Conservation Minnesota

Turnout is down in the face of negative politics.

“Frenchy, I can’t guarantee you that we’ll win. But I can guarantee you it will be a lot of fun!”*
Vicki Grunseth
January 26, 1989

tumafeature25 years ago, Vicki Grunseth uttered these words while leaving a dinner at the Decathlon Club in Bloomington to her good friend Leon “Frenchy” Oistad.  It was a private dinner; mostly close friends and associates where the decision was made that her husband Jon Grunseth would seek the office of Minnesota Governor. Oisted would go on to be his campaign manager. Sadly her prediction of a fun campaign could not have been more wrong.

The early enthusiasm over the business-minded political outsider Grunseth’s campaign would deteriorate into a scandal-riddled withdrawal from the ballot only a couple weeks before the election. The Grunseth marriage would also eventually dissolve into divorce on the heels of the marital impropriety that was disclosed in the midst of the election. The 1990 campaign will go down as one of the most negative in state history.

In that 1990 race, Grunseth made it through a four-way race for the Republican endorsement and would later go on to survive a three-way primary in September. His main competition for the Republican endorsement was Arne Carlson, who finished second in the primary. Soon after the primary, however, stories started leaking out to the press about marital impropriety and inappropriate skinny-dipping parties at the Grunseth residence. Even though the leaks of the sensational stories did not come from the incumbent Rudy Perpich’s campaign, the general public suspected it had to be from them, creating an impression that the incumbent was desperate having to enter into such gutter politics.

When Grunseth finally exited the race, voters seemed happy to support anybody outside of that scandal. With the Supreme Court placing Arne Carlson on the ballot, he became the choice most supported. Oistad would later assert in his book There is No November that he felt the leaks actually came from disgruntled Carlson operatives.  Carlson would go on to win the 1990 election.

Those of us involved in politics would like to believe there was a time and an age where idealists could enter politics to engage their community in an open political dialogue and that the process would be “fun”. Unfortunately over the last 25 years with the invention of super PACs, anonymous Internet attacks, and brutal negative ad campaigns, there is little fun about politics.  Certainly, if Vicki Grunseth were to utter the exact same words above today in the face of an impending political campaign for statewide office, one would rightly question her sanity.

It would seem that negative politics is also taking its toll on electoral participation. Minnesota has always prided itself in its high voter turnout. Unfortunately, the number of eligible voters in Minnesota actually voting in the recent 2014 midterm elections has dropped to just 50%. Granted this is a midterm election where voter turnout is typically down, but compared to past midterm elections, this one is reaching historic proportions.

In the 1990 midterm election, despite being in the midst of a horrific scandal, the Minnesota voter turnout was at 58%. It would steadily rise over the next few elections to a high of 64% in 2002; it has seen a steady decline since. The 2006 midterm election saw a turnout of 60.5% and the 2010 midterm saw a turnout of 56%. This year’s 50% is a new low Minnesotan cannot and should not be proud of when it comes to voter turnout. Every indication from exit polls is that voters are simply just grumpy about the electoral process.

One of the things I appreciate about working for Conservation Minnesota is their commitment to stay positive and to strive to provide accurate information. We will continue to strive to do our best over the next legislative session to provide you with good information so that you can have a meaningful impact on public policy. Our goal is to take our shared values in the area of protecting our Great Outdoors and turn them into positive changes. We understand Minnesota’s desire to pass this beautiful state on to our children and grandchildren in a better environmental condition than we found it. Thank you for your participation in the electoral process. We look forward to partnering with you in the 2015 legislative session to make a difference for our Great Outdoors.

*There Is No November, Leon Oistad and David Hoium, Jeric Publishing, Inc, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota – 1991

About John Tuma

John Tuma
John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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