Entenza runs for governor

By Marissa Warden

Matt Entenza ’83 is running for governor in 2010. The Mac Weekly sat down with him at one of his favorite locales, Coffee News, to discuss his goals for Minnesota. The Mac Weekly: How did you become involved in politics?

Matt Entenza: I got involved in politics at Macalester. I got involved in MPIRG and a group of us got together and we were upset because- hard to believe- there was no campus recycling, this was before we had recycling laws and so we went to the administration and said, “We think recycling is important and you should do this,” and the administration said, “It’s too expensive and no one will want to do it.” And so we organized the first on campus recycling program. We put bins in all the buildings to recycle paper and glass and aluminum. It was part of a student movement that was going on through MPIRG across the state of Minnesota and I was the convener for MPIRG on campus. I was an Environmental Studies major, and so my interest in politics came through environment, being an ES major and through MPIRG. I had never been to the State Capitol and MPIRG did training for how to be an effective lobbyist on issues, and I went to the capitol to do that. So that was sort of the beginning of what taught me about activism andthen Macalester being Macalester, one thing led to another.

What year was it that you started the recycling on campus?

1982. Another thing I was involved in was we had a peace and justice group and that was the time that the draft registration was starting and there were a lot of us who were concerned – Reagan being the president-kind of like the Bush stuff, he seemed more intent on spending millions of dollars building weapon systems and not on getting people healthcare and education and so I was very involved in the peace and justice organization. Those were the sort of issues that got me into politics.

Why did you decide to run for governor?

Well, I feel like the state that I grew up in, that was there for me, isn’t there anymore. I’m from Worthington, so far southwest Minnesota. And so when I was 15 I lost my father to alcoholism, he took off. Our home got foreclosed on, we lost our home, and so it was my sister and brother and I and my mom. We had no healthcare either, when he took off we lost all of our healthcare coverage and I really feel like the thing that made it possible for me to succeed was first my grandmother, she gave us a place to live, she had this tiny little two bedroom house, we moved in with her, but I had a good public school in Worthington. Worthington is a meat packing town, it’s not a wealthy town at all, but I had this great public school and I could be in debate and be in speech, there were no fees for things, there were a lot of opportunities. I had teachers who really went out of their way to help me a lot because I was really doing poorly in school. I was very rebellious, I was your classic 15-year-old boy who was rebelling and you know by the time I graduated they really helped me. My grades had turned around, I wanted to go to college and I had the opportunity to go to college because I had-it hadn’t gotten all screwed up because they were there. I actually started at Augustana which is in Sioux Falls, [SD] and I had gotten into Mac but it was just too expensive, I couldn’t afford it and I got a better scholarship at Auggie. Two years later I transferred to Mac where I had always really wanted to go. And I just had a blast at Mac.

But I want to run for governor because I see the opportunities that I had coming from a family with a single parent and no money and lost their home; when I go back home to Worthington it makes me so angry when I see how the school doesn’t have so many of the things that made it possible for me to succeed. They’re gone, they’re all gone and it’s just infuriating. And I look at Governor Pawlenty and he just says well it’s just the way it is. I don’t think we have to put up with that. I think we can do a lot better.

What would you consider to be the strengths of Minnesota?

Well our core strength, I believe, is that despite the weather, people really love the state; we are the hardest state to get people to leave. When companies come here to recruit people away from Minnesota we’re the hardest place to get people to leave. One of the easiest is Michigan. But people have tremendous loyalty to Minnesota, they really like Minnesota that’s why at Mac we have the five mile roll. Half of Macalester’s graduates live within five miles of campus and Macalester grads could go live anywhere in the world and many do obviously, but many seem to want to stay because we have such a great community. But the things that makes it a great community has been pretty good job opportunities and schools and housing that’s nice but really affordable compared to the east coast or the west coast. We’re losing a lot of those advantages. You’re talking about a state that used to be top ten in all of the rankings and now, increasingly we’re kind of middle of the pack. So we need to build our way back up again.

In your online bio you mention that you want to improve healthcare. How would you ensure that every Minnesotan has access to quality and affordable health care?

I think we need what I call Medicare for all. Medicare is something that makes sure that everyone 65 and older has healthcare and it’s been a huge success and it’s our lowest cost form of health care that is available. So I think we should work with President Obama, who is working on this concept as well, and help the Medicare up so that businesses and other people can come and take advantage of the low cost, as well as really good coverage, because it’s not just partial coverage it’s full coverage.

What will you do to support higher education in Minnesota, especially during this time of economic hardship?

Well, I was in the State House for 12 years and I represented Macalester and one of the key things that makes Minnesota unique is the state resident grant program. It’s a great program because it’s not just a loan, it’s a grant and it’s available to make it possible for our students to go to Macalester or the U [University of Minnesota], but it makes our state colleges much more affordable. The governor and others are recommending cuts in that and I think this is the wrong time to be hurting financial aid. This is when we need to be very supportive and to make sure we keep open those financial aid possibilities.