A Nov. 14 editorial ("Cynicism deters candidates, voters") bemoaned the low participation of Minnesotans in the political process: It noted that "400 spots on local ballots went blank because no candidates were willing to run for office, and only half of the state's eligible voters bothered to show up for the midterm election. … Nationwide, candidates and interest groups spent a record $4 billion this midterm to generate the lowest voter turnout since 1942. … The unmistakable message: More money equals less democracy."
I agree with the Star Tribune editors: For many positions, we have too few candidates, not too many. And we sorely lack participation by regular people — people without great wealth at their disposal.
However, inspired it seems by our 2013 mayoral race in Minneapolis, the Star Tribune's Editorial Board and Fair Vote Minnesota have also loudly called for higher filing fees as a way to discourage "frivolous" candidates or "political hobbyists."
Hello? You can't complain about "the many blank ballots for local offices and high proportion of uncontested elections" and then advocate policies that will guarantee the very result you are complaining about.
If our goal is to get more people involved in politics, we must look beyond negative campaigning and its consequence: voter suppression. We must also overcome candidate suppression and news suppression.
The Star Tribune's news department fails in a basic function of news reporting: informing voters about the political platforms and positions of candidates. The "horse-race" story line is emphasized — framing politics as a sporting event — and portraying "We the People" not as participants but as spectators. We don't need sports-style reporting on who will win — we need news and information to help decide who should win.
Last year, I wore a pirate costume only after the Southwest Journal incorrectly reported that I wore a costume while campaigning. My simple theory was this: With plenty of serious ideas and decades of activism, but very limited campaign resources, I was well advised to take whatever publicity was available.
This year, in my campaign for Hennepin County commissioner, I dispensed with the costume. There was one brief videotaped debate. My campaign produced extensive news release and video reporting on an emerging scandal involving Southwest light-rail line real estate speculation by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. I received more than 10,000 votes, but received almost no media coverage — until after the election, when a photo of a ballot with my name went viral worldwide.
My platform is about things the Star Tribune claims to be concerned about. It is about getting big money out of politics. I refused contributions larger than $99. I called for the public funding of elections and the elimination of "dark money" that cannot be traced. I argued against raising the filing fees to run for office, calling instead for other alternatives to qualify candidates.
Commissioner Linda Higgins ran unopposed for the County Board this year. Had I not run, Peter McLaughlin also would have been unopposed. Two Minneapolis City Council members ran unopposed in 2013. This is not uncommon. And unfortunately, with the City Council filing fee now $250, it may become more common.
The poll tax is long dead, and We the People vetoed an ID requirement to vote. To reform our civic life in ways that earn higher participation from regular people, we need to eliminate barriers to all forms of participation.
When regular people are on the ballot, other regular people will be willing to come out to support them. When people see more candidates who are not dangling from strings of money, and receive more news about what can and will be done to make their lives better, higher participation will inevitably result.
Only then will we move toward our goal: a government "of, by and for the people" — as opposed to a government "of, by and for people with money."
Captain Jack Sparrow was a candidate for Hennepin County Commissioner in 2014.