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Continued: Politicians, not public, served by an early exit

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 21, 2014 - 2:39 AM

Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, a nonprofit citizens government watchdog, said that in Dorfman’s defense, she’s going to another public service job.

“We usually take issue when they leave for a lobbyist position … a much higher-paying job to influence the system they were part of,” he said.

Regardless of what Dorfman is doing next, Schroeder and others say special elections aren’t the ideal way to elect politicians. In addition to being costly, they occur outside the usual fall election season, and campaigns are compressed. Thus voters don’t get to know the candidates well, and turnout is consistently low.

Lingering in their seats

Despite the early exits by Dorfman, Stenglein and Andrew, they tend to be the exception at the county level, where a board seat can provide a cozy perch sheltered from much of the direct criticism faced by City Council members and legislators.

Metro area county boards offer numerous examples of politicians who have been comfortably seated for a generation. Scooting out of office early — rather than hanging on for decades — would appear to line up with the once-popular notion of term limits.

Some of Dorfman’s colleagues appear to have settled comfortably into warm seats. Commissioner Randy Johnson of Bloomington has been in office since 1979. Peter McLaughlin has held his seat since 1991. Chairman Mike Opat has been seated since ’92.

Across the river, Ramsey County Board Chairman Rafael Ortega has been in office since 1995. Commissioners Janice Rettman and Victoria Reinhardt joined that board in 1996.

‘Don’t appoint yourself’

Voters may accept both brevity and longevity, but in Minnesota, they won’t go for what Schier called “outrageously self-serving” actions.

The most famous such example came in 1976, when Gov. Wendell Anderson resigned and appointed himself to the U.S. Senate to fill the seat of Walter Mondale, who had been elected vice president. Voters turned against Anderson and not only ousted him in 1978, but smacked down the entire DFL ticket.

“In other words, you can move up, as long as you don’t appoint yourself,” Schier said.

 

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 @rochelleolson

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