Gov. Tim Walz has named Jodi Harpstead as the new commissioner of the Department of Human Services, beginning Sept. 3. The headlines all noted she is CEO of Lutheran Social Service, but also of note: She spent more than 20 years at Medtronic.
With Harpstead, Walz adds a former Medtronic executive to a Cabinet that already has Laura Bishop, a former Best Buy executive. Indeed, the role of the big corporate sector in DFL politics — and vice versa — is an interesting phenomenon of both political and business life here.
Consider the top DFL elected officials. Sen. Tina Smith was a marketing guru at General Mills. Sen. Amy Klobuchar had a thriving corporate law practice focused on telecommunications before she took up politics.
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, who represents the western suburbs, was CEO of his family liquor business before he joined the nascent gelato company Talenti that he and his partners sold to Unilever.
Rep. Angie Craig, who represents the east metro suburbs and a swath of rural Minnesota, was an executive at St. Jude Medical.
Just check out the campaign finance reports, which show Democrats more than holding their own with Minnesota’s business elite.
For the DFL’s emerging progressive wing, which helped Sen. Bernie Sanders win the 2016 presidential caucus by a 2-to-1 ratio, these corporate ties are cause for alarm.
“It’s disappointing to see what I consider to be the improper and inappropriate overrepresentation of privilege and the wealthy on our DFL Party,” said Rod Halvorson, chairman of the Minnesota chapter of Our Revolution, the grassroots activist group founded by Sanders veterans.
Longtime DFL operative Jeff Blodgett doesn’t see it that way, noting that the aforementioned “are all progressives. It doesn’t stop them from being true blue DFLers,” he said.
He’s right that each of them has typically progressive voting records, but surely their business backgrounds help shape them, nudging the party to the center.
As Halvorson pointed out, only Rep. Ilhan Omar has endorsed Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal among the Minnesota delegation. (Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul has introduced a constitutional amendment guaranteeing health care and has called for a government insurance option.)
On the corporate side, I’m a bit out of my lane here. But it stands to reason that the frequent shuttling of DFL operatives to local Fortune 500 companies must have an impact on the corporate culture of those companies. Indeed, a Republican operative groused to me last week that the biggest companies are often less than helpful to the GOP cause.
What we’re talking about here is the social psychology of politics. What group do you come from? Where do you hang out? Who do you talk to on a regular basis? That, more than any professed ideology or set of values, may be more important.
J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican firstname.lastname@example.org