Reflections on election
Over three weeks have passed since the election. I want to personally thank everyone who ran for elected office and offer my best wishes to those who were elected. The task you have agreed to take on is important and challenging.
As a former Iowa state senator married to a former Minnesota state representative, I fully understand what a privilege it is to serve one’s local community at the state level. The people we serve are, in a real sense, our neighbors — whether next-door neighbors or neighbors we met while knocking on doors across the district.
The people living in our community, district and state are facing issues numerous and complex. But some of the most talked about and most important issues aren’t partisan issues — or shouldn’t be. As I read news and letters to the editor, attended debates and spoke with people across the state, I have become more convinced than ever that most people care deeply about:
o Safe roads and bridges
o Access to affordable health care
o Adequate school funding
o Quality day care
o Clean environment
o Skilled workforce
o Nursing home funding
o Mental health services
To date, I have never met a Democrat, Republican or independent voter who did not support these big issues. Which is why each of these challenges can and should be solved in a non-partisan manner.
I take my civic responsibility to vote seriously and I have voted in every primary and general election since 1972. I have lived and voted in Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. I especially appreciate the Minnesota voting method that incorporates a paper ballot counted by an automated reader. Minnesota’s votes are counted in a timely fashion and posted on the Secretary of State’s website. Our system is transparent and trustworthy. Other states could certainly take a few lessons from Minnesota.
Still, campaign advertising has changed over the years — even here in Minnesota. Since I was first elected to the Iowa State Senate in 1978, I have observed that many political campaigns have become more and more negative — creating political ads full of half-truths and innuendo. A product of the more recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United is that there are virtually no limits on the amount of money individuals may contribute to political campaigns. And one of the consequences may be the recent increase in the frequency of negative ads.
With the goals of improving our current campaign climate and giving voters what they say they want — less negative advertising — I have a friendly suggestion: Change the way campaigns pay for their advertising. For example, charge 10 times the normal rate for all negative ads. Establish a pricing system that offers the lowest advertising rates for positive ads with the message coming directly from the candidate. This would not be in violation of the Supreme Court decision, but it may encourage more positive ads. And wouldn’t it be great to view political ads that promote a candidate or an issue?
With promoting the issues in mind, I have a second suggestion. Hold congressional and presidential elections on a date separate from city, county, school board and state legislative elections. When I look back on the Nov. 6 election, as a resident of Moscow Township in Freeborn County, I had the opportunity to vote on the following races:
o Two U.S. senators
o State representative
o Governor and lieutenant governor
o Attorney General
o Secretary of State
o State Auditor
o County commissioner
o Four school board members
o Twenty judges
In most cases, there are large distinctions between national, state, county and school district issues. Holding national elections apart from state and local elections would concentrate the nation’s focus on issues that the president, members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will address when in office, such as military funding, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, war policy, federal taxes, federal deficit and federal funding for education and transportation.
To implement the separation of national and state elections, Minnesota could choose to elect state legislators and statewide office-holders on odd years apart from the congressional and presidential election. Of course, there are always obstacles to change, but I believe it is important to have this discussion.
Finally, Minnesota is a great state. I am pleased that 67 percent of the registered voters participated in the November election in Minnesota. Would I rather see 100 percent participation? Absolutely. But we are fortunate here in Minnesota to have open and honest elections with high participation rates. It would be even better if we could decrease the number of negative ads and separate the national elections from local elections. The goal should be to elect the best candidates that will work together to resolve the big issues facing our state, region and country.
Joe Brown is superintendent at Fairmont Area Schools.