for PDF format
of Meeting with Lyall Schwarzkopf
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Schwarzkopf, former Republican state legislator, former city coordinator,
Minneapolis, and former chief of staff to Governor Arne Carlson
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (by phone), John Mooty,
Jim Olson (by phone), Wayne Popham (by phone), and John Rollwagen
Context of the meeting
--As part of the Civic
Caucus' continuing inquiry into election-related issues, today the Civic
Caucus meets with a veteran Republican leader in Minnesota.
Welcome and introduction
Paul introduced Lyall Schwarzkopf, who served several appointed and
elected governmental positions in Minnesota
and who still is active today. He was first elected to the Minnesota
House of Representatives in 1962. Later he was appointed city clerk in Minneapolis,
and responsible for administering the city's elections. He then was
appointed city coordinator of Minneapolis, and then served as chief of
staff for Governor Arne Carlson in the 1990s.
Comment and discussion
Schwarzkopf's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the
following points were raised:
1. Weakening political parties
while strengthening special interests --Political parties have
been weakened by statutory limits on raising funds and providing funds to
candidates, Schwarzkopf said. The result is ineffective parties and fewer
people involved in the parties. Moreover, with both parties moving to the
extreme right or left, even fewer people want to be involved in party
Special interest groups, meanwhile, have filled a vacuum
because parties are less meaningfully involved in funding, selecting, and
financing candidates, and turning out the vote. None of the limits
imposed on political parties are imposed on the special interest groups.
For example, a political party can give only $5,000 to a congressional
candidate, but a special interest group can spend unlimited amounts as
independent expenditures. Schwarzkopf believes democracy is threatened
as special interest groups are given nearly free rein in political
Schwarzkopf said these groups use questionnaires to candidates
to decide which candidates they'll support, and after the election the
groups remind the candidates how they said they would vote on issues. In
states like Minnesota with precinct caucuses, special interest groups urge
their membership to attend the precinct caucuses and pass resolutions that
get into party platforms supporting their special interest. In addition
they tell their members whom to elect as party officers and delegates to
When elected, candidates become more beholden to special
interests groups, not a broad based political party. These groups don't
care about governance. They only want their special interests passed.
As examples of special interest groups, Schwarzkopf cited
farm, business, labor, and public employee organizations, environmental
groups, teachers, pro-life and pro-choice interests, groups on either side
of gun control, and, at the national level, MoveOn.org, and the Swift Boat
2. Replace precinct caucuses
with an open primary system --With the political apathy of
moderates in both parties and with continued rise of special interest
groups and their take-over of the parties, Schwarzkopf believes it is
essential to replace the precinct caucuses with open primaries. He would
also advance the date of the primary. Special interest participants in
precinct caucuses care little for party governance. Their objective is
to get their special interest objectives adopted. The people in the
middle get upset and don't bother to show up.
The change won't succeed, he said, if the party rank-and-file
doesn't bother to vote in the primaries. He noted than in early 2006, 29
percent of voters in Minnesota
identified themselves as Republicans, and 25 percent, Democrats, a total
of 54 percent. If the party faithful turned out, therefore, a state
primary election ought to produce about 50 percent of total registered
voters. However, the actual percentage is closer to 13 to 18 percent.
If only a small percentage vote, special interest groups will continue to
control candidate selection. Thus, change is not a sure way to involve
more people, limit special interest domination, or provide more control of
candidates to the people. But he thinks the change is needed because of
the "stranglehold" of special interest groups today.
The state is polarized, he said, and the media seem to be
moving closer to the pre-1900 era of yellow journalism by providing
publicity that seems to give more attention to views of the extremes.
Schwarzkopf also favors using the party primary election for
selecting county party officers and convention delegates
Later in the meeting Schwarzkopf clarified that only persons
who publicly identify themselves with a party would be permitted to vote
in that party's primary. He also favors a presidential preference
primary for Minnesota, and in that primary, too, he would only allow
persons who publicly affiliate with a certain party to participate in that
party's presidential preference primary.
