Tuesday, October 31, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Local Politics 2017 --- Any Portents?

The off-year elections of 2017 are almost all local elections,
i.e., for mayor, city council, sheriff and other municipal and
county races. They are often ignored by national pundits, but
in spite of the liberal hegemony of most urban areas,
especially in the northeast, midwest and far west, I think
some might offer some clues about next year’s national
mid-term elections.

A small number of congressional special elections to fill
unexpected vacancies, including a U.S. senate race in Alabama,
and two statewide elections, in Virginia and New Jersey, also
will take place. They seem to be receiving the most media
attention. Democrats are heavily favored to win in New Jersey,
less favored in Virginia, and the Alabama senate race is too
close to call. Democrats have made serious efforts in a series
of congressional special elections, but so far have not won any

The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are holding their
municipal elections in about a week, and since they are the
contests closest to me this year, I have been following these
races particularly for political clues and portents.

Although for the past three decades I have turned my
journalistic attention primarily to national politics. For 15 years
prior to that I edited and published a local newspaper that
had its focus on local Minneapolis elections and government.
I “cut my media teeth” (as the saying goes), on ward-by-ward
politics in this growing midwestern city, the largest in the

When I first arrived here, twelve of the thirteen city council
members were Republicans. Today, there are no Republicans
on the city council, and have not been any for years. The
Democrats (here called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party
or DFL) routinely win about 75% of the city vote; more
conservative and independent voters number about 25% of
the vote. There is a local GOP, but it is mostly a volunteer
effort, and the state party (unwisely, I think) pays it little
attention. The Twin Cities supply the DFL with large margins
in statewide races which, until recently, easily overcame and
GOP margins in the suburbs and rural outstate.

When I first arrived here, Minneapolis was primarily
Scandinavian-American, Protestant and insular. Over time,
large numbers of American blacks, southeast Asian refugees,
Hispanic-Americans, and Somali refugees moved to the city
to replace the hitherto largest minority population of Native
Americans. Today, Minneapolis has a distinct international
aspect --- its Somali and southeast Asian groups are among
the largest in any American city. Many of these recent
emigres have now become citizens --- and voters. The fifth
congressional district (mostly Minneapolis) is represented in
Congress by a black Muslim. Several local elected officials
are from the Somali and other minority communities. For
years, Minneapolis has been a center for women’s issues,
and numerous woman of all ethnic and religious backgrounds
have held, and now hold, elective office. The current mayor is
Betsy Hodges. A previous mayor was a black woman.

The city is also the corporate and financial center of the state,
and many corporate leaders are liberals, and contribute to a
long-standing booming preforming arts and socially tolerant
municipal culture.

Recently, however, tensions and problems have increased in
the city. Security in the downtown center and in some city
neighborhoods has become an issue. The very liberal city
council and mayor have enacted tough transportation, parking,
tax and regulatory policies that are making it difficult for small
businesses and restaurants to thrive. Many of them are closing
or moving to more welcoming areas. The city’s famed Nicollet
Mall has been undergoing repair for so long that many of its
prime tenants are leaving. The mayor has been held responsible
for the delays by many critics.

It is interesting that the incumbent first-term DFL mayor,
usually a shoo-in for re-election, has many serious DFL
opponents, three of which have a chance to win. In the 13 city
council races, some very liberal incumbents face upsets by
other DFL or independent challengers. Also opposed is the
excellent moderate city council president.

Minneapolis, like St. Paul, is continuing to experiment with
“ranked-choice” voting. This controversial method has
eliminated primaries, and if any candidate for mayor or city
council receives less than 50% of the November vote, a
mathematical process of counting second and third choice
votes eventually creates a winner by a series of eliminating
the candidates with the lowest number of votes. This system
has made predicting any outcomes difficult, since it is
possible that the candidate who comes in second or even third
in first choice votes could win the election.

There are many candidates for mayor on the Minneapolis
November ballot. But only four of them, the incumbent, a
current council member (in the ward where I live), a long-time
non-profit leader (who has had much to do with the thriving
arts revival), and an architect who is also a member of the
legislature. All are DFLers, and liberals, but only one, Tom
Hoch, has also spoken up realistically about downtown
security and as an advocate for the small business and retail
communities which now feel threatened and might continue
to abandon the downtown center. The mayor and the legislator-
architect espouse far left policies, The council member has
shown competence in his council term, but when push-came-
to-shove, turned his back on key small business concerns.

Tom Hoch, in my opinion, is the best candidate, and he has
run a professional campaign, but if he won it, would be a
(welcome) upset. In this election, ranked choice voting favors
the most well-known candidates. The city’s largest newspaper
endorsed the council member, but also recommended Mr. Hoch.

The more portentous races, however, might be in the city council

In my own ward, there are three candidates, A DFL-endorsee, a
far left independent, and a liberal independent. The latter, Tim
Bildsoe, is a former city council member (for 12 years) in a large
suburb with a strong background in professional municipal
finance. His background and policy ideas are head-and-shoulders
above his opponents --- so much so that the city’s newspaper
endorsed him above his DFL opponent.

In a neighboring ward, there are several candidates, including
an incumbent DFLer. Although this northside ward, like all
others now in the city is heavily DFL, it has historically been
more moderate than many southside wards. In this election, a
very interesting independent candidate, John Hayden, is
running as a “No Labels” independent. At first, it seemed a
hopeless effort against an entrenched incumbent, but when a
successful former Republican governor and a former DFL city
council president actively joined his campaign, and Mr. Hayden
put together a serious team effort, his chances improved. Like
Mr. Bildsoe in my ward, John Hayden is defying establishment
DFL orthodoxy, and proposing innovative and  pragmatic new
municipal policy ideas.

Like Mr. Bildsoe, Mr. Hayden is an underdog in a citywide field
dominated by establishment DFL figures. There is, however,
an anti-incumbent mood in the city this year, fostered by
failed public works, security and traffic issues. How strong
this mood is will be made evident on November 7, and perhaps
the voters will also signal what they will do next year in the
mid-term elections.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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