Sunday, April 09, 2006


My Interview with Mark Ritchie

Mark Ritchie achieved national prominence during the 2004 campaign as the head of the November 2 Campaign, leading non-partisan voter registration and national GOTV efforts. He's now running for Secretary of State, opposed by Christian Sande (whom I'll be talking with on Thursday). Some biographical information can be found on his campaign website here, and we sat down via email this morning to communicate about the campaign and some of his views on the voting system in Minnesota. Below are the short answers, later in the day I'll be posting our complete conversation for your in-depth perusal. Watch out for those ellipses - in some cases there's considerable material, but I wanted to cut it down for your first reading.


MNCR: I'll skip over your biographical details for now, since readers can find them on your campaign site. My first question is a straightforward one - you've mentioned Camp Wellstone as a major factor in your decision to run for office, but what specific factors or experiences there drove you from "I think I can" to "I know I can" run for office? Were there factors outside Camp Wellstone that drove your decision as well?

M. Ritchie: ... [T]he shift from "I think I can" to "I know I can" took a leap of faith - leaving work that I loved in an organization that I had carefully constructed for twenty years. It became clear was that only "running to win" made sense and that to do that I would need to resign my position as head of the Institute for agriculture and Trade Policy so I could campaign full-time for over a year.
I have tackled very big efforts before - like organizing the global campaign for fairer trade and the NOVEMBER 2 voter registration campaign in 2004. From these successes I knew that I had the combination of skills and experiences needed to simultaneously run for party endorsement while campaigning statewide as part of a general election strategy. I had concluded that DFL endorsement was crucial to winning in November, but also that most DFL candidates who have been endorsed in the past spent all their money and time on endorsement, leaving nothing left over to actually win the election. When I concluded that I could "run on both legs" I moved from thinking I could run to knowing I could run and win.

MNCR: And what about your experiences specifically makes you more qualified to serve as the state's chief elections officer than Ms. Kiffmeyer?

M. Ritchie: I would come into the office having 20 years of experience successfully
running agencies and organizations. Leadership that inspires staff to perform at their highest capacity, respect for the team process needed to deliver excellent customer service, and a track record for tackling and accomplishing large-scale projects come with this real experience.

Second, although the elections division is a much smaller aspect of the office compared to the business services and other responsibilities it comes with it a level of public expectation of non-partisanship and competency that cannot be compromised. I have a dozen years of experience organizing and leading non-partisan work on elections within the non-profit community, most recently the NOVEMBER 2 campaign. This is especially important for one of the key jobs of the Office -- helping with recounts on close elections.

The perception that the Office of Secretary of State is attempting to help one party over another, as was the case with disputes that arose over the special election in St. Cloud and the controversy about how to handle absentee ballots after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, are examples of where this experience with non-partisan election activity is so
My life experiences have shown me that "one size fits all" and "my way o[r] the highway" does not work to build trust, respect, and performance.

MNCR: Something a bit closer to the calendar crunch: Have you decided yet whether to go to a primary in September no matter what or abide by the DFL endorsement in June?

M. Ritchie: Yes I will abide by the endorsement. [Emphasis added: MNCR]

I do know that one of the other candidates, former city alderman Dick Franson, has said that he is going to a primary.

MNCR: I myself was surprised to see Mr. Franson's name on the DFL straw poll ballot back in early March - I hadn't seen his name or heard anything about his candidacy. With the caveat that I'll be interviewing one later in the week, without going too negative, and in, say...3 sentences or less, what do you see as the major difference between you and your DFL opponents, in terms of style, background, or ability?

M. Ritchie: What I offer that the other two candidates do not includes:

Three decades of experience as a leader in agencies and organizations, including a dozen years of leading non-partisan election administration and civic engagement campaigns, coalitions and organizations, in both the Twin Cities and in Greater Minnesota -- -- I know what it means to inspire a team of people to achieve excellent performance and to feel empowered in the process.

A proven track record of successful political campaigning -- reflected by the public support I have from thousands of Minnesotans from every corner of the state and from every wing of the DFL party, and from independents and moderate Republicans --including key elected officials from Senator Dayton and Congressman Peterson in Washington to Mayor Rybak and dozens of legislators and other elected officials.

