Cross-posted from Minnesota Campaign Report - drop by sometime!
This is the third interview I've conducted with a DFL congressional candidate (fourth if you include Gail Dorfman, who lost the CD5 DFL endorsement to Keith Ellison), but the candidate is in perhaps the most interesting position of any with whom I've spoken. Wendy Wilde is not an elected official, and hasn't been running very long - and projects that in terms of partisan voting patterns, 2006 could be an extremely interesting election in Minnesota's Third Congressional District. We talked about the district, issues, and the eye-catching campaign slogan you may have seen on bumper stickers here and there.
MNCR: Tell me a little bit about your background - where did it all begin?
WW: I grew up outside Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but spent some of my childhood in the Twin Cities with family here. As a child I got into radio really early, and actually convinced my family to let me get out of Catholic high school so I could go to a public school with a radio club. I got into that, and have been doing radio for about thirty years now.
I started on WCCO in 1997, and in 1998 the Clinton impeachment proceedings started, but there was something funny about it - even in Minnesota, with this great liberal tradition, no one, and I mean no one on talk radio was even questioning impeachment - why were seven investigations of our President performed with zero indictments? Didn't the FBI have something better to do than investigate President Clinton? One point that I'm still proud of is that I was asking that question in 1998, and only later we found out that in 1998 Al Qaeda terrorists were already in the country learning how to fly planes...
MNCR: It was a relatively late start on this campaign for you - how did it all come about?
WW: I had no intention of running - I was asked by a friend to run, and if I didn't have so much respect for that friend, I would have laughed in their face. But I do respect them, so I met with people, started talking to folks at DFL Links and other events...It's probably a good idea I didn't know a thing about what I was getting myself into or I might have scared myself off. But eventually I began to believe in the need to do it, and realized that it was the least I could do when asked, to try to have a positive effect on people's lives. Then when we came to the endorsing convention....I was feeling a bit shy going into the question-and-answer, but I looked to my side and saw that my two opponents' hands were trembling too, so that made me feel a bit better.
MNCR: What are the top issues in this campaign from your perspective?
WW: More than anything else, more than any one issue, we need people in Washington D.C. who are there not for power, not to be wheeler-dealers, but because they care about our country and its people. More than anything, I want to clean up Congress. I'm not a politician - I love radio, it's my career and I enjoy it - I'm not doing this for any other reason than we need change in Washington.
As for actual issues - the national debt is leaving us so vulnerable. Something like 40% of our debt is held by China and Japan, and it's making our country so vulnerable economically. The economic policies in place right now are like those in place just before the Great Depression, when the Robber Barons bought and sold Congress, and it's just dangerous. Pay-as-you-go budget rules worked in the 1990s, and we need to get back to that mindset.
Iraq has been a moral, diplomatic, and fiscal disaster, and it's time to get out. A lot of people are afraid of what would happen if we got out completely, but I think the Murtha plan to redeploy our troops away from the front lines, and soldiers that have served more than one tour in Iraq need to come home right now. President Bush has said a few times that the Iraqis have voted for their government, and built up their security forces - it's time for the Iraqis to move forward without us.
Third, I think a lot of issues are related to problems with our health care system. Our system is SO inefficient, and we need to catch up to other advanced countries and build a single-payer system now. Our businesses are at a competitive disadvantage because of this greed-based system we have today. If that little girl across the street can't see a doctor because the system leaves her out, her health and future is on all of us, and it's unconscionable that health care companies are making huge profits while the system they run harms our families and our business opportunities.
MNCR: Tell me about your opponent, Jim Ramstad.
WW: This campaign isn't about personal attacks - Jim is, according to people I talk to, a friendly guy, and that's fine - have him over for dinner, but don't send him to Congress. If you hired a plumber who did shoddy work on your pipes, you wouldn't hire him again. But the biggest issue I have with Jim Ramstad actually came up last week, and it was the Torture bill. It's an indefensible attack on everything America stands for to do away with habeas corpus and allow the President to define torture however he wants. A lot of Democrats I've talked to have said they've voted for Ramstad because of one issue he helped Paul Wellstone on....Wellstone would have been shocked and disgusted that America would condone this kind of legislation. He would have said that politics is about our lives, and this bill that Jim Ramstad voted for is wrong.
