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Meeting with Blois Olson
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, September 6,
Olson, DFL media consultant and commentator
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, and Jim Olson (by
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus is narrowing its list of election-related topics that the
Civic Caucus will address in a possible report to the 2008 Legislature.
The Civic Caucus is inviting representatives of political parties to
comment on high-priority topics.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Blois Olson, founder and president of New
School Communications, a public relations and public affairs firm. He is
former co-publisher of PoliticsinMinnesota.com.
Comment and discussion--During
Blois Olson's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the
following points were raised:
1. Precinct caucuses not serving
"normal" people--Blois Olson
recalled his first precinct caucus, as a 14-year-old ninth grader. He
remembered speaking out against a resolution on mainstreaming handicapped
students because of the possibility of draining resources for other
students. He felt very good about having a voice in politics.
Later, in 1992 he worked on the Clinton campaign for president and later
worked for Congressman Bruce Vento.
Blois has said that precinct caucuses are failing to attract
"normal" people. Fewer than four percent of the electorate participate in
precinct caucuses, he said. The "normal" people come from all across the
political spectrum, although many are from the broad "moderate" middle.
They are civically engaged and vote, but they aren't inclined to make time
available to attend precinct caucuses followed by a host of political
conventions. He cited 30-to-40-year old suburban women with children
living in the outer suburbs. Precinct caucuses don't fit that group, he
said. In response to a question Blois agreed that the present system
favors candidates with more extreme positions.
Blois senses a greater sense of potential political
involvement in the Generation Y group (approximately ages 18-30), rather
than the older Generation X group.
2. An alternative to precinct
still could meet for the purposes of issue identification and party
platforms, and selection of officers. Blois favors moving the date of the
primary election from September to June. The parties could provide for
multiple endorsements (say, all candidates receiving a certain percentage
of support at a convention). Parties could also decide to forego
endorsement or wait until after the primary, he said. Some 37 states
don't have precinct caucuses, he said.
3. Increasing voter turnout--Blois
suggested making election day a state holiday, holding the election on
weekends, providing multiple days for voting, or allowing mail-in voting
or secure on-line voting as ways to encourage more people to vote.
4. Pressure not to file against
agreed with a comment that in the present endorsement process--with its
limited participation--those candidates who don't get endorsed by their
parties are strongly discouraged from filing for office. Very few
non-endorsed candidates ever win in primaries, Blois said.
5. Opposition to Instant Runoff
Voting (IRV)--Blois doesn't
favor IRV. He thinks the person who receives the most first place votes
should be declared the winner. He doesn't like the idea that someone who
wasn't in first place might eventually be declared the winner by picking
up more second-and-third choice votes. A member commented that some
people believe that the existence of IRV would prompt candidates to
moderate their views to appeal to a broader range of voters.
IRV also is opposed, Blois said, because it would require more
campaign spending. It would stimulate political parties to divert more
campaign money to benefit incumbent legislators in so-called "safe"
districts, where voters are predominantly of one party or the other.
Safe-seat incumbents would be more vulnerable to getting defeated in a
primary if IRV were in use, he said. Thus more campaign spending would
be needed to support safe-seat incumbents.
Late in the meeting the group returned briefly to a discussion
of IRV in connection with a presidential preference primary. Blois said
he could imagine how IRV might be utilized in a presidential preference
primary where you have such a large number of candidates.
6. Pressure to conform to
legislative leadership grows during the legislative session--Blois
cited the case of a conservative Republican legislator who, early in the
session, was prepared to vote for a gas tax increase and support an
override of the Governor's veto, if necessary. However, the longer the
session lasted the more that pressure developed to conform to what the
leadership wanted, to the extent that the legislator late in the session
no longer could support a gas tax increase or overriding a veto.
7. High priority on protecting
caucuses usually attach first priority to protecting their own incumbents,
irrespective of political party endorsement, Blois said. He cited cases
where the legislative caucuses successfully provided financial backing to
8. Influence of legislative
caucuses--Blois agreed that
legislative caucuses play a major role in financing campaigns in contested
districts. He believes that such a situation will continue so long as we
have part-time legislators. He
the size of the Legislature and moving to full-time legislators who, he
contends, would be stronger in their own right, thereby diminishing the
need to rely on the legislative caucuses.
9. Support for change in
assigning the responsibility for redistricting to a commission, via
constitutional amendment. He likes the work being done by the Center for
the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute and by the
Citizens League. He'd be more optimistic about prospects for change if
a grass-roots effort were present, with heavy involvement from "normal"
people. Despite his antipathy to IRV, he's impressed with its grass-roots
10. Support for non-partisan
judiciary--Blois is pleased
that elections for judges in Minnesota have not yet become politicized,
even though the US Supreme Court has lifted restrictions on how campaigns
for judges may be conducted. That's a good indication that Minnesotans
still strongly support keeping partisan politics out of the elections
process. While changing the system for selecting judges is not at the
top of his agenda, Blois agrees that it is good to fix the system now by
providing for merit-based appointment.
11. Support for presidential
favors a presidential preference primary in Minnesota. He believes such
a move would engage a broader segment of the population early on. He
agreed that new voters are much more likely to begin their participation
in the political process via a national election than a state or local
A proposed set of regional primaries doesn't feel right to
Blois. Such an approach artificially divides the nation, he said, which
is contrary to the spirit of the USA. While regional primaries might
make it easier for candidates to campaign, he doesn't think changes should
be made just for the convenience of candidates.
Touching briefly on the presidential campaign, Blois
said he senses some move toward more "authentic" candidates, that is,
candidates whose platforms are based on personal,, strongly held,
12. Lack of a legislative
willingness to take "tough" votes--Blois was asked about his
feelings about the Legislature calling for constitutional amendments on
controversial revenue-raising and revenue-spending issues, such as a
proposed amendment on dedicating sales tax revenues to the outdoors, water
quality, and the arts.
The last "tough vote" the Legislature took was in 1993 in
supporting non-discrimination of homosexuals, he said. Today, because of
their support for unity within a legislative caucus and because of
political aspirations for higher office, legislators aren't taking tough
votes. Thus, he said, the tendency of the Legislature to pass matters on
to the voters via constitutional amendments is a result of a desire to
avoid tough votes.
13. Opposition to term limits--Blois
said he opposes term limits.
14. Different views on
full-time versus part-time Legislature--In
response to a question Blois re-iterated his view that increasing
legislative pay, cutting the size of the Legislature, and having annual
sessions would help attract better legislators. He disagreed with the
idea of moving back to biennial sessions. Under such an approach fewer
quality candidates would run.
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Blois for meeting with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.