Senate 25 debate at The Grand on Thursday, Dec. 20, 7 PM

We, the triumvirate here at Locally Grown, are moving (up? down?) into the world of state politics by hosting a District 25 Senate debate this week, IRL, teaming up with our colleagues at KYMN 1080 AM radio and Paul Krause Creative.

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You’re probably saying to yourself, “What are those Locally Grown guys smoking?” Hey, talk like that is against our Locally Grown Discussion Guidelines. Watch it.

We’d like to bring our brand of civic discussion to an important political debate because we think it’ll be both fun and interesting for us, the candidates, and you, our beloved (most of the time, most of you) fellow citizens.

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The candidates are confirmed: Kevin Dahle (DFL-endorsed), Ray Cox (Republican-endorsed), and Vance Norgaard (soon-to-be-Independent-endorsed, photo coming soon). “Oops!” you’re saying. “The primary is this Tuesday. What if Cox doesn’t win the Republican primary? And aren’t you undermining the political process by jumping the gun?”

According to Ross, Tracy, and my current wife, Robbie, I’m a judgmental bastard when it comes to people and/or organizations who don’t have blogs but should. Neither Rod Tietz nor Keith Swenson have blogs. (They don’t even have web sites. The Norgaard campaign promises a revamped site/blog shortly.) If you don’t have a blog, you don’t exist in the blogosphere, you’re off the Locally Grown radar.)

If Cox doesn’t win the primary, I may have to eat those words. So get out there to the polls tomorrow, vote early and vote often, no matter what election judge Alex Beeby says.

“What’s the debate format?” you ask? Don’t gitch’er panties in a bunch. I’ll get to that. More important, the venue! It’s at The Grand Event Center, as you can see from Ross’ photo above, taken this afternoon. Owner Chuck Pryor is graciously letting us use The Grand at no charge. Libations of all kinds will be available. When’s the last time you attended a political debate and were able to imbibe? So if you attend, support this local business — responsibly, of course.

Okay, FORMAT.

  • We’ve told the candidates that they each will be allowed a 3-minute opening statement but it should be used as an opportunity to present themselves to our audience in a way (tone, content) that’s not available via their brochures, web sites, or advertisements. In another words, no bio/background stuff but vision, inspiration, stories, purpose, reflections, etc. We didn’t explicitly rule out singing, poetry, dancing or other performance art, so who knows what to expect.
  • We’ll prepare a series of opening questions. (We’ve asked each candidate for their list of top-5 issues that they’d like to see us consider having addressed.) For each issue, we’ll say something to the effect of: “Talk with each other for the next 5 minutes or so about ISSUE X. Feel free to ask each other questions and challenge each other’s statements. Address each other, not the audience. Be brief in each exchange so that it’s a conversation, limiting yourself to 30 seconds or so, 1 minute tops.”
  • We’ll then turn to you, the audience and ask if anyone wants to ask any follow-up questions to what they just heard. We’ll emphasize that these need to be questions, not your comments or reflections.

(We’ll have 2 or more mics for us to roam the audience to take questions. If you raise your hand, we will hold the mic in your face; we won’t let you hold the mic, as this allows us to shut you off, should you become long-winded or otherwise troublesome.)

  • We’ll decide on the spot whether to allow you, the audience member, to respond back to the candidate(s) with a follow-up question.
  • We’ll continue this series of questions from us, the Locally Grown co-hosts, for 30 minutes or so.
  • We’ll then invite you, our audience members, to raise your hands to ask a question of one or all candidates. We’ll ask you to identify yourself. We’ll decide on the spot whether to A) encourage conversation among the candidates as a way of answering; B) allow you to follow-up with a question.

Our overall goal with this format is to make this both informative and interesting while having some fun. We don’t intend to cover the waterfront on the issues, but what issues are covered, we’d like to go into more depth than is usually done.

We’ll have the audio and video of the event available here on our blog ASAP. KYMN will broadcast a recording of the debate during our regularly scheduled Locally Grown time slot, Wed. Dec. 26, 5:30 PM.

