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Minnesota elections: Defeat Jeff Johnson and all of Trump’s enablers and copycats

Commentary by Brad Sigal |
October 31, 2018
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Saint Paul, MN - On November 6, Minnesotans will head to the polls along with the rest of the country for the midterm elections. With copycats and enablers of Trump’s bigoted and reactionary agenda up and down the ballot, there’s a lot riding on the outcome for working and oppressed people in Minnesota.

For starters, a lot is on the line with the outcome of the Minnesota governor’s election between the dangerous Republican candidate Jeff Johnson and Democrat Tim Walz.

Defeat Johnson

Jeff Johnson is currently a right-wing member of the Hennepin County Commissioners. He pulled off an upset to win the Republican gubernatorial primary against the much better-known and better-financed former Governor Tim Pawlenty. The Republican primary was basically a contest to see who could grovel more at Trump’s feet and who could attack immigrants and refugees as much as Trump. Johnson excelled at both so he won.

Probably the most important issue for working people that will be decided by the governor election is the threat to public sector unions if Jeff Johnson wins and the Republicans keep control of the state house and senate, which they currently control. There is no doubt that if that happens, one of their first orders of business would be to eviscerate public sector unions in the state. A Governor Johnson with a Republican state legislature would quickly enact a law like the Republicans did in neighboring Wisconsin and Iowa when they gained control in those states, that would take away public sector workers’ negotiating rights and would force unions to run annual recertification elections to continue to exist at all. With little to no legal power to negotiate anything, and with much of their energy forced into running perpetual elections to continue to exist, unions shrivel and tens of thousands of workers’ wages and livelihoods decline.

To prevent this from happening, the labor movement is going all out to make sure the Republican candidate Jeff Johnson is defeated. Working-class and progressive people should stand with the labor movement’s effort to defeat Jeff Johnson to stop his anti-union agenda in its tracks.

Following Trump’s lead, Jeff Johnson has also made bashing immigrants and refugees a central part of his campaign. He continually bashes sanctuary state policies and attacks Minnesota’s vibrant refugee communities, especially those from Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa. This is a racist attempt to divide working people, in the hopes that white working people in greater Minnesota will blame immigrants and refugees for their problems rather than blame the pro-corporate, anti-people policies imposed by the rich that have devastated the economies of towns around the state. In fact, newer immigrants and refugees have been a big factor preventing many smaller towns from a continuing cycle of demographic and economic decline.

Another danger if Jeff Johnson wins the governor race is the threat of a ‘preemption’ bill passing. The Republicans in the state legislature have tried to pass preemption, but they couldn’t get their bill past Governor Dayton. Preemption is a wonky term for a law that would make it illegal for cities and counties in Minnesota to do things like raise the minimum wage above the state minimum wage, or to mandate paid sick time for all workers in a municipality, or for example pass ordinances that defend immigrants against Trump’s mass deportations. So if Jeff Johnson becomes governor and preemption passes, the $15 minimum wage that Minneapolis already passed could disappear, and the Saint Paul $15 minimum which is about to pass would be stillborn. The earned sick leave ordinance for all workers in the Twin Cities would disappear. The separation ordinances that protect immigrants in Minneapolis and Saint Paul could be in danger, forcing local police to carry out unjust immigration policies and causing deportations to spike.

Yet another threat if Johnson wins is that the ‘anti-protester bill’ that the Republican legislature passed last year (but vetoed by Governor Dayton) would almost surely become law. The bill was written in backlash against protests targeting brutality and murder by racist police. and sought to sharply increase penalties for certain types of protests. Similar anti-protester bills that cropped up around the country are aimed at the suppressing the Black liberation movement in particular, but would increase repression against all progressive protest movements.

Defeat Wardlow

Republican Attorney General candidate Doug Wardlow is a far right candidate who is best known for his anti-gay and anti-trans campaigns with the poorly-named organization, “Alliance Defending Freedom.” He also was the author of anti-union ‘right to work’ legislation when he was in the Minnesota House, and his campaign has used Islamophobic attacks against his opponent Keith Ellison, who is an African American Muslim. His campaign website lists “crack down on sanctuary cities” as one of his top priorities. Wardlow would be an enthusiastic enabler of the Trump agenda in Minnesota and should be defeated.

