Conservative Minneapolis incumbents running scared from democracy

Blong Yang; Barb Johnson; Lisa Goodman

Wards 4 and 5 in Minneapolis are composed of 14 North Side neighborhoods where people of color are the majority. By a wide margin, these wards have the lowest turnout in Minneapolis municipal elections. These wards have also produced two of the most conservative members of the Minneapolis City Council, Barb Johnson and Blong Yang.

Voter turnout in Minneapolis (2013)

One way to boost turnout would be to let people know there’s an election going on and how they can participate. Early voting is happening right now. Election day is less than a month away on November 7. Fortunately, the City of Minneapolis produces and mails a voter guide with some essential voter information. This guide contains basic info, like:

  • date of the election
  • times polls are open
  • how to locate your polling place
  • how to access a sample ballot
  • voter eligibility requirements
  • Minnesota voter bill of rights
  • how to mark a ranked choice ballot

Last Wednesday, Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl told the City Council’s Elections Committee that his team gets “more compliments and positive feedback on [the voter guide] than anything else we do.”

But Council President Barb Johnson, who benefits from the fact that so many people of color in Ward 4 don’t vote, responded to the City Clerk’s presentation with this: “I’m glad you got a lot of positives about the voter guide, but I got a lot of negatives.”

Barb continued, “Why are we mailing to every house? And what does that cost? Can you give me a price tag about that? Because, as I say, I got a lot of negative feedback.”

Barb didn’t mention specific details about the negative feedback, or who she’s hearing it from.

The 2013 voter guide produced by the city was “identified in surveys as the single most effect voter outreach tool.” It cost $97,000 to send to every household in Minneapolis.

I’m not sure how Blong Yang feels about voter guides in low-turnout Ward 5, but he’s campaigning in a way that makes me think he needs one mailed to his house, because it’s not clear he understands there’s an election happening right now.

One important thing to remember about Blong Yang is he didn’t begin his term on the Council in a position of strength; he received only 42 percent of first-choice votes in 2013. This election year, instead of trying to expand his coalition, Yang’s strategy has been to run and hide. Naomi Kritzer explains the problem with Blong Yang in 2017:

He didn’t get endorsed at the DFL Ward Convention and has been campaigning in what I can only describe as a completely halfhearted way. He has not shown up for many (any?) of the debate/forum type events. He hasn’t filled out any questionnaires. His events (which you can find on his campaign Facebook page) are few in number and the campaign Facebook page is mostly just announcements of these events. On that grounds alone, I would not vote for him. If someone doesn’t want to be accountable to their constituents during the campaign they certainly aren’t going to be accountable to you after they take office.

Reading Kritzer’s post reminded me of this Public Safety Committee hearing Blong chaired in 2015, where he essentially excluded the general public from an impromptu public hearing, but found a way to make time for Bob Kroll and other invited guests who were hand-picked to give the right kind of testimony. Being a city council person involves facing people who disagree with you, right or wrong; Blong Yang seems to have no stomach for that part of the job. 
Last week, I showed up at a Ward 5 forum to see Blong field questions alongside challengers Jeremiah Ellison and Raeisha Williams. Even though I knew Blong had been avoiding debates, I was pretty confident that, as the lone member of the City Council to vote against a $15 minimum wage, Blong wouldn’t run away from a forum sponsored by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce; but he wasn’t there. And it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Blong thinks either that he can’t win, or that his candidacy doesn’t stand up to the tiniest bit of scrutiny. This page on MSP Votes has a list of forums and questionnaires Blong Yang has avoided.

Ward 7 features another conservative incumbent, Lisa Goodman, who’s been dodging debates and refusing to answer candidate questionnaires. Now, you might remember that when Goodman finally showed up for a candidate forum a few weeks ago it became an international scandal, as first reported by Wedge LIVE (no joke: Lisa Goodman’s public performance really was horrific enough that it showed up in a UK tabloid).

Ward 7 incumbent Lisa Goodman is hiding from the election.

Goodman has skipped two other recent candidate forums, including one hosted by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. She has refused to answer questionnaires on housing, transportation, racial justice, and other topics. Goodman did find a way to attend a forum sponsored by the five “lakes area” neighborhood organizations, featuring an audience question that instructed candidates to “restrict their answers to only the five lakes-area neighborhoods” (which tells you a lot about Ward 7 political dynamics).

The overall turnout numbers in Ward 7 are fairly average by Minneapolis standards. But there’s a wide disparity between the high-turnout “lakes area” neighborhoods (40-50%) and low-turnout downtown neighborhoods (15-30%). Lisa Goodman, facing a serious challenger for the first time since she was first elected in 1997, has a base of support that’s made up of those high turnout areas around the lakes.

At the City Council’s Elections Committee hearing where the city’s voter guide was discussed, a very conscientious-sounding Lisa Goodman said she feels “weird” and “awkward” using “city resources” (her e-newsletter) to promote basic info about the election.

But I don’t think an elected official telling people where and when they can vote is all that weird or awkward. What’s really weird and extremely awkward is Lisa Goodman using city resources to promote herself with a six-page color newsletter, printed and mailed to constituents just before the election. According to Ward 7 residents, this newsletter is not something they usually receive.

Goodman also sent 6 page color gatefold newsletter printed, mailed at city expense. Never seen such fanciness in 5+ years in W7.

— Resolve.Action.Love (@Snowman55403) September 30, 2017

Received my Ward 7 newsletter yesterday. Every four years like clockwork!

— Conquistador Jones (@devomase) September 26, 2017

Lisa Goodman mailed Mother of All Franked pieces 6 wks b4 election. She send 4-color pieces other times? City return address; taxpayer dime.
— David Brauer (@dbrauer) September 27, 2017

So you should vote this year. A good rule of thumb is to vote against the people who are running away from this election, afraid that more people might vote.