Many of the south metro's Republican candidates were noticeably absent last Wednesday night, when a transportation forum drew just two of the 13 conservatives who had been invited to attend—Eric Pratt and Rep. Mike Beard, both of Shakopee.
And while there were many hopefuls at the forum, few actual legislators made an appearance. Of nine incumbents, only one (Beard) came to the event at Burnsville's City Hall. None of Burnsville's sitting Republican legislators were at the forum. The only other Republican contender from Burnsville, Roz Peterson, was also absent.
All GOP candidates for Apple Valley, Rosemount, Eagan and Lakeville were missing as well.
The DFL in Burnsville was fully represented, though several of the party's candidates from elsewhere were also missing from the forum, which sponsored by the I-35W Solutions Alliance, a collective lobbying group for metro cities and counties along the highway's south corridor. Nine of the 11 present hailed from the DFL.
The invitation list originally included all candidates from Burnsville, Eagan, Savage, Shakopee and Lakeville—26 people in all. In the end, only nine of those invited came and the forum was supplemented by two out-of-towners, Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFLers from Minneapolis).
The absences prompted some comment from those in attendance.
"I'm concerned about that," said Leon Thurman, Burnsville's DFL candidate for Senate. "Does this reflect non-bipartisanship or a reluctance to negotiate with the other side?"
Thurman's opponent is sitting Sen. Dan Hall, elected in 2010. Hall did not attend the forum on Wednesday. In fact, none of those present were matched with their opponent.
"It makes me wonder if they felt underinformed on the topic or if they felt that the I-35W Solutions Alliance was too liberal. I don't know," Thurman said.
The event was the third and final forum sponsored by the I-35W Solutions Alliance, an organization founded by Dan McElroy, a former mayor of Burnsville and well-known conservative who served as Gov. Tim Pawlenty's commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.All legislators were asked to RSVP.
Officials with the organization said that the Burnsville forum was originally scheduled on Oct. 3, during the first presidential debate. The forum was rescheduled for Oct. 17 shortly after the initial invitations were sent out, and therefore did not have a bearing on turnout. Officials with the Alliance said that one legislator, Mary Liz Holberg, notified them in advance that she would not be able to attend due to personal obligations.
In an e-mail to Patch, Rep. Pam Myhra likewise said that she could not attend due to scheduling conflicts. Lakeville candidate Roz Peterson was attending to family matters on the evening of the forum and couldn't attend, she wrote in an email.
Eagan Republican legislators Sen. Ted Daley and Rep. Diane Anderson rejected the idea that the absence of many Republican candidates was concerted or intentional. Both Daley and Anderson had other obligations that kept them from attending, they said.
"No, there's nothing orchestrated," Anderson said. "We've had quite a few [candidate forums] in Eagan, and that was only one of the very few that I wasn't able to attend."
Daley noted that he and other Eagan politicians attended a similar forum on transportation on Oct. 3 in the Eagan Community Center. That forum likely covered many of the same topics as the Wednesday night event, Daley said.
"It's important to go to as many of those things, all of them, if you can," Daley said.
Opponent Jim Carlson, who was present at the I-35W Solutions Alliance event, called out his Republican foes for failing to show up. Any claimed scheduling conflict was "certainly avoidable," Carlson claims, because the alliance held two alternative forums in Richfield and Bloomington for candidates.
"This is a further and consistent demonstration that seated Republicans only represent special interests with whom they are allied," Carlson said.
Will Morgan, the DFL's house candidate for 56B, was more likely to attribute the GOPers' absence to an unfortunate coincidence. Morgan said that the exact same thing happened at the Alliance's forum in 2010.
"It would be best to have two contrasting view to choose from, but conflicts do come up," Morgan said on Monday.
This time around, Morgan has yet to engage his opponent, Republican Roz Peterson, in a forum simply because their schedules do not match up, he said. Morgan, a school teacher, cannot attend forums during the day, and thus has already missed one chamber of commerce forum (he said he would also be unable to attend one today, Oct. 23, for the same reason). He could however, attend the evening forum last Wednesday, but that night Peterson was not in attendance.
Those who attended are last Wednesday's forum were as follows:
- Jim Carlson (D), Senate District 51
- Eric Pratt (R), SD 55
- Leon Thurman (D) SD 56
- Greg Clausen (D) SD 57
- Andrew Brobston (D) SD 58
- Sandra Masin (D) House District 51A
- Incumbent Mike Beard (R) HD 55A
- David John Jensen (D) HD 56A
- Will Morgan (D) HD 56B
- Roberta Gibbons (D) HD 57A
- Colin Lee (D) HD 58A
Those absent were as follows:
- Incumbent Ted Daley (R) SD 51
- Kathy Busch (D) SD 55
- Incumbent Dan Hall (R) SD 56
- Pat Hall (R) SD 57
- Incumbent Dave Thompson (R) SD 58
- Incumbent Diane Anderson (R) HD 51A
- Laurie Halverson (D) HD 51B
- Incumbent Doug Wardlow (R) HD 51B
- Chuck Berg (D) HD 55A
- Tony Albright (R) HD 55B
- Travis Burton (D) HD 55B
- Incumbent Pam Myhra (R) HD 56A
- Roz Peterson (R) HD 56B
- Incumbent Tara Mack (R) HD 57A
- Incumbent Mary Liz Holberg (R) HD 58A