Minnesota state primary 2014

Note: this essay is a bit…uneven. I'd written a draft several days ago, planning to polish it up this weekend, and then my digestive tract declared war on me. So now it's a bit rushed for the sake of posting it before the actual primary.

Election time again. It's always tempting to blow off the primary votes, but this year there are contested races in both parties between really different candidates. Let's start with a summary of who I voted for (last week: thank you no-excuse absentee voting!), and continue with details.

Are the School Board and Judicial Offices the same as you'll see on your ballot? I have no idea, but the Secretary of State's office can tell you.

DFL nominee, State Auditor

There's a real contest in the DFL primary for the State Auditor (of all things). State Auditor is a job that's best done with as little partisan rancor as possible. The Star-Tribune had a recent article explaining the role - the auditor's office generates data and reports that will be used to set and review the state's policies. Two good quotations from their article:

  • "More fundamentally, there are certain areas of government that simply need to be above the political fray. The state auditor’s essential responsibilities — preventing fraud and misuse of public funds and assuring compliance with various financial reporting standards — transcend political ideologies."
  • "[T]he financial data and other information generated and reported by the office is considered gospel. However, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase once famously said: If you torture the data long enough, it will confess. Just the prospect of having information selectively packaged and presented to legislators and the public in ways that support a political agenda severely undermines public trust in government."

I'm supporting the incumbant, Rebecca Otto. We haven't read much news about her in the last four years, which is probably good - when the auditor gets attention, it's often because the objectivity of their data is questioned. In fact she's done a great job that's gotten the respect of state auditors nationwide - she's the leader of their national organization. She's proven herself to be trustworthy and reliable in that role.

But when we have heard news about Otto, I've liked what I've heard. The Auditor sits on the state's Executive Council, which votes on a number of administrative issues. Otto voted against approving a number of mine leases, arguing that they did not require enough of what amounts to a "security deposit" with the state to guard against future pollution from the mines. Minnesota has gotten stuck with too much cleanup cost already from this industry, and insisting that the state not get stuck with the tab is the responsible thing to do.

And the more I hear about him, the less and less impressed I am by her opponent Matt Entenza. I've heard his whole approach referred to as an "ambush campaign" - declaring candidacy at the very last minute (literally, on the last day to file, with nothing heard from him until them), and running a largely negative campaign. His attack mailings against Otto have been judged "misleading" by MPR Polifact, and he went so far as to sue Otto to keep her from defending herself against his attacks (but he lost). And then there are campaign finance and ethics violations which recur again and again - perhaps there aren't huge infractions, but I'd like to see a bit more care from an auditor candidate.

This post is getting too long, so I'll just link to a few longer articles with more details about this race: at MinnPost, and two at ScienceBlogs.

DFL nominee, State Representative, District 63B

Jean Wagenius.

(This and the next section are what I meant when I wrote that this is "uneven" - the curtness of these section is not faintness of praise!

School Board Member, at-large District 1, Minneapolis (non-partisan primary)

Rebecca Gagnon and Iris Altamirano.

4th District Court Judge 43 (non-partisan primary)

This race is for an open seat vacated by one Judge Janet Poston.

It's hard to get an impression of the judicial candidates. Their campaign sites are all incredibly bland, and there's not alot of coverage about them and their opinions. If the younger versions of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were running in one of these races, it would be hard to tell them apart. There's an article from earlier this summer in the Minnesota lawyer blog, but it's just basic biographical facts, no dirt.

The best compilation of information I've found about the candidates, including links to their various online profiles, is actually on one of the seven candidate's pages. Of course it's still just basic facts and links - negative campaigning has not yet come to these low-level judicial races, and that's probably for the best.

So the candidates are:

  • Brian C. Hagerty has a very broad background: restaurant jobs during college, work counseling runaways and homeless teenagers, several years running an early internet cafe. He spent ten years after finishing his undergraduate study not being a lawyer before going back first to the Humphrey School for a public policy master's, and then law school.
  • Bridget Ann Sullivan also has the sort of background I like to see from lawyers running for judicial slots - a member of the patent bar, which requires a solid scientific background; defending victims of corporate fraud in both private and public practice; service on a legal ethics committee.

    It's a little bit funny that she seemed to seek endorsement for a School Board seat as well - she was a no-show candidate at this spring's city DFL convention for the District 5 School Board. Maybe this judicial race opened up after she'd registered for endorsement?

  • Daniel Cragg is in private practice for a firm specializing in government-contract-related litigation, and previously was a contract prosecutor for city of Little Canada. He seems to have gone straight through college and law school, and has been out of law school for just a few years.
  • Mark Gabriel Giancola does not give much detail about him on his campaign site. He works in criminal defense, which - in the absence of anything more substantial - is one of the branches of law I'd be more comfortable with.
  • Jason T. Hutchison is currently a referee for the 4th Judicial District, the same district with this seat. His web site was alot of detail about his judicial philosophy, but I get the sense that it's the legal equivalent of mom and apple pie. He seems like a decent guy (he's an MPR sustainer, and a member of a food co-op!). In the absence of anything more substantial, I'm lukewarm about him for two reasons: his legal background is in prosecution, and he's based in the suburbs - as a city-dweller I'd be happier seeing a fellow city-dweller in the judge's seat.
  • Paul Scoggin is a very experienced career prosecutor, and has a long list of endorsements. Here's my thing about prosecutors running for judgeships: At the end of the day the job of the prosecutor is to first presume guilt, and subsequently use the legal system as a weapon. Prosecutors are essential in our adversarial system of law, and we want them to be at least a bit bloodthirsty when it comes to the bad guys. But I'd like to see a more balanced background from candidates for the bench.
  • Glen A. Norton is a family lawyer in private practice in the suburbs. From his website I learned the word antenuptial.

I voted for Hagerty. I'd read through his bio and had already formed a very favorable impression of him when I saw his endorsements page: both Mayor Betsy Hodges and Council Member Andrew Johnson, both of whom I campaigned for and think very highly of, are both backing him. I think Sullivan would probably also make a good judge, and I won't stop talking to you if you tell me you went for her instead.

4th District Court Judge 61 (non-partisan primary)

  • Amy Dawson has general experience in what I think is generally referred to as family law, which a focus on access to autism treatment that developed when her son was diagnosed with it. She's running substantially based on this experience with disability law, which she cites as a weakness among the current county judges. Sen. Scott Dibble supports her.
  • Jean M. Brandl has been both a public defender and prosecutor. Lives in Minneapolis and has kids in the public schools.
  • Mark E. Arneson has also been both a public defender and prosecutor.
  • Steven E. Antolak ran for a different judgeship in this district two years ago, but I don't remember who I supported then (I only blogged about the Soil and Water Supervisor races that year). He's in private practice now, and has a background as a prosecutor. He'd probably be fine, but I'm not as excited by him at the other candidates.
  • Beverly J. Aho is the choice of a couple of suburban Republican elected officials.

    I voted for Dawson.

And that's all

The other races - Senator, Governor, Secretary of State - aren't contested in the DFL primaries.

Happy voting!

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