How do you say “Surprise” in Norwegian? The word is “Entenza.” I am not making that up.*
DFL activists and party leaders were both surprised and annoyed when perennial candidate Matt Entenza filed at the very last moment to run for Minnesota State Auditor against sitting Auditor Rebecca Otto in this year’s primary. He claimed he would fight corporate giveaways at the local level and scrutinize spending on education, addressing the state’s achievement gap. Also, he would be nice to out-state local governments and not favor the Metro, because he was born out-state. Entenza has a habit of running, flush with vast family resources, in DFL primaries and against the party endorsement process, and DFLers have a habit of not responding well. Nearly six million dollars of mainly family money got Entenza third place in a three way race for governor in the 2010 DFL primary.
DFL primary voters have to ask themselves three questions on August 12th. First, is Entenza bringing something to the auditor’s office that is valuable? Second, do we need to replace Otto; is she doing a poor job in her position? Third, is Entenza auditor material?
Entenza wishes to improve education in Minnesota. This is not actually the Auditor’s job. Also, Auditor Rebecca Otto has an advanced degree in education and a science B.A. and served as a teacher for five years. Otto chaired a successful $55 million levy campaign in a conservative district, and served on the Forest Lake School Board before serving in the State Legislature. She is not only pro education but a highly qualified contributor to that discussion. Entenza wants to make the Auditor more friendly to out-state Minnesota. Otto, however, has a reputation for fair dealing and respectful interaction with all of the municipalities with which she works state wide. Many, from folks on the street with whom I’ve spoken to the Governor, have questioned Entenza’s motive in running for Auditor in the way he has chosen, and a frequent conclusion often said with a wink and a nod is this: He wants to be governor, and sees the Auditor position as a stepping stone to that. The stepping stone hypothesis certainly explains his candidacy better than any of the things he’s said about why he is running.
His claim to address government handouts must be a reference to the system of Tax Increment Financing. But TIF is not a government handout. It is a development tool that has positively affected the lives of many Minnesotans. More importantly, TIF, as well as education reform, are policy matters for the legislature and Governor. It seems that Entenza wants to have the job as Auditor so he can be that … the legislature and the Governor. But that is not actually how it works, and it makes me wonder if he really understands what the State Auditor does.
We should not be replacing Rebecca Otto. When she came on board, the Auditor’s office had been used as a political tool by the GOP and State-Local Government relations were poor. Otto has been studiously non-partisan and professional in her role, and this has been recognized at a national level. She has the National Excellence in Accountability Award, was elected President of the national State Auditors Association, and was named one of the 15 most influential auditors of all auditors at all levels of government across the entire country (and that is a lot of auditors). She is also the first DFL woman in this position and only one of 7 elected female state auditors in the country. We should be proud of that, not trying to undo it. DFLers know that when they have a top person in a position like this, who chooses to run for re-election, you don’t damage their position by staging an attempt at turnover. That’s not only bad party politics but it is also a negative contribution to governance. Entenza running against a woman who is arguably the top in her field is very difficult to account for.
Aside from the questions already raised about Entenza’s qualifications for the job, one also wonders if a person with a track record of seemingly inappropriate, or at least less than competent, fiscal behavior is the right person to take on the role of making sure everyone else behaves appropriately.
Entenza has been admonished, even fined, a number of times for campaign finance problems. “Neighbors for Matt Entenza Committee accepted excessive contributions from special sources resulting in an inadvertent violation of Minn. Stat. 10A. 27, subd. 11, in calendar year 2002” – Auditors are supposed to identify and address things like that, not do them. Money from lobbyists was inappropriately taken in 2005 as well. A prohibited contribution was also addressed by the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board in 2009. I’m not sure how serious these three transgressions are, and I imagine things like this happen in campaigns now and then despite people’s best intentions, but he’s running for State Auditor. He should not have such a record of being, essentially, in need of audit!
A fourth complaint dealt with by the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board related to Attorney General candidate Entenza’s hiring of an investigator to dig up dirt on the DFL-endorsed candidate for governor, Mike Hatch. Perhaps he already had his eye on the Governor’s office and was willing to step beyond the usual boundaries en route. That problem went away when the funding of this apparent opposition research was properly accounted for, though the ensuing scandal seems to have forced Entenza to withdraw from the race. Properly accounted for after the fact. Auditor. I think you get the point.
Entenza’s use of negative campaigning is not restricted to that event in 2006. He is doing this now. Rebecca Otto is an intelligent, thoughtful, progressive Democrat. Many years ago, prior to the co-opting of questions about election fraud were picked up by the GOP and used as a blunt object across the country in a state-by-state attempt to limit the franchise of progressive voters, the Minnesota Legislature addressed voting regulations. Not much came of that, and the only thing that was really being discussed was shoring up the power of election judges when they had questions about voters. As I understand it, Entenza and Otto shared the same position on proposed legislation, and this legislation was entirely different from the more recent Voter ID Amendment shoved into the election cycle two years ago by our largely dysfunctional Republican leadership. Entenza is now claiming that Rebecca Otto is, or was, or would be, or could be, supportive of a Voter ID bill or amendment, yet this is not even close to the truth. It is a dirty trick. A similar claim is being made about Otto and same sex marriage. In truth, Rebecca Otto campaigned vigorously on both issues when they emerged in 2012.
One might think that both of these ploys are weak and that DFL voters will see right though them, but that is not necessarily the case. A few days ago a young, newly minted DFL activist, a political science major at the University of Minnesota, asked me what campaigns would be good to work for to gain experience and to start to make connections. I suggested three different campaigns and specified the potential benefits of volunteering for each of them. One of the campaigns I suggested was Rebecca Otto for Auditor. Later that day she contacted me with a question. She had heard the Entenza campaign apparent fabrications of Otto’s position on Voter ID and was concerned. She had spent quite a few hours interning for campaigns against both the Marriage Amendment and the Voter ID Amendment – her first real experience in political activism. Entenza’s inappropriate and inaccurate characterization of his opponent, a fellow DFLer, tainted, as it was seemingly meant to, the reputation of one of our best elected officials. I found this disgraceful. This is, in fact, the reason I decided to write this commentary.
I agree with many of Entenza’s policy positions, and I wish he was in elected office somewhere in Minnesota. But I also wish he was not running in this primary because I think Rebecca Otto is an outstanding auditor and we don’t need this fighting inside the party. In particular, I don’t appreciate the implications that Otto is not doing her job well, which includes a certain amount of apparent fear-mongering on issues like social security, and I don’t like the use of the auditor’s position as a platform for implementing policies, even if those are good policies.
I’d like to give Matt Entenza some advice, spoken originally by a DFL progressive about his own campaign for office, on the day he withdrew knowing his candidacy could hurt the party and the state. He said, “Fighting for important issues is one thing. Fighting in politics is quite another. While I’m confident that I could win the race … staying in the race could hurt the Democratic Party and the progressive issues I care about so deeply.”
Take your own advice, Matt.
*Actually, I am making that up. Matt Entenza’s Wikipedia page claims this to be so, but Google Translate begs to differ. I don’t speak Norwegian. But it may be the case that Matt’s Wiki page needs … auditing.