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Summary of Meeting with John Wodele
8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, August 16,
John Wodele, consultant, representing the Council for Electoral Leadership
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, Bill Frenzel (by phone), Paul Gilje, Jim
Hetland (by phone), and Jim Olson (by phone)
Introduction of Wodele
Paul introduced Wodele, consultant and representative of the Council for
Electoral Leadership, a multi-partisan organization that is lobbying the
Legislature to advance the date of the primary election from September to
June. Wodele served as a key advisor to former Governor Jesse Ventura.
He is a former mayor of Wabasha, MN,
and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Minneapolis in 1993.
He coordinated the Minnesota primary and general election campaign for
Bill Clinton in 1992.
Commentary and discussion
Wodele's remarks and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Background on the Council for
Electoral Leadership --The Council was formed primarily by the
initiative of Kelly Doran, who had dropped out of the race for DFL nominee
for governor in 2006. Doran led in the formation of the Council, whose
membership includes key representatives of the Republican Party (Bill
Cooper), the DFL Party (Vance Opperman), and the Independence Party (Dean
Barkley). The goal of the Council was to focus on a central electoral
objective, changing the primary date, rather than a broad agenda. The
Council is a 501 (c) (4) organization, which means that contributions are
not deductible, but the Council engages in direct education and lobbying
of the Legislature. The Council raised $25,000 and spent $20,000
last year, most of which was for lobbying and administrative expense. The
Council has about 80 members. There are no dues, as such, although the
money is raised from within the membership.
The Board of Directors of the Council currently has two
objectives, continuing its work on changing the primary date, and changing
campaign finance. The Council expects to have a campaign finance proposal
ready for the 2009 Legislature.
2. Progress on moving the
primary date --During 2007 the Council had some success in
moving a bill for changing the primary date. The bill got to the floor in
both the House and Senate. Steve Simon was the House author and Dan
Larson, the Senate author. While there was good House support, the DFL
leadership declined to bring the bill to a vote because it feared
unfriendly amendments from Republicans. Early on, the various party
representatives on the Council agreed that they would work for a "clean"
bill, dealing only with the date of the primary. Enough votes weren't
available in the Senate to pass the bill.
The bill provides that the primary would move from the first
Tuesday after the first Monday in September to the second Tuesday in
June. The Council isn't locked into that language, Wodele said. The
Council would like the primary in June, before the heat of the summer.
3. Fear of impact on incumbents
--The biggest problem the Council encountered in the Legislature was
fear that incumbent legislators would be placed at a disadvantage if the
primary date were advanced, Wodele said. Legislators feared that they'd
have too little time to campaign, because they'd be occupied with the
legislative session during most of the spring.
Wodele said, however, that primary challenges are rare in both
parties. Generally, primary battles occur when there's an open seat.
Further, other legislators believe an early primary is an advantage to an
incumbent. Incumbents might not be too anxious to get drawn into a
debate with primary challengers who are anxious for attention. Thus
incumbents can claim they are too busy in St. Paul
to come back to the district for campaigning.
Nevertheless, incumbents get nervous when they are sitting in
the Legislature and imagine opponents going door-to-door back home, up to
300 miles away.
4. Advantages of an earlier
primary --The political parties like an earlier primary, he
said, because the bulk of campaigning can be concentrated on defeating the
other parties' candidates, not with intra-party squabbles. A political
party can concentrate its finances and energy on the general election.
Also an earlier primary increases the likelihood that a party's endorsee
will survive the primary.
5. Possible connection with
gerrymandering -A Civic Caucus
member said that gerrymandering creates more safe districts. A later
primary might offset the gerrymandering advantage to some degree, the
member suggested, because at least with a later primary you are giving
non-endorsees in gerrymandered districts more time to campaign.
6. Advantages of a concentrated
primary --Wodele said a party with a vulnerable incumbent
doesn't need a long primary season for challengers to mount a successful
campaign in opposition. A short, highly-focused, energy-filled primary
campaign can do the job.
7. "Independent" voters can
influence a party's primary election --Wodele disputed a
contention that far left or far right endorsees necessarily have an
advantage in the primary elections. In Minnesota you need not be
registered as a member of a given political party to be able to vote in
that party's primary election, he noted. Thus, independent voters are
free to enter primaries and vote for other candidates if they think party
endorsees are too far to the left or right.
