Healthcare, sustainability and "a lot of good times

By Matthew Stone

In between stints of handing out campaign flyers (printed on kenaf paper, made from cotton) on campus last week, Minnesota’s Green Party-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Ken Pentel sat down with The Mac Weekly.This year marks Pentel’s third run for governor. In 1998, he drew 0.3 percent of the vote. He increased his share to 2.25 percent in 2002, when the Green Party had major party status.

Below are excerpts from the interview, which took place hours before Pentel was to participate in a televised debate with Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson and cardboard cutouts of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and DFL contender Mike Hatch.

What do you expect to get out of the debate, especially considering that the major candidates aren’t there?

Pentel: I think, obviously, the public needs to know how positions contrast between the candidates so it’s unfortunate that our existing governor and Mike Hatch are not going to show. I think it’s a disservice to giving people a sense of what are the differences between these candidates and how can that help me make my decision when I go vote.

Beyond that, what I’ll get out of it is the fact that I’m able to find an audience to express, I think, very important positions, a vision that makes sense to the public. The opportunities that we have to reach the large audience in Minnesota, especially as a minor party, are somewhat limited, so this is something that we have to take advantage of when we can.

Another unique thing about the debate tonight is that the audience will be people between 18 and 34. That demographic, a lot say, is often ignored by the political system. Do you see that as a specific benefit of tonight’s debate?
That’s great. I think, no doubt, that young people who are coming out of high school who are looking to do something for their culture, people that want to be of service. They want to apply their sense of courage, and unfortunately a lot of that has been channeled toward militarism.

And what I’m hoping that I’m able to convey, which is not always easy, is the fact that we can take that sense of service and that sense of courage and channel it toward something really meaningful, like setting up ways of life that are sustainable on the only planet we can live on in the universe. The dominant political parties are gutting the planet right before our eyes and no one’s capable of stepping in to stop that.

No matter how much they use the rhetoric that we care about kids, it’s a lie. They don’t care about the kids. They just care about the parents, who have kids, hearing that message. They care about the parents, who have kids, donating to their campaigns. But ultimately when it comes right down to it, they’ll poison the kids’ planet. All this stuff is stealing from future generations.

Pentel addressed the influence of lobbying dollars on government in Minnesota.

Minnesota, in 2004, per capita, was number one in the country in the amount of money spent lobbying, over $42 million.

So citizens go vote, then the citizens go work and their elected officials go to the capitol and massive global wealth, national wealth, local wealth, orbits around our policy makers, infuses itself into our government decade after decade after decade. And they commercialize our government. And they gut local economies.

And then the other pieces of the puzzle are to get a more honest structure, which is, for single seat offices, instant-runoff voting. So you can go in the booth, vote exactly how you feel and not worry about your vote being thrown away.

Pulse, an alternative newspaper in the Twin Cities, endorsed Mike Hatch for governor. In the endorsement article, it says “don’t waste your vote,” even though the endorsement article praises you. Under the system we currently do have, is a vote for a third party a wasted vote?

Absolutely not. Third parties are precursors to ending slavery in this country, they were essential to giving women the right to vote, and they were essential at getting labor laws. Third parties are the critical component for establishing issues that normally would not have been discussed and being able to leverage elections.

The idea of a wasted vote just reflects somebody who is oppressed in the system, that have bought into the oppression and that’s what that discussion’s all about. Vote what you believe. That’s what the system’s supposed to do. Other than that, you’re just lying and you’re living the lie.

This is your third run for governor this year. You ran in 1998 and 2002. What did you learn running those two times and what are you doing differently this time around?

The first time, the party had never run a candidate for governor before, so it was very exciting. It was all seat-of-the-pants organizing and the second time we were a major party. And in that situation, we had incredible momentum and a great deal of money.

I’ve learned that our positions are generally populist. I’ve learned that people are conditioned by the structure to keep voting against their self-interest. But when it comes down to a discussion on policy, my positions are more popular across the board.

What I’ve seen is some things moving forward. I’ve learned that if you maintain definition and discipline towards your objective, you can definitely see movement in some of the issues that you profess you want to move forward.

