here for PDF format
for participants' responses to this interview
Summary of meeting with Chuck
Slocum and Joe Mansky
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, June 20, 2008
Guest speakers: Chuck Slocum,
consultant, and Joe Mansky, director, Ramsey County elections
Present: Verne Johnson, chair; Chuck
Clay, Paul Gilje, and Jim Olson (by phone)
A. Context of the meeting--The Civic
Caucus scheduled this meeting to review whether actions by the 2008
Legislature indicate a change in past polarization and paralysis.
B. Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced the speakers:
* Chuck Slocum, president of The Williston Group, is a consultant on
professional business development services. His 30-plus year in public
affairs in the Twin Cities area began with a stint as governmental affairs
coordinator at Dayton Hudson Corp. and later as state chair of the
Independent Republican so Minnesota. He also served as executive director
of the Minnesota Business Partnership.
* Joe Mansky has been Ramsey County elections manager since 2001. Prior to
coming to Ramsey County, he was the manager of Governor Jesse Ventura’s
redistricting commission. He also served 15 years on the elections staff
of the Minnesota secretary of state’s office, the last 11 years as state
C. Comments and discussion--During
comments by Slocum and Mansky and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the
following points were raised:
1. Centralized decision making in three offices--
Slocum and Mansky agreed that too many decisions during the 2008 session
were concentrated in three offices: the Governor, the Speaker of the House
and the majority leader of the Senate. Regular legislative committees as
well as conference committees yielded major decisions to the three top
officers. Consequently, crucial legislative decisions were not
transparent, but hidden within the frequent meetings of the top officers.
Such a process, they said, weakened the committee process and made it
difficult for other legislators to know what was going on, let alone have
Mansky said that significant improvements in the elections process
occurred in 2008, in part because groups like county elections officials
received "pre-clearance" for approval of certain legislation from the
governor's office and lead legislators. In effect, the county elections
officials did what worked for them to get bills passed, but this process
effectively reduced the ability of ordinary citizens to have a meaningful
impact on the result. Moreover, he said, this process also reduced the
opportunity for the news media to report what was going on.
Rules of the House and Senate both have deadlines designed to avoid a
late-session rush to completion, Slocum noted, but those rules were widely
ignored. Slocum said the legislative process demands public openness to
succeed and suggested that the single house legislature is a reform worth
consideration. As a first step, Slocum advocated that more House and
Senate committee meetings on the same subject could be held jointly,
benefiting the public and the Legislature.
2. Whether the 2008 Legislature experienced major
accomplishments-- Mansky said he was pleased with legislation
that now allows elections officials to utilize information from the
National Change of Address system to update voter records. Slocum said
that while significant action occurred on transportation and property
taxes, the Legislature has left itself with what might be a $2 billion
deficit in the 2009 session.
3. Change the redistricting process--Slocum
and Mansky agreed that the Legislature ought to reduce its current
detailed involvement in redistricting. Slocum urged consideration of the
Carlson-Mondale amendment for an independent process. The Legislature
shouldn't relinquish its ultimate authority over redistricting, Mansky
said, but it should establish a commission of citizens, not judges, to
bring redistricting plans for the Legislature to vote up or down, without
change. If the Legislature rejected three such plans, the judicial branch
could then develop a final plan, Mansky said.
Mansky said that the Legislature should enact redistricting guidelines to
be followed by any such commission. Such guidelines later would give the
courts legislative direction in the development of any court-ordered
plans, he said. He believes that House and Senate races would become more
competitive if incumbent legislators played a different role in
redistricting than has been the case in the past, namely approving plans
rather than creating them. As a consequence, the Legislature might be
composed of more members who would be amenable to deciding issues by
compromising, instead of having to live with excessive polarization and
4. Change the precinct caucus system--More
people need to be welcomed into the political process, Slocum said, and
that means making it easier for them to have a role in the selection of
nominees. As an indication of the widespread desire for participation, he
cited the large number of people, many not previously involved in
politics, making contributions of time and money to the Obama candidacy.
Open primaries would encourage more participation in the state, he said.
Another change would be for political parties to offer multiple
endorsements for the same office, rather than having leadership-dominated
conventions select a preferred candidate.
Many people came to precinct caucuses in 2008 thinking that they were
elections, but the circumstances (clogged roads; unprepared caucus
leaders) made it impossible for people to participate in a fashion that
inspires confidence in the system, Mansky said.
The group briefly discussed whether--in light of the fact that state law
grants political parties certain preferences and donor tax incentives in
the elections process--political parties should be required to assume
greater responsibilities in opening the endorsement-nominations process to
5. Some benefits for repealing party designation
for legislators--In response to a question Mansky suggested
that, without party designation, minority-party voters and candidates
would benefit in districts that are overwhelmingly dominated by the
majority. Slocum recalled that he favored party designation when it was
enacted in the early 1970s. The change has not improved the quality of
candidates or the discourse on issues. If it were repealed, you'd still
have majority and minority groups as existed before party designation were
imposed, he said. Slocum urged strategic attention to the recruitment and
preparation of candidates—a mentoring program of sorts.
6. Potential uses of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)
where its constitutionality is questioned--Mansky took note of legal
opinions and legal challenges to IRV, even as St. Paul and Minneapolis are
moving ahead. Constitutional questions with IRV may not come into play, he
contended, in a primary election. However, in a general election,
constitutional and statutory provisions make the legality of the IRV
method legally suspect, he said.
