2014 Minnesota primary: sorting out best of what’s available

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

I remember once sitting at the kitchen table with my dad shortly after he turned 30. I was 8 or 9 and in the process of memorizing an encyclopedia on American Democracy.

“Dad,” I said, “You’re old enough to run for the Senate!” I was busy imaging his campaign. (He’d need to wash off that oil and diesel smell). But no, he said, he would not be running for the United States Senate. Not this year. Not next year. Not ever. I couldn’t fathom why any person wouldn’t want to run for the Senate upon reaching 30 years of age. I mean, the book says you could, so why not?

In a more innocent time I was a young man infatuated with the art of politics. Like many have said before, the exploration of this innocence invariably produces a story hinged on the phrase “but then I realized …” then ending with “and it was never the same after that.” The fixation becomes less an infatuation, more an obsession, or in my case a nagging case of night tremors that visit during the even years.

Like many eggheads who stumbled with dirty feet out of blue collar families into things like “curriculum meetings” and “task forces,” I’m the guy people call with questions like, “Is there another election coming up?” “Who’s running?” “What’s his or her deal?”

Despite the curse of strong convictions I try to remain objective in answering these questions. No point in leading the witnesses. If they ask me who I’m voting for, I tell them. Rarely do they ask. Really, what people want to know is if it’s worth driving up to the hall this Tuesday to make small talk with the ladies, all just to mark a ballot that runs odds similar to a lottery ticket. Someone’s going to be a Senator. It ain’t gonna be me (even though I’m older than 30).

Here in our state, the Minnesota primary election will be held Tuesday, Aug. 12. You’ll select a DFL, GOP or Independence party ballot to vote on. Republicans have a closely contested race for their nominee to challenge Gov. Mark Dayton. Party-endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson, who ran for Attorney General four years ago, faces off against rural State Rep. Marty Seifert, former House Speaker Kurt Zellers and businessman Scott Honour. Investment banker Mike McFadden is the GOP-endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate, but he faces a dark horse challenger in State Rep. Jim Abeler, who’s been touring the state in a van.

DFLers have a real donnybrook in the State Auditor race, where incumbent Rebecca Otto has been the subject of a well-funded and often negative intra-party challenge by Matt Entenza. Here on the Iron Range, incumbent State Rep. and rising star Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) drew a challenge from John Finken, one of the organizers of a group of ex-miners negatively affected by National Steel’s bankruptcy a decade ago.

There are scads of people who filed for Independence Party nominations for governor and U.S. Senate. Plus, some will find local races with primaries depending on where you live. Really, there’s something for everyone.

These days I often wonder if Minnesota’s strange combinations of caucuses, conventions, endorsements and primaries produce the egalitarian democracy they are designed to create. In my world it creates more confusion than anything else. “So that guy won?” “No, he was endorsed.” “So if he wins the election is he in?” “No, if he wins the election he’s in the real election.”

Besides, every level of state and national political sorting now turns on swirling eddies of campaign cash that ultimately turns into ads, ads, ads, mailers, and more ads. Every single one of these messages tells you to feel, not think.

“The hate is swelling in you now. Give in to your anger. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am the Emperor Palpatine and I approved this message.”

But primaries are the last chance before the big November vote for regular people to touch the ballot and do something. Most people are going to do what they usually do. But maybe they won’t. Fat cats have to sweat a little. It’s good for them. A sauna cleanses the soul.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Speaking politically…one wonders is this day and age what the criteria is, what experience is required, to be considered a “rising star”.

  2. The good news is that when there are leaves on the trees, my satellite dish (Direct TV) can’t pick the signals from the satellite that broadcasts the Duluth Stations. I haven’t seen a single ad. The bad news is…yada yada…and I don’t know much besides the local news I read on my phone. The candidates don’t bother much with our local newspapers. So it isn’t easy to know more than the superficial election “news” controlled by the parties.

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