This deep and wide support is reflected in the huge victory we enjoyed in the straw poll, in the current delegate count, in our success in fundraising -- raising over twice what was raised by all the candidates - Republican, Democrat and Independent - in this race, and in the long list of official endorsements we have received from labor, farm, women, civic,
progressive, and community organizations.

[Editor's note: Technically, this
is three sentences or less, though my initial reaction was that it was too long to fit into this requirement -- MNCR]

MNCR: A blog-related question to throw in between the issues - This one is prompted by some recent shenanigans unfortunately involving me directly. How do you feel about the role of blogs in 21st century political campaigns? Does your campaign have an official blog, a network of supportive bloggers? What's your position on anonymous blogging?

M. Ritchie: Blogs, zines, google, email, listservs, etc. are transforming all aspects of life and politics is one excellent example. I administer a number of list serves on a wide range of issues including election protection (mostly keeping an eye on the manipulation of elections by various means) and have seen the transformation of this specific tool over the ten years I have been doing it from a novelty to a necessity.

We don't have an official blog but we will soon. It is registered and ready to go with the launching of our new site this week. If you would like a sneak preview just let me know. We don't have a network of supportive blogs but it sounds like a good idea up to a point.

I don’t think I would be very happy in a world with a lot of anonymous phone calls or anonymous blogging.

MNCR: A somewhat-offbeat quickie questionnaire:

Who/what is your favorite ....
--baseball player?
--ice cream flavor?
--day of the week?
--national political blog?
--local political blog?
--vacation spot?
--national political figure?

M. Ritchie:
Baseball - the guy on the anti-smoking poster that my daughter and I loved - Kirby Puckett

Ice Cream - I make some of the best ice cream in Minnesota - my favorite is my tangerine sorbet but the peppermint ice cream made from the candy canes that come down from our Christmas tree is a close second.

Day of the Week
Monday. I get to write thank you notes to the folks who are helping me in all kinds of ways with my campaign.

National Political Blog
Early in the week it is Daily Kos - later in the week it is The Brad Blog.

Local Blog
My own, of course, but since it is not public yet maybe that doesn't count.

Vacation Spot
Northshore - slowly but surely trying to hike every section of the Superior Hiking Trail

National Political Figure
John Kenneth Galbraith, Sr. [Wikipedia Link Added: MNCR]

MNCR: That can be the last question for now, I don't want to take up too much of your Sunday. Thank you so much for your time, and best of luck on the campaign trail!

M. Ritchie: thanks again for making me think about a number of Important questions -- including these last ones! And thanks for giving these lower ticket races your attention -- mostly we are ignored and that has been a problem in past campaigns!!!

Blogger mla said:
Mark Ritchie's professional career and his 2003-2004 work with National Voice - locally and nationally - convinces me that he has the vision, talent, dedication, and intelligence to be an important Minnesota leader in the role of Secretary of State. I don't work for him or on the cmapaign; so rule out the thought that I am doing anything more complicated than sharing my personal perspective in a race that I think is very important to MN's future.
I work with one of the groups that worked with National Voice, the Voting Rights Coalition, and election protection efforts. Mark's ability to understand issues, identify strategies for ensuring the voting rights are honored, and that all potential voters have access to exercising their rights is extraordinary.
He is a leader: listens to people's needs, understands systems and strategies for managing systems well, sets a direction for meeting a vision for good governance and service, and then works harder than anyone I know to realize goals.
Mark doesn't exagerrate his experience or skills. He really is all that his bio and story say about him. As the characters in West Wing used to say, "He is the real thing."
Marks experiences working for change at the national and international level, his clarity about what will be good for all the people of Minnesota, his ability to build support for ideas, are all indicators of what an extraordinary leader he is.
I'm supporting him and hoping that he will be a key leader for this state in the year's ahead. We need intelligent leaders, whose compassion, experience, integrity, and skills ensure that as a state we work for justice. Mark has proven that that is his life's work and he does it as a true leader.
Minnesotan's keep asking, "Where are the leaders we want?" I think that Mark is clearly one answer to that question in this election cycle when the stakes are high and the future of our state is at a tipping point.

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