight without having to protect anything.

No, I did not win the election to Congress in 2008; but, to tell the truth, that was not the point. I am 67 years old - not a good time in life to be starting a political career. I am also easily distracted or bored by long sessions at committee meetings, having to observe arcane rules of procedure. There is a limit to what legislators can accomplish.

For me, action is more important. A person who takes a firm personal stand on something that may be difficult to challenge changes the world. It is thus in the trenches of our own community that true change is made. And running for Congress is one way to act, even if you do not win. The experience itself is a reward. The political environment will be affected by what you do if you give some thought to your actions.

As the year rolled to an end, disaster piled on top of disaster. The stock market plunged. Bombs dropped on Gaza. Worries filled people’s hearts. The temperature dropped to below zero. In December, however, my spirits were lifted, and my heart warmed, by two news reports - one from Iraq, and the other Utah.

First, there was the shoe-throwing incident. Out of the blue, in the newly democratized land of Iraq, a reporter representing a Baghdad television station hurled first one shoe and then another at President Bush while he was holding a joint press conference with the Iraqi prime minister. “This is for the widows and orphans you created,” the man shouted before being hauled away. I thought the President handled it with good grace until he claimed that the man was just trying to call attention to himself - create his own brief moment of fame.

No, we all knew that this man was making a political statement. He was saying something before a worldwide audience which persons in the United States would never have been able to make because the Secret Service, police, and other handlers isolate the President to such an extent. Here, however, was a window of opportunity, and the man seized it. Good for him. I say that the Iraqi journalist was this year’s prime practitioner of free speech. I applaud him for acting courageously to express the spirit of liberty and truth.

The other event that warmed my heart was not political in a strict sense. The hero was not even human. It was a dog - a German shepherd, I think. This dog entered a food store in Utah. Evidently with foreknowledge, he walked straight to the pet-food section of the store and grabbed a bone with his mouth. Then this dog trotted back through the aisles. The store manager, seeing the theft in progress, said, “Drop it! Drop it!” But the dog continued to walk out the front door. A security camera caught everything on tape.

In this case, it was for me a symbolic move rather than a political statement. The dog wanted this bone; it cost less than $3.00. Though I generally support property rights, I also appreciate freedom. True, this dog was breaking the law, but he could not be expected to know that. He acted with true instinct to fulfill a need that dogs have. And the payment rules of food stores meant nothing to him.

Sometimes I wish that the American people would have, like this dog, the courage and self-assurance to act in their own interest instead of letting themselves be guided by the self-proclaimed “meritocrats” who know what is best for everyone else. They should ignore stern warnings to “drop it”. Occasionally, our nation’s long-suffering workers and taxpayers should take that “bone” and walk out the door - assuming, of course, that, after all the bailouts and wars, there’s anything left in the pet-food section.

The dog thinks: It's really up to you.

the end

 

P.S. The race for U.S. Senate did not end until July 2009 when incumbent Norm Coleman exhausted his appeals through Minnesota courts and Al Franken was sworn in. Minnesota had been without a second Senator for six months.

A DFL rally for Senator-elect Franken at the state capitol on July 1, 2009, the day after Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Governor Tim Pawlenty signed his election certificate. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Keith Ellison stand to Franken’s right.

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