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Meeting with Tim Penny
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, July 17, 2009
Johnson, chair; Marianne Curry, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (by phone), Dan
Loritz (by phone), John Mooty, Jim Olson (by phone), and Wayne Popham (by
Context of the meeting:
Caucus has been exploring issues related to the upcoming campaign for
Minnesota governor. Today we're meeting with a former candidate, on the
Independence Party ticket in 2002, Tim Penny.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Tim Penny, President and CEO, Southern
Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Owatonna, MN, and a senior fellow,
Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Penny has
a B.A. degree in political science from Winona State University. He
served in the Minnesota Senate from 1975 to 1982 and in the U. S. House of
Representatives from 1983 to 1995. He was an unsuccessful candidate for
Governor on the Independence Party ticket in 2002. He previously visited
with the Civic Caucus: http://www.civiccaucus.org/Interviews/Penny_Tim_10-21-05.htm
Comments and discussion--During
Penny's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Good to provide useful
information for candidates--Penny
said he read our memo on possible options for the Civic Caucus to help in
providing information for candidates for Governor. He wishes the Civic
Caucus participation list, now at more than 1,100, should be increased by
a factor of 10 or more. Very few announced candidates or potential
candidates have had any statewide exposure, so it is very important that
special efforts be undertaken to help voters across the state learn about
the candidates and their positions.
2. An opportunity for the
Independence Party--The 2010
election provides an opportunity for the Independence Party, should it
recruit a person of stature with demonstrated leadership to run. Penny
said he will not be running. He still is a member of the Independence
Party and he is happy to help the party recruit a quality candidate.
Several years ago the time was right for him to run, he said, but
professionally and personally, this is not a good time. As much as he is
frustrated by the way the state is going, he doesn't have enough fire in
the belly. He feels strongly that a third party candidate is needed.
3. Candid discussion on budget
priorities is essential--If ever the state needed candid
discussion on its budget priorities, that time is now, he said. Health
care expenses are destroying the budget. Nothing has been done. It's one
thing to cover more people, as provided by Minnesota Care, it's another
thing to let health care inflation run the budget.
4. Priorities needed on
education--You are asking the right question if you're
wondering whether early childhood, K-12, and higher education ought to all
be treated alike, or if one should be given higher priority, he said. He
likes emphasis on accessibility for early childhood and on alternatives to
traditional school districts. He said it appears the Legislature has
decided to let higher education tuition rise, without sufficient financial
aid for the needy.
5. Tie two-year post-high school
institutions to economic development?--Penny
is deeply concerned that the state is over-emphasizing the importance of
college degrees as against more technical, job-related education. He
said the state's two year colleges seem to be over emphasizing the
preparation for an eventual four-year liberal arts degree. Instead, he
said, the two-year institutions should be more closely tied to an economic
development strategy for all Minnesotans, which means more job-related
training in the two-year institutions including short courses and
certificates (as opposed to degrees) and more on-site training
partnerships with businesses.
6. Attack the transportation
backlog--The other big issue is transportation, he said. We
clearly have a backlog of transportation needs. More revenue is needed,
whether from a gasoline tax or other source, he said.
7. Changing the
doesn't see much interest among GOP and DFL insiders in doing much more
than tinkering with the present system. For the parties and the interest
groups and activists the current system works well for them. So he sees
some action on making rules on absentee ballots more uniform among
counties. In terms of major change, such as enactment of Ranked Choice
Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), Penny is not
optimistic. However, he noted that had IRV been in existence, the long
recount for Franken-Coleman would not have been necessary. The second
choices of voters who supported Barkley would have been reassigned to
Franken and Coleman, which would have produced a final result without a
8. Fundamental changes to improve the elections system--Asked
what changes he'd regard as fundamental, Penny outlined the following:
a. Limit sources of
would allow contributions to political campaigns to come only from
individuals who can vote in the state. He'd get rid of contributions by
political action committees and by people who don't live in the state.
redistricting--He'd support a
bi-partisan panel to handle redistricting, instead of having the
Legislature do the job.
c. Enact IRV--Third
party candidates shouldn't be relegated to being spoilers for other
candidates. Allow people to rank candidates in order of preference so
that a winning candidate would have a majority.
d. Allow fusion
voting--A political party should be allowed to close its ballot
for other candidates for a given office if the party chooses to endorse a
candidate from another party.
