for PDF format
of Meeting with Tarryl Clark
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, June 21,
Senator Tarryl Clark, St.
Cloud, MN, assistant majority leader, Minnesota Senate
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, and Paul Gilje
Context of the meeting--After
having discussed for many months various possible changes in state
election laws, the Civic Caucus today met with a leader of the Minnesota
State Senate to receive some legislative input on election issues.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced State Sen. Tarryl Clark. Clark
represents the St. Cloud area. She was first elected in a special
December 27, 2005.
Clark is assistant majority leader of the Senate and served as a leading
Senate majority spokesperson during the 2007 Session. She is a lawyer
and has served as executive director of the Minnesota Community Action
Association, regional coordinator of the Northwest Area Foundation
Devolution Project, and senior program associate with the Children's
Defense Fund Minnesota. Prior to her election Clark
had served in a variety of volunteer capacities in St. Cloud, including
the Chamber of Commerce, DFL Party, and League of Women Voters.
Comments and discussion--During
Clark's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. A long process in arriving at
the Legislature--Ten years
ago, Clark said, she never would have considered running for office. She
was active in the community, helping teens and families. Sensing she
could do more, she went to law school and then later she ran for the
2. Retain precinct caucuses--Turning
first to the question of the future of precinct caucuses, Clark
acknowledged difficulties but said that they provide a good place for
citizen involvement. While getting good participation is a real
challenge, she's not a strong supporter of major changes. Clark
said a lot of moderates show up at precinct caucuses in her district,
although that might be because it is a swing district. She thinks
precinct caucuses are getting better. A few years ago turnout was
embarrassingly low. In the last two cycles, however, many more people
have been showing up, including newer people.
3. Let primary elections
determine the endorsement?--Clark
referred to our session two weeks ago with Barry Casselman, who urged that
political parties do away with a precinct-caucus-based endorsement
process, and let primary election determine parties' endorsees. A former
resident of Arizona, Clark recalled an election there where only five
percent of the voters showed up for the primary election and the winner in
a three-way race was not worthy of any party's endorsement.
Clark also said that if party endorsement occurs after the
primary election, people won't show up at caucuses or the conventions.
4. Advance the date of the
advancing the date of the primary, now in early September.
5. Examine a wide-open primary--To
get all ideas on the table, Clark suggested we could look at a primary
election in which all candidates of all parties run against one another,
with the top two candidates of whatever party, or even the same party,
squaring off in the general election.
6. Support for instant runoff
voting (IRV)--Clark said she
supports instant runoff voting, where voters rank candidates in the order
of preference, as a way to assure a majority of all votes for the
winner. She said the Legislature didn't pass an IRV bill in 2007 because
it was known that the Governor was opposed.
7. Evaluate possible changes in
redistricting--Clark said she
is aware that former Governor Carlson and former vice-president Mondale
are participating in a bipartisan effort to change the redistricting
process. She also has looked briefly at the Iowa system. She
acknowledged that the objective of creating competitive districts is an
issue in setting up a new process, but she cautioned that the demographics
of a state like Minnesota
make it almost impossible to create competitive districts everywhere.
8. Support for changing judicial selection--Clark
believes that Minnesota ought to change its system for selecting judges.
Because Minnesota is a populist state, Clark doesn't believe that the
people are ready to do away with elections totally, so the recommendations
of the commission headed by former Governor Quie should be seriously
considered. The Quie commission recommends initial merit-based
appointment with periodic elections where the only choice is whether a
judge should be retained or not. There would not be an election contest
9. Possible action on
constitutional amendments in 2008--Clark
said "a small number" of constitutional amendments will likely be proposed
by the Legislature in 2008. An amendment dedicating sales tax revenues to
water resources and to the arts is near passage. An amendment on changing
the system of judicial selection is possible, she said. Another
possibility is an amendment on instant runoff voting.
10. Potential of "opening the
flood gates"--Clark was asked
whether the water-arts amendment won't prompt others, including education,
to seek similar revenue protection via the constitution. Clark replied
that the water-arts situation is different, in that the political
situation has been polarized for so long and that the only way to get the
revenues is via a constitutional amendment. Clark said as a general rule
she doesn't support initiative and referendum. She acknowledged that
others are interested, including for example, the people pushing for an
amendment for the right to health care.
11. Reducing legislative
influence in appropriating constitutionally-dedicated funds--In
discussion with Clark it was noted that another issue is present, which is
how constitutionally-dedicated funds are appropriated. Proposed
legislation for a constitutional amendment also appears to give increasing
influence to non-elected interest groups in the appropriation of dedicated
funds, rather than leaving that role exclusively to the directly-elected
Governor and Legislature.
12. Impact of campaign finance
on polarization--Verne noted
that David Schultz last week attributed legislative impasse to the very
large amounts of campaign money that are flowing to both sides. Because
of the strong positions held by donors on either side, legislators seem
unable to compromise, according to Schultz
Clark said that Minnesota was a leader in campaign finance
changes in years past. She cited the ability of small contributors to
receive rebates from the state, the check-off on income tax forms, and
restrictions on hard money contributions as examples of good legislation.
She said that in some cases the large amounts of independent
expenditures aren't welcomed by the candidates themselves. She
disagreed that legislative caucuses are now running local campaigns. The
parties offer field workers but the local districts still are in
control. She thinks more could be done to encourage local political
units to build on their skills.
13. Role of the media in public
finding it increasingly difficult to get their message out as the
mainstream media reduce their public affairs coverage, Clark said. The
Governor can command a good deal of attention, but legislators don't get
that kind of attention, she said. Acknowledging the growing role of
internet outlets, Clark said she's unsure the extent that legislators
themselves utilize the internet for news. Certainly, blogs get
legislators' attention, but she doesn't know how much legislators turn to
the internet for hard news. Clark said she relies heavily on radio and
14. Relationship of taxation
controversies to issue of polarization--Asked
about recent controversy between the Republican Governor and the DFL
Legislature on tax policy, Clark disputed assertions that majority
legislators pushed for tax increases that were known in advance to be
unacceptable. She said a great deal of bipartisanship exists in the
Legislature. For example, she said the position of Senate pro tem is
assigned to a Republican. Further, Senate rules now give greater
assurance of floor debate on bills that clear committee. The Senate
can't control what goes on in the House, she said.
15. Thanks. On
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Clark for meeting with us
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.