Competitive state legislative elections are exceedingly rare in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis voter base is so overwhelmingly liberal that candidates who win the Democratic primary are practically guaranteed to win the general election, and after they do so, Democratic incumbents typically hold onto their seats for decades.
That makes the Dec. 6 special election a very special occasion indeed. For the first time since 1983 âÄî before most students were even born âÄî Larry Pogemiller is no longer the state senator representing the University District. Whoever wins the race to replace him will probably hold the seat for a very long time, so itâÄôs critical that voters select the best possible person for the job.
In my evaluation, that person is Peter Wagenius. Wagenius is the most progressive candidate running, and he is also by far the most qualified.
I reached this conclusion through a two-step process of elimination. The first step was to examine the candidatesâÄô issue statements. I wanted to know: Which candidate will take the strongest progressive positions? For me, this step narrowed the field from five candidates down to two.
The first candidate I took off my list was Jacob Frey. Frey has emphasized the need for politicians to exercise the âÄúcourage of our convictions;âÄù unfortunately, courage was precisely what I felt was lacking in his campaign. In debates and in his responses to questionnaires, Frey seldom ever left the âÄúsafety zone,âÄù instead limiting himself to broad, generic statements that few Democratic primary voters would disagree with. In a district dominated by a university, a large immigrant population and a large gay population, itâÄôs a foregone conclusion that every candidate is going to be in favor of gay rights, immigrant rights and increased education funding. To distinguish oneself, a primary candidate needs to go beyond this âÄúgeneric DemocratâÄù platform. Frey is a skilled and passionate speaker, and at age 30 he has a bright political future ahead of him, but he needs to demonstrate stronger policy expertise before he will make a good legislator.
The next candidate I took off my list was Paul Ostrow. Ostrow has no shortage of political courage. On the contrary, he has taken several positions that he knows are unpopular, but he stands by his convictions and tells voters exactly where he stands. That straightforward candor is extremely admirable for a politician.
Unfortunately, OstrowâÄôs courageous positions go in the wrong direction. The most important example is his support for public subsidies for a new Vikings stadium. On his website, Ostrow proudly notes that when he was on the Minneapolis City Council, he was the âÄúCouncilâÄôs most active and vocal supporter for Target Field,âÄù and that while he opposes a subsidy paid with local sales taxes, he would support a subsidy funded by the state government.
Ostrow has repeatedly stated that âÄúwe need to listen closely to the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement.âÄù Ironically, of the five candidates Ostrow is probably the farthest way from the OWS objectives. OstrowâÄôs support for public subsidies for Target Field and the Vikings stadium are key examples. If thereâÄôs one thing that unites the OWS movement, itâÄôs opposition to government handouts to corporations owned by billionaires like Zygi Wilf and Carl Pohlad.
The third candidate I took off my list was Kari Dziedzic. Like Frey, Dziedzic has been reluctant to identify specific policy positions, usually sticking to broad generalities and platitudes instead. When she did identify specific proposals, they were not particularly innovative.
DziedzicâÄôs position on the Vikings stadium is murky. At first, she tried to underplay the issue, noting that voters cared more about other problems like health care and jobs (thatâÄôs true, but remember, the function of a primary is to highlight the issues where candidates disagree, and the stadium has been the subject of the most disagreement). Later, she came out officially against public subsidies for the stadium. However, she had previously received the endorsement from the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, which strongly supports the stadium. She has also received maximum contributions from lobbyists advocating for the stadium.
This left me with two candidates to choose from: Wagenius and Mohamud Noor. On paper, both of them have strong progressive positions. However, after interviewing both of them, I came away with the strong opinion that WageniusâÄô extensive experience and superior policy expertise make him the best candidate to represent Minneapolis in the state Senate.
My colleagues on the DailyâÄôs editorial board have correctly noted that NoorâÄôs background as an immigrant from Somalia is a substantial factor in his favor. The Somali population has often been severely alienated in Minnesota, and direct political representation would go a long way toward alleviating that problem.
Noor may be a candidate of change, but Wagenius is the one with experience. In different political circumstances, the âÄúchange vs. experienceâÄù dynamic could very well favor Noor. Today, however, the Twin Cities have lost much of their legislative clout. In the previous two years, three of the six state senators who represent Minneapolis have either resigned or announced their retirement.
Wagenius simply has a better command of the issues than Noor, and a record of accomplishments in his decade working under Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, which includes the Central Corridor light rail and the Nice Ride biking system. In this election, experience wins out.