2010 grad challenges seasoned Kahn

Mike Griffin hopes to dethrone longstanding state representative Phyllis Kahn.

Candidate for Minnesota House of Representatives Mike Griffin chalks on the bridge Monday near Coffman Union . Griffin promotes his campaign in District 59B, the Universitys district.

Candidate for Minnesota House of Representatives Mike Griffin chalks on the bridge Monday near Coffman Union . Griffin promotes his campaign in District 59B, the University’s district.

by Kevin Burbach


A group of freshmen hurried past Eddy Hall and back to their dorms Monday night.

A young man dressed in a black suit coat with a box of brightly colored chalk tucked under his arm stopped them.

âÄúHi, IâÄôm Mike Griffin. IâÄôm running for state rep,âÄù he said, smiling and extending his hand.

A 2010 political science graduate from the University of Minnesota, Griffin is hoping to dethrone the longstanding state representative of the UniversityâÄôs district âÄî a task nobody has accomplished in 40 years. Griffin himself acknowledged it will be a struggle to take on Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, a seasoned politician three times his age.

Griffin, 25, and his campaign team spent Monday night spreading fliers and chalking sidewalks around campus. The campaign is aimed at organizing University students and local residents for support.

He announced his candidacy in July for state representative for District 59B, the district that includes the University and its surrounding neighborhoods.

In February, Griffin will challenge Kahn for the DFL endorsement. Kahn is currently in her 20th term serving the district, and the DFL has stood behind her since her first re-election.

The 74-year-old representative confirmed she will run again in 2012. In the past 10 years Kahn has faced only two challengers within her own party in the primaries.

Griffin said his approach to defeat Kahn is unlike past attempts.

He plans to use his political experience âÄî first as an intern for Sen. John KerryâÄôs unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004 and then with Students Organizing for America during President Barack ObamaâÄôs campaign âÄî to mobilize student voters.

Voter turnout in District 59B in the 2010 election was 42.5 percent, the third lowest out of the 134 districts, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State.

Griffin is using social media to bring his campaign to students. The campaign has Facebook and Twitter pages and a website, and is also utilizing a smartphone app called âÄúGeo ConnectâÄù to help organizers canvass and talk to voters in the district.

A handful of GriffinâÄôs campaign organizers are students. University students, like Ryan Below, are getting class credit for working on the campaign.

Below, a biology major and one of 12 organizers in GriffinâÄôs campaign, specializes in organizing students in the Southeast Como neighborhood. Below said he joined GriffinâÄôs campaign because he âÄúliked politics and never had the chance join the process before.âÄù

âÄòPhyllis doesnâÄôt loseâÄô

But even with all of his efforts to involve students, GriffinâÄôs chances of success are slim, said David Schultz, Hamline University political policy professor. âÄúThe odds are against him,âÄù said Schultz. âÄúPhyllis doesnâÄôt lose. She stays in office until she steps down.âÄù

Kahn has an âÄúincredible amount of supportâÄù from her district, Schultz said. But 40 years on the job doesnâÄôt come without challengers.

Kahn, who was first elected in 1972, has faced and defeated each opponent âÄî including some University graduates. In 2000, Brian Biele  challenged Kahn for the DFL endorsement and received just 32 percent of the vote. In 2008 and 2010, Republican candidate Ole Hovde, also a University graduate, challenged Kahn in the general election, receiving about 25 and 19 percent, respectively.

Independence Party candidate Ron Lischeid, who ran against Kahn in 2004 and 2008 and lost, criticized Kahn in the past for not being available to her constituents. Griffin declined to comment on that claim, but said itâÄôs an important part of his campaign.

Kahn dismissed the notion past challengers have brought up that she doesnâÄôt reflect the concerns of the University community.

âÄúI often have University students as interns,âÄù she said.

Kahn said her strong educational background helps her connect with the University. She spent almost 10 years researching at the University prior to beginning her career in the Legislature, and has multiple degrees in physics from Cornell and Yale universities.

Her years of experience have also given her a certain degree of credibility that would be lost if she didnâÄôt retain her position, she said.

Griffin doesnâÄôt deny KahnâÄôs experience and said he respects her progressive career; the legislator has lobbied in the past for womenâÄôs rights and the environment. But he said the time has come for a âÄúnormal progression of fresh ideas.âÄù

In order for that progression to begin, Schultz said Griffin is going to need something of a âÄúmiracle.âÄù

An opposing party candidate hasnâÄôt been announced and in 2002, Kahn didnâÄôt face a registered candidate. A write-in candidate received a little more than 5 percent of the vote that year.