So in preparation for this momentous occasion:

  1. What are the pros and cons of this format? We’re making this up at the last minute and we have zero experience or expertise. It’s not too late to change things, though anything major would have to be agreed to by all the candidates.
  2. What questions would you like us to ask the candidates on your behalf? If we decide to use your question, we’ll use your name.

36 thoughts on “Senate 25 debate at The Grand on Thursday, Dec. 20, 7 PM”

  1. In the spirit of “No Comments” and LocallyGrown’s continuing war on Dundas I note that they deliberately picked the night of the Dundas planning commission, no doubt as part of the vast Northfield conspiracy to marginalize anything that does not happen in Northfield.

    Seriously, I will be very sorry to miss this opportunity to meet the candidates, and I may try to participate vicariously by posting some of the questions I would ask here.

  2. Ha Bruce, you fell for my diversionary tactic…

    …while you complacently work through your Planning Commission process…

    …comfortable in the thought that I’m otherwise engaged…

    …I’ll be executing a flanking maneuver through Bridgewater Township…

    …to plant the glorious flag of Northfield…

    …in the middle of Railway Street.

    Don’t worry, I’ll be careful not to disturb the sleeping dog.

    Seriously, bring the Dundas Planning Commission to the Debate, we’ll segregate, I mean, save a table for you.

  3. Will they allow me, an out of state college student, to attend the debate? I have tremendous respect for both candidates, even though only one of them bothered to teach me civics and coach my little league team.

  4. The Vikings won, the primary is over, and peace and love rule at City Hall. Time to focus on tomorrow night’s debate. What questions would you like us to ask the candidates on your behalf? If we decide to use your question, we’ll use your name.

    A tip-of-the-blogger hat to Sam Gett, Jaci Smith, and Ariel Emery at the Northfield News for helping to promote the debate in today’s paper, both on the front page left sidebar and at the bottom of Ariel’s story on the primary results. Our colleagues at KYMN, Jeff Johnson and Dusty Budd, are doing promo spots throughout the day. And of course, Ross and Tracy and I will be hyping it during today’s Locally Grown show/podcast to air at 5:30 PM.

  5. What? Hmm. Too bad this debate isn’t hosted by a non-partisan triumvirate. At least one of you has a huge bias because of your work, one of you is “related” to Ray, and all of you like it when people squirm.

    Instead of trying to draw information out of the candidates in a respectful manner (as a non-partisan host might), this most likely will be a situation where you’re ready to trap or roast the other candidates. In fact, I predict you’ll be nice to one organic farmer and ridiculous to a civics teacher.

    I don’t know why the other candidates said they’d come to “your house” to play, anyway. Reminds me of that song about hollering down rain barrels and climbing apple trees– same message, though. I’d have advised against this place/host of debate… but that’s funny, now, isn’t it. Why would ask me. Ah, the country life. Off to the woodpile for more carbon footprint, but isn’t the heat nice.

  6. In the spirit of Bright Wisenwhatever– It sure is Frosty out here, isn’t it?

    OUT walking in the frozen swamp one grey day
    I paused and said, “I will turn back from here.
    No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.”
    The hard snow held me, save where now and then
    One foot went down. The view was all in lines 5
    Straight up and down of tall slim trees
    Too much alike to mark or name a place by
    So as to say for certain I was here
    Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
    A small bird flew before me. He was careful 10
    To put a tree between us when he lighted,
    And say no word to tell me who he was
    Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
    He thought that I was after him for a feather—
    The white one in his tail; like one who takes 15
    Everything said as personal to himself.
    One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
    And then there was a pile of wood for which
    I forgot him and let his little fear
    Carry him off the way I might have gone, 20
    Without so much as wishing him good-night.
    He went behind it to make his last stand.
    It was a cord of maple, cut and split
    And piled—and measured, four by four by eight.
    And not another like it could I see. 25
    No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it.
    And it was older sure than this year’s cutting,
    Or even last year’s or the year’s before.
    The wood was grey and the bark warping off it
    And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis 30
    Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
    What held it though on one side was a tree
    Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
    These latter about to fall. I thought that only
    Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks 35
    Could so forget his handiwork on which
    He spent himself, the labour of his axe,
    And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
    To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
    With the slow smokeless burning of decay. 40

  7. How would the candidates feel about lowering the drinking age in Minnesota to 18? This decision is still up to the states, so it is relevant, and the law as it stands now directly affects thousands of Northfield’s eligible voters.

