Last Friday night on Superior Street in Duluth, UMD's Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership (MAPL) program hosted “Election Decompression,” an event to bring all sides of politics together and discuss the election. Wy Spano, founder and co-director of the MAPL program, said, "There was a lot of intensity in this election on all sides and we hoped to bring people who had been active in all the campaigns. People who had actually some sort of leadership role."
Leaders from all walks of life, from a Minnesota Supreme Court justice to UMD student volunteers, spoke about the campaigns and the amendments that affected all of Minnesota.
"Everybody is important in this deal,” Spano said.
The focus of the event was to shift from election mode to governance.
"We hoped to bring them together to begin the process of focusing on governing rather than campaigning," Spano said.
The focus shifted as many from the losing side did not respond to the invitations. The night ended up taking a celebratory tone, thanking campaign volunteers for their dedication and discussing how amendments came from behind to ultimately win.
The Minnesota marriage amendment was discussed as an example of how a grassroots campaign can flourish. There were hundreds of thousands of calls throughout the state of Minnesota, including tens of thousands in Duluth alone, thousands of door-to-door appeals, and a passionate base of volunteers.
“Presumably we're going to be pushing for a marriage equality bill for Minnesota," said UMD grad student and member of MAPL Stefan Heikel. He was optimistic about the future of the campaign.
“Our energy is so high, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
The next issue that came up was Minnesota voter ID amendment. The issue was discussed as one of disenfranchisement of Minnesota voters. Those on the campaign against the amendment admitted they were well behind initially. They mounted a last-minute surge to ensure defeat of the amendment.
Michael Freeman, Hennepin County attorney and former Minnesota state senator, discussed the voter ID law in personal terms. He told the story of his late father, World War II veteran and former Governor of Minnesota Orville Freeman. Freeman explained that if the law had been around when his father was in a nursing home, he wouldn't have been able to vote because he didn’t have a valid photo identification during his time in the nursing home. He argued that, after extensive investigations of his own, he found no instances of voter fraud in Minnesota. In his opinion, Freeman said, the success of the campaign was showing Minnesotans that voter fraud was not an issue and would cost millions of dollars to implement, simply to restrict certain voters.
Election Decompression brought together leaders from throughout Minnesota to talk about the intense campaigns. It turned into a celebration of how grassroots democracy can work in Duluth.
“We don't do much in the way of experts as we do participants,” Spano said after the event. “We try to ask as many participants as possible, ‘What happened?’”
Many of UMD'S MAPL students were active on campaigns this election season.
“Truly an amazing experience,” said Heikel. “Everything that could have gone right, did.”
UMD's program, which has students in both Duluth and the Twin Cities, will be hosting another Election Decompression on Nov. 14, in St. Paul.
BY: MICHAEL SCOTT