here for PDF format
Here for Participant Responses to this
of Meeting with Keesha Gaskins
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, July 3,
Speaker: Keesha Gaskins,
Executive Director, League of Women Voters Minnesota
Johnson, chair; Charles Clay, Diane Flynn, Paul Gilje, Jim Olson (by
phone), and Wayne Popham (by phone)
Context of the meeting--Today's
meeting is one of several with thought leaders in Minnesota concerning
elections, an area of interest very close to the League of Women Voters
of Minnesota (LWVMN).
Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Keesha
Gaskins, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters
Minnesota. Gaskins, has a law degree from Northeastern University School
of Law, Boston, MA, formerly was a litigation attorney in the Twin Cities
area. Her immediately previous position was executive director of the
Minnesota Women's Political Caucus. She's a graduate of Jefferson High
School, Bloomington, MN. During Gaskins' comments and in discussion with
the Civic Caucus the following points were raised:
1. Judicial independence study--The
League of Women Voters Minnesota’s judicial study is complete.
Gaskins said the study supports retention elections for judges as well as
criteria to evaluate judges. The study was begun before the Quie
commission issued its report. Gaskins acknowledged that some people have
asked why the system for selecting judges should be changed because
Minnesota has yet to experience the expensive, highly-partisan campaigns
for judge that have characterized other states, including Wisconsin.
It's much better, she said, to make changes before citizens have lost
trust in the judiciary, rather than after. It's more difficult to regain
trust than to retain trust, she said.
2. Campaign finance reform--The
League of Women Voters is working closely with Common Cause on finding
ways to limit influence of money in politics, Gaskins said. The only way
to combat the ability of independent groups to make unlimited
contributions on behalf of specific candidates would be some way to offset
such contributions with public money for their opponents, she said.
said she's not sure there's a constitutional way to limit the large
campaign expenditures by the Republican and Democratic caucuses of the
Minnesota House and Senate.
3. League of Women Voters approach to taking
positions on issues--According to its website, every two years
at the League of Women Voters Minnesota State Convention, the delegation
adopts a study to be conducted over the next two years. A study committee
is appointed of League members from throughout the state of Minnesota.
The committee researches the topic, organizes informational meetings and
public forums, writes a report, and produces study guides. At the end of
the study period, Local Leagues discuss the subject and give input to the
committee which is used to form the League's position on the issue.
At the Convention in
2007, the League adopted a re-study on the Selection of Judges.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; 2003-2005:
Alternate Voting Systems; 2001-2003:
Immigration in Minnesota; 1999-2001:
Sustainable Agriculture; 1997-1999:
Election of Judges; 1995-1997:
Minnesota State Spending; 1993-1995:
Financing State Government.
Copies of these
studies are available on the League of Women Voters website. The
principles in these studies form the basis of the League of Women Voters'
position on specific legislation, Gaskins said.
4. Membership challenges--The League
of Women Voters is experiencing membership challenges, Gaskins said,
because it needs to attract younger women. The organization has an
identity problem, she said, because people aren't necessarily attracted to
a "league of women voters." Many women who become active while in
college don't remain in the organization in the location where they
attended college, she said. Currently the state organization has about
2,000 members, of which one-half are in the Twin Cities metro area and
one-half in the rest of the state.
whether membership can increase, Gaskins replied that she doesn't believe
the desire for civics education is any different today from years past.
The vast majority of people yearn for the same things, she said, such as
good schools and a safe community.
5. Concerns about Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)--Gaskins
personally is not excited by IRV, in which voters rank candidates in order
of preference. Most people of color wouldn't get elected under IRV, she
believes. Further, in at-large races where more than one person is
elected, Gaskins doesn't think IRV would survive constitutional
scrutiny. FairVote Minnesota is doing an effective job of organizing
around IRV, but she thinks that people don't understand the concept. Her
concern is that communities that are frequently impacted by lack of public
education campaigns will be disenfranchised if there are not sufficient
and targeted education efforts around how IRV works. It was noted that
San Francisco apparently has successfully used IRV, but Gaskins said the
demographics there are different from Minneapolis-St. Paul.
supports the option to use Instant Runoff Voting to elect State or Local
Officials in single seat elections. LWVMN also supports the continued use
of the plurality voting system in our elections.
Board reserves the right to decide the appropriateness of legislation
proposing to replace the plurality voting system with the Instant Runoff
System at the state level.
strongly supports the right of local governments and municipalities to
choose Instant Runoff Voting for their own local elections.
to understand how votes in an election are tabulated and how a candidate
actually wins an election. If a change in elections systems occurs, LWVMN
strongly supports adequate voter education.
not support Approval, Borda Count, or Condorcet as alternative voting
6. Possible chances in precinct caucuses and
party endorsement--Gaskins said she is largely satisfied with
the present system. The ability to conduct fair and effective precinct
caucuses, she said, is largely an internal matter for the political
Caucus member wondered whether caucuses and party endorsement seem to be
captured more by voters and candidates on the more extreme wings of the
political parties, with moderates largely left out.
7. Racism in Minnesota--Gaskins said
that Minnesota, whose residents usually view themselves as progressive, is
among the most racist states in the nation in terms of delivery of social
services to children. She cited data from the Children's Defense Fund
Children's Defense Fund Minnesota's Annual KIDS COUNT Data Book and the
Women’s Foundation report on the Status of Girls in Minnesota indicating
the large number of underserved children in the state.
8. Support for transit legislation--Gaskins
said the League of Women Voters in Minnesota has strong positions to
increase public transit and to reduce urban sprawl. The organization
testified in favor of major transportation legislation that was enacted in
2008. When six Republican legislators went against their caucus and
supported the bill, the League thanked them for their courage.
9. Concern for the environment--Responding
to a question, Gaskins said that environmental concerns are a very high
priority for the League of Women Voters.
10. Changes in redistricting--The
League of Women Voters has a huge interest in redistricting, Gaskins
said. First, the League is deeply concerned about making sure that an
accurate census occurs, counting all people, including immigrants.
has no current position on any pending proposed legislation regarding
redistricting changes. Gaskins said she is opposed to the fact that only
retired judges--mainly white males--would sit on the commission drawing
the boundaries in the proposal prepared by the Carlson-Mondale group at
the Humphrey Institute.
11. Getting out the vote on the constitutional
amendment--The League of Women Voters Minnesota will be working
hard, Gaskins said, to make sure that the public understands how voting on
the clean water land and legacy constitutional amendment operates. In
Minnesota the passage of a constitutional amendment requires a majority of
all persons voting in the election, not just those who choose to vote on
the ballot measure. The effect is that if a person goes to the polls but
doesn't cast a vote on the measure, the effect is the same as if the
individual votes no.
12. Whether the Legislature should have
submitted the amendment--In response to a question about
whether the Legislature is abdicating its decision-making role by throwing
an issue to the people rather than deciding the issue itself, Gaskins
replied that the matter has been decided. The issue of whether a tax
increase should be put to the voters rather than to the legislature was
appropriately fought during the last legislative session. Those who were
against it did not prevail.
before Minnesotans now is whether or not to vote for the substantive
constitutional amendment. In her opinion, to vote no because a person
believes it should have never been a constitutional amendment, assuming a
person otherwise supports the substantive intent of the amendment, would
be tantamount to cutting off one’s nose to spite your face. The defeat
of the amendment would undoubtedly be used as an argument to limit future
funding for both arts and the environment.
13. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Gaskins for meeting with us today.