It was noted that in a previous Civic Caucus meeting, John
Wodele advocated that anyone be allowed to participate in a party's
primary, without being publicly identified, which is the case in Minnesota
today. Schwarzkopf believes that only party members should participate
in a party primary. He noted his preference to use the party primary as
the vehicle to elect party officers and convention delegates as well as to
nominate candidates for the general election. He said he believes that
some non-party participants, if allowed to vote in a party election, would
deliberately attempt to distort the outcome.
Even without precinct caucuses, the parties still would be
expected to have pre-primary candidate endorsement, Schwarzkopf said.
3. Impact of discouraging
non-endorsed candidates from filing in the primary --In
discussion it was noted that currently the parties strongly discourage
non-endorsed candidates from filing against the endorsed candidates.
Such influence might not be overly serious if the parties were more
It also was noted in discussion that some people advocate that
anyone receiving a certain percentage of votes in an endorsement
convention, say 25 to 30 percent, would be regarded as endorsed. Thus, a
party could have multiple endorsements. In discussion it was noted that
when party endorsement was first begun by Republicans in Minnesota it was
possible to gain endorsement with 40 percent of the vote.
4. Historical change in role of legislative
caucuses and political parties
that many years before party designation was adopted for Minnesota
legislators, the Conservative Caucus in the Legislature, not connected
with the Republican Party, ran campaigns. With reapportionment in 1960,
Republicans began efforts to provide for party endorsement and to conduct
campaign schools for candidates. When party designation was adopted in
1973, the parties took a much larger role. In the 1980s, Schwarzkopf
said, the Republican Party weakened as special interests with extreme
positions moved in. By the 1990s, the party people were at odds with the
Republican Legislative Caucuses in the Legislature. The party wanted
candidates who would support the party platform. The Legislative Caucuses
wanted who could be elected. Today the Legislative Caucuses play a major
role in candidate selection.
Schwarzkopf would like the parties to play a larger role in
legislative races, but only if the parties are more moderate.
Legislative caucuses are more moderate today than the parties because the
job of the legislative caucuses is to get their people elected and to
remain in, or gain, the majority.
5. Abolish annual sessions of
the Legislature --The Legislature would meet regularly in
odd-numbered years, with campaigns occurring in even-numbered years,
Schwarzkopf proposed. Thus, a June primary, for example, would not occur
close to the time that the Legislature is in session, a reason that some
legislators are cool to moving the primary from September to June. A
special session could occur in the even-numbered year as necessary to pass
agreed-upon emergency legislation, he said.
6. Require all political
contributions to be given by individuals, not groups --
Schwarzkopf favors allowing individuals to give as much money as they want
to a party or a candidate. All cumulative contributions over $100 a year
would be publicly disclosed, immediately. All expenditures by the party
or candidates would be disclosed. No association, Political Action
Committee, or any other kind of organization would be allowed to make
The discussion immediately focused on the constitutionality of
prohibiting contributions by organizations. The question, to which no
one present had an informed answer, is whether only individuals, not
organizations, have constitutional rights.
Schwarzkopf wishes independent expenditures could be
prohibited, but he acknowledged such an effort probably is
unconstitutional. The discussion briefly centered on whether it would be
constitutional to permit independent expenditures for political campaigns,
provided that only individual contributions toward those expenditures
would be allowed and would be publicly reported, immediately.
7. Ways to increase voter
turnout --Schwarzkopf is opposed to weekend, multiple-day,
on-line voting, or widespread mail-in voting. He recalled that because
of his work in administering elections in Minneapolis as city clerk, he
was an observer of elections in Albania.
He said he saw individuals who would bring their entire families to the
polling place and then fill out the ballots for everyone who came along.
He fears such abuses by special interest groups if Minnesota
were to change its current voting procedures. He said that MoveOn.org, a
political group, will set up a table as close as legally possible to a
polling place and check off voters on a list as they go to the polls.
