Kahn says citizens should own Twins

by Tracy Ellingson

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is expected to introduce a bill today that would give Minnesota residents full ownership of the Twins baseball team.
Kahn, who is an opponent of Gov. Arne Carlson’s recommendation that the state use tax dollars to build a new baseball stadium, said Thursday that she would reconsider supporting state funding for the stadium only if the state would be allowed to buy the team from its current owner, Carl Pohlad. Purchasing the team would allow the whole state to benefit, rather than just Pohlad, Kahn said.
The bill calls for the state to purchase the Twins, who have been in Minnesota since 1961, and then resell shares of the team to the community. The ownership would follow the same model Wisconsin uses with its pro football team, the Green Bay Packers.
Pohlad, who has owned the team since 1984, and Carlson have discussed selling 49 percent of the team to the public, leaving Pohlad with 51 percent ownership, and using tax dollars to buy the new stadium.
But Kahn, whose district includes most of the Minneapolis campus, told members of the U-DFL at a meeting Thursday night that buying the stadium without the team is unwise because it does not ensure that the Twins, the source of profits, will stay in Minnesota.
“The immediate issue is that you get the blackmail over and done with,” Kahn said. “The Gophers don’t threaten to move because we own them.
“Owning the stadium is a really rotten deal,” Kahn continued. “Owning the team is a really good economic deal.”
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, who plans to introduce the same bill Monday in the Senate, agrees with Kahn and has also said that the state would benefit more from owning the team than it could from owning only a stadium.
“(Buying the stadium) is basically only a good deal for the owners of the Twins,” Anderson said. “They would basically get all the advantages and the profits, and we would get this building without a guarantee that we’d have the team. And the team is where the profits are.”
Anderson added that Minnesotans who disapprove of using tax dollars to buy the proposed stadium may change their tune if they have ownership of the team.
“The public,” Anderson said, “doesn’t want us to be bailing out (Pohlad) and sort of helping him make more private profit when he’s perfectly capable of doing it himself.”
Anderson said she doesn’t believe support for the bill would become a partisan issue, because widespread opposition to the governor’s proposal to build a new stadium came from both parties. The bill’s greatest obstacle might not come from other legislators or the governor, but from Major League Baseball.
Even if the bill passes the Legislature, 29 team owners would have to vote on whether the Twins can be publicly owned. No other Major League team has made such a request.
“The one thing Major League Baseball frowns upon,” said Dave St. Peter, director of communications for the Twins, “is they are always going to want an individual in charge of running a team.”
St. Peter said the Twins are already seeking approval for the plan of partial state ownership.
“If the team was owned 100 percent by the state,” St. Peter said, “it’d be pure speculation, but it would probably be even more difficult to seek that approval.”
Anderson admitted that the bill’s greatest challenge would likely be convincing the Major League Baseball team owners to allow Minnesota to purchase the Twins. Other legislators say they like the idea, but doubt the state should be making the request.
“It would be better than the current (stadium plan) the Twins are offering,” said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who is an outspoken opponent of Carlson and Pohlad’s stadium proposal. “But that is not the proper role of government. The League wouldn’t go for it, and the Twins wouldn’t sell.”