[Updated: Letter to the Editor, Worthington Daily Globe.]
This is a followup on my earlier post (see “How do you say “Surprise” in Norwegian? The word is “Entenza.” I am not making that up” also reposted here) on Matt Entenza’s bid for the DFL (Democratic Party) Primary candidacy for Minnesota State Auditor.
Entenza claims he is from Greater Minnesota, and thus, would do a better job representing the interests of Greater Minnesotans. This implies that highly acclaimed sitting State Auditor and candidate for re-election Rebecca Otto is not doing well in this area. In fact, she is doing very well. She is recognized for her fair and non-partisan treatment of people and local governments across the state. The previous State Auditor used the position in a more political way, implying bias, and voters rejected that approach by the largest upset of an incumbent in 112 years when Otto was first elected. It is now well-understood, here and nationally, that Otto is doing it right.
This is similar to the misleading language Entenza is using on pensions and social security. "Too often these days, we hear stories about how folks who worked hard and played by the rules their whole lives have their retirement at risk by poorly managed pension funds and Wall Street middle-men that charge exorbitant fees. Privatization of pensions is unacceptable. Minnesotans’ pensions should not be privatized and that Wall-Street middle men have no business near our pension plans.” This, again, implies that Otto has somehow been involved in privatizing pensions. She has not. In fact, a review of Otto’s website shows that she has been leading the charge against the move to privatize public pensions, and that the Public Employee Retirement Association is stronger than ever on her watch.
A similar thing happened in a recent news article about Otto leading a national conference of State Auditors, bringing the State Auditors from around the country to Saint Paul. A few accounting firms that work with local governments were some of the conference sponsors. Entenza said of this, via his campaign mouthpiece, that "The people being regulated should not be paying for lavish events for those doing the regulating. Attending parties and events thrown by firms the auditor is supposed to be watchdogging is not how Matt Entenza will run the office.” Again, this is a blatant attempt to mislead voters. The State Auditor does not watchdog or regulate private CPA firms in any way, and there were no lavish events at the conference. In fact, the conference was part of required continuing education classes that help auditors keep up with the latest laws, regulations and trends. So here, Entenza would have readers believe that all State Auditors from around the country are somehow having a conflict of interest. Really? He says he wouldn’t attend such conferences if elected. How then, one wonders, would his staff be able to do their jobs?
But let’s get back to the Greater Minnesota claim. While Entenza is making a cultural and geographical claim about himself (that he grew up in Greater Minnesota), Rebecca Otto is not. Her personal growing-up history is not part of her campaign, though her education and experience as an adult is, and her background is impressive. But when I looked into it further, I found out that Rebecca Otto and Matt Entenza are roughly similar in their geographical background, and that Entenza’s claim is apparently – surprise – (or, as Wikipedia would have it, "Entenza!”) bogus.
One of my favorite tales from Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keillor’s fictional-but-realish small town in Minnesota, is the one about the family that moved to California then returned later for the wedding of their daughter. The wandering Lake Wobegonites had changed from having lived for years in the Sunshine State. They wore sunglasses, even inside. They spoke of their lovely garden, but admitted they had a gardener. The good people of Lake Wobegon said nothing in response to this, but we know they were thinking “Gardener? Who has a gardener? That would be like having someone cut your food for you.” The joke here is based on the idea that Minnesotan life and culture, especially Greater Minnesota life and culture, is as different from California culture as any two samples of American life can be. These characterizations are, of course, humorously exaggerated imitations of American life, and to humorous effect. But it gets the point across; outsiders, represented by people from California, are suspicious. Never mind that Minnesota is a place of immigration. During the time that our Euro-American culture was forming, with the Minnesota Nice and the Upper Plains sensibility thing and all that – around the beginning of the 20th century – the vast majority of Minnesotans were not born here, or one or both parents who were not born here. The explosive economic growth just before the Bush Recession included a large number of people who moved here from the coastal regions, though we seem to focus on those who moved here from other countries. The point is, there may be a real but low level xenophobia in our state, which is a little quaint but often annoying, and not justified. I’m from New York State (which I know annoys a lot of you). In New York it is not uncommon to be represented in the US Senate by people who had to move there to run for office. This annoys some, but for most it is regarded as a good thing. New York State sometimes gets to be represented by very powerful people who have to work very little to get their voices heard. Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton are examples of this. Minnesota has its own history of people not born here still being claimed as strong, good looking, or above average. Elmer Anderson, the most beloved of governors, was not born here. One of our two most famous Charlies, Lindbergh, was born in Detroit. There are others. My point is this: As an outsider (though I’ve lived here as long as I lived in New York) I have noticed that “Candidate X is from this community s/he bids to represent” is a standard line in politics. Just so you know: Not everybody, across this country, does that. That’s a Minnesota thing. (And a few other places.)
Putting all this aside, one could still argue that the people of Minnesota are so provincial, especially those who live in Greater Minnesota, that they would prefer to be represented by someone exactly like themselves, historically and demographically. Matt Entenza is making the claim that he is “one of them” apparently for this reason. This seems a bit paternalistic.
And, paternalistic or not, he isn’t. From here.
Matt Entenza claims he is from Worthington, a small town in Out State Minnesota. In fact, he was born in … wait for it … California. He grew up not in Minnesota at all, but in Santa Monica, and his family moved to Worthington when he was 15. He attended and completed high school there. He then moved out of state again, having lived in Greater Minnesota until he was about 18, we assume, so about three years. He did a year or so at Augustana College in South Dakota, which is not in Minnesota, an Evangelical Lutheran private college. He then transferred to a private college in Saint Paul, Macalester. After graduating from Macalaster he moved out of state again, actually out of the country, to follow Lois Quam during her Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. The one in England. Later, he went to law school in Minneapolis. After that, he clerked for a Minneapolis-based judge. (Details from here.) He now lives in Saint Paul.
By Entenza’s standards I’m Congolese because I lived in the Congo for more time than he lived in Greater Minnesota.
I don’t think it matters that Matt Entenza is from California, but it does matter that he claims that he is from Greater Minnesota and that being from Greater Minnesota is important. Even more importantly, perhaps, is that he seems to assume that people from Greater Minnesota would buy this.
I respect Entenza’s background. Personally I think everybody who is in charge of anything in Minnesota should go live in coastal states for a couple of years. Being from New York, I am forever seeing things done here in Minnesota that I feel very strongly would be done differently if only people knew how the decisions they are making would play out with increase in population size and density. Boston, where I lived for several years, spent more money than has ever been spent ever anywhere at any time on a public works project to rebuild their main urban highway system, because the original system was put in place and evolved with insufficient forethought. We should be learning those lessons and avoiding those mistakes. Want proof of that? Spaghetti Junction, Crosstown X I35W and the KMart on Nicollet Avenue. On. Nicollet. Avenue. Say no more. Having people in important positions who have experience living elsewhere, and good educations (which you can get here but you can also get elsewhere) is a good thing. Good for you, Matt Entenza, for being a man of the world, who still respects and likes Minnesota. I’d vote for you in part for that reason if your other ducks were in the proverbial row.
But no, the ducks, they are askew. Entenza had to, essentially, alter his resume to say, or at least strongly imply, that he is is from Greater Minnesota, and thus, will relate to people from Greater Minnesota. He isn’t, he won’t, and making this claim is itself the kind of misleading, pandering that one would think is subject to audit.