Editor’s note: Welcome to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with a rotating cast of local characters. Answers have been edited for length and clarity but not unity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Question 1: The State Fair is a great place to campaign, but rules restrict political activity to the booths. Do you think that’s appropriate?
Mary Liz Holberg, former Republican state representative: It seems reasonable not to have active campaigning and signs all over. It kind of keeps everybody in their own lane, if you will. It prohibits people from setting up camp outside their opponents’ booths, for instance, which probably would create chaos. So it probably makes sense. I don’t know if it can be strictly enforced. Campaigns are about being accessible, so candidates aren’t going to refuse to speak to someone about a campaign issue as they are walking down the street.
Javier Morillo, union leader and DFL activist: I do think it’s appropriate. I think a lot of people go to the Fair for politics and there is plenty to indulge there. But a lot of people don’t. Anyone who wants to talk to candidates can go to booths, and those who don’t can just enjoy a day at the Fair. I say this as someone who has worked many State Fairs for candidates and the party—those who want politics get their fill.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria: You’re talking about a State Fair that brings in thousands and thousands of people a day—and they are not necessarily from your district. Looking at it from a cost point of view, I don’t think it would be worth my time and resources just to have people say to me, ‘I can’t vote for you, anyway.’ I also don’t have a problem with not being able to hunt people down to give them some literature while they’re trying to order a Pronto Pup.
Question 2: Debates are raging over the medical records of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Do you think that the candidates’ medical records are fair game?
Holberg: That’s a tough one for me, because I am really into privacy issues. I think not. I think really you’ve got to draw the line on medical issues. They both appear healthy and they both appear to handle the rigors of a national campaign. I just think that medical issues not only involve individuals, but families. I think that is a step too far.
Morillo: I do. This is one of these things like releasing tax returns—they are not required, but have become traditional for good reason. People want to make sure that the person they are electing to lead the country is physically and mentally capable. So I think it’s fair.
Franson: Yes. The president of the United States is the highest office in the land, and it is important for us to know that we are electing somebody that not only is honest, truthful and ethical in office, but who also is able to handle the job. So if they are going into the process with some sort of health issue that could be detrimental to handling their job, I don’t really think that is doing the country a very good service.
Question 3: Rep. Bob Barrett, accused of not living in the Taylors Falls district he represents, is the latest figure to have a political career potentially derailed by activist opponents with cameras. That seems to be the new normal in American politics. How would you advise political leaders to adapt?
Holberg: I don’t think that good candidates with high moral standards have to adapt. As a public official, you should conduct yourself with the highest standards at all times. It’s like that saying, you measure somebody by what they do when no one is looking. In my view, public officials should conduct themselves according to the highest standards, day in and day out.
Morillo: Live in your district. The question of the cameras is tangential. There is a very specific requirement in Minnesota to serve in the Legislature—you have to live in the district that you represent.
Yes, the issue more broadly is that there are trackers around all the time with cameras. But at this point, that’s not even new. Anyone who is running for office and is not ready for that kind of constant exposure is acting in a delusional way. That is the new reality. It is what it is.
Franson: I am subject to trackers. They’re annoying. But it is just part of the job, right? We all know we can be videotaped at any time. So no matter where we are, we have to be careful. It’s not even just the trackers. We could have a random Joe Schmo sitting at the coffee table at a diner with his cellphone videotaping a conversation and uploading it to social media.
In the situation of Representative Barrett, people knew that he was not being truthful and they had to prove it. The only way to prove that he wasn’t being truthful, in their minds — I believe, I’ve never talked to these people and don’t even know who they are — is to take extreme measures by putting a trail camera up. I mean, you’ve got to give them credit for thinking outside the box, right?