Advocates and Allies in Office: Minnesota Primary 2012
With the upcoming primaries on the horizon and many important issues on the political docket, hopeful politicians around the state are fine-tuning their platforms and strengthening their campaigns. Being an informed voter is a must, and it takes time to research each potential candidate in order to make the correct decision for your values. The following hopeful politicians are just a few of the noteworthy candidates who are all in support of equality and GLBT rights. But their campaigns aren’t simply about marriage equality—none of these candidates are simply “Rainbow” candidates. Their plans to improve education systems, the environment, and the economy show that they are dedicated to the future of this progressive and free-thinking state.
Ian Alexander, DFL
Candidate for State Representative for District 59B
As a resident of North Minneapolis, Ian Alexander is excited about the prospect of representing Minnesota’s 59th District, which is “the most economically, racially, and culturally diverse district in the state of Minnesota now. For me, representing this area would be a great privilege because I’d be able to represent a community that needs a lot of support from many different angles.”
One of the biggest factors motivating Alexander to run was the marriage amendment. “I’m really against the constitutional amendment that makes it impossible for people of the same sex to become married couples. I’m a family law attorney, and I do a lot of adoptions—particularly in the last year involving LGBT couples. It seems like such an insulting thing to make it more difficult for people to adopt children and become loving families. It seems like the last thing the government should be getting involved in.” Born to a biracial couple shortly after interracial marriage was legalized, Alexander understands the importance of marriage equality.
“People that love one another should have the ability to get married. I think an amendment to make it even more difficult is just crazy. We don’t evolve on our morality. We evolve on our understanding of morality and our understanding of loving relationships between people.”
Alexander is aware that simply increasing the budgets of schools won’t fix every issue. He notes, “Minneapolis now has the highest achievement gap in the nation between African-American students and white students. It’s not just funding that will solve this issue; there are fundamental things we all have to look at. A lot of it comes down to the way we teach, the tools we give the teachers to teach, class sizes, and early childhood investment. You need to invest in children at an early age because, when they formally enter the education system, a lot of the problems we have are children who are struggling to be at the same level as those who had more opportunity.”
Alexander also hopes to improve the economic situation in his district by enticing large businesses to relocate to the area, particularly in North Minneapolis. He notes, “When you go to West Broadway, all you have to do is walk down the street and you’ll discover that 90% of the businesses there are non-profits. People want businesses there…but businesses don’t move just because they want the tax cut. They come to the area because they want access to the biggest asset in Minneapolis, which is well-educated people. We need to look at businesses more holistically.”
Working as a family law attorney in North Minneapolis also has been an eye-opening experience for Alexander. “I see a lot of people who are very vulnerable. They don’t need government to take care of them. They need government to empower them to better themselves. I find, right now, government does a lot to help people in their current situation, but there’s more it can do to empower people.”
Alexander hopes to empower the people of his district by being an advocate who is willing to “roll up his sleeves and find solutions.” Alexander knows that “you need to engage people one-on-one and advocate at the same time. Discussing things to death doesn’t solve problems. Solving problems requires people to sit down, roll up their sleeves, and find things in common that lead to solutions. You have to look at everything as a possibility to move an agenda forward, not to just discuss the issue more.”
Ian Alexander is endorsed by the International Union of Operating Engineers, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, and Minneapolis Building and Construction Trade Council. For more information, visit www.voteforian.com.
Jeff Wilfahrt, DFL
Candidate for State Representative for District 57B
When he stood before the state legislature last spring to testify against the marriage amendment, Jeff Wilfahrt knew that the fight for marriage equality was only beginning and that the road to equality would not be easy traveling. But Wilfahrt also knew that he had to wholeheartedly join the fight for equality in order to honor a very special man: his son. Believed to be the first openly gay soldier to die in combat after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2010, CPL Andrew Wilfahrt served and died in the United States Army, fighting for the rights of all Americans.
Wilfahrt recalls, “As the Minnesota legislature moved on the marriage amendment, I challenged the House and Senate on the basic premise that, if his [Andrew’s] taxes were good enough, and his blood was good enough, why weren’t his rights good enough?” After receiving state and national recognition due to his testimony, Wilfahrt was asked to run for State Representative for District 57B.
