Grassroots for Griffin campaign lacks substance

Christopher Meyer

On Feb. 7 at 7 p.m., the Minnesota DFL party will hold caucuses to determine which candidates will receive the DFLâÄôs endorsement. Mike Griffin, a 2010 political science graduate from the University of Minnesota, is running to win the partyâÄôs endorsement to represent district 59B (which includes the entirety of the University District) in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

To win the endorsement, Griffin will need to defeat Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who has held the seat since 1973. David Schultz, a political policy professor at Hamline University, believes Griffin would need a âÄúmiracleâÄù to succeed. âÄúThe odds are against him,âÄù Schultz told the Daily. âÄúPhyllis doesnâÄôt lose. She stays in office until she steps down.âÄù

I think GriffinâÄôs prospects are better than Schultz makes them out to be. There are seven staffers, 10 interns and 75 âÄúblock captainsâÄù currently volunteering on GriffinâÄôs campaign. That is an impressive level of support for any state legislative candidate and even more so for an upstart challenger. Griffin needs only 271 delegates at the DFLâÄôs district convention to secure the partyâÄôs endorsement. The math is entirely viable for him; if his 92 volunteers can secure just three delegates each, heâÄôll have more than enough votes to win.

Unfortunately, while Griffin may have the potential to beat Kahn, he has done little to demonstrate that he would make a better legislator. IâÄôm an enthusiastic supporter of robust primary challenges, but in my judgment, Kahn remains the best candidate to represent students at the Capitol.

It is one of GriffinâÄôs constant refrains that our district needs âÄúbold, new ideas,âÄù but he has put forth precious few ideas that are new and none that are bold.

On his website, Griffin outlines his positions on just three issues: âÄúMarriage Equality,âÄù âÄúNew Americans in Minnesota ReformâÄù and âÄúAffordable Higher Education.âÄù These are important issues, but they are not controversial within the DFL caucus. In a district with a large gay population, a large immigrant population and the stateâÄôs largest university, it is unthinkable that a candidate could win without strongly supporting gay rights, immigrant rights and affordable education.

I found it remarkably difficult to get Griffin to distinguish himself from Kahn. He would avoid criticizing her if at all possible, instead saying things like: âÄúI am not so much running against Phyllis. I am running to include and empower more people into the political process.âÄù

There may have been a potential opening to distinguish himself from Kahn on the issue of education. But rather than bold action, he suggests âÄúLet[ting] the Kaler administration come to the table and talk about what the University should cut. ItâÄôs not for the state representative to tell Kaler what he should cut.âÄù

Griffin has stated that he would likely vote the same way as Kahn 80 percent of the time. I was keen to hear more about the other 20 percent (which would in fact indicate quite a substantial difference). Out of the four decades of KahnâÄôs legislative history, Griffin could come up with only two examples where he would have voted differently.

The first would be a change to MinnesotaâÄôs age requirement to be eligible to vote. Rep. Kahn has perennially put forth bills that would reduce the voting age to 16, noting that we let 16-year olds drive, and an irresponsible driver can do much more harm than irresponsible voter. The second disagreement Griffin has with Kahn is over a bill she wrote that would explore the possibility of having Minnesota gain ownership of the Vikings.

In regard to the former, Griffin stated: âÄúI think thatâÄôs an issue thatâÄôs dead on arrival. It would not be passed. IâÄôm OK with it being left to 18 year-olds being allowed to vote.âÄù In regard to the latter, Griffin stated: âÄúMinnesota owning the Vikings is simply not allowed, as the NFL has said.âÄù

Whatever you may think about the merits of KahnâÄôs proposals, itâÄôs tough to argue they arenâÄôt bold. Griffin challenges us âÄúto reach beyond what the status quo says is possible,âÄù but when it comes to issues where Kahn has boldly changed the status quo, GriffinâÄôs response is that we ought to obey the rules and not cause trouble.

GriffinâÄôs campaign manager, Ryan Kennedy, noted that âÄúif Mike lost this election but the result from us running was that student participation in the political process increased, if new Americans started coming out in higher numbers, if this district went from being the third lowest to the third highest turnout district in the state, and Mike still lost, thatâÄôs still a victory. ThatâÄôs reshaping politics.âÄù

I agree wholeheartedly with Kennedy as far he goes. Griffin claims that his campaign has registered 700 new voters, primarily students. That is a substantial service to the community and if running for office is what drives Griffin and his supporters to volunteer their time registering students to vote, then I encourage Griffin to run every election cycle.

But Griffin has failed to take advantage of the more important benefit that primaries can offer, which is that primary candidates can draw attention to neglected issues and force incumbents to improve on them. Griffin has not put forth any criticism of Kahn, and thus has not driven her to improve on anything.

I have volunteered alongside Griffin on three political campaigns and have observed firsthand his organizational skills. Should he ever run for organizer-in-chief, I will give him enthusiastic support. But he is currently running for office to be a legislator, and the first job of a legislator is to legislate.