Three female candidates steadily network their way to the debate platform. Jennifer Shultz and Becky Hall are dressed for the occasion, trim in their professional outfits and no doubt photo ready. They’re calm, demanding respect with conventional demeanors. In contrast is Osbaskken, dressed casually, from the Green Party. We watch as these contenders greet any spectator willing to strike up a conversation, as the 300-seat auditorium at UMD slowly fills to half capacity. This debate is to decide who will speak for Duluth, and get a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The dismal turnout makes the November elections seem further than a month away, though the eager faces of each politician suggested otherwise. The debate is preceded by an inspirational speech commending citizen participation in politics, a tribute to the host — UMD’s Center for Ethics and Public Policy — and the moderator — the League of Women Voters.
The arbiter of the debate begins by orchestrating the discussion, where each preplanned question prompts a two-minute response from each nominee. An hour into the discourse, written questions from the audience are submitted and read (provided they follow discussion guidelines).
As we watch the three performers behind the podiums, we begin to hear the stereotypical normalcy of political parties as each adherent spouts their respective propaganda. This is even true for our green representative, Kristine Osbakken. Osbakken is well traveled and displays a sense of wisdom in the way she speaks — although her rambunctious idealism shows signs of immaturity and years of aggravation. She criticizes our current plutocracy, speaks out against the “two party system,” hails the implementation of sustainable technologies, and is a realist when it comes to climate change.
In contrast to Osbakken, the spitting image of republican Becky Hall is what gives politicians a bad name. A large, gleaming smile masks her somewhat controversial views as she reiterates a contradictory argument prevalent throughout the presentation: “Every mining job on the Iron Range creates two high paying jobs in Duluth.” (Schultz discredited this claim, detailing the location of these jobs.) Hall’s obvious support for business interests in general is enough to turn you off, especially when she backed Citizens United v. The FEC simply because it was a federal decision.
Other than the pillaging of finite resources, Hall offers few examples of potential affirmative action that would facilitate her political goals. She is complaisant towards the rich and cannot be counted on to progress societal equity or sustainability. We are not sure which is better: advocating a pipeline/mining and making sure to institute safeguards, or apathetically allowing such activity if and only if safeguards are a high priority.
Our democrat Jennifer Shultz envisions the latter approach, though her words are a bit more kind. She wants to slowly shift our economy away from nineteenth century energy solutions, recognizing how dependent our economy is on coal and oil. Shultz has a soft-spoken demeanor lined with boldness as she insinuates her victory. Speaking in the crystallizing language of a seasoned saleswoman, Shultz says lines like “When I represent you citizens in Minneapolis,” and “After I win this election.” They’re confidence-lines geared to sway votes, revealing a glimpse of the true motivation behind most campaigners.
By the debate’s end, we could not help but identify with the casually dressed Osbakken and the resentment she felt towards each problem. She has the benevolence and courage to resist the temptations and objectives provided by elite interests. Shultz wants communities to choose their own discretionary and local law, though we fear (based on attendance) that only a minority of the population would participate in this legislation. Hall wants to remind us of her open-mindedness and willingness to listen to the community — but her proposed solutions of “more high-paying jobs” won’t be sufficient to pull the lower class from the trenches of poverty.
Inequality held no part in any of the debate questions, but these actors had a thing or two to say about money. Osbakken subtly questioned the economic paradigm in general and proposed a state bank as a solution. What better way to keep our fortunes from the wealthy than by storing it right here in Minnesota? She thinks money buys policy and the $3-6 billion spent on war each year is a bit superfluous.
Shultz wants to increase the overall minimum wage, implement fair taxation lore, and institute “pay-it-forward loans,” which would reduce debt upon college graduation. Hall would decrease the government’s budget, which in turn would lower taxes on both citizens and businesses. Like we expected, as one moves down the political spectrum from right to left, candidates become more aware of the fundamental problems facing society today: extreme wealth separation, global climate change and widespread poverty.
We can clearly see how opposed these three programs are. It’s a familiar scene of politicians walking their party line, staying within the bounds of a majority opinion heavily influenced by conglomerate media. Hall wants to continue down the same economic path, Schultz wants to set the stage for a progressive society, and Osbakken wishes to shatter our destructive ways of doing things.
In the debate, all three nominees demonstrated their willingness to represent by applauding their own door knocking and cold calling efforts — though the differences in their opinions are plain to see. Representatives really are just elected to speak for the populous. If three ample random samples are taken from the public, representative opinions should be quite similar. This was not the case in this debate. It’s imperative for politicians to truly represent us. For that to happen, the public must become educated and vocalize their opinions long before attending a debate.
BY JOSHUA BRUNS AND WILL YAZDANI Guest writers