The discussion briefly centered on whether voters deliberately
enter a party's primary with mischievous intent. Wodele said such voting
might occur on the margins but evidence indicates that the vast majority
are not deliberately voting cross-party to try to disrupt a party's
process of picking its own nominee.
8. Question of legislative
support in 2008 --A member asked about prospects for action in
2008 on advancing the date of the primary. Wodele said it is possible
that rather than concentrate on the House, where support already is
evident, the Council might first concentrate on the Senate, where more
work needs to be done. Asked about support for the plan, Wodele repeated
that the DFL, Republican, and Independence Parties are in support, plus
the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. There was some discussion about
possible support from a group of legislators who call themselves the 20-20
9. Judicial selection issue not
likely --If the Council were to reach a consensus on changing
the method of choosing judges, that issue could be added to its agenda.
However, such a consensus is not likely. Wodele personally likes the
present system. He trusts voters to reject judicial candidates who
promise during campaigns to rule certain ways on cases or to otherwise
--On the matter of
instant runoff voting, or ranked voting, as it also is called, the
informal sense in the Council is to observe Minneapolis'
experience before getting into the issue. Wodele said some people have
trouble understanding how IRV would work.
11. Support for a presidential preference primary
Council has endorsed a presidential primary for Minnesota, but it is a
lower tier issue for the Council than an early primary date. Wodele is
intrigued by the possibility of regional primaries.
12. But primaries must be "open"
--Wodele said the Council supports primaries that allow anyone to
doesn't have a tradition of requiring people to declare public affiliation
with a party as a condition for participation in a primary.
13. No concern about
legislative caucuses --Wodele sees nothing wrong with political
parties or legislative caucuses raising money for political candidates.
Personally, he prefers that donors make their gifts directly to a
candidate, rather than to another organization. It was noted that Sheila
Kiscaden and others have raised questions with the Civic Caucus about
excessive involvement of legislative caucuses in certain races. Wodele
referred to one legislative race where the caucuses were heavily involved,
but he said that the elected candidate is very independent and won't yield
to pressure to support caucus positions because of having received
financial support from the caucus.
14. Redistricting not on the
Council agenda --Wodele said it is very difficult to change the
process because of the self interest of the legislators, who are the only
ones who can make a change. When necessary, courts intervene, and that is
fine with Wodele. He noted that even "safe" districts aren't always
safe. In a recent special election in Steve Sviggum's district, which,
Wodele said, was designed to be safe for Republicans, Sviggum's GOP
successor received only 53 percent of the vote, which indicates the
district isn't all that safe after all.
15. Poor public policy to write
revenue guarantees into the constitution --The Legislature
ought to be making the revenue raising and spending decisions, rather than
writing certain guarantees into the constitution, he said. He's
sympathetic with the advocates for natural resources, who have been
working so hard to have the state invest in clear air and clean water.
He wishes elected officials could see the importance of taking aggressive
action on something that is so vital to the state's future.
16. Is citizenry less educated
today on public policy? --Turning to issues of the media,
Wodele said that with the abundance of news-related outlets on cable
television 24/7, plus all the websites one would think that the citizenry
would better educated than it is. He cited surveys from the Pew Research Center
indicating that people know less today than the past. For example, in
1989, 74 percent of the people knew the name of the Vice President. In
2007, the percentage was 69 percent. The pattern was the same for several
other national offices. The only exception was the Speaker of the House.
In 1989, 14 percent knew the Speaker was Tom Foley; in 2007, 49 percent
knew the Speaker was Nancy Pelosi.
Wodele said he is a big supporter of newspapers. They are not
going away. When you take the total information system, newspapers still
are dominant in the media. They have a greater range of readership than
any other news outlet. Take, for example, the 35W bridge disaster,
Wodele said. Who but the newspapers could have provided that coverage?
You see the 10 o'clock news, but you can't wait for the paper the next
morning. Large metro dailies have very little direct newspaper
competition within their local area for local news. They should carve out
17. Thanks --On
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Wodele for meeting with us this
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.