here for PDF format
of Meeting with Janet Donavan
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN
Friday, November 17, 2006
Guest speaker: Janet Donavan, assistant professor, political
science, University of Minnesota-Duluth
Present: Verne Johnson, chair; Lee Canning (by phone), Chuck Clay,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, and Jim Olson (by phone)
A. Context of the meeting--The Civic
Caucus, as part of its work on improving democracy, is conducting a review
of the elections process in Minnesota. The Caucus is meeting from
week-to-week with respected authorities in the academic world. They are
being asked to evaluate the November elections and to comment on several
proposed changes in elections.
B. Introduction of Janet Donavan--Verne
introduced Donavan, assistant professor, political science, University of
Minnesota-Duluth. Donavan joined the UMD political science department in
Fall 2006. Before coming to Duluth, she taught at the University of Puget
Sound in Tacoma, WA, while working to complete her dissertation in
political science at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Donavanís work
on the role of the mass media in political participation and the political
process includes research on the local news in Duluth. She teaches courses
in American politics.
C. Comments by Donavan--In Donavan's opening comments and in
discussion with the Civic Caucus, the following points were raised:
1. Analysis of the national election--Exit
polls revealed that the election was clearly a referendum on the President
and Iraq; it was not a vote for the ideas of Democrats, Donavan said.
Democrats will need to be very careful how they proceed. Newly elected
conservative Democrats may not vote along party lines.
Donavan said the election The election was the first full cycle under the
Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), also known as
McCain-Feingold, where all the money raised and spent in the campaign was
conducted under the new rules (to distinguish from 2004 election where the
rules went into effect in 2003 and so that cycle was partly governed by
the new rules). With such a large amount of money being spent by
independent campaign groups, the election demonstrated the shortcomings of
2. Analysis of Minnesota election--It's
difficult to explain Pawlenty's election, Donavan said, because people
voted DFL for offices above and below that of the Governor in the order in
which the offices appeared on the ballot. Among reasons were that the
Governor gets credit for a strong economy, the mistakes of the Hatch
campaign in the last week, the vote for the Independence Party (6
percent), and the fact that Minnesotans apparently like divided
Pawlenty has moved to the center, she said, as indicated by his support
since the election for health care for all children. Thus we might see
some movement away from paralysis. The Hatch loss, she said, represents an
indictment of the precinct caucus system. Many DFLers were distressed over
the Hatch nomination.
A member noted that David Schultz in our meeting last week asserted that
Pawlenty was elected by the large turnout for conservative Michele
Bachmann in the 6th District. Even if that's the case, Donavan replied,
she doesn't think that Pawlenty owes anything to that conservative base.
3. Precinct caucuses evaluated--The
precinct caucus system makes Minnesota largely unique in the nation, but
it is not serving to draw young or new people into the process. The
precinct caucus system in Minnesota gives political parties more control
over who gets nominated. The date for the primary election in Minnesota
should be earlier, she said.
4. Potential for instant runoff voting--It
is interesting, Donavan said, that instant runoff voting passed in
Minneapolis. The results of the Governor's race make a great case for
extending instant runoff voting to state races. It was noted that the
StarTribune has endorsed instant runoff voting for Minnesota. With instant
runoff voting, also known as single transferable vote, the voter ranks
candidates in the order of preference. Second- and third- choices are used
as needed to produce a majority for the winning candidate.
5. Role of the legislative caucus leadership--The
discussion next focused on the growing role that legislative caucuses play
in financing elections. Legislative caucuses are the majority and minority
organizations in the House and Senate. These groups now raise a great deal
of money to influence legislative races. Donavan said such an arrangement
tends to increase polarization because legislative leaders--using the
power of the purse--are more able to get their caucus members to vote in
lockstep. This practice at the state level is modeled after the same type
of practice in Congress.
6. Comment on Schultz analysis--Donavan
said she has read the summary of David Schultz' meeting with the Civic
Caucus. She said she has no problem with his conclusions other than she
said we might see some larger shifts in policy at the national level. Bush
hasn't accomplished much and he might move like Clinton did and work with
the other party.
7. Importance of the female vote--Donavan
agreed that women are voting more Democratic now. They are less supportive
of the war and domestic issues rank high in their concerns, she said.
8. Needed election changes--Asked to
evaluate various proposals for change that might reduce polarization and
paralysis, Donavan offered these suggestions:
--Reduce the role of legislative caucuses in financing campaigns.
Reducing the role of money is the best of the solutions, she said.
--Enact instant runoff voting. She's not very hopeful that instant
runoff voting will pass because it increases the power of third party
9. Change redistricting?--Donavan
isn't as excited as some people are about removing the Legislature from
setting legislative district boundaries. She doesn't see the boundaries
issue as much of a problem in Minnesota.
10. Opposition to using the state constitution
for legislative policy decisions--Donavan said she shares the
conclusion of the Civic Caucus that the Governor and Legislature shouldn't
pass controversial issues on to the voters in the form of constitutional
amendments, as they did on transportation in this election. She said she
understands, however, why the amendment received so much support. People
voted to make something happen in transportation.
11. Era of good feeling?--A member
noted that since the election that more talk of working together has been
heard both in Washington, D. C., and in St. Paul. The member wondered
whether such discussion will diminish the cry for making changes in the
12. Performance of the media in the recent
campaign--Donavan is encouraged by what she saw. The
StarTribune, for example, did a good job of independently comparing the
facts with the claims of the candidates. At the national level, coverage
was not as good, with most of the coverage dealing with the campaign as a
Donavan shares others' concerns about the future of the media,
particularly newspapers. Newspapers set the agenda and provide the facts
for the electronic media coverage. If readership and advertising revenue
continue to decline, we have a serious problem, she said. Increasingly,
information is coming to people in a fragmented manner. Absence of a
common source of information makes it difficult to understand the other
side. It was noted that for years the StarTribune provided a common source
of information for the Upper Midwest. In the mid-1950s, for example, the
StarTribune was shipping 5,000 copies of its Sunday paper as far as
Billings, MT. A member also noted that fragmentation today isn't
dissimilar to 100 years ago when there were many more competing newspapers
in the same market.
Further tempering the discussion of the influence of newspapers, a member
noted that even in the heydays of newspaper readership, barely 6 percent
to 8 percent of readers read the editorial pages.
Discussion continued about new sources of information today, particularly
the Internet. Reference was made to the new effort of the StarTribune to
reach younger readers with a free publication known as Vita.mn, with heavy
emphasis on entertainment news.
The discussion moved briefly to reasons why people follow the news. Often,
members said, it is because they want to have something to talk about over
breakfast or lunch with friends.
13. Go back to non-partisan state elections--Donavan
sees real advantages in party designation and wouldn't repeal that
provision. Non-partisan elections aren't fair to voters, she said, because
they don't learn enough about the candidates. The party label conveys at
least some information about the candidates' positions. Furthermore,
Donavan said, in states with non-partisan ballots, more campaign money is
14. Partisan elections for judges--A
member inquired whether judges should run on a partisan ballot. Donavan
said it's not a good idea to polarize the bench or have judges be elected
on the basis of how they might vote on pending cases. Nevertheless, she
said, too often voters have no idea who the judgeship candidates are.
Political designation helps somewhat.
15. Thanks to Donavan--On behalf of
the Civic Caucus, the chair thanked Donavan for meeting with us today.
Asked how the conference call process worked, Donavan said she sometimes
has a problem with that but today the conversation seemed to go quite
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.