Some folks complain about the distortion and superficiality that have become commonplace in political discourse. Will Haddeland actually did something about it. In 2004, he founded Debate Minnesota.
Haddeland, 63, of Edina, died Sunday after battling a rare neurological disorder that left his mind strong but robbed him of speech and mobility. It was a sad last chapter for a thoughtful man who relished meaty conversation about Minnesota politics.
Observing that too many campaigns for state and federal office were not generating the policy-rich dialog he enjoyed and thought voters deserved, Haddeland set out to create a non-profit, non-partisan debate-sponsoring organization. He created a format that allowed for in-depth conversations about several major policy topics plus questions from a live audience. He insisted on a professional approach, recruiting a cadre of debate moderators and training them in the art of keeping candidates’ conversation civil and balanced.
As the then-president of the Independent Community Bankers Association and a past senior vice president of Minnesota Public Radio and of Ashland Oil, Haddeland knew how to organize and raise money for his project. He assembled an impressive bipartisan board of directors.
Debate Minnesota set a standard that has boosted both the quality and quantity of candidate debates in the past eight years. It deserves a share of credit for inspiring more than 30 debates in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, an unprecedented run that left state voters better informed than they would have been with a campaign that relied on ads and sound bites alone.
In politics and business, and in his four-year battle with progressive supranuclear palsy, Haddeland was a doer, not a complainer. Minnesota could use more of that sort.
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