Hanson challenges party system

Coralie Carlson

Editor’s note: This story is the second of two profiles on the candidates for state Legislature in District 59B. Next week, the Daily will profile the nine candidates for governor.

Senior Eric Hanson said he isn’t running for the state Legislature to win.
He’s running to prove that voters have an option besides the slick-haired, plastic-grinned career politicians.
Rather than pushing polished promises and glossy photos, the 23-year-old mass communications student used homemade fliers with the motto, “I need a job; help by voting,” to solicit the 500 signatures needed to earn a place on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Hanson’s name will appear next to those of 26-year incumbent Democrat Phyllis Kahn and Republican Rob Fowler, a University law student.
Both candidates typify their parties, Hanson said. Meanwhile, the former Minnesota Student Association vice president refused to seek any endorsement or party affiliation, even from the College Reform Party he helped establish on campus this summer.
He didn’t want to be shackled by party platforms, explained campaign manager Aaron Kolhoff, 23. Instead he advocates a responsive, accountable government. Hanson said he would do what his constituents want — not just act on his own ideas — using the same relaxed, responsive methods in his campaign.
Hanson brought the humorous, low-budget campaign style he learned in MSA elections to his race for the state House. Once Hanson orchestrated a gorilla-costumed crony to stump around campus for an MSA candidate.
Now, in addition to the literature, Hanson and Kolhoff made rainbow tie-dyed lawn signs and they toss around ideas for sidewalk karaoke marathons.
“It’s kitsch,” Hanson said, describing the “weird” and “nutty” campaign antics.
“We’re going for the kitsch, baby.”

A tried and true student
A third-generation University student and the 14th member of his family to attend the school, Hanson draws a sharp line between himself and his classmate Fowler.
“There’s a difference between being an aspiring politician who happens to be a student and being a student who happens to be running for office,” Hanson said.
Hanson said he came to campus as a 3-year-old with his mother, who was working on her business degree at the Carlson School of Management. Shortly after she graduated, Hanson began visiting again when his brother started at the University in 1983.
Hanson grew up in suburbs east of St. Paul, where he played the drums in his high school marching and jazz bands and came to be known as the least-hated person in the school, he said.
When Hanson decided to go to college, he said the choice was obvious.
“It wasn’t even a decision,” Hanson said. “I always wanted to come here.”
Throughout high school and college, Hanson worked fervently, often holding two jobs at a time. His rÇsumÇ includes positions at discount stores, grocery stores, restaurants and University security. Now he has a full-time engineering internship at Northwest Airlines, a job he nabbed during a short stint as a civil engineering major.
As a sophomore, Hanson watched jokester Chad Reichwald run for MSA president. Reichwald, a former Goldy mascot, plastered the campus with goofy posters with messages like, “Come and play pool with Chad.”
Hanson said he thought it looked like fun, so he invested $40 in posters and ran for an MSA at-large representative seat. He won that election and his 1996 run for vice president under Helen Phin.
Hanson said he has mixed feelings about his tenure in MSA.
“It was just really political,” he said. “I feel the same way about that as the people I’m running against now.”
Despite the political rifts, Hanson said he’s proud of some of his accomplishments like facilitating weekly meetings for new students and improving morale in the organization.
MSA also introduced Hanson to the state Legislature. As vice president, he kept tabs on higher education legislation at the Capitol and got hands-on exposure to the lawmaking process.
Blazing the campaign trail
Hanson decided to run for the state Legislature after a colleague told him he couldn’t win.
In MSA, an administrative officer told Hanson he could never be elected in this district unless he beat Phyllis Kahn in the primary. Kahn has a history of winning landslide elections: She has garnered more than 60 percent of the vote every time she’s run as an incumbent since 1976.
The officer, who had experience running political campaigns, continued to tell Hanson he wouldn’t win the primary because he couldn’t do the necessary political shmoozing.
Knowing the odds were stacked against him, Hanson discussed the possibilities with Kolhoff over a pitcher of beer during spring quarter. Kolhoff, then a political science senior, said he’d been studying up on Kahn and thought Hanson had a chance.
After Hanson announced his candidacy, he said a meeting with Fowler finalized his decision. Fowler knew the ins and outs of the district and predicted the number of votes each candidate would win.
After leaving Fowler, Hanson said he realized, “These two people running just might cover everything that is wrong with elections.”
But since getting on the ballot, Hanson has taken a laissez faire approach to campaigning.
He concentrates on networking and talking to friends and associates about his candidacy, asking them to help spread the word.
“We’re running this as students, as working students,” Hanson said. “I think it’s smart campaigning for someone who doesn’t have a lot of money.”
Hanson raised about $500 for the campaign, compared to Fowler’s $5,100 and Kahn’s $14,000.
“The backbone of his effort has always been just talking to people,” said Jigar Madia, CLA senior and campaign treasurer. Hanson helped Madia with his successful bid for MSA president in 1997.
Madia said Hanson has a way of engaging students and getting them interested in politics with his humor and enthusiasm.
Hanson and Kolhoff use their grassroots efforts to spread the word about responsiveness and accountability in government.
“I don’t think the government should tell people how to think,” Hanson said. “I think it should respond to what people are doing.”
Likewise, he said representatives should be in closer contact with their constituents. As a student, Hanson said he would represent all students in the state, not just those at the University.
For example, he said he would look at the process which determines state-based financial aid, rather than look at the final dollar figure.
The application procedure is too complicated, he said, and often students who pay for school themselves are ineligible for aid because of their parents’ income level.
This winter, the Legislature will also determine the University’s budget for the next two years, and Hanson stressed the need for the University to be responsible for every dollar.
He said the University budget should make the campus atmosphere a priority.
“Aesthetics are just key,” he said, calling for more flowers, benches and information booths. “They give people a feeling that they’re happy to be here.”
Hanson also cited the importance of improving classroom conditions.
He said University officials should also look outside of the state for money. He suggested looking to businesses and alumni more often to fund major projects.
The University is a major item on Hanson’s agenda, even outside of the political ring. That, combined with his full-time job, leaves precious little time to devote to campaign aspirations in the looming shadow of election day.
“Win, lose or draw, it’s not going to be something that alters my life dramatically,” Hanson said.