Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Why Elections Matter

Ted Mondale.

Ted Mondale is no longer the head of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council as recently elected Republican governor Tim Pawlenty appointed Peter Bell to fill that post. Peter Bell is no Ted Mondale. And that's a good thing. Here's a list of some of the things that Mondale pushed for during his four year term at the Met Council according to a story in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune:

And Mondale's council was unusually innovative and aggressive. He and his colleagues:

• helped push the area's first light-rail line;

• directed millions of dollars toward major new projects designed to dramatize whole new ways of building cities;

• crafted a 30-year plan that would stop metro creep, preserve farmland and open space, and leap outward to new growth centers in more remote small towns; and

• refused to approve one suburb's growth plan, landing the agency in court for the first time in its history.

While the description of these actions seems rather innocuous what they boil down to is a attempt by the government to control growth and the dreaded "sprawl" in the metro area by limiting choices for area residents and constraining market forces.

And under Mondale the Met Council ran what might go down in history as one of the worst surveys based on the cost and return of results:

One of the Met Council's most public initiatives was "Take Charge, Twin Cities," a special newspaper insert that was released in mid-October and was tied to the Blueprint 2030. The council used $100,000 in grants from the Minneapolis Foundation and the McKnight Foundation toward paying the project's cost.

In the insert, readers were asked to vote on a series of growth options for the metro area.

But the Met Council acknowledged last week that it still had only partial results, nearly three months afterward. A Met Council spokesperson said the project was plagued by "voting irregularities" caused by voters casting multiple ballots.

More significant, the totals showed that only 6,490 people voted, compared with the hundreds of thousands of inserts that were distributed.

"I'm not even sure how they compiled the votes," said Chris Langer, the Minneapolis Foundation's vice president for marketing and communications. "I have not seen a report from them . . . or what the votes were, or [what] the response was to the campaign."

The total cost for the campaign was $122,000, which means it cost the Met Council $18.80 for every response they received. And I was one of those fortunate few who did vote on the survey, although I can't imagine my on-line submission really cost nearly $20.

So next the time you hear the tired old line "it doesn't matter who wins they're both the same" just remember one name:

Ted Mondale.

Politics does matter.

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