Cities speak on ballot issues

They say marriage and voter ID amendments are matters of economics and democracy.

St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs says cities "exist so people can drink, drive and flush." But he doesn't apologize for the City Council jumping into state politics by taking a stand on two hot-button constitutional amendments on this fall's ballot.

The St. Louis Park council, along with those in Edina, Golden Valley, Crystal, Minneapolis and St. Paul, has declared its opposition to both the marriage and voter ID measures.

"Is it outside our bailiwick? Yes," Jacobs said. "But if not us, who? And if not now, when? At some point, people need to speak up."

With five weeks left before the Nov. 6 election, people for and against the closely fought amendments are looking for every edge they can get. While no city councils have voted in support of either amendment, those who oppose the measures have promoted the city opposition on Web pages and in news releases.

Not everyone thinks it's appropriate for cities to take a stand. Autumn Leva is a spokeswoman for the group Minnesota for Marriage, which supports the marriage amendment.

"I don't think city council votes affect anybody else's vote, they're just sort of symbolic," she said. "I think the people of Minnesota ... don't want politicians to define this. They want to express their own view."

While 13 cities statewide have taken a stand against the marriage amendment and eight have opposed the voter ID amendment, not all cities that have considered such measures have done so. City councils in Austin and Rochester flirted with resolutions against the marriage amendment but backed away. A Winona resolution to oppose the same measure died for lack of a second.

But Jacobs and the mayors of Edina and Golden Valley said they had good reasons to take a stand on state issues. They said the voter ID measure could affect city budgets by requiring more training of elections staff and purchase of new equipment.

The marriage amendment, they said, is a matter of fairness.

In Golden Valley, four of five council members supported a resolution against the marriage amendment. The fifth member abstained.

"As a city, we have a disproportionate number of LGBT residents," said Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris. "The [council] majority thought it was an important civil rights matter. ... This was not just a symbolic act."

Representatives of Our Vote, Our Future and Minnesotans United for All Families, the two groups opposing the voter ID and marriage amendments, said they have played no role in the city votes. But both groups have been tracking and publicizing local resolutions. Kate Brickman of Minnesotans United for All Families said announcements of those votes get lots of reaction on Facebook and Twitter.

"It's one of the things that people get most excited about," she said.

Harris said that when he was campaigning for Golden Valley mayor last year, residents brought up the marriage amendment, saying it was something the city should take action on. He said council chambers were "packed" on the night of the vote, and that e-mail and phone response was skewed heavily toward opposing the amendment.

"Maybe a couple of people said they didn't think it was the right thing to do," he aid. "There hasn't been any kind of backlash."

Jacobs said that when the St. Louis Park council unanimously supported the resolution against the marriage amendment, there was one complaint and "dozens of e-mails thanking us. People were literally crying on the phone and saying 'thank-you.'"

In Edina, the council votes on both resolutions were unanimous. Mayor Jim Hovland said opposition to the voter ID measure was motivated not only by the possible financial burden on the city but by concern about the effect on the city's many senior residents. People who have given up driving may not have valid photo IDs anymore, he said, and having access to a valid birth certificate can be a problem for the very old.

If worry about disenfranchisement drove the voter ID vote in Edina, marriage, too, was seen as a constitutional issue.

"It's all related to making sure that government conduct doesn't hurt people," Hovland said. "It just didn't feel right that a class of citizenry would be discriminated against, and that it would be enshrined in the constitution."

One Edina resident who did not approve of the vote is Dick Novack. The moderate Republican expressed his views on a Facebook page called Politics in Edina. In an interview, Novack said he would prefer that the council stick to managing the city.

"I'm of the opinion that they've gone very social-issue," he said. "Voter ID is either a state or national issue; marriage is a state or national issue. That's not their job. Their job is to take care of streets, sewers, safety, fire and the like."

Hovland said there has been little resident reaction to Edina's resolutions, though he said he talked to a few people like Novack who asked why the council didn't stick to managing the city.

"I said we are the front lines of democracy at the local government level," Hovland said. "It's important for us to speak out."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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