Though equality for all citizens is an extremely large portion of Wilfahrt’s platform, he also intends to focus strongly on improving the economy in Minnesota. Wilfahrt states, “We can offer incentives and tax advantages to help business thrive and hire, but we can’t rely solely on the private sector. We also need government to invest in rebuilding our infrastructure and creating jobs for and of the future.” He suggests that more jobs be created in new energy technology and innovative health care as ways to move the country forward.
Wilfahrt also believes the government must make affordable and accessible higher education a priority. He states, “Our children, our future, are in debt before they can even become employed. We need to find ways that will allow students who want to continue their education after high school to be able to do so without incurring massive debt.” Wilfahrt also believes that schools shouldn’t be “forced to borrow money to make up for educational funds the legislature has deferred to balance the budget.”
With regard to issues of equality, Wilfahrt recognizes that much relies on the outcome of voting on November 6. He says, “If it passes, little can be done short term. If it fails, and I should win the seat, then I can be expected to support any equality agenda put forth by the majority party…which may be none if the GOP prevails.” This fuels his hope to regain a DFL majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
If elected, Wilfahrt hopes to support Governor Dayton’s initiatives. He says, “It is my belief that Governor Dayton is an earnest man…I do believe he has the larger interest of the larger society in mind with his initiatives. If elected, I intend to vote in support of those initiatives for the benefit of the state.”
Jeff Wilfahrt is endorsed by Stonewall DFL, Planned Parenthood, Educator Minnesota, and MPPOA. For more information about Jeff Wilfahrt, visit www.wilfahrt.org.
Seeking re-election for Minneapolis School Board
Public schools hold a very important place in Carla Bates’s mind and heart—so important that she often says that public schools saved her life. “I grew up as a single child with a single mother, and we were very poor. There was significant instability in our home, and the schools and my teachers provided a steady and encouraging environment for me to grow and, better yet, thrive.” The support Bates received from public schools led her to join the Minneapolis School Board in 2008 and to seek re-election this fall.
With three children of their own, Carla and her partner Susan, have experience with the school system firsthand. Carla states that her children “have benefited from and also been hurt by our imperfect system in Minneapolis. There are so many great people in the system, but too often we get tripped up by bureaucratic rules that do not help anyone. I am on the board, and I am dedicated to helping us steer in a better direction.”
Bates believes, “The challenge facing public education today is how we ensure that REAL KIDS have REAL OPPORTUNITIES.” Real opportunities means that each student will receive the support needed to succeed in school. Bates says, “All families want similar outcomes for their children’s education—a solid academic foundation, good interpersonal skills, a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and engagement in the community.” These outcomes help children prepare for college or a career. Bates adds, “Real kids means thinking about each child as a whole person who brings different skills and interests, languages and cultures, resources and family backgrounds to the classroom.” Noting that all children don’t “bring the same interests or motivations to the classroom,” Bates emphasizes that “each child is unique and each child learns in a unique way.”
Carla Bates knows her duty and obligation to the Minneapolis Public Schools. “As a school board member, I have a moral and legal commitment to do my best to ensure that each of our 34,000-plus students has a real opportunity to succeed…Since the 2007 adoption of our Strategic Plan, MPS has taken more steps forward than back and I have been proud to be a part of this work.”
Bates hopes to continue to strengthen the accountability of the school systems. Bates states, “I strongly support fair and useful evaluations for principals and teachers, as we learn together how best to support all of our students.” She also hopes to ensure continued student success by advocating for preK-12 pathways through the Changing Schools Option. She is committed to asking tough questions and providing steady, strong leadership.
School board members don’t get noticed as much as other elected officials, and Bates believes that reflects society’s current opinion of education. She states, “In a sense, I think we live out the reality of how our society thinks about schools—not often enough nor with enough depth.” But Bates urges people to take the work of the school board seriously: “Essentially, we are our society’s true investment in the future—our schools are about the future, and every school board member has a responsibility to remind everyone that so go our public schools, so goes our collective future.”
Carla Bates is endorsed by DFL, Stonewall DFL, Women Winning, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Senator Scott Dibble, and more. For more information, visit www.carlabates.org.
