Lukewarm Strib endorsement goes to Erlandson

The Star Tribune's endorsement of Mike Erlandson in today's paper felt like it was written with profound ennui. The editorial didn't really praise nor damn any of the four candidates running in the DFL primary, and while it used words like "strong field" and "distinctive talents," the entire piece lacked the choice anecdote and memorable turn of phrase that occurs when the writer(s) has a passionate take on the subject.

This is entirely understandable. Because if Keith Ellison's numerous shortcomings with his personal finances go beyond the pale for you--and they did for the Strib--parsing the three other alternatives is like counting the number of "genuine" bean specks in three brands of vanilla.

Since Erlandson is the one who bagged the endorsement, let's focus on the race he has run thus far. You knew the Strib was reaching when it spun his "abrupt exit from the [DFL 5th District] endorsing convention in May" as "an ability to make tough decisions and disappoint your friends [which] is not all bad in elective office."

It would have helped if the editorial writers had bothered to go back and read their own clip file. Right after Sabo announced his retirement, Erlandson became the frontrunner for the endorsement, blessed with dual insider status as a former DFL party chair and Sabo's longtime aide and clear (if somewhat closeted at the time) choice. But Erlandson simply didn't excite enough people.

Just before the convention, the Strib ran a story quoting Erlandson as saying he would abide by the endorsement only if the process was "fair." But the night before the convention, party junkies were telling me Erlandson was toast on the endorsement vote, meaning that if he wanted to go to the primary without looking like a former party chair snubbing the party he had to have enough of a rationale to label the process "unfair." So the first order of business before the names start being entered into nomination is Erlandson's people challenging the endorsement rules that were acceptable to the other six or seven candidates in the race. Ten minutes earlier, Marty Sabo was given a lengthy, loving standing ovation. Then his trusted aide for 19 years immediately gets voted down by the vast majority of delegates on a loud voice vote, amid widespread grumbling that he knew the rules and this was just a cheap tactic to escape the confines of abiding by the endorsement.

Shortly before the candidates give their statements, a motion from the floor is made and passed to give each one an extra 15 seconds on the front end of their 2 minutes to say whether or not he or she will abide by the endorsement. Two other candidates who went before Erlandson didn't immediately make this clear, and were prompted to do so by members of the audience. The same thing--no better, no worse--occurred during Erlandson's statement, a brief reminder to take a position on abiding. But Erlandson, alone among the candidates, ignored the entreaty and plowed ahead. As he was obviously nearing the end of his presentation, audience members who weren't favorably disposed toward him did indeed put a little bite in their words as they yelled, "Will you abide?" and "Make up your mind!" But it wasn't particularly harsh and vanished completely when it appeared as if Erlandson would settle the question. When he told everyone that it was "gut-check" time and he'd see them in September, then made a show of storming off and telling assembled media members that he'd been treated rudely, anyone with half a brain who was there knew it was a ruse, a pretext of victimhood to set up his primary run. That's certainly the way the Strib's Doug Growe interpreted it when he devoted his entire column to the shenanigans the next day.

Different people have different standards in what they expect from a politician. There are some who simply won't be able to vote for Ellison because he broke so many laws--whether they were relatively petty laws, causing little public harm to anyone but himself, is irrelevant. To these people, Ellison's scofflaw ways indicate not a man who emphasizes public service so overwhelmingly that he neglects his personal affairs; it's someone with contempt for the rule of law. In a similar vein, there are those who simply can't believe in an early debate among the candidates, Erlandson claimed that global warming was his top issue of the campaign. The most important thing. And his car is a gas-guzzling Cadillac Escalade. When asked about this huge contradiction, Erlandson compounds his faux pas by saying he had the car because he doesn't drive very often and has two children. Oh, well, since he put it that way, of course he had to have that Caddie.

The other time Erlandson made headlines in a Strib story that was primarily about him and not a roundup of an event or group portrait of the candidates, was when Hennepin County Sheriff Patrick McGowan endorsed him. McGowan is a Republican, was in fact a fiercely partisan and rather nasty Republican when he served in the State Legislature, and, true to form, spent as much time disparaging Keith Ellison as he did praising Erlandson during his endorsement remarks to the press.

If you read the Strib editorial for content, it essentially says that Erlandson is their choice because as a popular insider in Washington, he already knows how to maneuver the levers of power. And indeed, that's his signal virtue among the four candidates. But then the Strib goes on to add that "no one should doubt Erlandson's progressive credentials." Of course they should. If you're already a Washington insider without having ever taken a public vote as an elected official, you pretty much are part and parcel of the system. And the system in Washington ain't progressive. Look at the people, aside from McGowan, who are supporting Erlandson: Ted Mondale, Wendy Anderson, John Derus, Mike Opat, Wayne Simoneau. Only the inconoclastic ex-judge Miles Lord stands out as an obvious progressive among Erlandson's prominent supporters.

The things the Strib cites as Erlandson's progressive bona fides involve his standing with Sabo in opposition to "regressive tax policies, destructive federal budget cuts, and the privatization of social security." Those are good, solid, mainstream issues that cut a wide swath right out of the political middle. They engender the support of many progressives--and many right-of-center DFL-ers and Republicans. You could recite the same list as proof of Erlandson's moderate credentials.

Blotter has recently been the subject of passionate commentary by supporters and opponents of Keith Ellison and Ember Reichgott Junge. The Erlandson and Ostrow supporters aren't as easy to come by. Well, especially for Erlandson partisans, now is your chance. Tell us why you "Like Mike" so much, and why he is clearly better on the issues than the other three candidates in the primary race.


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