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Time for 'Something Bold': MN Leaders Laud RCV at Packed Event

Wayzata, MN (May 23, 2012) -- “It’s just as easy to pass something bold,” state Sen. Terri Bonoff said to a packed room of nearly 150 civic, business, academic, legal and philanthropic leaders May 23, “as it is to pass something with baby steps.” That “something bold” is fundamental democracy reform – specifically, Ranked Choice Voting – and its time has plainly come in Minnesota.

Bonoff, a DFLer, and several other Minnesota political luminaries – including 2010 IP gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner, former Republican U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, and former Congressman Tim Penny – spoke with participants at FairVote Minnesota’s “Breaking Point: A Panel on Minnesota’s Political Future” about how RCV is our best hope for rebuilding a fractured, polarized democracy. Author and Star Tribune editorial writer Lori Sturdevant moderated the multipartisan conversation at the home of George and Sally Pillsbury, noting the family’s long history (described in her recent book The Pillsbury of Minnesota) of political reform.

The discussion, “Breaking Point: A Panel on Minnesota’s Political Future,” yielded a strong consensus that RCV is an essential step in getting government back on track. “There are lots of [reforms] that you can be for,” Durenberger said, “but this must be at the top.” For one thing, said former state Republican chair Chuck Slocum, it’s the surest way to abate the growing ideological extremism that’s fostering gridlock in state government.

“It’s clear that the broad middle of the civic-minded mainstream has a greater chance of viability under Ranked Choice Voting than under the current partisan process,” Slocum said.

And it’s entirely doable: former Minneapolis elections director Pat O’Connor said his city’s overwhelmingly positive experience in 2009 put concerns about the system’s practicability to rest. Opponents’ claims about voter confusion are “bunk,” O’Connor said. Audience member Steve Young pointed to St. Paul’s success with RCV, which that city implemented last year, as well: “It made a big difference in the Ward 2 race in St. Paul. It energized all the candidates and forced them to look broader than their base,” Young said.

Progress on all issues will flow from a voting system in which the majority rules, and in which candidates – and officeholders – must listen and be accountable to a broad swath of the electorate, not just a strident few, Horner said. “I believe RCV will help put up better candidates, give voters more choice and create a broader mandate for winners,” he said. “We’ll have better governance because winners will have a majority mandate.”

With Minnesota’s two largest cities successfully using RCV, other municipalities eager to make the move, and a state government that’s polarized virtually to the point of paralysis, action can’t wait, former Congressman Penny urged. “We have a plan as to how we can keep rolling this out in more cities, and state legislation that gives communities a local option so more cities are allowed to do this,” he said.

The audience responded with enthusiasm, sounding ready and eager to make Minnesota a model for reform and – as was once the case – smart, creative, constructive policymaking. “We’ll build it across the state so that hopefully by 2016 or 2018, RCV will be the law of the state,” Penny said. “It will change the mentality of candidates and those who govern.”