  8. Griff,

    would you ask this question at the forum:

    Rice County is now on the list of deadliest Minnesota counties for drunk driving (#11). How would you address this issue?

  9. 1. Please ask for a discussion of each candidate’s views on the value of state income tax vs. local property tax, especially with regard to the housing market crisis.

    2. Please ask them what they feel the focus of future spending on transportation should be (state-wide), as well as the relative importance of such spending vs. other budgetary components.

    3. Are they in favor of ethanol as an alternative fuel? Why or why not?

    4. What state-level activity would be required to better support wind energy and other renewable sources of energy? Are they in favor of such state activity? Why or why not?

    (sorry, obviously I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here)

    Also PLEASE don’t let them off without answering a question, as is so often done in debates these days…

  10. Thanks everyone for the suggested questions. We’re keeping track.

    Here are the top ten candidate issues after getting the top five from each of them:

    E-12 Funding
    Property Taxes
    Transportation
    Local Government Aid
    Health Care Costs
    Higher Education Funding
    Metro Transit Funding
    Energy Policy
    Impact on Economy
    Climate Changes

    Our plan is put each of these on a piece of paper into a hat and draw from it during the first 40 minutes or so… no idea how far we’ll get. During the final 40 minutes, we’ll encourage the audience to ask questions related to those we don’t get to, as well as troll thru the questions submitted here to see which ones might related closest to the issues on the list.

  11. Ok, so I heard your last podcast, and maybe I’m wrong about you favoring one candidate. We’ll have to see.

    Maybe it won’t be a case of doing all the work and then leaving it behind because of distraction (as in Frost’s Wood-pile poem).

    Also, Tracy, I don’t know if you can call the Democrats the “underdogs”. All Northfield wards voted Democratic in the last Rep. election, didn’t they?

    But I suppose the Senate 25 race is another story.

    Thanks for the podcast and see you tonight w/my teenagers in tow. Might as well have them watch and listen. So, nobody get too wild. Keep it in line.

  12. Holly, I just posted a comment reacting to your #5 comment above and then seconds before I clicked to submit, you posted your new comment… so I deleted mine. I wrote:

    Holly, I’m startled at your comment #5 that

    “Instead of trying to draw information out of the candidates in a respectful manner (as a non-partisan host might), this most likely will be a situation where you’re ready to trap or roast the other candidates.”

    Our intent is be respectful to all the candidates and insist that audience does likewise. And format is designed to minimize the moderator role so that the candidates can talk with each other.

  13. It was wonderful to see all the faces at the debate today, but must say that the system in place was quite flawed. It should have been called “a conversation between the three candidates that the audience must quietly observe while Griff (and others of Locally Grown) gets to interrupt with “witty” comments.” I’m sorry, but if you have a “debate” in a public place, expect a public reaction to passionate topics. I found that the comments and interruptions from the Locally Grown representatives as being more disruptive then the brief clapping displayed by the audience members. If you wanted no reaction from the audience then maybe you (as in Griff) should have held the debate in your own living room (you could have still included you comments at this time). You said the candidates should act like they were in their living room and that the audience respect that, BUT if someone was in my living room and I concurred with what they said I would comment on that. If someone in a public forum says something I agree with, I clap. What I wouldn’t do is micromanage my guests. The good thing was that I did get to hear many opinions and views from the candidates and got a decent feeling of what they would try get accomplished if elected. Next time don’t call it a debate if it is clearly biased forum. Gushing over Cox and sticking him in the middle (so it looks like he is addressing the audience) is biased. I also noticed that Vance was cut off before he spoke on a couple of occasions and that he had to hunch down to speak (which isn’t a positive connotation in speaking abilities). The way the facilitators were acting (colored commentary) made myself and others around me uncomfortable. This was in no way a political debate like I expected.

  14. Tracy “shushing” the audience on several occassions, and Ross running around with a riding crop in his back pocket. I do not understand either one of those.