MNCR: You've made some waves with an original brand for the campaign: ELECT MOM. How did that come about, and has it had an effect?
WW: When we started this campaign, it was the same old website, same old campaign, and as an underdog, that just wasn't going to cut it. So we started looking for something that would attract attention, make people think "what's that all about?" and want to find out more, but was still true to my heart. It was a weeks-long decision process, and eventually we fell on "Vote Mom," but that domain was already taken - all of a sudden, "Elect Mom" popped into my head, we checked the domain, and there we were. It definitely has attracted some attention to the campaign - not as much as I'd hoped, but it has gotten people interested. We had to be different, and the slogan had to mean something, and I think it's accomplished that.
I think Elect Mom really speaks to my motivations for going to DC - my kids might not understand right now just how tough this economy is, and in ten years, when they're out there looking for a job, I want to be able to look them in the eyes and tell them I did everything I could to change the situation.
MNCR: What's different between this campaign and past campaigns in CD3?
WW: I think Deborah Watts in 2004 definitely laid a great groundwork for us to draw on, but I can't really speak to the campaigns themselves. I do know what I bring to this campaign - eight years of name recognition - listeners know me, and know I won't say something I don't believe in. I think outside the box, not in insider political terms - I'm not restrained by what a candidate is "supposed" to do.
MNCR: The Third is a pretty interesting district, demographically speaking - what encouraging and discouraging demographic features are you seeing?
WW: Encouraging - the Third experienced the second-largest swing toward Democrats in the nation in 2004. Encouraging - in 2004, John Kerry for 48% of the vote in the Third, and this was the highest of any Republican-incumbent district in Minnesota. Discouraging - the money situation. This district was given up for lost by the DCCC a while ago.
It's going to be a very interesting election. I'm working on moderate Democrats who are voting for Jim Ramstad because of one issue he helped Paul Wellstone on, but I'm getting a great reaction from moderate Republicans who are fed up and tired with the corruption they see in Washington. I think there are going to be some very interesting results around the district.
MNCR: There have been a few issues that have caused static between you and the conservative blogosphere....
WW: The marijuana thing.
WW: It was a statement about reality when it comes to marijuana policy that I observed in Europe. Studies have shown that decriminalizing it decreases the taboo appeal it holds, and it becomes less of a problem. The piece I wrote was in a discussion forum - it was merely thoughts, not advocacy.
MNCR: And the Pawlenty blowjob comment?
WW: It was a hook. My literary standard may not be quite that of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, but the idea was the same - how can I get people to read this? When I wrote that piece, the media were really giving Tim Pawlenty a free pass for his State of the State address painting a rosy picture of our current situation - there were no opposing comments, no research, no nothing. I think the hook worked - my website was flooded that day, and I did get one comment from a gentleman who said that he probably wouldn't have read the piece if it weren't for the title - and he ended up agreeing with me.
MNCR: Who/What is your favorite....
Local Political Figure: It's cliche, but Wellstone. Not so locally, but Vincent Van Gogh was a real political hero - he was a minister, and when a boy whose father had died in the local mine was about to be forced to go in his father's place, Van Gogh said that he would go in the boy's place - Van Gogh lost his job for the offer. Politics is about giving of self for the betterment of others.
National Political Figure: Max Cleland is a real inspiration to me.
Ice Cream Flavor: Vanilla with strawberries on top.
Leisure activities: I love to garden, I love to rollerskate, I love to play tennis, and I really love to read.
Favorite recent book: You know it's funny, as much as I love to read, I haven't had much time in the last year to actually sit down and read. I have interviewed a lot of really great authors - Greg Palast has done some truly amazing investigative reporting on the 2000 election in Florida...Art Rolnick from the Federal Reserve worked on a groundbreaking report showing that for every dollor we spend on making sure our kids are ready to learn when they get to school age, we save seventeen dollars down the road. Pretty amazing. I think it's telling that some of the minds that impress me the most are fiscally conservative/responsible, socially moderate leaders.
MNCR: If you could describe this campaign in one short, sweet, sentence, what would it be?
WW: If you don't like what's happening in Washington D.C., you HAVE to change the people you send.
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