Thursday, January 28, 2010

JN-SPAN: Senate District 58 DFL Debates

Guest post, photos, and video by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

And we continue with another edition of JN-SPAN, the Johnny Northside version of nitty gritty politically detailed video footage. Tonight's episode: the Senate district 58 DFL debates held on Tuesday, January 26th between incumbent Linda Higgins and challenger Raymond Dehn.

I should note that the video included below is not the debate in its entirety. I was working and could not arrive until a few minutes after the event started. Even then, I tried to record questions that seemed pertinent to me, since I don't have a tripod and holding a small camera steady can get tiring after a while. If anyone has a link to the entire debates, please post it here and I'll put it "at the top of the fold."

Finally, I won't hide my personal bias: I support Linda Higgins and I don't expect to change my mind. But every video I post below will include statements from both candidates. If I recorded their answers on separate clips, then I will post both segments here. Also, I'll keep my comments until the end (mostly) so that viewers can go through this with minimal bias from me until my closing analysis.

Without further ado, the first video...

...on jobs and economic development.

Here is a three-part question on jobs, a metro casino (where did that idea come from?) and a Vikings' stadium.

The following question is on ex-offenders' re-entry:

And then there was a question about youth and crime:

Higgins and Dehn were asked about transportation in general on the northside...

...and about the Bottineau line in particular.

You can't really have a political debate in NoMi without bringing up the impact of foreclosures on our community and how to respond.

Here are Raymond Dehn's closing remarks:

And Linda Higgins' closing remarks:

One question that was being addressed just as I was settling in was in regards to the use of federal stimulus dollars (called NSP or Neighborhood Stabilization Programs, NOT to be confused with NRP, Neighborhood Revitalization Programs). Dehn admitted right off the bat that he wasn't very familiar with these funds, and that immediately put him even farther behind in my opinion. I work fairly closely with these programs and in some ways it's almost scary how quickly these federal funds have come down the pike and how quickly the government wants them utilized. Frankly, we're in too critical of a phase to bring in someone who has to be brought up to speed on one of the most rapidly evolving opportunities our community has right now.

On the stadium/casino/economic development question...okay, first of all I have to be very critical of this question in general. I know Pawlenty flirted with the idea of a METRO area casino, which could obviously include Minneapolis, but I'm not aware of any plans that narrowed it down to our fair city. I've looked and looked, and can't come across any links on google searches to that effect either. JNS readers, if you know of any, please share. Even so, rolling essentially three questions into one while trying to limit candidates to two minutes for a response is just bad forum moderation.

Dehn's answer was quite unsatisfactory to me: "...incentivizing programs for employers" is just a string of meaningless words. In fairness, see the above paragraph; the question was poorly worded and Dehn was obviously running out of time when he got to the actual meaningful part of his answer. Higgins at least pointed to a specific bill she'd passed, allowing parents to add their children (if children are unemployed) to their health care coverage up to age 25. But even she was cut short by time constraints.

On the issue of re-entry, Higgins mentioned work she has done in the budget division she chairs, and pointed to the importance of health care for ex-offenders - many of whom need such services as they either suffer from a mental illness or are recovering from chemical dependency. She said that sometimes a community's guidelines about "who can live in a neighborhood" may border on NIMBY-ism. Dehn countered that it IS NIMBY-ism. My take is that at least parts of our community already have their fair share or more of ex-offenders. So I don't see it as NIMBY in NoMi, but rather "N-JIMBY." Not JUST in my backyard. Concentration of poverty or ex-offenders doesn't help anyone; not the poor, not the ex-offenders trying to become productive members of society again, and not the community as a whole.

The rest of Dehn's answer was easily his strongest and most poignant area. He said the best re-entry program is "not incarcerating" people in the first place, and that there are crimes that we didn't incarcerate for 30 years ago, and that's resulting in overflowing prisons now. (Hawkman asks: what crimes are those? And what do we do instead? De-classify certain criminal activity or come up with alternatives to incarceration?) Then Dehn spoke eloquently about a past conviction he has had, and how many of the opportunities he was afforded upon re-entry were likely due to the color of his skin as much as anything else. I may not support Dehn's candidacy, but I certainly support what he stands for in this regard and what we can talk about as a community because of his openness.

