A lifelong resident of Minnesota, Michael Brodkorb is an experienced communications, social media, public affairs & research consultant and is an observer of all things political. He also blogs at politics.mn. He lives in Eagan with his family.

Posts about Politics

The phone call no candidate wants to make

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: August 16, 2014 - 5:18 PM

On Tuesday evening, dozens of candidates lost their campaigns for numerous offices in Minnesota. The winners of their individual primary elections are featured on the front pages of newspapers and their smiling, happy faces are flashed across our television screens. 

But soon after the final results have been reported and a winner has been declared, the losing candidates traditionally make a phone call to the winning candidate to congratulate the candidate and offer their full support.

The most famous concession call in American politics occurred in November 2000, when then Al Gore called George W. Bush to "retract" his earlier concession call to Bush after a dispute erupted over Florida's 25 electoral votes. The media reported that Bush was not happy about the second phone call from Gore, who reportedly responded by saying, "You don't have to get snippy about this." 

Over the last four days, I spoke with numerous candidates and their staff about the phone calls made to the winning candidates by the losing candidates. For this post, I had no interest in naming the candidates or staffers I spoke with, as losing the race was tough enough. Who was calling who, was not as important for this story, as the behind the scenes details about the calls and what was said.

So to quote Dragnet, "ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." A bit dramatic, but you get the point.

All of the candidates I spoke with were defeated this past Tuesday or in the previous few years. While many thought they could win on election night, most had planned in advance for the possibility of losing their race. They had a concession speech prepared and they ensured the personal phone numbers of the rivals were in close proximity, should they lose. 

Multiple staffers I spoke with had contacted their counterpart on the rival campaign to discuss a procedure and process for the candidates to speak with each other on election night. This task was taken on by the candidates themselves in multiple instances, as the candidates exchanged contact information when they crossed paths on the campaign trail. 

The individual concession calls are usually very awkward. On staffer told me, "It's like calling to congratulate someone who just got asked to the prom by the captain of the football team, while you'll be sitting home alone with your little brother."

Most of the candidates connected within minutes of the election results being announced, with others receiving or making calls in the following hours. A few candidates I spoke with exchanged repeated phone calls with their opponent and eventually speaking days after the election. 

For all the advancements in technology, none of the candidates or staffers I spoke with considered it appropriate to withdraw from a race with an e-mail or text message to the winner. In fact, one candidate I spoke with who won her race, has yet to hear from her opponent. She said, "campaigns are exhausting and losing is a tough thing to accept."

As of last evening, she still had not received a phone call, but wasn't dwelling on the fact that she had not spoken with her opponent. "I called and left a message, thanking [my opponent] for a spirited campaign," she said, adding, "but I still have to focus on my own campaign."

In this campaign, the phone call most people would not know about may never actually happen. 

Picture source: Newsweek

Rhonda Sivarajah keeps on fighting until the last day

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: August 12, 2014 - 12:29 PM

Two candidates running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District woke up today, but their campaigns are likely headed toward different outcomes.

Tom Emmer, the Republican endorsed candidate for Congress, is the heavy favorite to win today's primary in the 6th Congressional District. Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah is hoping to pull off an upset by winning the primary and defeating Emmer. 

Sivarajah won the endorsement of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, something she said "gave additional momentum to the campaign." Sivarajah added, "people who were maybe on the fence said 'wow, I had no idea about your record and accomplishments.'" 

Sivarajah is sometimes shy when it comes to talking about her accomplishments, a quality lacking in so many other politicians. Sivarajah's approach of putting her head "down and getting the work done" has produced results in Anoka County.

The editorial listed off a record of accomplishment any politician would want on their resume:

The County Board chairwoman’s list of accomplishments is impressive. Among them, she:

• Reduced debt by $30 million in the county, which has not borrowed in the past three years.

• Cut net property taxes by 10.5 percent over three years.

• Ended the county wheelage tax.

At the same time, Sivarajah pushed to find efficiencies to protect human services and to continue to invest in roads and bridges. One smart change: identifying a phone resource and referral service run by the county that duplicated some services offered by another well-known senior help line. Savings allowed the county to meet a need for short-term caseworkers to help seniors stay in their homes or to access care or other resources.

Early in Sivarajah’s County Board tenure, she also worked with faith-based organizations to shelter homeless families. At the time, skepticism abounded that the suburban county had homeless residents. The network of churches Sivarajah played a key role in organizing continues to provide this assistance today. Her work embodies the “compassionate conservatism” that many politicians talk about but few actually act on.

Politics is all about timing and Sivarajah's candidacy has been over shadowed by Emmer's return to the campaign trail. Politics loves an underdog and a comeback, but both Emmer and Sivarajah could wear either label this year. 

I spoke with a top Republican official in the 6th Congressional District, who is supporting Emmer, but said wonderful things about Sivarajah. He requested anonymity in this post, but said, "by running in the primary, Rhonda made Tom a better candidate, because she is such a strong candidate." He added, "Rhonda has a bright future and I would expect to see her on a larger platform very soon."      

