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of Meeting with Robert J. Brown
8301 Creekside Circle,
Bloomington, MN 55437
speaker: Robert J. Brown,
former state senator, professor emeritus of educational leadership,
University of St. Thomas
Johnson, chair; David Broden, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, and Tim McDonald
Context of the meeting--In
light of Robert J. Brown's involvement in education and his experience as
a state senator, in addition to his being a regular Civic Caucus
participant, the Civic Caucus invited Brown to discuss two topics that
have been on the Civic Caucus agenda, (1) the elections process in
and (2) education.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Robert J.
Brown, professor emeritus of educational leadership, University
of St. Thomas. Brown served 10 years in the Minnesota State Senate. He
was State Chairman and later National Committeeman for the Minnesota
Republican Party. His degrees: BS in math and speech, Winona State; M.A.
and Ph.D. in educational administration and psychology, University of
Brown currently serves
on the Minnesota State Board of Medical Practice, the Board of Advisers to
the St. Thomas College of Applied Professional Studies, the Board of
Directors for the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, the Civic
Education Committee for the Minnesota State Bar Association, and is a
member of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Brown directs the St.
Thomas National Youth Sports Program, an academic and sports summer camp
that serves over 300 low income 10 to 16 year olds, over 80 per cent of
whom are students of color.
Comments and discussion--During
Brown's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
caucuses-endorsements-nominations-elections--Brown said the
process of selecting candidates who will represent their respective
parties in the general election should involve as broad a group as
possible from the parties. However, activists, who often representing
narrow interests, dominate the process.
immensely difficult, he said, to keep a small group from controlling the
selection of candidates. While the state has a legitimate interest in how
the political parties conduct their business, the state can't, for
example, require parties to endorse multiple candidates for the same
office. Nor can the state require open primaries without endorsements.
The state could discontinue the official role of precinct caucuses, but it
can't prevent political parties from conducting such caucuses on their
2. Possibly use primary elections to elect
party officers--It's possible, he said, to broaden public
participation on selection of party officers. State law could require, as
condition for official party recognition on the ballot, that party
officers, from the precinct level on up, would have to stand for election
in the primary. Such an action would prevent any narrow group from
automatically taking control of a party, he said, although the ballot
would be cluttered with names largely unknown to voters.
3. Lack of understanding about the purpose of
precinct caucuses--The purpose of precinct caucuses isn't
widely understood by members of the public, Brown said, as evidenced by
caucuses that were held this year. In many precincts, people showed up to
cast their preference votes for President and then left without sticking
around for the caucus meetings.
4. Support for a presidential preference
primary--Brown favors having
Minnesota holding a presidential preference primary. Possibly, he said,
precinct caucuses could occur the evening of the presidential preference
primary. It's good to hold the precinct caucuses for all parties at the
same time, he said, to keep people from attending more than one caucus.
Brown said he is open to creative ways of producing broader precinct
caucus attendance, such as allowing people to participate via the
5. Advance the date of the primary election--Brown
would advance the date of
primary, now in September, to June, which would give the parties the
summer months to do a better job of preparing for the intensive part of
the campaign beginning in September.
6. Critical importance of civics education--The
average student in other countries understands more about the political
process in the
USA than do
students who live here, he said. We aren't doing an adequate job of
informing our own citizens of the political process, so we shouldn't be
surprised that general citizens participate at such low levels.
7. Opposition to ranked choice voting--A
Civic Caucus member inquired whether using ranked choice voting, also
known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), in primary elections would have the
effect of increasing the influence of more people within the political
party. Brown believes the concept of voting for only one person, without
a second choice, is solidly ingrained in our political system. Moreover,
he said, smart people can figure out how to influence the outcome even
with ranked choice voting. (With ranked choice voting, the voter ranks
candidates in order of preference, with the rankings used to choose a
8. Increase the importance of the party
platform, relative to campaign fundraising--More grassroots
involvement in the party might be possible if the political parties were
to make platforms important, but today platform activity is overwhelmed by
fundraising, he said. Theoretically, development of a party platform
begins at the precinct caucus level, with the potential of broad citizen
participation. In years past the political side and the finance side of
a party were separated, a Civic Caucus member said.
9. Problems in campaign finance--Brown
is opposed to the vastly enlarged role of legislative caucuses in
fundraising. (Legislative caucuses are the on-going organizations of the
majority and minority members of the House and Senate, as opposed to the
once-a-biennium grass-roots citizens meetings known as precinct
caucuses.) House and Senate leaders are able to shake down lobbyists for
major contributions to their caucuses, he said. There's no limit on
contributions to the legislative caucuses, as contrasted with limits on
direct contributions to candidates, he noted.
puzzled how the courts can hide behind the first amendment in upholding
unlimited contributions. Protecting free speech doesn't seem to be
related to how much money is given by organizations, he said.
for change that appeals to Brown is to require that all contributions to a
candidate must come from individuals living in the area where the
candidate runs for office.
10. Proposals for campaign finance change--Brown
favors immediate and full disclosure of all contributions to candidates,
to candidate committees, to parties, and to independent committees working
on behalf of candidates. Any campaign ad must include the name of
someone, not just the organization.
11. Support for changing judiciary selection--In
response to a question, Brown said he favors merit selection for judges,
with retention elections, as proposed a commission headed by former
Governor Al Quie.
12. Need for leadership by elected officials--A
Civic Caucus member asked Brown why Minnesota elected officials today seem
more interested in management of the state, not leadership. Brown replied
that one reason is the dramatic change in the media. The print media
provides far less in-depth reporting of issues today than in the past.
An outgrowth of the lack of leadership is the submission of issues directly to the voters. Brown opposes using
legislator proposed amendments which, he said, are a copout for legislative budget decisions (e.g, the current environmental
amendment). But he does favor initiative and referendum (with fairly difficult standards for getting such measures on the ballot)
as a citizen check on the Legislature.
13. Importance of change in education--The
discussion shifted from the elections process to education. Citing
problems with education of students in Minnesota, where some school
systems have "imploded", Brown said the goal must be how to help children
learn, not to protect the systems. He said he is a strong advocate for
competition. Thus he is active in the charter schools movement. He also
believes much more must be done with early childhood learning.
14. Provide advocates for children--Every
child needs an advocate, either parents or others who can step in where
parents aren't advocating on behalf of their children. Advocates can
come from throughout the population, including youth and retired people.
Advocates must come from sources that are comfortable for the families
involved. Thus, they should come from neighborhood organizations where
the families themselves participate or trust.
Caucus member said schools must make it easier for volunteers to come into
the schools. Currently, many people feel they are unwelcome--at least
partly because of security measures.
15. Contribution by Twin Cities Rise--During
a discussion of the importance of student motivation in the learning
process, a Civic Caucus member noted the great success of Twin Cities
Rise, which helps prepare disadvantaged adults for employment by helping
them become motivated.
16. Finding good leadership for civic and
governmental affairs in the Twin Cities area--Brown recalled
that 30-40 years ago many home-grown businesses were led by individuals
who felt a strong personal stake in the future of the metropolitan area.
The region is losing its uniqueness, Brown said. More needs to be done at
the group vice president and CFO levels with the current group of business
17. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Brown for meeting with us today.