here for PDF format
of Meeting with Scott Dibble and Geoff Michel
8301 Creekside Circle,
Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, February 17, 2006
Guests: State Senator Scott Dibble and State
Senator Geoff Michel
Present: Verne C. Johnson, chair;
Charles H. Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, John Mooty (by phone), Jim Olson
(by phone), Clarence Shallbetter (by phone)
1. Introduction of our guests--Verne
introduced Sen. Michel, Edina Republican, and Sen. Dibble, Minneapolis
Democrat. Both are members of the 2020 caucus in the Minnesota
2. Explanation of the 2020 Caucus--Michel
and Dibble outlined the role of the 2020 Legislative Caucus, a bipartisan
effort to help the state anticipate and address key problems facing the
state in the future. The name "2020" identifies the year when Minnesotans
over age 65 will outnumber school-aged children 5 to 17.
No one is content with our health care system, Michel said, and we don't
have proposed solutions, even though the magnitude of the problem is
expected to become much worse than today.
Michel credits Eric Shubert of the Citizens League as the catalyst for
establishing the 2020 caucus. Shubert knew both Michel and Rep. Joe
Atkins. He encouraged Michel to get together and visit. That meeting led
to the caucus' formation.
Currently, the 2020 caucus is concentrating on giving attention to
problems and educating legislators. This past week the group held a
meeting on the growing problem of pensions.
About 25-30 persons are part of the 2020 caucus now, and more members are
being welcomed. There's no test for membership, Michel said.
Dibble said that when he came to the Legislature he was surprised how so
much of the visible legislative activity was for "show". He was
disappointed about how little time was available for substantive shaping
of issues. Everything was a partisan circus, all for show, looking to the
next election. The 2020 caucus gives a legislator an opportunity outside a
floor session to relax with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and seek
agreement on a common set of facts. It's an effort to create an
environment where legislators can work with one another and not expect
that any word that comes from their mouths would be exploited by someone
on the other side.
Michel said the 2020 caucus does not currently have a specific agenda.
That may come after additional meetings and conversation. Its short term
goals are to grow the caucus, educate its participants, reach out to
experts in the field, and get these 2020 issues into the 2006 campaign
debate. The 2020 caucus is mainly interested in bringing people together
so they can learn and talk. In response to a question, neither feels that
their future leadership potential in their respective political caucuses
is jeopardized by their participation in the 2020 group. They haven't
sensed antagonism from current legislative leadership for their activity.
Some suspicion exists that the group has a secret agenda.
3. Discussion with Michel and Dibble--During
the discussion the following points were raised:
a. Future of precinct caucuses--Despite
their problems, the precinct caucuses--scheduled this year on March
7--play an important role, despite criticism of single-issue voting, and
should be continued, Dibble said. Asked how they might be improved, Dibble
bemoaned the state of civic education in schools. When he meets with
school children he is astounded how few of them are even aware of the
existence of the caucuses. He said teachers aren't giving them the
background they need. He agreed some changes need to be made in the
Michel said he advocates doing away with the precinct caucuses. So many
precinct caucuses now are a sham. They turn off people because the people
have a feeling everything has already been decided. Asked about improving
the caucuses, instead of abolishing them, Michel said he doesn't see that
as a realistic process. He likes some form of multi-candidate endorsement.
Michel and Dibble favor a June primary.
John M. commented that party endorsement seemed to mean so much more in
previous years. Endorsement meant a whole cadre of workers would be
available to help.
b. Primary preceding endorsement?--Dibble
said perhaps, but what underlies everything here is how people connected
to one another. He's not convinced any tinkering with the voting process
itself will do much. Verne J. commented that the work of the Civic Caucus
is built around using new technology to help people be connected with one
another. Bringing people to meetings isn't doing the job. We in the Civic
Caucus are keeping about 150 people involved strictly through electronic
c. Instant runoff voting--Michel said
he's not impressed with such an option. He believes strongly in the
two-party system and believes that the instant runoff approach would
weaken the two-party system.
Dibble said he supports the effort now under way in Minneapolis to make
instant runoff voting a part of the system of electing candidates to the
Minneapolis city council. A group now is working to get a charter
amendment on the ballot for instant runoff voting. He said voters like the
idea, because they can support a candidate who might not have widespread
backing and still play a role in the election of the likely winners.
Moreover, he said, the process requires candidates themselves to conduct a
campaign with attention to broad issues facing the city, not just a single
issue favored by some. Verne J. mentioned that instant runoff voting is in
use in Australia.
d. Benefits of third party candidates--Verne
mentioned that despite what you think about Jesse Ventura and his personal
activities he brought a team of moderate assistants into his
administration. That's an indication that an independent candidate can
produce some benefits.
e. The growing role of legislative leadership in
campaigns--Paul noted that political parties seem to have given
way to the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate on
identifying and financing candidates and running campaigns. Michel and
Dibble agreed this has occurred but didn't comment on whether this system
is desirable or not. Paul also mentioned one idea for changing the
dominant role of political parties. Under the idea, the parties would
establish their platforms and then the candidates would select their
party, based on the platforms, rather than the parties endorsing the
f. Changing role of political parties in
campaigns--Michel noted that 10 to 30 years ago endorsement by
the party meant much more than today. Formerly, the party gave you mailing
lists, data bases and more, including money. Today a candidate doesn't
need the party as much. Using new technology the candidate has direct
access to mailing lists and data bases.
g. Look to public financing--Dibble
said that if we are going to scrap endorsements and change the primary,
then we need major change in campaign finance. He said we could do well to
look to Arizona's example. In that state candidates can participate
voluntarily in a system that gives them access to public funds, if they
forego private contributions. Some matching funds also are available if
privately-financed candidates outspend candidates receiving public funds.
h. Status of our representative democracy--Asked
generally about the status of our representative democracy, Dibble said
that the elections system is under threat because too many people don't
feel they have basic access to the polls. Moreover, they are suspicious
whether their votes will count or not. He is worried about erosion of
civil liberties and lack of economic opportunity for many people.
Michel said he's had a chance to work both in Washington (with then-Rep.
Frenzel) and in St. Paul. As a Republican he's very concerned with what is
coming out of Washington, D. C., today. Congressmen are not serving as
good role models for their state legislative counterparts.
i. Transportation funding in Minnesota--Nearing
the end of the meeting, the conversation went to the possibility of a
constitutional amendment in Minnesota that would dedicate a portion of
sales tax receipts to transportation. Jim H. asked whether such a move is
consistent with the idea of giving legislators broad access to revenue
sources in making budget choices. Michel and Dibble said they are on
record supporting the proposed constitutional amendment. Michel said that
if we had to do it over we probably wouldn't dedicate gasoline taxes to
transportation, but that decision has been made. He sees the sales tax
amendment as a continuation of the existing policy, even though,
philosophically, he doesn't favor dedicated funds.
4. Thanks--Verne thanked Dibble and
Michel for meeting with us. Verne said he hopes they will be open to
changes in the electoral process, not just making it possible for
legislators to have more conversations with one another. He said that
we'll send the two of them the summary of today's meeting and invite
changes before we distribute the summary to our electronic participants
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.