Cam Winton is running for Mayor of Minneapolis.
Winton – a former DFL activist who told of seeing the economic light after going into business – is running as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, and not as an endorsed Republican, per se. I attended his kickoff rally a few weeks back in Minneapolis, and had a pretty singular experience for a GOP activists, standing in the same room and cheering along with people who’d opposed the marriage amendment (which Winton also opposed) and listening to Ashwin Madia, a couple of lesbian marriage activists, and Winton’s business partner extolling the candidate’s virtues.
And it was in that crowd, I thought, that one might see a successful challenge to DFL hegemony in Minneapolis; a candidacy that attacks the DFL’s weak spot in Minneapolis – its incompetence at running a city – while ignoring the GOP’s big weaknessses in places like Minneapolis.
Now, some – including my friend John Gilmore – have asked “is Winton Republican or conservative enough?” He, and they, point to the fact that Winton is a former Democrat, and was in fact a prominent enough activist through 2008.
As a former Democrat myself, I’m pretty forgiving of Road to Damascus conversions. And if you want to grill a candidate to assess the sincerity, or at least integrity, of their beliefs, then a debate could be a fine place to do it.
And there’s the problem.
The Minneapolis mayor’s race is an expressly non-partisan one. Party identification doesn’t appear with candidates on the ballot.
The Humphrey Center – the U of M’s Poli-Sci think tank and, if you ask conservatives, DFL hatchery and retirement home – is hosting a debate of these candidates this coming Wednesday.
The DFL ones.
Let’s rephrase that for impact; the Humphrey Institute – a public institution whose mission is at least ostensibly not “furthering the DFL’s interests and hindering their opposition” – is hosting a debate for a non-partisan office in the city in which the Institute resides. And they’re only inviting DFL candidates to it.
According to the Winton campaign, he has been invited to a second debate. At this second debate – which will have virtually no media coverage – Winton will appear on a panel with Bob Carney and Leslie Davis, a couple of perennial candidate who are shunted into a side-debate to isolate the comic relief from the “Real” race…
…which, the Humphrey Institute has decided in its infinite institutional wisdom, is among the DFL candidates, who will get the “real” debate.
This brings up a couple of questions:
Is the Humphrey Institute serving as a DFL campaigning tool?: Why the seemingly arbitrary cutoff at “DFL”, in a race where every candidate goes to the final ballot (Minneapolis uses “ranked choice” balloting, resulting in slow, unreliable elections with no need for party endorsements or primaries. Having a fully-partisan “debate” is not only against the Humphrey Institute’s stated mission – it’s supposed to be irrelevant to the contest at hand.
Is this a debate or a DFL campaign rally?: The Humphrey Institute’s planned event will include five DFL candidates who differ on policy only in the most tangential incidentals. That’s not a “debate”, it’s a support group meeting.
“Debate” implies “difference of opinion”: But this “debate” – the one the U of M will actually publicize, the one the media will attend – studiously ignores a sharp, articulate candidate who sharply differs from the DFL on some issues where the DFL itself knows it’s vulnerable – spending, taxes, regulation, public safety, infrastructure.
I asked the Humphrey Institute’s Dr. Larry Jacobs about this last week.
I’ll have that part of the conversation tomorrow.