    In the hour I was there, there was no debating, and there was definately not equal time.

    It was nice to see the three canidates, and the interaction was very dignified. Mr. Dahle was interesting and think he has some great plans.
    Mr. Cox was very practiced, very well informed, and very polished.
    Mr. Norgaard struck me as hunched over, and single threaded. He kept coming back to peak oil, peak oil, peak oil. He had some great talking points, but did not come accross real well.

    It was nice to see the three canidates take the time to speak with the public, but there was no debate, and the interaction was very limited and heavily moderated. On many occasions, Griff offered Mr. Cox an out from a questions, and I did not see that offered to Mr. Norgaard and Mr. Dahle when I was there.

    I personally want to learn more about Mr. Dahle in the very short time we have before the election.

    One question I didn’t hear asked to the canidates was a simple one. Why are you running? Its simple… What to you hope to accomplish? What is calling you to run.

    I have to respect, and applaud the effort for Tracy, Griff, and Ross to put this together… but I do feel that is was just a tad overly moderated. I would have like to have seen more interaction directly between the canidates, and the citizens that will elect them.

    I am looking forward to viewing the videotape, to go back over some of the answers and interactions again.

  15. John, thanks for your feedback. We haven’t tried anything like this before, so it was inevitable that there would be problems (not to mention the fact that there’s absolutely no way to please everyone, or to meet everybody’s unspoken expectations).

    I thought it went quite well, considering the myriad possibilities for disaster of one sort or another.

  16. Well, I guess I don’t remember it quite as negatively as Josh and John.

    I hope that those citizens who were unable to attend aren’t so discouraged by those two’s comments that they don’t listen to the, admittedly lengthy, tape of the event.

    Although it’s probably impossible for candidates to be completely candid and casual in any type of public format, I thought that all three of our guests did a really fine job of raising their priorities and revealing their passions, in spite of the apparent excess of shussing and joking by the LG crue.

    Thanks again to Kevin, Ray and Vance.

  17. Ross,

    I didn’t say that it was negative. I thought it was quite nice, and was providing feedback.

    What I did say, is that I had some perceptions of what was going to occur, and those were not what the ground rules were. Thats an okay thing, not a comment good or bad. I also stated that there were several things I did not understand. I must context that by also saying that I was late in arriving, as I was attending another meeting from 8 to 9. Had I been on time for the start, the ground rules would have made sense, and I would have less questions.

    I don’t want it to seem like I am always a detractor to what you guys do. That is not the case. I thought that what you guys did by setting this up was a really good thing, and great for Northfield’s citizenry.

    The comment I made was that there was not as much debate as I thought there was going to be. The canidates were all extremely nice to each other, there was no interuptions, and everything was very civil. The canidates were given equal oppurtuinty to respond on all things, but Ray was definately much more informed on the issues, and spoke much more elloquently on the issues, therefore taking more time in his responses.

    Equal time would have been given, if the other canidates wanted to use it, but they were not as “up” on many of the topics presented.

    I thought it went rather well during the time I was there. Had I arrived on time, I would probably understand the riding crop in your back pocket. My assumption is that it had something to do with folks not holding the microphone.

    I will wait for the video.

    Again, I do not percieve a whole bunch of negativity in my posting. I just posted my perceptions. It went really well, as no one really knew what to expect.

    The venue was good, and the closeness to the canidates was really nice. Thanks for taking the time to set it up, as it is not often that you get all 3 canidates in the same place, at the same time.

    I would urge you three to look at doing more of these as more elections come to pass. It is a great thing for the community.

    Please do not paint me as “Mr. Negativity”. That is just not the case. 😎

    Again, thanks for taking the time to set it up. I hope to see you downtown this holiday season.

