Tuesday, June 23, 2009 By Aaron Brown
John Marty begins his campaign narrative with an observation that's become pronounced and nearly universal among DFL candidates.
"I got into the race because as a society we've been afraid to tackle our problems," said Marty. "We went from in 1970 being called 'the state that works' to one that is dysfunctional. As a nation it’s kind of the same thing. In the 1940s we were coming out of a depression, we were a poor country, but we were called upon to enter a world war against powerful, brutal regimes trying to take over the world and we answered. People were called to sacrifice and we did and we defeated fascism.
"From then on through the 1960s the whole concept was that the next generation would have a better life, a better quality of life, continued Marty. "But the first signs of trouble were when we declared war on poverty and then we surrendered. We are now the only industrialized country where our next generation will have a lower educational quality than the last."
Marty, like the other candidates, has a solution. Tops on his list: single-payer health care. It's a cause that Marty has championed in the State Senate, becoming in recent years the loudest voice for universal, single-payer health care in the legislature. In this he is unabashed, unrepentant and dismissive of plans that would combine public and private options. Like conservative critics, he thinks they will be too expensive and less effective. Unlike conservatives, he believes that a single-payer health care system will provide necessary care for all and drive down out-of-pocket costs for patients and relieve struggling employers of a major economic burden. The proposal would cost money, but Marty contends that what people pay for health care now combined with existing public spending costs more than his plan.
"The governor ranted about the unsustainable public health care costs," said Marty. "I agree that we can't sustain that rate of spending, but we’re not dealing with the problems. Because we don’t tackle problems they get worse, not better. Expenses go up. If we just treated health care like police and fire where everyone pays in and we just cover it, we could solve the problem. We can’t sustain the growth in our problems that cause our spending."
In economic policy, Marty is pragmatic but rejects the notion that the federal and state tax cuts of the past eight years have been good policy.
"The dispute I would have with a lot of other people – Democrats and Republicans – is over the idea that the solution to having a better business climate is to lower taxes. The Chamber of Commerce believes that. Well, of the Chamber of Commerce and Pawlenty had their way we'd be modeling Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. We don't want to live in a state like that. The people there are poorer and more unemployed. We are slipping toward that. If we lower taxes, our schools, health care and infrastructure all get cut back."
Marty points to a study showing that people living in the five states with the highest taxes per capita have the most money left after taxes per capita. Employment rates and wages are better, suggesting that there's something more to the equation than just tax rates.
This blog tells the story of the Iron Range and all governor candidates have been asked about their job creation philosophy related to the Iron Range, where the struggling steel sector has shuttered our mines and sapped the region's already troubled economy.
"There's no magic bullet," said Marty. "I have a couple of thoughts. Diversifying the economy is critically important to start. One area that will remain strong is tourism, people coming to visit because it’s a beautiful part of the state. That’s one reason we have to preserve and protect the environment. On jobs, well, somebody comes in and promises jobs and [leaders] have thrown money at [developers]. I strongly resent that."
Marty pointed out examples from across the state where private companies were benefiting from public money without much regard for the number or kind of jobs those companies planned to create. He pointed out his support for a bill sponsored by Range lawmakers Rep. Tom Rukavina and Sen. David Tomassoni that partially subsidized the wages for companies that created new living wage jobs, calling that a better approach.
"The people of the Iron Range are eager to solve the jobless problem," said Marty. "The worst thing we can do is just hand people money."
This blog has been critical of the way startup company Excelsior Energy was handed millions of grants and loans for a coal gasification power plant that still hasn't found permits or a customer. Marty is the first candidate to directly echo some of these concerns. Separately, Marty pointed out his fight against CAPCO schemes in last year's legislative session. Venture capitalists were enlisting public dollars for what essentially proved to be retail projects that protected developers at the expense of taxpayers. Other states bit on the idea and, Marty says, regret doing so.
"Our government can't afford snake oil salespeople," said Marty. "We need to be thoughtful. We need an educated, well trained workforce. We're just not doing a good enough job of that."
That means investments in education and higher ed.
"We have to make our education system succeed," said Marty. "There's a lot of truth in the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The more we can help kids grow up healthy and educated, the less we have to spend on remedial education and social problems."
So, why Marty, according to Marty?
"My message is different," he said. "My Minnesota Health Plan covers everyone including dental, health care and prescriptions. President Obama won't consider a single payer plan, says it's not political realistic. The insurance lobby has a lot of clout and give out a lot of campaign donations. I don't take PAC donations because money talks in politics. It's not that politicians or donors are crooked, but why do those guys from Excelsior Energy or the insurance agency always seem to win at the end of the session? Campaign donations.
"Political naysayers say [my goals] are not realistic," Marty continues. "It wasn't politically realistic for men to give suffrage to women, or whites to give the vote to blacks, but those things happened eventually. I don't want our state to be fighting to just cover a few more people because we cut them last year. I want to cover everyone."
"People want a state that works," said Marty. We cannot afford to avoid tackling our problems and that means standing up to the special interests [blocking reform]. It's not rocket science. Getting a man to the moon was rocket science and we did that."
For more on Marty's biography, positions and politics, visit his official campaign site.
My favorite movie is "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Something about John Marty reminds of what the character of Sen. Jefferson Smith might have been like had he gone on to serve in the Senate for 20 more years. Still passionate, still righteous, but the "Boy Ranger" tag no longer applies and he is no longer a novelty. Marty is considered something of a gadfly by even some DFL colleagues and a boy scout for his refusal to accept PAC and lobbyist campaign contributions, something most legislators of both parties do. His dogged devotion to an ideal, robust government is admirable, but any observer knows our political system seldom delivers an "ideal" anything.
Marty's response about Iron Range economic development probably won't please some members of the local political caste, but it's my favorite of the responses I've heard so far. The next governor needs to have a strong and substantive commitment to Iron Range economic development, but also the wisdom to know that not all dollars spent are spent wisely.
Unlike candidates like Bakk, Entenza, Dayton and Thissen, Marty has been the DFL nominee. And DFLers know that he lost badly. However, 1994 was a long time ago and the guy who thumped him then, Arne Carlson, was a genuinely popular incumbent moderate Republican, a species that, to my knowledge, has since gone extinct in this state. Marty is who he is and doesn't have to prove himself on his campaign narrative. Marty is honoring the DFL endorsement, but we also know that the endorsed candidate could face Dayton in the primary and possibly Entenza under another scenario. The question with Marty becomes more about the DFL delegates and especially primary voters. What are they willing to do? Are they willing to test the state's blue trend with a pure progressive? Will funders support him with their dollars? They would have to because he's not taking PAC and lobbyist dollars.
Marty to the DFL base, thus, represents a "true believer" candidacy in which factors like the GOP and IP nominee and the state's political mood next November will matter a great deal. Though it occurs to me now that I've said that about virtually all the other candidates, too.
Summary: John Marty turned his 1994 defeat into a career as a legislative reformer who angers pols on both sides. His signature issue -- single-payer health care -- remains his alone and that could position him well among the DFL loyalists who determine the party endorsement. He's an unabashed liberal who's fighting to get out of the second division of this large pool of candidates. Beyond that, Marty's chances -- like everyone else's -- remain tied up in the unknown political mood of Autumn, 2010. A Wellstonian surge favors him. A moderate or conservative wave would quickly sink his chances.
UPDATE: This post has been modified to clarify the DFL endorsement situation.