Four of the announced candidates for the office of Minnesota Secretary of State spoke at the Metropolitan Association of County Officers' Conference in St. Louis Park last Tuesday evening. DFLers Edwina Garcia, Dee Long, Ann Rest, and Republican Judy Schotzko spoke to a group of about 300 county auditors, treasurers, recorders, and election administrators.
The four candidates focused on the election duties of the position agreeing that increased voter participation was a key goal of the office which has attracted interest since Joan Growe, the current Secretary of State, announced that her 24th year in office would be her last.
The candidates said they are in favor of limited mail ballot elections and less stringent qualifications for absentee voting to increase voter turnout. "When I'm elected I plan to go out before elections and knock on doors, rile people up, Garcia said. "Our job is to promote good citizenship, convince people to be involved, to care to do something." Garcia a state representative for the past eight years said that her desire to be Secretary of State is based on "making Minnesota work better."
While favoring efforts to increase voter turnout all four also said that safeguards against voter fraud and going out to the polls where people get together as a community on election day remain important. "I like the tradition of the polling place of people gathering together to vote with the flag outside," Schotzko said.
Rest who currently is a state representative from the Crystal and New Hope area said being a member of her community's school board convinced her how important voter participation is. "Voters are stakeholders who do make a difference," she said.
Schotzko said though this is her first try for an elected office, her husband said that she had been "preparing twenty five years for this." She currently is an attorney in the city of Blue Earth after having served eleven years on the State Ethical Practices Board.
Long said that when people ask her why she is leaving the House of Representatives for a run at the Secretary of State she replies, "I think it's better to have people ask 'why are you leaving?' rather than 'why don't you leave?'"
All the candidates also said that a non binding Presidential Primary like Minnesota had in 1992 was a failed effort. "It's time to get rid of it unless we can get the state to pay the entire cost," Long said. The candidates also agreed that a change in the State's Primary Election to an earlier date would improve the electoral process. "There's not enough time between the primary which is on September 15th and the general which will be on November 3rd, for DFLer's to get their message across," Rest said. The candidates acknowledged their audience by saying that the teamwork between the county personnel and the Secretary of State's office was what made the election processes successful.
One member of the audience prepared for the evening by cranking a Guns and Roses tape and doing some serious head banging on his drive into the conference. It was the perfect buffer for one who constantly struggles with the mixture, and lack thereof, of the different spheres in his life. So successful has he been in separating the spheres that seldom do they ever intersect. Thus the mixture of GNR with this evening was deliberately startling. To remain detached is to strive to be the perpetual outsider looking in. To witness politics first hand and to be equally fascinated and repulsed by the political world is quite a contrast with being inspired by Axl Rose's gritty vocals. Which one is more important isn't the question so much as which one ultimately means more in this particular life.
While the conviction of all four candidates came across quite clearly this one particular audience member wondered what exactly separates those whose riskiest statement was to be in favor of increased voter participation. To seek any office is to say one can make improvements. Playing the campaign game means appealing to as many as possible and trying to say what the people want to hear. So where has the system broken down? Is it in the politics of cynicism where people run for an office because it is there and not because they offer any new ideas or is it with a group like Guns and Rose whose music appeals to the masses by not only recognizing that cynicism but wallowing in it and offering no viable alternative? And ultimately who is worse off- those that long ago stopped believing in the system's ability to bring about positive change or those that still play the game with an inevitable end?
"And when your fears subside and shadows still remain, I know that you can love me when there's no one left to blame. So never mind the darkness we still can find a way. 'Cause nothin' lasts forever, even cold November rain."