Nathan Johnson, DFL
Candidate for State Representative for District 11B
As a lifelong resident of Pine City, Nathan Johnson believes he can best represent the people of District 11B. Johnson, an openly gay candidate for State Representative has the support of many Pine City residents who view him as a natural leader with a successful track record that ensures his success as a politician. But his concern for the citizens of District 11B is what motivates his campaign. Johnson says, “I’ve gotten to know many people, and certainly I care about these people. I want to see them live their hopes and dreams here,have opportunities here, and not have to relocate just because it may seem like there are more opportunities in the Twin Cities.”
With a background in city planning, Johnson’s campaign focuses on economic development and job growth in areas of Minnesota like Pine City. He wants to make sure Governor Dayton “is well aware that this area of Minnesota is a good place to work and live in.” Johnson plans to create a supplement to the JOBZ (Job Opportunity Building Zones) plan when it ends in 2015 and also hopes to create an enterprise zone in Western Minnesota in order to ensure competition with border states.
In order to prepare for economic sustainability, Johnson believes that the government should invest more time and money into connecting East Central Minnesota to the Twin Cities with light rail options and other transit options. “We need to be tied to the economic hub of Minnesota which is the Twin Cities, and that’s our future. if we sever those ties, and we don’t champion building the infrastructure to tie us into that, we really aren’t setting up our future.”
Johnson also hopes to make improvements in Minnesota’s education system. He states, “The big borrow-and-steal budget plan isn’t one that I endorse. So I feel strongly that we need to have education be a top priority and make sure that they have the resources to bring about the top-notch education that Minnesotans have long had and deserve in the future.”
Also, Johnson is very environmentally conscious, noting that Pine City has instituted one of the largest rainwater garden projects in the state. “We want to protect our lakes and rivers that are our unique assets that others around the state and elsewhere enjoy and want to continue to enjoy for years to come. We need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to be good stewards of natural resources.”
As an openly gay candidate, Johnson also believes that “all Minnesotans should have the freedom and the power to make their own choices for their own lives. I’ll stand up on the side of equality and freedom and the things that my grandpa and my dad served in the military for.”
Winning back a DFL majority, Johnson believes, will ensure that the priorities of the House will be “more in line with the people of our district and the people of our state.” If he were to be elected, Johnson would try to continue to “move the progressive ball forward” and not be a lame-duck legislator. His deep connection to East Central Minnesota provides him with a unique perspective of the area. “I’m not coming here with outside ideas or anything like that. This is where I want to make my life.”
Nathan Johnson is currently endorsed by Outfront MN, Stonewall DFL, Carlton County Central Labor Body, and Minnesota AFL-CIO. For more information about Nathan Johnson, visit www.nathanjohnsonforhouse.com.
Tom DeGree, DFL
Candidate for State Representative for District 39B
A self-described “community builder,” Tom DeGree realized that he could make a large impact by diving into politics. Believing that he can make a difference in his district, especially in education, the businessman and educator hopes to bring some “sanity” back to the House by minimizing the sometimes hostile divide between political parties. DeGree wants to “change Minnesota to be a state where people work together again. It has become so partisan, which is what has happened nationally. There are some things that I can see both ways, and I’m trying to bring that back to help people.”
DeGree believes his small business experience owning the Wilde Roast Café with his partner has prepared him to make significant improvements in the economical situation of Minnesota. “As of this pay period, we have 80 employees, proving that there can be growth during an economic recession,” Degree states.
DeGree’s experience as an educator strongly influences his political campaign, which focuses heavily on improving the quality of education. He notes that the current legislation is short-changing the schools in order to cover up current debt. DeGree says, “We know that last year, Minnesota borrowed $2.4 billion from the public schools, and the current legislation is claiming that they have a surplus of $1.2 billion, but if you count the money they owe the schools, they actually have a deficit of $1.2 billion. They’re manipulating the numbers and not showing the true numbers.”
He also hopes to preserve Minnesota’s precious environment. While running an environmental in his area, DeGree learned that “a lot of people appreciate open spaces. It’s important that we enjoy the outdoor spaces and enjoy being here in Minnesota.”
DeGree hopes to encourage better communication and problem-solving between Democrats and Republicans in office. “I hate having people so divided. I live in an area that’s 50/50. I grew up in this area. It’s always been 50/50, but it hasn’t been as ‘partisan.’ At the door, when I’m talking to people, it isn’t like that. When you read the news or see television, you would think that people hate each other and are against each other. But when we’re knocking at the doors, everybody wants people that work together to solve problems. We can get back to the sanity of working together—how Minnesota was created and why we’re a leader in many areas. My goal is not to be a life-long politician, I never thought of doing this. I simply see myself as a person that can help us.”