Many progressive voters are considering sitting this race out, because of allegations of domestic violence against Ellison. Ellison mishandled the accusation with a response that’s been tone deaf at best, and he should have voiced support for women coming forward in general. Some believe Ellison’s denials, and some don’t. Any sexist attacks against his accuser should be condemned. Many rightly find it difficult to vote for Ellison after he has been accused of domestic violence. But it is quite clear that Doug Wardlow would use the Attorney General office to systematically attack the rights of workers, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, Muslims and others in Minnesota in a way that Ellison would not. Wardlow poses a far greater threat to Minnesotans who are already under attack from the Trump administration, and he’s ahead in recent polls. So between the two options on the ballot Wardlow is a greater danger that should be defeated.

Hennepin County elections

Hennepin County has the largest population in the state, and includes Minneapolis. Incumbent Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek is running for reelection. It’s important to vote against him. He supports Trump and he actively gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to immigrants in the Hennepin County jail, undercutting Minneapolis’s separation ordinance and leading to many deportations and family separations. Stanek also sent Hennepin County deputies to Standing Rock to be used against Native people and others protesting the pipeline there. Stanek is being challenged by Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson, who has pledged to end Stanek’s anti-immigrant policies.

In the election for Hennepin County Attorney, 20-year incumbent Mike Freeman is being challenged by Mark Haase. Freeman has repeatedly refused to prosecute killer cops in a series of high-profile cases as well as many lesser known ones. He’s taken many hits from the movement demanding justice for Jamar Clark and others killed by Minneapolis police since then, leaving him on the defensive in this race. Freeman’s challenger Mark Haase is campaigning as a progressive alternative to Freeman.

There are some local elections where oppressed nationality candidates are pushing to break down new barriers. Ilhan Omar is almost sure to be the first Somali Muslim woman elected to Congress in her bid to win the Congressional District 5 seat vacated by Keith Ellison. Three women of color, Angela Conley, Irene Fernando and LaDonna Redmond, are running for Hennepin County Commissioner seats. If any of them win, they would be the first non-white people ever elected to the Hennepin County board since its inception in 1852.

Kick Trump’s enablers out of Congress

The Republicans currently in control of the U.S. Congress refuse to place any restraints on President Trump. So his administration has been free to carry out outrageous attacks on working and oppressed people with impunity. While there’s no guarantee that congressional Democrats would put up real resistance to Trump if they win, it at least opens the possibility of putting a brake on some parts of Trump’s pro-billionaire and white supremacist agenda.

In Minnesota this year, four of the state’s eight House districts have very competitive races that could be pivotal to which party wins control of the U.S. House of Representatives: southern Minnesota’s district one, suburban districts two and three, and northern Minnesota’s eighth district. Because these elections that could influence which party controls Congress, millions of dollars are pouring into these races and both Trump and Pence have made multiple campaign stops here. The Republicans running for those seats would continue to support Donald Trump's agenda.

Support progressive independent political action

While the Republican Party represents a greater danger to working and oppressed people in this election, both the Republican and Democratic Party are ultimately controlled by the billionaire class. While it’s important to defeat the greater threat in key races in this year’s election, we also need to work toward developing independent political action to fight for the interests of working and oppressed people.

Many progressive people have been frustrated with the Democratic Party’s anemic and often-misdirected opposition to Trump which has included an obsession with Russia rather than focusing on Trump’s hugely damaging and unpopular reactionary policies. Most Democratic politicians voted with the Republicans to give Trump the largest military budgets in history, and have cheered on his military attacks on Syria and threats against Venezuela. They have given their votes for many of Trump’s hard-right federal judicial appointments, and they couldn’t even hold their whole caucus together to get all Senate Democrats to vote against Trump’s predatory Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh.

Yet in most races the only candidates on the ballot are the Republican and Democrat - one or the other will win. One race in in Minnesota that has a progressive independent candidate on the ballot this year is Paula Overby’s campaign for U.S. Senate. Overby is the Green Party’s candidate running for U.S. Senate against incumbent centrist Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican challenger Jim Newburger. Klobuchar won her last election by 30 points, and this year she’s leading in the polls by 20-30 points. So a strong protest vote to her left for Green Party candidate Paula Overby would be a good thing. According to Minnesota’s election laws, if Overby gets 5% of the vote, that would mean automatic ballot status and participation in candidate debates for the Green Party in the next round of elections.

But in the other Minnesota elections this year, most notably in the governor’s race, the most important task is to make sure that Trump’s Republican copycats and enablers are defeated. That will put the labor movement and other mass movements in a better position to organize and stop Trump and his followers’ reactionary agenda in its tracks.

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