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Capitol Chatter: DFL chairman seeks move toward political center

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Capitol Chatter: DFL chairman seeks move toward political center
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ST. PAUL -- Political observers have watched for years as those who make decisions in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party move the political left and Republican decision makers head to the right.


DFL Chairman Ken Martin wants to change that by finding a way to get more people with boarder political views involved.

"The party process has become so exclusive that the extremes have come to dominate," Martin said.

Since Martin's party appears to have few divisions this year, the best examples come from the Republican Party. Witness presidential candidate Mitt Romney and ex-candidate former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, both of whom probably are more moderate than they portray themselves but feel forced to look more conservative to satisfy the right-wing branch of the party.

Martin said that when his party makes decisions, a faction more liberal than most Democrats is in the convention hall.

The main problems with the left and right making party decisions is that it leads to divisiveness such as split the state Legislature in recent years and alienates the vast middle of Minnesota politics, Martin said.

Governing from the extremes is "toxic" and produces an atmosphere where "compromise" is not in the vocabulary, he added.

So Martin has appointed a 25-member DFL commission headed by Sen. Ann Rest of New Hope and Rep. Steve Simon of St. Louis Park to figure out how to get more people involved in picking candidates. While Martin does not want to abandon the caucus and convention system, he said he wants more than the 1,200 delegates who will be at the Rochester convention to have a say.

Martin said he would like to work with his Republican counterpart, Pat Shortridge, on law changes and other things that can lead to greater political involvement. However, given the GOP's financial problem and a philosophical split between Ron Paul supporters and more traditional Republicans, Martin said he does not know when Shortridge will have time to deal with the issue.

"Minnesota has a proud tradition of Democrats and Republicans coming together," Martin said, something that has happened less in recent years.

Franken for Baldwin

Don't think U.S. Sen. Al Franken has totally given up his comedic past.

"Now that I'm a senator, I look for opportunities to put aside old, petty grievances and forgive longtime opponents," he wrote to supporters. "I'm referring, of course, to Wisconsin.

"Does it grind my gears that the Packers have won four Super Bowls while the Vikings have never won one? It does. Do I like the cheesehead hats? I do not."

But the Minnesota Democrat said despite those feelings, he supports fellow Democrat Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate, and is helping her raise campaign contributions.

"And think of it this way: If Wisconsin is represented by a talented progressive like Tammy Baldwin, maybe it won't be so hard to watch the Packers win next season," Franken wrote. "Okay, it will be. It'll be awful. Just awful. ...

"Skol Vikings, and go Tammy."

Election information

Basic information on the two proposed constitutional amendments can be found at, the secretary of state's election Website.

Other information is there too, including how to find a polling place and absentee voting procedures.

The constitutional amendment information page includes answers to frequently asked questions about the amendment process. It will include links to groups for and against the proposals.

One amendment proposal, which the Legislature passed this year, would require Minnesotans to show photographic identification cards before voting. If voters approve it, next year's Legislature probably will enact legislation spelling out specifics about how that would be done.

The other amendment reads: "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota."

That concept already is in state law and it would not be affected by the Nov. 6 vote, so gay marriages would remain illegal. However, amendment supporters say a future Legislature or the courts could overturn existing law, so it needs to be in the state Constitution, where it is harder to change.

DFL chief understands

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin almost sounds sorry for his Republican counterpart.


In an interview, Martin expressed his respect for state Republican Chairman Pat Shortridge, who took over the party this year after his predecessor left what now is estimated to be a $1.3 million debt. At the same time, the party is split among Ron Paul devotees and more traditional Republicans. And a Republican Senate sex scandal remains on voters' minds.

With all of those problems, Republicans "are not focused right now on winning elections," Martin said.

But don't take that as indicating Martin will take it easy on the opposition.

Among this fall's messages from Democrats, he said, will be discussion about the Republican Party, which claims to be the best manager of the people's money, and how it cannot even manage its own money.

New party endorses

The new and relatively unknown Ecology Democracy Party has endorsed a U.S. Senate candidate and two for Minnesota House.

The party, founded by former Green Party governor candidate Pen Pentel, picked Andy Schuler to run for Senate. He is a political cartoonist.

"The Democratic and Republican parties will usually win an election with support from as little as 20 to 25 percent of the voting public using the 'winner-takes-all' two-party system," Schuler said. "This minority rule does not reflect the interest of the average American citizen."

Schuler calls for a proportional representation system in which not only top top vote-getters can be elected.

Roderic Olson of Highland Park and Tony Hilton of Minneapolis are the state House candidates.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.