One person commented that if precinct caucuses were
eliminated, the primary election would take on any entirely different
characteristic, and that might produce more voters.
8. Opposition to instant runoff
voting --Schwarzkopf is opposed because he fears that a special
interest group might run three candidates, only identifying one as part of
its group, but supporting the other two, in order to pick up the second
and third choice votes in the election.
The idea also is confusing and might end up discouraging
people from voting, he said.
9. Reluctant support for term
limits --Schwarzkopf would limit House and Senate members to 16
years. He said he doesn't like such limits and only recently decided
that they are needed today. With so many safe seats in Congress through
redistricting or concentration of voters in some districts who re-elect
the same person, he sees term limits as the only way to shake up the
10. Should candidates select the
party, instead of the party selecting candidates? --Schwarzkopf
was asked about an idea that political parties would mainly concentrate on
adopting their platforms, not seeking out candidates. Then all
candidates who wanted to run in a party primary would file and pledge
support for the party's platform. The primary election would then
determine the party's endorsee.
Schwarzkopf doesn't like that idea. Many people in the
Republican Party and, he suspects, in the DFL want candidates today to
sign a pledge that they will support the party's platform. Special
interest groups have had their members work within each party to get their
interest into the party's platforms. After the meeting Schwarzkopf said
that as a legislative candidate he would never sign any type of pledge.
When one is in a legislative body, he said, legislation is very seldom
black or white, it is usually grey. He would not want to be held to a
pledge when some benefit can be accomplished for the public by supporting
a piece of grey legislation.
11. Contrast with European
elections --It was noted that elections in other countries seem
to attract significantly higher voter turnout. Schwarzkopf noted that in
most of those countries, coalitions are built after the elections. Many
different parties--often closely affiliated with certain special
interests--will get out the vote for their candidates. After the
elections, then the parties create coalitions in order to form a group
with majority control. In the USA, the coalitions are built before the
election, through the parties.
12. Shift responsibility for
redistricting --Schwarzkopf said he was involved in
redistricting at the state level three times and has had experience
working under a multi-partisan group for redistricting wards within the
city of Minneapolis. Redistricting brings out the worst in elected
officials, no matter who they are or what party they come from, he said.
Invariably they selfishly think only about themselves and making their own
districts safer. They bring as much pressure as possible on whoever is
responsible for redistricting. He cited personal experience with
redistricting where blatant efforts were undertaken to create wards that
would elect someone who would help advance a commercial development.
Legislative leaders use redistricting to keep control or gain
control of the body, to protect friends, and to get rid of
troublemakers. By contrast, political parties have an interest in
creating more districts that are close to 50-50, so they can have a chance
at gaining seats.
Schwarzkopf favors shifting the responsibility for
redistricting to some group other than the Legislature, but he said people
should recognize that it is virtually impossible to remove political
considerations. Judges are subject to political pressures and,
certainly, whoever is placed on any commission will have such pressures
placed upon them.
13. Remove unnecessary names
from the judicial ballot --On the matter of selection of
judges, Schwarzkopf has advocated what he calls a "short ballot" for
judges. It's unnecessary to have a long ballot filled with unopposed
candidates for judge. Under his proposal, if a judge files unopposed, the
judge would be declared elected automatically without appearing on the
ballot. The only judgeship elections on the ballot would be where at
least two persons filed for the same office. He likes having a
judicial commission that would screen candidates for appointment by the
Governor when vacancies occur between elections. Schwarzkopf isn't
excited about an appointment-only process.
14. Don't use the constitution
to end-run the Legislature --Schwarzkopf noted that certain
special interests who have trouble getting their legislation passed are
seeking constitutional amendments instead. Constitutional amendments
shouldn't be a way for legislators to pass their responsibility on to the
He noted that for more than 50 years the state constitution
has specified how the gasoline tax should be distributed. That formula
has made it impossible to shift funds among state, county and municipal
highways as needs have changed.
15. Thanks --On
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Schwarzkopf 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.