  18. Once again, I stand by my earlier remarks. I do think it was great that Locally Grown arranged the “debate” and set it up (cheers for that!!). I understand wanting to put your “stamp” on the debate, but c’mon. I was ready to shush the shushing by Tracy and Griff (in fact i did). That took way more away from the debate than the actual clapping. Expect clapping – it is a public debate no matter how you try and sell it. I don’t think you would like it if I micromanaged you, so don’t micromanage me. That is much more disrespectful than clapping and cheering. I also understand trying to add a little humor to the process, but I think too much effort was made on the part of the three colored commentators (though in defense of Ross, he spoke when spoken too). Do you have to make a joke EVERY time you open your mouth (well besides the long-winded shushing)? I felt that took away from the debate and served as a distraction. I saw candidates about to speak on numerous occasions but had to delay because of a joke that came out a facilitator’s mouth. It is insulting. Sorry to be so acidic, but I just wanted to give an honest opinion. Enough on that – live and learn. As far as the debate went, I thought all three candidates did a fine job, with Cox the most well-rehearsed, Dahle the most passionate and to the point, and Norgaard bringing up some universal truths that often don’t get touched on in a state senate debate. The “lip service” remark by Dahle was priceless, as was Norgaard’s remark on the fairness of the debate. What was Cox thinking when he demeaned educators and working class at the end? There should be more people should be in state senate who sign the front of the check rather than the back? What?

  19. Felicity and Carol, your questions were addressed in the debate. Scott and Kathy, yours weren’t. I was ready to ask them but we didn’t get to all the audience questions either and only got to one of the big issues, health care, at the very end.

  20. I thought the discussion went well. Paul Fried asked how the candidates felt, and they were comfortable. It wasn’t a channel 2 type of debate, but I wasn’t expecting that. Thanks, I was proven wrong, as I see it.

  21. It would be good to always identify each speaker as they begin, at least a few times, because this is radio, not tv, and some people don’t pick up audio diifferences so easily; people with hearing aids for instance.

  22. It would have been hard (nearly impossible, politically) for any of the candidates to complain while they’re guests at an event moderated by Locally Grown. It’s fine that disclaimers were given about the connections of Ross and Griff to Ray, but disclaimers are not enough. It would have been better if the debate had been moderated by the LWV, or some collaboration between LG and LWV.

    I agree with John and Josh on some points: Ray has the most visibility because of his roles on the school board and in the House, and one could argue that Kevin has visibility as a teacher of many Northfielders or their children, and were it done over again, I’d guess that Vance was perhaps the candidate with least public visibility, and if you’re having a round table with only one facing the camera, I’d have put Vance there. Or have three chairs facing the front, with tables in between for water, and have them draw straws for who gets the middle seat. It’s too easy for Ross, Ray’s brother-in-law, so say afterward that he didn’t think it was so bad or deserving of John and Josh’s criticism, when, hey, Ray was in the middle facing the camera. Disclaimers, and your best efforts to appear unbiased, quickly seem thin, unhelpful, ineffective even if sincere. People with biases have blind spots, so disclaimers alone are not enough.

    I thought Suzannah Ciernia had a wonderful question about the recent news on the superbug/bacteria, but as it was an issue others — or the candidates — may not have read about, it needed a bit of introduction and context. The moderators gave the candidates time to talk at length, but sometimes (especially Griff?) were too quick to cut off questioners, asking, “So what’s your question?” Kevin Dahle made a great point about the importance of listening, and when the moderators were not cutting questioners off, there was some listening going on. Some questions require some background, and it’s OK to let questioners give it, even if it takes a few extra seconds.

    It was obvious that the lack of time limits was a problem. Yes, it’s good to be generous with time limits, but it seemed that the lack of time limits gave Ray freedom to speak at great length about his past legislative experience, sometimes in ways that were not entirely relevant to the questions. If you want to be objective, you could watch the tape and see which candidate took the most, or least, time talking. Regardless of disclaimers and efforts at objectivity and input regarding format, statistics give a glimpse that disclaimers and best intentions do not.

  23. Hi, me again. Good points, Paul.

    I read about the format before I went and the candidates must have agreed on the format. There was no mention of clocks, etc, and that worried me. But, I thought the candidates mostly talked until they were done –with the exception of the times when people clapped. At those time, the moderators told us to be quiet, and then the conversation shifted away to another candidate.

    All in all, it went pretty well.

    Why didn’t the league of women voters organize a debate? They could have.

