Report from the petition drive
Last month I announced in these pages a petition drive to change the terms of office for mayor and City Council from the present four-year terms to two-year terms. I thought, with the apparent anger of the Minneapolis voters at the mayor and the majority of the City Council for sticking us with a sales tax to support a Vikings Stadium that could cost us $890 million over 30 years, there would be considerable support and energy to change the city charter to make city government more democratic and more responsive.
There was support, and if you talked to people about the change most people supported it. But there wasn’t the avalanche of support that would have been necessary to gather enough signatures to get the proposed change on the ballot for the November election. I tried to hire people by appealing to various progressive lists; there was no interest. I offered $15 an hour on Craig’s List but got no takers.
It seems my sputtering rage was not shared by the general public. They didn’t seem to feel the same sense of outrage.
Some wonderful people did give their time and energy to the project. Polly Mann, Lauren Maker, Paulette Wills, Jim Graham, David Tilsen, Ruth Cain and Phil Willkie were some of the people who worked on it. My daughter’s boyfriend got signatures from my former mother-in-law, estranged relatives and the lead guitar player for the Cows. But, in the end, it wasn’t the quality of the signatures that mattered, it was the quantity. We have about 1,000 signatures. We need close to 8,000 to get on the ballot. Without an army of volunteers or paid workers, that’s not going to happen.
Maybe the idea is too complicated. Although the change only happened 30 years ago, most people don’t remember voting for city officials every two years. It seems like a long time ago.
Objections to the change were generally, “Oh, they’ll just be campaigning all the time. It’s bad enough every four years. They need some time to govern.” This ignores the reality that most politicians only care about getting re-elected. That’s their full time job—looking out for themselves. They’ll spend their spare time pretending they’re looking out for you. Council Member Lisa Goodman has $75,000 in her campaign treasury. Mayor Rybak has already spent $17,000 on next year’s re-election campaign.
I confess to an unreasonable prejudice in favor of more and more democracy. I’d like to see democratic ownership of public utilities. I’d like to see democratic ownership of our natural resources. But public ownership would mean public responsibility, and most people just don’t want to be bothered. They don’t want to think about where the electricity comes from. They don’t want to have to worry about a gas pipeline running through an aquifer. They would just as soon outsource those responsibilities to India or Switzerland. As it stands right now, the 99% have outsourced the major decisions in our city, our state and our federal government to the 1%, and that’s why we end up with the Koch brothers running Wisconsin and a New Jersey billionaire soaking the City of Minneapolis for $890 million for a sports palace where we can’t afford the price of admission.