9. Important qualities for governor--Noting
that Penny said he'll be involved in seeking a candidate for the
Independence Party, a member asked what qualities he believes are
important. Penny listed the following:
a. Belief in
changing the system--The candidate must believe in reform of
the elections system.
b. Fiscal discipline
and responsibility--It is critical that the Governor be honest
and get beyond phony fixes, he said.
transportation infrastructure--The candidate must be serious
about addressing the backlog on transportation. It's more than roads. We
need a transportation network for this century.
d. Have proven
success in leadership--The candidate needs proven success in
the political realm or the private sector. Penny would prefer someone
from the private sector. Political skill is important, but someone from
the private sector will likely have a different view of management. Real
life achievement prepares someone better for leadership, he said.
e. Will make high
quality appointments--Too often Governors make appointments to
cabinet positions from a list of former colleagues. Such a list might be
satisfactory politically but the list isn't likely to produce the best
for term limits--In
response to a question, Penny said he now favors term limits. Too many
people in elected office are just positioning themselves for the next
election or next elective job. The concept of public office as a public
service needs to be elevated.
11, Suggestions for improvement
in the state's economy--Asked about needs for the state's
economy, Penny suggested the following:
transportation infrastructure--Don't continue the debt
approach, he said, without arranging for a source of money to pay the
b. Early childhood education--We
must do better, he said. Penny favors looking at long term solutions to
improving the economy, not short fixes.
two-year community colleges--It would help if the community
colleges in each region were closely aligned with the economic development
organizations, e.g. chambers of commerce, in each region.
d. Realign the
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED)
--Penny said he'd get rid of 90 percent of the programs run by DEED
because they tend to pit one part of the state against the other. He'd
far prefer programs designed to support business everywhere in the state.
12. Broadening the sales tax?--A
Civic Caucus member recalled discussion last week with State Sen. Bonoff.
Penny replied that he believes the sales tax needs to be broadened, even
beyond clothing. He recalled then-Governor Ventura couldn't figure out
why the sales tax applies to lawn maintenance services but not to the work
of the landscape architect. Broadening the tax would also help stabilize
13. State help for specific
to elaborate on his previous comments about use of state money for
business, Penny said he doesn't favor use of state dollars to subsidize
one given business to locate in a certain part of the state. That
includes, he said, the proposed bio-medical development at Pine Island.
Instead the state should be taking steps that will improve the economic
climate around the state, such as lowering the corporate income tax. We
don't need to pit Owatonna, Albert Lea and Fairmont against one another.
All can benefit from economic development in any one city.
Continuing the discussion, Penny said he had supported
tax-increment financing in the Legislature 30 years ago, a tool that
provides benefits to specific businesses and not others. He no longer
supports such a program.
Concentrate on programs that would have a positive impact on
every part of the state, he said.
Responding to a question about inter-state competition, Penny
said he favors strategies that make entire state attractive, rather than
trying to convince one business to locate here. He repeated his thoughts
about a lower corporate tax rate and a revamping of two-year post-high
Summarizing his points, he said he favors a business climate
strategy, not a business subsidy strategy.
14. Has the state fallen behind?--Looking
to the state's position relative to the other 49 states, Penny believes
the state is on the verge of falling further behind. Transportation
infrastructure and high dropout rates in many high schools are examples.
15. Do a better job of assimilating immigrants--Penny
said that his foundation sponsors asset-based dialogues in the cities of
southern Minnesota. These dialogues are designed to look at immigration
as an asset for job growth. Don't concentrate all your efforts on helping
immigrant advocacy groups, he said. Make the entire community aware of
the potential of the new residents. Government agencies aren't always
the best initial point of contact for new immigrants, he said
16. More job-oriented education
in high school?--Returning to
Penny's earlier comments about community colleges, a member asked whether
more should be done at the high school level to prepare students for
work. Penny said he agrees.
17. Leadership by the Governor
needed on transportation--It is critical, Penny said, that the
Governor make a comprehensive proposal covering all expenses, capital and
operating, for all transportation options, roads and rail. Transportation
decision-making is too fragmented in Minnesota, he said.
18. Support for health task
force report--Responding to a question on health care, Penny
said he supports recommendations from the Governor's Health Care
Transformation Task Force (http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/hpsc/hep/transform/ttfreportfinal.pdf).
He suggested Maureen Reed, his running mate for Governor in 2004, as a
good resource on health care.
19. Possible resource people to
advise candidates for Governor--Verne
Johnson said that the Civic Caucus is thinking about interviewing
individuals with valuable knowledge and experience who can advise
candidates for Governor. Penny suggested John Gunyou, city manager,
Minnetonka; Jim Mulder, Association of Minnesota counties; Kelly Harder,
director of Human Services, Steele County; Colleen Landkamer, of Blue
Earth County, former president of the Association of Minnesota Counties,
Jay Kiedrowski, former state commissioner of finance; Mary Brainerd, CEO,
Health Partners; Janet Dolan, former president, Tennant Company; Bill
George, former chairman of Medtronic; and Bob Hoffman, vice president,
Minnesota State University, Mankato, a former Taylor Corporation
20. Thanks--On behalf
of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Penny for being with us today.