Cam Gordon challenges status quo

He may lack the name recognition of Ross Perot, but Cam Gordon — the first member of Minnesota’s fledgling Green Party to seek state office — is generating more excitement among local third-party activists than any other candidate on the ballot this year.
A Montessori teacher and small business owner, Gordon is running for state Legislature in District 62A, which encompasses the West Bank, Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods. His main opposition in the race is entrenched DFL-incumbent Lee Greenfield, who critics charge has often been inaccessible to constituents. Normally, an incumbent like Greenfield, running in an area that is a traditional DFL stronghold, would have little to fear from a third-party opponent. This time around, however, an upset appears to be a distinct possibility. Indeed, a few amateur political handicappers are even calling Gordon the front-runner.
Gordon decided to run because he wants to “challenge politics as usual and reclaim our democracy from the two-party duopoly.” He also thinks the residents of 62A deserve better representation than they are used to getting. Lee Greenfield, Gordon argues, has spent too much time at the capital during the 18 years he’s been in office and not enough time listening to the members of the community he represents. “Responsiveness is a big issue in this race,” says Gordon. “The incumbent has not been very attentive to the people in the district. He hasn’t done regular legislative updates or issued surveys. People haven’t seen his face much at neighborhood meetings.”
But Gordon’s bid for state Legislature isn’t just about accountability and quality of government service: It’s also about ideas. Gordon advocates a bold agenda of progressive political and social action that provides a stark contrast to the uninspiring, often conservative views championed by his DFL foe. Nothing epitomizes this difference more than the two candidates’ divergent positions on the all-important issue of health-care reform.
“I think what’s happening with health care is moving us in the wrong direction,” said Gordon. “Control over health care is being centralized in the hands of huge HMOs. Providers and consumers have less and less say in the system. Alternative methods of treatment are getting squashed.”
Gordon claims that Greenfield — who has specialized in health care while in office and frequently takes contributions from the health industry — is partly to blame for the tyranny of the HMOs. According to Gordon, Greenfield has consistently blocked efforts to make universal, comprehensive, affordable health care a reality in the state. As evidence, he points to the fact that in the last legislative session Greenfield torpedoed the John Marty/Senior Federation prescription drug bill, which would have brought down the price of prescription drugs.
Gordon says that if elected he’ll actively promote the Marty bill. And he pledges he’ll fight to “empower individuals, neighborhoods, business associations and communities to establish democratically controlled purchasing coalitions that bypass the health insurance companies and negotiate directly with providers.”
The populist concern for the interests of ordinary citizens evident in Gordon’s approach to health-care reform typifies his views on a whole range of issues. For instance, he thinks Minnesota should require companies that receive public subsidies to pay their employees a livable wage. He’s against wasting taxpayers’ money on a new Twins stadium. He opposes the Fairview Health System-University Hospital merger because “it’s going to be really hard on hospital workers and union members.” He also believes the state should impose “criminal penalties on corporate directors and officers who fail to exercise due diligence in preventing willful socially irresponsible corporate behavior.”
Like the vast majority of Minnesotans, Gordon also believes we desperately need to reform our cynical, money-driven political process. Among other things, he wants to allow statewide initiative, referendum and recall. He says he’ll push hard for sweeping campaign-finance reforms. He’d also like to make it easier for alternative parties to gain ballot access.
And at a time when many legislators want to slash spending on higher education in order to balance the budget, Gordon defends increased funding for the University and student financial aid. “We really need to raise state aid to students to help them pay tuition,” said Gordon. “I think we should keep tuition costs down. And we should increase the share of higher-education financing that goes directly to students.”
That a third-party candidate like Gordon would espouse such forward-looking views is hardly surprising. Left-leaning third parties like the Green Party have long been leaders in the struggle for policies that address the needs of workers, students, children and the poor. All too often, they encounter hostility or indifference or habitual major-party loyalties. What’s different about Gordon’s campaign is that his message of social justice and democratic renewal actually seems to have struck a chord with the voters.
“I’ve had enough of professional politicians who have lost touch with the people who voted them in,” says Jill Clark, a Seward resident and longtime Democrat who intends to cast a ballot for Gordon. The amazing thing is, she’s not alone. Gordon’s voter-identification phone calls show him running even with Greenfield. His lawn signs — some 220 in all — are up in yards all over Seward and the West Bank. Teams of volunteers have been out door-knocking and distributing literature twice a week for the past month. Gordon recently garnered the endorsement of local New Party affiliate Progressive Minnesota. He’s secured the backing of the former DFL director for the district. And — perhaps the most encouraging sign of all — he’s managed to raise over $8,000 for his campaign, almost all of it in small donations.
Of course, none of this guarantees a Gordon victory, but it does raise some tantalizingly interesting questions. Will Gordon’s progressive vision and grass-roots support triumph over a moribund but still powerful DFL establishment? Even if Gordon does lose, will his energetic campaign lay the groundwork for more and more successful third-party candidates in the future? Will it help the Green Party build and grow? Are the days of two-party dictatorship in Minnesota at long last coming to an end? Stay tuned.
Steve Macek’s column appears in the Daily every Tuesday.