Tom DeGree is endorsed by Outfront MN, Stonewall DFL, MAPE, AFSCME and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. For more information, visit www.tomdegree.com.
Jeff Anderson, DFL
Candidate for United States Congress for Minnesota’s 8th District
Growing up in Minnesota’s Iron Range prepared Jeff Anderson to be a strong candidate for United States Congress, and he hopes to bring the needs of Minnesota’s 8th District to Washington. Anderson believes that, “as a product of this district, as a fourth-generation Iron Ranger, as a businessman, as a veteran, and as President of the City Council,” he is able to represent Northern Minnesota. He states, “We need a representative in Congress who understands the history of this district, who has seen the ups and downs, who knows the challenges and opportunities that face us and can take that to Washington, D.C. to work on behalf of the people here to create those jobs, to be a partner, and to support our natural resource-based economy, which is timber, tourism, mining. Those are important things here in Minnesota.”
Anderson’s main focus is to create jobs in Northern Minnesota, allowing individuals to support their families and their livelihoods. “This race to me is all about jobs, jobs, jobs.” As a child, his father was laid off from a local mine, and Anderson’s family had to rely on food stamps and fuel assistance. Though many families left the area during the economic downturn, the Anderson family stayed and worked hard to improve their lives. Anderson put himself through college by joining the Minnesota Army National Guard, and he returned to the area after he was honorably discharged to work as a businessman and eventually become involved in local politics.
Anderson believes, “Our greatest export in Northern Minnesota is our young people.” Realizing that many young people were moving away from the area, and recognizing a negative tone in the local government, Anderson became a member of the City Council in 2007. Anderson and his fellow elected officials “have worked very hard to change that tone and create economic opportunities for people. It’s that type of energy, it’s that type of attitude, it’s that type of model that I’d like to use in Washington to benefit the rest of this district. I see the next generation of northern MN prosperity on the horizon. It’s just having the right leaders in place to get there.”
As one of the first openly gay elected officials in Northern Minnesota, Anderson has already proven himself as a champion for equality and plans to continue to do so if elected. Not only was Duluth the first city to officially join the “Vote No” campaign, but Duluth also became the second city in Minnesota to pass a domestic partnership registry program in 2009, with much help from Anderson who introduced and worked to pass the bill. “We did that here in Duluth because the City Council and the Mayor recognize that all people should be treated equally. In Duluth, we want our city to be welcoming and to recognize that there are all sorts of different relationships. We want people who live and work here (and people who might consider moving here) to know that we are that community.” On a national level, Anderson believes that, “when it comes to the government of the United States, we need to treat everyone the same and make sure everyone has the same recognition of their relationship in a legal status.”
Anderson encourages residents to get out and vote this year. He believes that “We can make history in Minnesota this year. We can defeat the marriage amendment, and in a rural district of Minnesota we can elect the first LGBT candidate for Congress from the state of Minnesota. We are able to show that we are a progressive, forward thinking state.”
Jeff Anderson is endorsed by The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Stonewall DFL, United Transportation Union Alumni, and eQuality Giving.org. For more information, please visit www.jeffanderson.org.
Want more information on your district? To figure out which district you are in, as well as to see the list of candidates in your primary, visit www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.
Up for re-election:
House Representative Leon Lillie, Minnesota District 55A
House Representative Karen Clark, Minnesota District 61A
House Representative Susan Allen, Minnesota District 61B
House Representative Kerry Gauthier, Minnesota District 07B
House Representative Paul Thissen, Minnesota District 63A
House Representative Linda Slocum, Minnesota District 63B
State Senator Scott Dibble, Minnesota District 60
State Senator John Marty, Minnesota District 54
State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, Minnesota District 62
Brian Barnes, Congress, 3rd Congressional District
Jim Graves, Congress, 6th Congressional District
Jim Carlson, State Senate, Minnesota District 51
Greg Clausen, State Senate, Minnesota District 57
Denise Bader, Minnesota House, District 33B
Lorrie Janatopoulos, Minnesota House, District 6B
David Joseph DeGrio, Minneapolis School Board