Former House speaker Thissen hits the road again for governor bid

DFLer Paul Thissen aims to unite Minnesota voters over economic fairness and open government in his bid to become the state's next governor. The former speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives is running on protecting Minnesotans from ec...

DFLer Paul Thissen aims to unite Minnesota voters over economic fairness and open government in his bid to become the state's next governor.

The former speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives is running on protecting Minnesotans from economic shifts, and he touted his record as a House member by pointing out how he backed initiatives like the recent minimum wage increase and equal pay for women. However, the DFLer from Minneapolis also was in charge of the House as his party lost control of the chamber during the 2014 election, when rural Republicans were chosen by voters and tipped the balance to the GOP.

Thissen is also basing his campaign on combating what he thinks is people's disconnect with public policy.

"This sense that people feel like that they don't have much control over their lives and their communities' destinies, that's really bad for our politics," he said.

To give power to local communities, Thissen aims to turn over the steering wheel on some policies from the state to towns and cities, including where they've come up with new local policy solutions that fit their immediate geographic area the best.


"We don't tap into that enough as a state," Thissen said.

Instead, the state usually prescribes a one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn't inspire people to become engaged in fixing problems, he said.

Now on his eighth term as a House member, Thissen made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010. The most pressing thing he learned from the experience, he said, is the importance of showing up, and being aware of what's going on in local communities.

He posited that he's uncommonly qualified to understand the happenings in far-flung corners of the state. Aside from U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, it's likely no leader has traveled the state more thoroughly in the past decade, he said.

Asked what he thought of the idea that there's a political divide between rural and Twin Cities voters, Thissen acknowledged there's some truth to it, although that truth is exploited by politicians.

"There is a lot of connective tissue that brings Minnesotans together," he said. "But, depending on where you live, what the heritage of the community is, what the economics of the community are, all of those things actually affect how you view the world, and how public policy needs to be applied."

It's another reason for local control, Thissen added.

However, the idealistic approach to local control tends to clash with whoever controls the Legislature. The men and women in St. Paul might not necessarily like how the locals choose to control their own destiny. A prime example is the recent minimum wage increase: when Democrats instituted it, there were no tiers varying the wage based on region. In the 2017 session which ended last month, Republicans were in control, and they pushed a statewide ban on cities increasing their minimum wage past the state.


Asked what should happen if local desires and those of St. Paul clash, Thissen said it's a discussion to be had. Minimum wage wasn't as good an example of his local control idea so much as broadband infrastructure or early childhood education, he said.

As to what specific issues face the Brainerd lakes area, Thissen named economic development and preservation of natural resources first. In addition, workplace reforms can make it so that average tourism workers can benefit from the summer boom season, not just the business owners, he said. Specifically, paid time off for sick leave would boost worker stability and two-year free tuition, starting with technical colleges. Blue collar jobs are unfairly stigmatized, he said.

"They're jobs that are going to be here-you can't get your plumbing done in China," Thissen said. "They're jobs you can raise a family on."

One aspect of Thissen's liberal approach to individual benefits may pose a problem if he makes it past the DFL primary into the general election: his stalwart support for single-payer, government-funded health insurance.

Thissen didn't seem to worry about his single payer support being a political liability. Lack of health care access would cast Minnesotans together, he said.

"It's just not getting to the place where I think most Minnesotans want it to be, which is, when you need to see a doctor or a nurse, you should be able to do that, regardless of where you work, how rich or poor you are, or how sick you are," Thissen said. "I think actually, most Minnesotans will agree to that."

Medicare and Veterans Administration health coverage is already single-payer, Thissen pointed out-and nobody seems to raise a fuss about those.

Topics that often decide people's votes but get relatively less attention on the campaign trail include social issues like abortion and gun control.


Thissen is pro-choice, and supports "commonsense gun control." He acknowledged those stances will be tough sells to a statewide audience that includes rural conservatives.

"If that's the primary issues people are going to vote on, I'm probably not going to get their vote," he said. "But I think the economic issues that I do want to talk about-making sure that we have quality post secondary education, particularly technical schools, that we are making changes to reflect the changing workplace, so people can be with their family as well as putting bread on the table, things like paid family leave, health care issues, making sure health care is more affordable to people, those are things I think this campaign should be about, will be about, and that's what I'm going to be talking about. I think for a lot of people, those are fundamental issues."

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