I disagree with Dehn's premise on crime in the following question, however, and see that answer as a manipulation of statistics to back up his own opinion or agenda. And Higgins made up some ground regarding the work she has done and the knowledge she has around issues regarding youth and crime.

Higgins really started to pick up steam with the question on transportation in general. Dehn stated that if we called our buses a "community circulator" then more people would ride them than if the buses were known just by their route numbers. If he's right, I certainly don't see that connection. He also said he did not know how to influence the Met Council to make them understand how important transit is to our community. Higgins, on the other hand, jumped right in and said we need to get a governor into office who DOES understand that, and who will then APPOINT Met Council people that truly serve NoMi.

I didn't see significant differences between the two on the Bottineau question. We need to ensure that the line comes through our neighborhood instead of bypassing us via Theo Wirth and 55.

Thanks, Dehn, for mentioning the work of NCRC in preventing foreclosures. I like Dehn's words about the issue of foreclosures, but I'm more impressed by Higgins' actions and accomplishments. While it seems to me Dehn has a good grasp on how our community is impacted, Higgins has a proven track record of accomplishing real change at the legislature.

Dehn's closing remarks...I find it off-putting when a candidate starts out with negatives like "If you want (bad thing #1) don't support me." Other than that, his remarks were strong and well-worded.

If there weren't rules about holding applause until the end, I'd have been clapping throughout much of Higgins' closing remarks. I think she's got a proven track record, connections that serve our neighborhood well, and she's a dedicated, hard worker on behalf of our district.

Ultimately, Dehn did as well as one could expect for a challenger in a first debate; he came in, held his own without any major flubs, and even won a round or two. Granted, my position has already been clearly stated, but I didn't get the sense that he made a strong case for why he deserves the job more or would be better than our current Senator. Dehn came off as likable and competent, and I think he would serve our community well. Right now, I only have one negative thing to say about him: he's running against someone who has been doing a fantastic job and who deserves the continued support of this community.


Anonymous said...

I agree that Ray is a nice guy, and active in the neighborhood, but the question I would like to have heard them answer is whether or not they feel that NRRC has been an effective neighborhood organization that has done the best possible job of serving Near North and Willard-Hay during the foreclosure crisis.

The one thing that bothers me about Dehn is that he is a longtime board member of NRRC (even the treasurer, at one point, I think), which has completely failed to serve the community. If Dehn is satisfied with NRRC's performance, it's hard to see where he is coming from suggesting that Higgens hasn't done enough. If Dehn isn't satisfied with NRRC's performance--then, I wonder if he thinks getting things done in the state legislature is usually easier than motivating change within a neighborhood organization.

For me, Dehn's affiliation with NRRC is unfortunately a real deal-breaker.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

@ Anon 6:49 - There will be another debate before the Senate District Convention. I'll post details here, and hopefully that question gets asked.

Anonymous said...

He's also pretty snuggly with Al McF, which, after the last election, seems to be the kiss of death.

Anonymous said...

NRRC is a living argument against NRP. Those of us living within the area allegedly "served" by NRRC have to stand by and watch while neighborhoods with functioning neighborhood associations fight tooth and nail for their neighborhoods. NRP is obviously working well for some neighborhoods, which I don't at all resent, but it has also allowed some of the most vulnerable citizens in the city go basically unrepresented.

If Ray Dehn can't find a way to speak forthrightly about NRRC's dismal performance, and its financial secrecy and shenanigans, then I don't know how he expects us to believe that he is going to be forthright when reporting back to us about his activities in the state legislature.

His website doesn't even mention NRRC, as though he's not proud of the connection. I can't blame him! However, if he has criticism to make, then he should be out there shouting them from the rooftop, rather than just sweeping them under the rug. Does he owe more allegiance to Sherrie Pugh, or to the residents of the neighborhood whose interests she is paid to represent? His silence isn't helping us. It's actively hurting us.