Friday, September 21, 2007

Lining up for Ramstad's seat: Where are the grass-roots candidates?

This will be my final posting for a while on the Ramstad retirement and subsequent race for the MN-03 Congressional seat. In the spirit of this being a more local blog, I want to move back to focusing on more local events, particularly the Minnetonka School Board election and referendum.

But first, I want to make a call for grass-roots candidates to emerge for the congressional seat. The early list of prospective candidates is full of what I'm sure are good quality people. They are people with a demonstrated interest in public service and who are well-regarded in the community and have the respect of many. The best possible person for the CD3 House seat might very well be on this early list. I’ll post the respective links to MN Publius (who I think has done the best analysis of reviewing the candidate field and will probably continue to be the leaders in breaking news on this topic), but will also summarize the list here. Candidates being discussed include:


Erik Paulsen, State Representative
Brian Sullivan, Republican National Committee State Commiteeman
Geoff Michel, State Senator
Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Sheriff and former state legislator
Joyce Peppin, State Representative
Warren Limmer, State Senator
David Hann, State Senator
Kurt Zellers, State Representative
Jeff Johnson, former State Rep and AG Candidate


Andy Luger, Prosecutor
Buck Humphrey
Melissa Hortman, State Representative
Terri Bonoff, State Senator
Steve Kelley, former State Senator
Steve Simon, State Representative

A scan of this and other lists that contain largely the same names yields one major conclusion: Unless you are already an elected official, you have a major uphill battle to get any visibility in this race. Humphrey is one exception but he has an incredible last name, and somebody like Kelly Doran (who has financial resources and profile from his Senator/Governor in the past) would be another. Andy Luger is a prosecutor, which doesn’t qualify as private sector but he is definately from outside the domain of sitting elected officials. Brian Sullivan’s experience originally was from the private sector, where he has been highly successful, but he is now closely associated with the Republican party establishment. It is already evident that many political handicappers are viewing Ramstad’s open seat as a promotion for a sitting politician more than an opportunity for a leader from the masses to step up and represent the 3rd.

We have what might be a once-per-generation opportunity to send someone new to Washington. Do we need to assume that the cream of the crop comes only from a small group of people who are already in public office? What about our business leaders? Community activists? Nonprofit executives? Those who have demonstrated the ability to make the world a better place in other ways? They have to be out there. The 3rd district is large, and full of talented and inspired individuals.

I can give you two examples of successful grass-roots leaders who Minnesota sent to Washington in this era. One was Paul Wellstone. While he had run for some public offices prior to being elected Senator, his rising was one from college professor to US Senator. He was hardly someone who “worked his way up” into a position of power. His was an example of Minnesotans selecting someone from the masses to represent them, and represent he did.

Another was Mark Kennedy. I’m not trying to compare Kennedy’s impact with Wellstone’s, but Mark Kennedy was a product of the private sector. A successful CFO of a local business, if I recall correctly. But I would suggest that he successfully represented his district in Washington, whether or not you agree with his alignment with George Bush. And don’t forget about Tim Walz, the MN CD1 Congressman who was elected in 2006 and seems to be off to a good start. He was an educator in Mankato up until his recent election.

Many other effective public servants in Washington also came from outside the state public office ranks, including Senator Bill Frist (Surgeon), Congressman Dave Price (Professor), Congressman Ron Kind (County Prosecutor) and Senator Tom Coburn (Businessman and Physician) just to name a few.

So as the preliminary lists of candidates gradually become short lists, I hope that the people of CD3 don’t limit their search to the list of existing public officials for that person to send to Washington. Don't get me wrong - many of the names of sitting State Senators and Representatives absolutely deserve to be in play. Jim Ramstad, however, gave the district the courtesy of a long, exhaustive vetting process for his replacement. Let's not immediately whittle this down to the race between a few heirs apparent.

Let’s make this about more than who can raise money the fastest and appeal to party bases. Sure, let’s send someone to Washington who has a pedigree. Not a pedigree of working their way up the political ladder, but a pedigree of successfully leading people and getting things done.

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