By Dan Mikel
The 2017 Great Minnesota Get-Together is over. The last mini donuts have been inhaled (by some), pronto pups are gone, warm cookies have disappeared and the last ears of corn have dripped butter on us for the final time. With a fond farewell to summertime and the state fair, we turn to the year ahead of us.
The national media is focused on national issues and personalities. We have man-made disasters and nature-made disasters that are broadcast on a 24/7 news cycle. Sometimes the disasters are connected.
What we really need to do is to rise above the frenzy of the national news media and focus on Minnesota. What’s in our future?
The biggest event shaping up on the horizon is the 2018 race for Governor. We bid farewell to Mark Dayton, a person who has stood tall for us against the onslaught of those who would take away the gains made by working men and women in previous decades. We only need to look east to Wisconsin to see what could happen without a governor who stands with our values.
Divided government has not resulted in people of different political persuasions coming together to compromise on public policy. It has resulted in “take-no-prisoners” fights. The “checks and balances” that we learned about in school are not working at the present time.
LABOR FRIENDLY CANDIDATES. Surveying the governor candidate field, we see many fine leaders that we need to consider seriously. The list is volatile and subject to change at any moment. As of the time of this writing, labor-friendly candidates who have announced or are expected to announce include:
Chris Coleman - Mayor of St. Paul
Tina Liebling - State Representative from Rochester
Erin Murphy - State Representative from St Paul
Rebecca Otto - Minnesota State Auditor
Lori Swanson - Minnesota State Attorney General
Paul Thiessen - State Representative from Minneapolis
Tim Walz - U.S. Representative from Mankato
How are we to evaluate these candidates? Some would judge by geography. Where are they from? Can they appeal to Minnesotans around the entire state? Can they carry traditional strongholds of labor? Some would judge by gender. Male or Female? Is it time for a woman at the TOP of the ticket? Is it time to have a man so we can appeal to a built-in base across the state? Some would judge by experience. We have no novices on the list. All have been elected to public office previously. Two have won state-wide contests. Some would judge by personal ties. Some of us may have been on campaign committees previously for a particular candidate. Others may have served on boards or belonged to organizations with a candidate. We may have attended a precinct caucus or a senate district/county convention with the candidate.
LABOR ISSUES. Let’s transcend the factors listed above and cut to the nub. How does a candidate for governor stand on significant issues that reflect our labor thoughts and values:
· PENSION ISSUES. We engaged a wide variety of people in conversations at the state fair about retirement issues. Whether private pension concerns or public pension concerns, pension issues are big.
· RIGHT TO WORK. We need to have state public officials – starting with the governor – who understand how right-to-work laws drag down the economy of a state rather than build it up. If we have a hostile Minnesota House, a hostile Minnesota Senate and a hostile Governor, right-to-work laws will happen in Minnesota. Once only found in southern states, the anti-worker, anti-family right-to-work program can and will come to Minnesota.
· HEALTH CARE. While attention is drawn to Washington, D.C. on health issues, we need to focus on what can be done in the future for Minnesotans. “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are well known goals boldly stated at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. Notice that “Life” is first. Health care is a fundamental right for all Minnesotans.
· EDUCATION FUNDING. Governor Dayton has long championed pre- kindergarten funding. The state gets a “bigger bang for its buck” with investments in four-year-olds rather than wait several years for problems and concerns to emerge. Education funding involves traditional basic funding for school district and extends outward to students involved in trade schools, community colleges or four-year colleges. To be saddled with thousands of dollars in debt holds back the economy as people postpone house purchases, car/truck purchases or even starting a family. Parents may scramble to pay off their school debt before their own children began post high school programs. Grandparents worry about their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
· TRANSPORTATION. We need safe bridges, highways and yes, mass transit. Sometimes just adding another lane on a stretch of highway will not solve long-range problems.
· CORPORATE INTERFERENCE. Cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul are seeking to implement a $15 minimum wage. That’s not really all that much for a family. Yet anti-labor politicians from throughout the state have sought to prevent progressive cities to offer a living wage environment.
We need to question all candidates what they intend to do about issues that are of prime interest to workers and their families. Are they willing to take the lead on those issues? The issues cited above are but a few of labor’s issues.
CALL TO ACTION. What should we be doing as retired labor union members to channel our concerns?
1. BE INFORMED. Follow state issues as well as the glitzy national issues that dominate the headlines.
2. BE INVOLVED. Help the candidate you think will be the best leader for Minnesota.
3. COME TOGETHER. After the dust settles next summer, let’s unite behind the ONE CANDIDATE that understands, labor’s issues and one who can lead us forward. The stakes have never been higher.