As the Minnesota gubernatorial race approaches its first caucuses, The Macalester Democrats (Mac Dems) have started preparing for a long election season.
On Thursday, Jan. 25, at their second meeting this semester, Mac Dems hosted State Rep. Paul Thissen (D-MN), a candidate running for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) nomination.
At the open Q&A-style meeting, attendees had the opportunity to quiz Thissen on his platform, political experience, and views on current issues.
Thissen, raised in Bloomington, was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2002. He was appointed Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee in 2007, and served as minority leader from 2011 until 2012, when the DFL regained their majority status. From 2013-2015, Thissen served as the speaker of the House.
During the session, he shared his position on a broad spectrum of issues but highlighted racial disparity, early childhood care, and clean water as his top priorities should he be elected governor.
Thissen noted that Minnesota is the second most racially disparate state in the country, behind only Wisconsin.
“We need to be a lot more intentional,” he said. “There is institutional racism built into our system.”
“I’m a big proponent of what we call promise neighborhoods,” Thissen added. “Every child born in these neighborhoods, they say ‘this child is going to go to college.’”
The St. Paul Promise Neighborhood organization serves the Frogtown, Rondo and Summit-University neighborhoods and provides services to students with the goal of closing the education opportunity gap. As governor, Thissen would encourage similar initiatives.
He also addressed racial inequality in the criminal justice system – an institution, Thissen noted, that “doesn’t always live up to its name.”
Minnesota made national headlines in July 2016 when footage of a St. Anthony police officer shooting and killing Philando Castile at a traffic stop went viral. .
“We can re-adjust the use-of-force laws in Minnesota,” Thissen said. “There should be some reasonable standard there.”
In addition, Thissen prioritized reforms such as the legalization of marijuana, reducing the cost of bail, and shortening probationary terms.
“I was really impressed with his kind of frank analysis of the equity issues that Minnesota faces,” Mac Dems co-chair Sophia Hays ’20 said. “I thought he did just a good job of pinpointing the issues we need to work on: criminal justice reform and climate justice are obviously parts of that. I just think it’s rare that you find someone with a direct point of view.”
On the subject of healthcare, Thissen highlighted his goal of introducing a single-payer system and providing financial assistance for early childhood care, language interpretation services in hospitals, and other benefits.
“I really liked his progressive platform, especially his universal healthcare push for the state,” Mac Dems member Marco A. Hernandez ’19 said. “I believe it’s really important to have that change so that people can have healthcare.”
During the session, Thissen continued to return to the economy as an underlying issue in Minnesota – specifically advocating affordable housing, closing state tax loopholes, and preventing House Republicans from lowering taxes.
“When other communities do better, it improves the lives of people here in St. Paul,” he added.
“I thought he really knew what he was talking about,” Hannah Maycock ’19, the other co-chair of Mac Dems said. “Sometimes you meet a politician and they just don’t talk and they’re kind of wishy-washy. But he filled up the whole time, was able to answer everyone’s questions and you could tell he really had experience.”
If there were any complaints levelled at Thissen, they had to do with the credit he attributed to The Twin Cities for carrying Hillary Clinton to a narrow victory in Minnesota in the 2016 presidential election.
“One thing that I have a problem with is that he sort of has this urban preference,” Hernandez said. “I remember he once said that if it wasn’t for the Twin Cities, Hillary wouldn’t have won and we wouldn’t have the number of DFL legislators [at] the Capitol. There was no attention to rural voters in greater Minnesota.”
“The thing that’s happening in the DFL is they’re losing voters left and right in greater Minnesota because of the lack of attention that these rural voters feel,” Hernandez continued.
Thissen did, however, address issues concerning greater Minnesota – specifically in the areas of infrastructure and the economy.
“Economic security issues are really things I want to focus in on,” Thissen said, noting that those issues affect citizens from the Cities and across Minnesota, in rural Minnesota in particular.
“One of the things we need to do is unify our party and unify our state,” Thissen said. “I think we need a governor who’s willing to go out into Minnesota and engage.”
There is a long race ahead of Thissen and his fellow gubernatorial candidates before the general election on November 6th. Mac Dems plans to devote more time to the race in the coming months.
“Minnesota is kind of a fun state for 2018 because we’ve got the governor up and both senators. Tina Smith is gonna run in November and Amy Klobuchar is up for reelection [too],” Hays said. “In that sense, I think we can really stay local.”
“I think we see our role now in Mac Dems as sort of directing students to campaigns as they see fit,” Hays said. “Bringing in speakers and getting campaign literature and volunteer sign ups and all that stuff.”
“Any Mac student can come to any of our meetings. With these Q&A events, in the future, we post them in the MacDaily,” Haycock said.
Mac Dems wants to empower students to get involved in elections at a time when many are disillusioned with the state of politics in Washington D.C.
“I think it’s hard to be excited about politics in a climate like this,” Hays said, “but the goal, I think, for Democrats in 2018 is not to just show up to the polls and vote – it’s to go to the phone bank, door knock, bring a friend to the polls. Really encourage voter turnout, get excited, get involved.”
Hernandez encourages all interested students to reach out to Mac Dems for these opportunities.
“If you’re a Democrat here at Macalester, Mac Dems really does have connections to campaigns and also internships with the DFL here in Minnesota,” he said.
Since he was elected on Super Tuesday in 2016, Hernandez has served as the DFL precinct chair for Senate District 64, where he has
“When you go out and speak to candidates and legislators, they know where Macalester is and the types of students that are molded there,” Hernandez said. “It gives Mac Dems an advantage when they want to organize something that the DFL really does want Mac students.”
The DFL will be holding their Precinct 64 caucus next Tuesday, Feb. 6th at 7pm in the John B. Davis Lecture Hall. The Republican caucus will take place at the same time at Highland Park High School.
Mac Dems holds open meetings every Thursday at 8pm in CC 214.