  24. For me, it is as important to know how a person thinks as it is to know what the think. That’s why I like the format of last night’s meeting. (I won’t call it a debate, because it seemed to me the triumvirate were looking more for a conversation than a debate.) I think this format offers a better chance of seeing how candidates “think on their feet” than the formal, somewhat stilted arrangement more commonly seen during elections. Most of the work public officials do is in a setting which requires fancy footwork and clear communication. Last night’s format came close to revealing how the 3 candidates might do this.

    While the setting (candidates around the table) was good, the vagueness of the issues candidates were asked to address didn’t provoke conversation, but rather, encouraged “speachification.” I wish each candidate had been asked beforehand to submit questions they would like to ask the other candidates to discuss on any given issue. For example, rather than “talk about property taxes,” the question might be “A city councilor told me that too much of a burden has been placed on property taxes to fund local services. Why would he make that claim? do you agree? Explain your answer and if so, what you will do if elected to correct this.” The more focused the question, the more concrete the response and, I suspect, the more interesting the answer and the more clear the thinking which generates the response.

    It would have been less distracting (taking the attention of the audience away from the candidates and toward the triumvirate) if the 3 had been at the table with the other 3, assuming that they play a supportive role. By being in the no-man’s land between the speakers and the audience, they drew too much attention to their own personalities. How would it work for the triumvirate to sit with the candidates and for them to ask follow up questions? They might from time to time insert comments into the conversation to provoke further discussion among the candidates. Of course, this presumes the triumvirate is familiar enough with the issues to follow the discussion and jump in with just the right question! And, someone would have to be aware of the time lapse so that other questions could be raised the answered.

    I don’t have a problem with the triumvirate’s bias. There was full disclosure at the outset. In the scenario I’ve suggested, it would be risky for members of the triumvirate to be biased, but it could also add to the spiceyness of the conversation.

    It was great to see the crowd at the Grand last night – and to see that not all the heads were as grey as mine. While I don’t believe in turning candidate forums into entertainment, I think last night’s format helped tip the balance away from the more formal League of Women Voter style, and toward a format which not only reveals different qualities of the candidates, but can be more engaging for the audience.

    Maybe the League and Locally Grown can learn from each other and co-sponsor events like last night’s in preparation for the 2008 elections.

  25. I learned loads about the candidates at this debate (from their demeanor as well as their comments), and left with a firm opinion about where my vote would go. In my mind, that made the debate a success.

    It’s always dangerous to try something new, but on the whole I think the debate format worked. I do think that allowing clapping would be preferable next time – maybe hold it over the weekend so that time isn’t as much of an issue. Also, I’d never been to the Grand before; what a great venue!

  26. Jane, I like both your suggestions: 1) more focused questions; and 2) having the co-hosts join the candidates at the table. We’re definitely open to exploring how we might work together with the LWV during the 2008 election season.

  27. As the architect of the rule about no cheering and no booing, I stand by it. I think a factor that contributed to the cheering was that the candidates gravitated more towards ‘speechifying’ than conversation. Another factor was that some members of the audience came late and didn’t hear me explain the rule at the beginning. (After I explained the rule, I asked the audience to show that they would abide by it by raising their hands.) But if we do another debate, I’m inclined to have the same rule as I’ll want to fine-tune the format to encourage conversation, not speeches.

    None of us controlled where the candidates sat. I supposed we could have drawn straws for the seating like we did for the order of opening statements but it never occurred to me. It was unfortunate that one of the mics was shorter than the other two but that wasn’t our doing either. Vance pulled the mic from the stand initially but put it back.

    As for the joking around, it was intentional. We stated up-front that our idea was to re-create the atmosphere of our radio show/podcast which is laden with laughing and interruptions no matter who our guest might be. But in hindsight, I think the criticism is justified. I overdid it and I can see how that sometimes distracted from the candidates and the discussion.

  28. I watched some of the primary debates on ABC TV last night and noticed some similarities with what we tried for our Senate debate… and some of the resulting problems.

    In today’s NYTimes: He Came, and He Saw, but Did He Moderate?

    The first debates after the Iowa caucuses were a crucible for the candidates, but they were also a test of the Gibson Doctrine: “The less of a moderator, the better.”

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