Political bickering begins at the State Fair

Dodging debates and pointing fingers contribute to American dissatisfaction with politics.

Camille Galles

Advertised as the Great Minnesota Get-Together, the Minnesota State Fair is usually an occasion to take pride in our collective identity as Minnesotans.

However, political candidates’ sidestepping, finger pointing and cautious image-crafting in relation to the fair could make even the most diehard fairgoer abandon her corndog in disgust. A few recent political antics exemplify how some Minnesota politicians alienate voters and cultivate mistrust in America’s political system.

The fair began with a noticeable absence of political activity. Gov. Mark Dayton declined invitations from Republican challenger Jeff Johnson to participate in debates at the State Fair. But Dayton wasn’t the only one to sidestep — U.S. Sen. Al Franken also dodged State Fair debate invitations from Republican challenger Mike McFadden.

When candidates avoid debates, they appear fearful of tough questions and political mistakes. If candidates aren’t confident enough in their political stances to debate, how can voters feel confident supporting them as their representative?

GOP-endorsed Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald didn’t even have a choice whether to debate — she was banned from entering the GOP’s State Fair booth because of her recent drunk driving charge. Despite her questionable behavior, MacDonald should have been allowed to appear at the fair.

Attempts to “handle” candidates and present a spotless party image only resulted in more drama when MacDonald defied her prohibition and appeared at the fair. Voters should be able to decide on the appropriateness of MacDonald’s actions without being fed a calculated, manipulated image created by her political party.

The most recent political antics are the most childish of all. The Republican Party of Minnesota recently demanded an apology from Franken and the DFL party chairman for a 2012 incident in which Franken was spotted at political event with traffic cones that resembled breasts taped to his chest. Republicans pounced on this behavior after Jim Hagedorn, a GOP congressional candidate, was forced to issue an apology for discriminatory posts he wrote for a now discontinued blog.

On Thursday, Franken expressed regret for the traffic cone stunt, but he has already received Republican criticism for the quality of his apology. Candidates’ actions are now visible, sure, but isn’t a campaign supposed to be about political actions?

This tit-for-tat campaign strategy of dredging up past events could be the reason that a recent study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 60 percent of Americans feel pessimistic about how their political leaders are chosen. Strategies like skipping debates, banning candidates from appearances and pointing fingers have nothing to do with educating voters about where candidates actually stand. When campaigning, candidates should focus on visibility, honesty and actual policy solutions instead of attempting to hide behind whitewashed images.