House 6A candidate decries lobbyist influence

Mike Thompson

Mike Thompson

An Iron Range DFL primary usually creates sparks, but until Friday the House 6A DFL contest had been remarkably quiet. One letter to the editor even complained that the candidates seemed too similar to make a decision.

The race features four DFL candidates seeking to replace Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), including Nashwauk Mayor Ben DeNucci, teacher Julie Sandstede of Hibbing, salesman Mike Thompson of Cherry, and former Rick Nolan staffer Tom Whiteside of Hibbing.

DFL voters will select one of them to face Republican Rob Farnsworth in an Aug. 9 primary. DFL delegates failed to endorse a candidate last April.

On Friday, Thompson fired a shot across the bow in a letter to the editor.

He lamented that one of his opponents held a “secret” fundraiser in St. Paul put on by influential lobbyists. He did not name the opponent or the lobbyist in the letter. Instead he argued generally against the disproportionate influence of lobbyists on the process.

Two different sources, not affiliated with any of the campaigns, have told me the candidate Thompson was talking about was Whiteside, and that the lobbyist who organized the St. Paul fundraiser was Gary Cerkvenik.

This will be easy to confirm when the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board releases the pre-primary fundraising reports. Their website was down this morning, so I’m not sure of the date.

It’s not illegal to take money from lobbyists, of course, and most successful candidates end up taking at least some. But what I’ve talked about before is the way a particular set of lobbyists, Cerkvenik among them, seem to shape the political agenda of the Iron Range.

Further, whatever you think of the lobbyists, one cannot escape the fact that the candidate backed by Cerkvenik and his allies has won every Iron Range DFL primary this decade. Again, not illegal. But it’s certainly a factor worth more attention than it’s typically given.

I probably would have placed Thompson with the longest odds to win the nomination going in. He’s the youngest candidate, with the fewest ties to organized politics. So it’s hard to say whether he benefits from his anti-lobbyist rhetoric or whether he just knocks Whiteside — who many perceive as a front-runner — off his stride, allowing DeNucci or Sandstede a chance to get ahead.

Again, I’m not here to tell you that Whiteside, or other Range officials, are bad people. I’ve had some good conversations with Whiteside. It’s not about that. It just seems that raising the point is worthwhile. The disproportionate influence of a small number of political operatives on Iron Range primaries is hard to ignore.

The next forum for the 6A DFL candidates will be held 4-5:30 Thursday evening at Hibbing Community College. Sponsored by Advocates for Family Peace, this forum advertises that it will focus on the “values, beliefs and character of those seeking this legislative seat.”

Sounds like they’ll have something to talk about.

Here’s Thompson’s letter —

“The fix is in, folks,” Letter to the editor by Mike Thompson, July 15, 2016:

Having worked hard attending forums, walking in parades and listening to the concerns and ideas of as many great Iron Rangers as I possibly can, I feel I’ve been truly honored with having this opportunity to possibly represent our great area.

This whole process has reaffirmed for me that hope is not lost on our state government and that people still truly care. The widespread sentiment of our politics being influenced by a large political machine operated by just a handful of people is still very prevalent.

Quite frankly, that is one of the main reasons I decided to throw my hat in the race in the first place.

After spending five months in the political arena, I can attest that those sentiments aren’t at all misplaced. Recently, 15 of the top lobbyists and power brokers in Minnesota threw a $100 per person fundraiser secretly in St. Paul for one of my opponents. The very same people who contribute to the gridlock of our legislature year after year. This is in direct contrast to what the DFL stands for.

How are you going to get transparency and have a government that works for the people when you have an army of lobbyists breathing down your neck?

The one thing that has helped keep me going in this race — despite the political insiders and power brokers’ thumb on the scale that has helped finance a big flashy campaign — is the belief that my fellow Iron Rangers will refuse to let the wool be pulled over their eyes. I believe they want to finally elect someone who will represent the Range’s best interests without having to run everything by their lobbyist backers first.

This is why it’s extremely important to come out and vote the primary on Aug. 9.

The political machine is hoping for another low turnout primary to get their candidate in. This is supposed to be a government for the people, by the people — not just for a handful of lobbyists trying to increase their bottom line.

What you see is what you get with me, so let’s come together and let’s do right by the Range.

UPDATE: Here is the invitation to the fundraiser that Thompson called out.

Whiteside fundraiser

Cerkvenik is the primary host, joined by a number of others. I know some on the list. Some are lobbyists and some are not. We’re having a lively discussion about this over on the MinnesotaBrown Facebook page.

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