Sivarajah said her approach to solving problems has brought "conservative Democrats and and independents to [the Republican] side." She's right, as any analysis shows Sivarajah's leadership has helped bring more Republicans to the Anoka County Board since she was first elected. Sivarajah is a fighter, but one that can win people over without taking a swing.     

When others would have thrown in the towel, Sivarajah never backed down from challenging Emmer in the 6th Congressional District primary. Based on her record, why would anyone ever think she wouldn't keep her word? While only one candidate will win the primary in the 6th Congressional District tonight, both Emmer and Sivarajah should be proud of what they accomplished. 

Picture source: Rhonda Sivarajah for Congress

Newspaper endorsements are important, but only if you're endorsed

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: August 6, 2014 - 5:05 PM

Over the last week, the Star Tribune has endorsed political candidates in numerous races. Who the Star Tribune endorsed has triggered the classic debate if newspapers should endorse and do the endorsements matter. 

Let me cut through some of the spin and state unconditionally: there is not a credible campaign in Minnesota that would turn down an endorsement from the Star Tribune or any major Minnesota newspaper. 

Scott Gillespie is the editorial page editor for the Star Tribune and he spoke with John Rash, who is an editorial writer and a member of the Star Tribune's Editorial Board about the process and reasons why the Star Tribune endorses political candidates. I'd encourage you to watch the video of Gillespie and Rash, as Gillespie debunks some of the popular myths surrounding newspaper endorsements.   

Gillespie said, "we think that our readers expect us to weigh in on the issues that matter most to Minnesotans and we think elections really matter." He is completely right. The public will read the endorsements and some will make a decision based on who is endorsed. It is a step in the process that some voters will use to make a decision on who will receive their vote. The campaigns endorsed by newspapers receive the equivalent of a public relations blue ribbon, a seal of approval that campaigns will spend time boasting about and promoting.

Endorsements from newspapers are important, especially if you're the candidate or campaign being endorsed. If you're not endorsed, you have two options: pretend it doesn't matter (even though you likely appeared at an editorial board meeting) or attack the process, claiming the perceived political bias of the newspaper prevented you from winning the endorsement.

At some points in my political career, I worked for candidates that were endorsed by major newspapers and other who were not, so it's fair to say I've used all of the tactics described above to promote or refute an endorsement. 

But as you can see in the picture on the right, all of the major candidates for statewide office in the upcoming primary next week did meet with the Star Tribune's Editorial Board. Why? Because newspaper endorsements are important, and regardless of the spin from those not endorsed, all of the candidates that were not endorsed would gladly accept a newspaper endorsement.    

I hope the Star Tribune and other major newspapers continue the practice of endorsing political candidates. But the campaigns that are not endorsed will push back with spin, but just remember that newspaper endorsements are important, but only if you're endorsed.

Picture source: Pictures tweeted by @StarOpinion of candidates attending interviews with the Star Tribune's  Editorial Board. 

Journalism, tax returns, and transparency

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: July 31, 2014 - 11:59 PM

A great series of stories by the Star Tribune over the last few years have lead to a greater level of transparency in race for governor. Gov. Mark Dayton has publicly released his tax returns every year since 2010 and the Star Tribune recently reported on the Republican endorsed candidate for governor Jeff Johnson and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet releasing their returns. Other candidates have yet to disclose their returns.  

I wrote last November that while candidates are not required to release their tax returns, it’s a smart move by the candidates for governor to do so, because the incumbent governor has done it for years. A candidate refusing to release their tax returns will provide their opponents with political fodder to be used against them during the campaign. Get ready for repeated questions, such as "what are you hiding?", if the returns are not released. Not releasing your tax returns will be a distraction – if you don’t want scrutiny, don’t run for office.

On the flip-side, Minnesota campaign laws don’t require the release of income tax returns, so why should candidates for statewide office burden themselves with an extra requirement? Because as I wrote, it just makes sense – especially when your main opponent is voluntarily releasing their returns.

While Gov. Dayton has disclosed his tax returns, the follow-up requests by reporters for the disclosure of other candidate tax returns warrants recognition.  

Jesse Ventura shocked the world once again

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb Updated: July 30, 2014 - 12:05 AM

Former actor, professional wrestler and governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura won his defamation suit in U.S. District Court in St. Paul. I honestly can't figure out if I was more shocked on November 3, 1998 when Ventura was elected governor, or today when he was awarded $1.845 million from the estate of Chris Kyle. 

Ventura decided to add Kyle's widow to the suit as a representative of the estate after Kyle was killed.  

In a must read story by Randy Furst and James Walsh for the Star Tribune, Ventura said “I am overjoyed that my reputation was restored which is what this whole law suit is all about." Yep, his reputation has been restored. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote "the world can't be shocked anymore by Jesse Ventura." I was wrong, as he shocked the world once again and hopefully, for the last time.  

Picture source: Jesse Ventura leaving court U.S. District Court/Tom Wallace, Star Tribune


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