What we’re seeing is that certain things about the political system are that you don’t always have to win elections to win issues. You need to engage in the system. Run candidates, get votes, get ideas out there and changes happen, like a ripple effect.

One of your specific policy proposals has been to institute a tax on packaging waste. How would that work?

We’ll figure out a way to deal with this and lead toward reducing packaging over time. But ultimately we want to just shove the problem back at the manufacturer because the cop-out basically has been that the individual is held responsible for the recycling, for the energy-efficient light bulb, for putting the air in the tires of the car—all that stuff, which at best we may be able to get 30 percent participation. But why should the individual be held responsible for manufacturing problems? It’s back asswards. It makes no sense.

In an interview with Quality News Network, you said that Massachusetts’ current healthcare plan, which requires individuals to enroll in healthcare plans is the wrong approach. Why is that?

Well, basically what it does is continue to put the burden on the individual to purchase healthcare policies, which does not relieve us of what the initial problem is, which is the economic stress around healthcare and the quality. It’s healthcare based on the ability to pay. It’s not right.

What we want to do is go toward a pooling. A pooling of wealth of our culture…so everybody has equal access across the board, the poor and the rich—the rich if they want. They can buy high-end stuff. But ultimately there’ll be common coverage around everyone so no one has to think about purchasing healthcare anymore, they’re just born with healthcare, from birth till death. No questions asked.

It’s pretty straight forward, the policy. We’re born with a health card. We go and get the procedure from a doctor or the hospital, and you get done with the procedure. Basically they swipe your card and the bill goes to the state and the state pays the doctor. And that’s it. It’s done. You don’t see paper work. Most every other democracy in the world has healthcare for all their citizens.

Part of your argument for the single-payer healthcare system is that it could reduce costs by reducing money for marketing. But on the marketing point, how do you get drug companies to stop marketing their products in Minnesota? How do you get private insurers to stop marketing their products?

The point is that in this system, there’s not going to be insurance companies or HMOs anymore. They’re done.

Pe
ntel spoke of his plans to campaign by bike.

I’m taking this campaign on a bike, this week. I’m going try to bike different locations around the state.

Basically I just want to build up my determination toward the end of this campaign, get in shape and give people a functional model, because our transportation system is a trap.

The key is I want to establish bike freeways all over the state. I didn’t have a car for 23 years in my adult life. I want to separate the bikes from the cars. Bicyclists should be honored, they shouldn’t have to suck in the poison and particulates of this toxic system.

We should honor bicyclists. I’m going to reward, through taxation, to make sure that all work places and all businesses have showers and lockers.

Pentel also spoke of plans for agriculture in Minnesota.

I would like to grow hemp in Minnesota, for not only paper but for energy and other purposes. Hemp is an all-purpose, hearty no-input crop that can grow in marginal lands. So those are the directions I’m going. Diversify rural economies. Get farmers out of big corporate agriculture. Get the Cargills out. Get the Monsantos out, things like that.

In an interview on MPR, part of the reason you said you opposed the transition to a corn-based ethanol system was because of monocropping.

Yeah, exactly. I want to get out of corn-dependent crops. We can grow corn, I’m not saying it can’t be grown, but we’ve got to diversify. And right now it’s so driven by the corn association and farm bureau and things like that.

We’ve got the ability to really localize economies in rural areas, which is a survival issue, which is really one of my strongest goals, is to decentralize political and economic power.

My goal in Minnesota: if you’re growing local, organic, sustainable, you’re paying no property tax. So what happens is that as a state we become more self-reliant and not as dependent on external resources to provide our basic needs. And then dollars of course stay in the community.

If you were to win the governor’s race, would you live in the governor’s mansion on Summit [Ave.]?

Sure. I’d have a lot of friends coming over. We’d have a lot of good times there. It would be a people’s mansion. Make it accessible. We can turn it into a model for permaculture if we wanted to. Turn it into a solar, geothermal facility if that’s possible. Make it self-reliant. Make it a model for the state, if anything. People could come and tour it.