Thus, Mansky suggested, if the Legislature chooses to enact a presidential
preference primary for 2012, it might want to authorize IRV as the voting
method for that primary. Such an approach, he said, would be useful to
voters who would be asked to select their choice for party nominee many
months before an eventual winner would emerge from the primary and caucus
In response to a question, Mansky said he thinks IRV may also be useful in
state primary elections.
7. No enthusiasm for the Legislature's handing
off controversial decisions to voters via constitutional amendments--Slocum
and Mansky believe it is an undesirable trend for the Legislature to turn
controversial issues to the voters in constitutional amendments, as was
done for transportation in 2006 and is proposed for water, outdoors, and
the arts in 2008. Legislators stand accountable for their actions in
elections and are legitimately subject to influence from their voters,
Mansky said. But, he said, no such accountability is present in a
statewide referendum. Initiative and referendum measures in other states
are dominated by groups with a special interest in the outcome. A Civic
Caucus member observed that other groups, such as education, ought
logically be expected to seek constitutional revenue protection in coming
years, in light of these other precedents.
Slocum said that despite his opposition to the process he's inclined to
support the constitutional amendment because he wants resources made
available to outdoors, water and the arts.
8. Immediate, real-time disclosure of all
campaign contributions to all types of groups advocating for or against
candidates--Way too much money is spent on campaigns, Slocum
said. There's no reason, he said, why every campaign contribution and
every expenditure by every kind of organization that is campaigning for or
against candidates can't be available online within 24 hours of the gift
or the expenditure. Mansky said he agrees.
Continuing discussion of campaign finance, Mansky and Slocum agreed that
legislative caucuses play too large a role in paying for legislative
campaigns, which has the effect of making legislators who receive such
support feel beholden to caucus leadership when votes are taken on
Slocum noted that the House Republican caucus stripped support from six
caucus members who went against the House leadership and Governor Pawlenty
and supported a major transportation funding bill calling for increases in
gasoline and metro sales taxes.
9. Expenses for administration of elections can
be much less--Mansky said counties could administer elections
for much less money if they were allowed to use the tools available today.
An example would include establishing vote centers in locations like
shopping centers, large office building and so on where the voters from
many communities could conveniently vote for several days before and on
election day. Another example would be to permit election officials to use
the information in the state driver's license database to establish,
verify and update voter records. However, he said, the state is so closely
divided politically that both Democrats and Republicans are somewhat wary
of making significant changes in election practices that might give one
side an advantage.
10. Stagger terms for State Senate--State
Senators won't be standing for election this fall, since all their
four-year terms expire in 2010, Mansky said. House members stand for
election every two years. It's tougher for the House and Senate to reach
agreement when the Senate doesn't have any "skin in the game", as was the
case in the 2007-2008 session, he said. Mansky suggested that the Senate
might become more flexible in its negotiations with the governor and the
House if the terms of senators were staggered so that one-half would run
for reelection every two years.
11. Minnesota's national role as a public policy
leader--Minnesota still has wide respect in the nation but is
losing its leadership role in public policy, Mansky said. Many innovative
practices are now being implemented in other states, he said. Minnesota
still has many strengths and remains the national leader in voter turnout
and in its use of independently verifiable voting systems.
12. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Slocum and Mansky for meeting with us today.
* * * * *
Additional comment by Chuck Slocum--After
reviewing and approving the summary, Slocum sent the following memo
outlining five changes he has previously advocated and which he thinks
still should be considered today. Mansky said he agrees with Slocum.
Regional primaries--For national
presidential contests, I urged adoption of the regional primary-caucus
option to be held across the country - the East, South, Midwest and West -
with each a month apart between March and June of the election year. If
they chose to opt-in, all states in a region would be required to schedule
their primaries or caucuses on the same day. The order of the contests
would rotate by region every four years. Though the idea has generated
some interest, it has never been seriously considered by
Multiple endorsements-- The political
parties, I believed, should adopt a multiple endorsement option at
conventions to encourage and formally back more than one candidate when
the occasion arises, resulting in more broadly based activity within the
party and allowing the primary voters to make the final choice.
Unicameral-- After viewing up close
the machinations of the Minnesota House-Senate conference committees and
resultant political chicanery, I backed the creation of a unicameral - one
house - state legislature by constitutional amendment. Years later, in
1999-2000, I was privileged to work with Minnesotans for a Single House
Legislature, supporting Gov. Jesse Ventura's effort to place a
constitutional amendment before the voters - an effort that was
unsuccessful despite overwhelming public support.
Electoral college-- Frankly, even 30
years ago, local governments knew how to count votes accurately. I backed
abolishing the antiquated Electoral College. This bipartisan idea had been
seriously considered in 1969 when President Nixon and an overwhelming
majority of the Democrat-controlled U.S. House supported the move, only to
be blocked by the Southern Democrats who controlled the U.S. Senate.
Timely disclosure of contributions--
As I continued my volunteer work over the years as part of "kitchen
cabinets" and as a candidate recruiter, fund-raiser and campaign
organizer, I began to understand the need for another reform: the timely
disclosure of all financial contributions to candidates and parties. I
pushed it in the 1990s as an appointee of Gov. Arne Carlson to the
Minnesota Ethical Practices (Campaign Finance Disclosure) Board.