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of Meeting with Dee Long
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, October 24,
speaker: Dee Long,
speaker, Minnesota House of Representatives
Johnson, chair; David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Paul Gilje (by
phone), Jim Hetland, Marina Lyon, and Wayne Popham (by phone)
Context of the meeting--This
is another in several meetings the Civic Caucus has been conducting on the
question of the process of identifying, endorsing, and nominating
candidates for public office, from the precinct caucuses through the
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Dee Long, former speaker, Minnesota House
of Representatives. Long was a member of the Minnesota House of
Representatives from 1979 to 1999, where she served as Speaker of the
House, House Majority Leader, House Tax Chair for two separate terms, and
Chair of the Local Government Committee. She was the first woman to chair
a Joint Legislative Commission, the first woman to chair the House Tax
Committee, and the first woman to be elected Speaker. She is a magna cum
laude graduate of the University of Minnesota, and completed all but a
dissertation for a Ph.D. in experimental psychology with a minor in
statistics at that institution. After retiring from the Legislature,
Long was Director of the Environmental Tax and Incentives Program for
Fresh Energy, a coalition of citizens and organizations working to promote
efficiency in energy use and increased reliance on home-grown renewable
Comments and discussion--During
Long's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Support for Growe commission
recommendations--Long said she supports recommendations from a
January 1995 report of a bipartisan legislative-citizen commission headed
by Joan Growe, former Minnesota Secretary of State. The report may be
found at: http://archive.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2005/other/050564.pdf. Key
recommendations from the Growe report:
--Move precinct caucuses to the first weekend in
April, during the day.
--Conduct a presidential primary by mail on the
--Advance the state primary to early August, on a
Saturday or a Tuesday
--Require major party candidates for state and
federal offices to receive at least 20 percent of the vote on any ballot
at the party endorsing convention to obtain a place on the state primary
--Identify endorsed candidates on the primary
--Rename the state primary the "party nominating
2. Problems with precinct
caucuses today--Long supports retaining precinct caucuses but
they shouldn't be mixed with a presidential preference vote, as they were
in Minnesota in 2009. She highlighted her personal experience with
waiting 45 minutes to get to her caucus, because of clogged roads, and
turning around and going home, as many others did. Many people voted and
left, she said, paying no attention to other precinct caucus business.
Also, she said, the present system of selecting delegates at caucuses is
so complicated and requires too many delegates and alternates, often more
than stay around for the regular business of the evening. It's people
with the greatest personal stake in the outcome, whether occupationally or
because of strongly held views on selected topics who are most likely to
attend, rather than rank and file party members.
If precinct caucuses are held during the day on a weekend,
they're likely to attract more participants who aren't present simply to
crusade for their favorite interest, she said. Years ago, she said, party
members thought attending precinct caucuses was a civic responsibility,
and they'd never fail to attend. A Civic Caucus member observed that
changes in the role of the media might be part of the problem of declining
involvement of people politically. Another member commented that it's
tough to get people to attend meetings today, which partly explains the
attraction of the Civic Caucus as a virtual organization, where people can
be active without coming to a meeting.
A Civic Caucus member attended only one precinct caucus but
won't return because being asked to commit to a position on a certain
issue even before walking in the door.
Long supports multiple party endorsement, giving candidates
who achieve a certain threshold at a party convention, say 30 percent
support, the right to go on the ballot. Historically, she said, a
party-endorsed candidate doesn't survive the primary.
While the Growe commission recommended late August for state
primary elections, Long would like late June. She doesn't agree with
legislators who oppose such a date because it would be so near the end of
a legislative session.
3. Publish precinct caucus
resolutions in advance?--Long
likes the idea of publicizing online before a precinct caucus meeting
occurs all resolutions to be voted on, along with pros and cons. There's
really no opportunity to discuss resolutions in a precinct caucus meeting,
4. Strong role for legislative
caucus leadership is acceptable on legislative campaigns--While
believing that candidates are best selected at the local level, Long has
no problem with legislative caucuses playing a significant role in
campaigns. They have a better pulse on what is going on, she believes.
(Again, for clarification purposes, legislative caucuses are permanent
organizations of the majority and minority in the House and Senate, as
contrasted with precinct caucuses, grass-roots once-a-biennium community
The Legislature has passed laws to restrict the political
activity of legislative caucuses to locations away from the Capitol, she
said. You can find out online via the Campaign Finance Board where the
money is coming from.
Long disagrees with those who contend that legislative caucus
financial support makes candidates beholden to caucus leadership on major
bills. Legislators vote their own feelings or those of their district
whether they've received caucus support or not.
5. Better civics education
would help--High school civics classes could do more, Long
said, in exposing youth to political responsibility. She recalled
disinterest on the part of social studies teachers at a high school in her
district when she wanted to put on a bi-partisan discussion about
6. Decline in bipartisan
cooperation--Long said bipartisan cooperation in the
Legislature declined over the 20 years she served in the Legislature. The
success she observed early in gaining consensus among members with
different party affiliation declined in years because of partisanship.
Asked why partisanship seemed to take precedence, she replied
that people with more extreme views were getting elected. Also
legislators increasingly were locking themselves in to vote in certain
ways via pre-election surveys conducted by interest groups.
7. No support for an open
primary--Long opposes an open primary, because candidates with
a great deal of money could eclipse other candidates in the campaign.
She advocates multiple endorsements for the same office.
8. Support for ranked choice
voting--Long said she supports Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), by
which voters rank candidates in order of preference to produce a winner
with a majority of the vote.
9. No enthusiasm to return to
non-partisan ballot--Although she acknowledged that city and
county candidates run on a non-partisan ballot with no difficulty, Long
would not favor returning to elections in which legislators ran on a
non-partisan ballot. Even in those days (pre-1973), you still knew
whether legislators would caucus with Conservatives or Liberals, she
said. Leadership is needed, starting with the Governor, by people who
are committed to bridging the partisan divide, she said.
10. Support for legislative
redistricting commission--Long said she's supported
transferring the responsibility for redistricting from the Legislature to
a commission since 1980.
11. Separating the functions of
raising money from candidate identification and support?--A
Civic Caucus member said it appears that political party leadership
formerly kept the finance side of the party separate from the political
side. But the two have been merged, which seems to have increased the
partisan divide. Long said that she never relied much on the DFL Party
for financial support or other help in campaigns.
12. Opposition to a full time
Legislature--It is important that legislators have an
opportunity to hold other jobs besides serving in the Legislature, Long
said. She would favor tighter limits on the length of the session, as
necessary to preserve the part-time function.
13. Thanks--On behalf
of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Long for meeting with us today.