Raise the filing bar for political hobbyists in Minneapolis

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2014 - 6:42 PM

Higher fees should prevent a repeat of last year’s mayoral circus.

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A gathering of mayoral candidates in September 2013 included (from left) Ole Savior, Merrill Anderson, Mike Gould, Bob (“Again”) Carney Jr., Abdul Rahaman (“The Rock”) and Captain Jack Sparrow.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler • Star Tribune,

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The 2013 Minneapolis mayoral herd of 35 candidates wouldn’t have been the same without Captain Jack Sparrow, aka The Occupirate. But the ersatz pirate/politician didn’t sway us or, thankfully, the city’s Charter Commission last week with his opposition to raising the filing fee for mayoral candidates to $500.

The commission voted 10-5 to send a charter amendment for higher filing fees — $500 for mayor, $250 for the City Council, and $100 for the Park and Recreation Board and for the Board of Estimate and Taxation — to the city’s voters in this year’s Nov. 4 election. The fee for all offices today is $20, as set in 1967 under state law specifying that cities could stipulate fees in their charters.

Sparrow objected. He said his “name” would not have been on the 2013 ballot if the fee had been $500. A fee that high, he told the commission, would create a government composed of people with money.

We disagree. Higher fees would put candidates on the ballot who have sufficient backing to raise those sums from supporters — or to gather 500 signatures in lieu of paying the fee, as state law provides.

In a city whose last election brought nearly 80,000 voters to the polls, $500 or 500 signatures is not a high hurdle. But it is likely high enough to discourage candidacies driven more by ego or entertainment value than by political substance.

Fittingly, it also matches the mayoral filing fee in St. Paul. The Capital City has not seen the candidate stampede in recent years that Minneapolis experienced in 2009, when two-term incumbent R.T. Rybak faced 10 challengers, or in 2013, when Rybak’s retirement and the city’s pittance of a filing fee inspired nearly three dozen candidacies.

Some critics blamed the onslaught on ranked-choice voting, to which Minneapolis switched in 2009. St. Paul’s experience attests otherwise. At the recommendation of Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky, when St. Paul switched to ranked-choice in 2011, it raised its filing fees to deter political hobbyists who imagined that the new voting method would bring them an advantage. It doesn’t.

Take Captain Jack’s experience: He got 265 first-choice votes and was up to a whopping 352 on the strength of second- and third-place picks before being eliminated about midway through the counting.

Charter change in Minneapolis requires either unanimity among the mayor and City Council, or a majority vote of the Charter Commission followed by a 51 percent (oddly, not 50 percent plus one) vote of city residents voting on the question. A nonvote does not count as “no,” as it does for proposed state constitutional amendments.

The City Council had its chance to spare the administrative cost of a charter referendum and accept the Charter Commission’s motion for higher fees. The fees it considered earlier this year were $250 for mayoral candidates and $100 for council candidates — too low, we’d say, but a move in the right direction. But even at that level, two council members — Cam Gordon and Blong Yang — voted no.

Unanimity is always elusive at the Minneapolis City Council. That puts the responsibility for bringing more reasonable proportion to future city ballots where it ultimately belongs — with Minneapolis citizens.

This is early for us to call attention to an item on the Nov. 4. ballot. But in an election that will be dominated by races for governor and U.S. senator, we don’t think a call can come too early or too often for Minneapolis voters to prepare to vote on charter amendments this year.

  • WORDING TO COME

    While the Minneapolis Charter Commission has the authority to put a charter change proposal before the voters, it cannot write the words that will appear on city ballots. That duty falls to the City Council — which likely means that someone in the office of City Attorney Susan Segal will do the drafting.

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