When we started planning the Senate District 4 Convention, we briefly considered holding it in the back room of a local café, since, as someone noted, “we never get more than 20 people.” That was before the announced retirements of Rep. Paul Marquart and Sen. Kent Eken, and fortunately we didn’t pursue that idea. In the event, the interest generated by those open seats drew 65 people to the convention.
That turnout is testament to the recognition among our activist base that state elections matter. For too many people, their interest in politics begins and ends with presidential elections, as if having the right person in the presidency would solve all our problems. Or maybe it’s just that the circus atmosphere of presidential elections has more entertainment value.
Yet state government affects our lives in many, many ways. From education to health care to social welfare to transportation to environmental protection, what happens in St. Paul makes a big difference. Right now, Republicans hold an extremely narrow majority in the Senate, effectively blocking any kind of progressive initiative that could be undertaken with the state’s huge budget surplus.
The importance of state government was also driven home recently by the leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Assuming that a constitutional guarantee of reproductive freedom will go away in the next few months, access to legal abortions will be a matter for states to decide. The strong probability is that Minnesota will end up as the only state in the region where women will retain the right. I recently heard a prediction on the DFL Debrief podcast that Minnesota clinics could see a 400% increase in demand for abortions. All that would change, however, if Republicans gained control of our state government.
Another responsibility of state government is running elections. Minnesota has one of the best election systems in the country, with an impeccable record for election integrity. Secretary of State Steve Simon may not be a household name, but he has done a great job to keep it that way. Meanwhile, all the major Republican candidates in state-wide races have bought into the Big Lie that the last election was stolen, and their newly endorsed candidate for governor has even threatened to arrest Simon. If they have the power, Republicans here as elsewhere will use bogus claims of election fraud to make voting harder, particularly for young people and people of color.
It’s a rather striking coincidence that young women and women of color will be the most grievously affected by a ban on abortions. I read recently that the typical woman getting an abortion is in her twenties, unmarried, and already a mother. She has some college but no degree, and she is struggling to lift herself out of poverty and get her life moving forward.
What remains to be seen is whether these threats to our rights and our democracy will be enough to bring young people out to the polls. I don’t blame young people for feeling discouraged about the state of the world. This, though, is a fight we can win – a fight we must win. If you are a young person or know a young person who cares about these issues, we’d love to hear from you. Like Joe says, “it will fall on voters to elect pro-choice officials this November.”