3 questions: Alan Shilepsky
This fall, with Keith Ellison's bid to become the U.S. House rep for Minnesota's Fifth District, one downtowner and two other residents of his former state house district are vying to replace him. District 58B runs northwest from roughly the Metrodome to some of the trouble spots on the city's North Side--and with that casts a net on a wide-ranging constituency that includes some of the poorest and also newly wealthy enclaves of the city.
Alan Shilepsky (pictured), who has lived downtown with his wife Diane Fitzgerald for 26 years, is the Republican candidate for Ellison's seat.
Though he's been active in policy and politics for some 30 years, Shilepsky faces more obstacles than just his opponents, Independent Mary Gaines and DFLer Augustine Willie Dominguez, for office: His District has been a DFL stranglehold for years.
For Shilepsky, the route to this campaign wasn't a clear one. By his own web site's own accounting, he was a Democrat from 1967 to 1995. (In 1993, he ran for the Minneapolis City Council's Seventh Ward seat as a "New Vision Democrat.")
From there, Shilepsky played an instrumental role in galvanizing the state's Reform and Independence parties. (He ran as a Reformer for secretary of state in 1998.) In 2002, Shilepsky became a Republican. The Westport, Connecticut native holds a B.S. in Physics from Tufts University, and has worked for governmental agencies that include the Minnesota State Planning Agency, the U.S. General Accounting Office and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
And though he's done work for national and local candidates as wide-ranging as LBJ, Eugene McCarthy, Paul Tsongas, Richard Jefferson and Lisa McDonald, he's never held elected office. Shilepsky took the time to answer three questions from City Pages via e-mail.
City Pages: You are running as a Republican in what many would deem to be a DFL-leaning district, at least in recent history. But at the same time, there's been a lot of new money rolling into the Downtown residential market. Are there Republican voters to be had out there, and will the district swing that way if the Downtown housing boom continues?
Alan Shilepsky: Left leaning? House District 58B voted 84 percent Democratic in 2004! But there is no doubt that the newcomers to North Loop and Downtown show some Republican indicators: libertarian, entrepreneurial, corporate. Many are already Republicans.
The empty-nesters looking for low-maintenance condos and the business professionals coming from suburbia and out of state all know they pay more in taxes than they get back personally, and they don't begrudge it. But they want the money to be spent effectively, they want welfare and education programs to break cycles of dependency, not prolong them, and they expect to receive basic services like crime control, good transportation, and infrastructure maintenance.
But the Republican candidates they are offered must challenge the stereotype of the Republican Party as the party of personal-choice repression, particularly on gay rights and abortion availability. Republican candidates will have to show social inclusiveness/tolerance and Downtown voters will have to eschew party stereotyping and look at each candidate as an individual.
CP: You've made crime an issue, yet some would say that the crime problem Downtown is overstated, especially in regard to calls at the First Precinct. Some have even posited that strip clubs in the area have been responsible for criminal activity.
Presumably, as a conservative, you're a backer of small businesses. Is the crime Downtown a real problem? And, how can you reconcile a free market with a stated desire to combat crime?
Shilepsky: Crime is my biggest issue because it is a life-threatening concern on the Near North side, with pizza deliverymen and jersey-wearing youths losing their lives for trifles. But you are right, violent crime is of less concern in Downtown. What is more important in Downtown are livability offenses like panhandling, noisy and threatening behavior, graffiti, public urination, etc., and some car and garage break-ins.
This is nothing compared to what the Northside has had to endure, but it is important to Downtowners--especially more vulnerable residents.
Regarding strip clubs, I didn't think they were a big issue. I thought Downtown had come to grips with the idea that the First Amendment (my favorite) says we have to have some place, and the City's decision was that this was it. My inner South Park Republican thinks that a City isn't doing its job if it is not making everyone uneasy about something. By the way, my auto repair guy is flanked by X-rated businesses, but he still gives good tune-ups. My wife and I will keep returning.
CP: Finally, you've done a stint with the Reform/Independence party, before and during the Jesse Ventura years. What do you think of Kinky Friedman's bid to be governor of Texas, and the former Minnesota governor's recent involvement in that campaign?
Shilepsky: I don't know much about Kinky, but I do about Jesse. Flamboyant, egocentric candidacies don't make for meaningful long-term change--they are more like a four year "time out." What counts in politics is what lasts, and to last you have to provide vision and institution-building.
I can never forgive Jesse and [Ross] Perot, and their respective henchmen, for wasting a once in 100-year opportunity to realign the parties in our country. They couldn't see beyond themselves. I'm afraid that Kinky would be just another Don Quixote that stops the clock for four years and leaves no institution behind to carry on a positive legacy. Even assuming he has a vision he wants to realize.
Jesse had a button that expressed his purposelessness: "Retaliate in '98." Many of his young voters just wanted to stick it to the system. That's not a foundation for good governance.
Anyway, I don't think Kinky can go the distance because Texas doesn't have same day registration or public financing, or a strong Reform Party to provide the foundation for a serious statewide campaign. (Jesse
misspoke when he said he stood alone.) But Kinky might win. If he does it means that the era of political parties--with organizations and issues--is dead and we are totally into an era of celebrity, mass media, and governance as entertainment. Pity the young!