The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Election News

October 26, 2010

Wilson fighting uphill battle in 1st District

MANKATO — Independence Party candidate Steven Wilson suggested in a debate last month in Mankato that voters think about the 1st District race for Congress as if they were conducting a job interview.

Wilson this week offered another metaphor for voters. Pretend they’re shopping for a car.

The campaigns of Democratic Congressman Tim Walz and Republican challenger Randy Demmer are like expensive vehicles with fancy detailing, waxed to a sheen.

The Wilson candidacy, he said, is inexpensive and not flashy, but it’s humming along on a fraction of the campaign cash because it has something powerful under the hood — a set of specific ideas for solving some of the nation’s most serious problems.

“Meanwhile, my opponents would be at the side of the road, broken down,” said Wilson, a business development consultant from Rochester.

The analogy has a problem, based on a pair of opinion polls done in the 1st District showing Walz leading, either by 5 percentage points or 16, and Demmer in second. In both polls, Wilson had the support of 5 percent or fewer of the voters surveyed — an indication that his campaign is sputtering.

“Obviously, the polls aren’t very good on our side with the Independence Party,” he said.

While his level of support might not have topped 5 percent, Wilson said the most important difference between himself and his opponents is the number 10. That’s how many specific proposals he’s developed in consultation with other southern Minnesotans for addressing everything from the federal debt to energy policy to improving the tenor of political campaigns.

“We are set apart from those two, and not just by a little bit,” Wilson said.

Along with the “Solutions from Citizens” document, available at, Wilson said he offers true independence from special interests because he accepts no political action committee contributions. And his campaign advertisements have been exclusively focused on what he offers and what America needs rather than attacking, or even mentioning, his opponents.

“Anybody who takes the time will see that distinction,” he said. “... The issue is what’s best for America, and what’s best for America is solutions.”

His proposals are detailed and sometimes complex. Fixing Social Security, for instance, would  likely involve raising the retirement age for younger workers, forcing wealthier Americans to pay payroll taxes on more of their income, and — when certain conditions are met — reducing the size of COLA adjustments for existing retirees.

On energy policy, Wilson offers a 19-year plan to eliminate the importation of oil from the Middle East and elsewhere in the world with the exception of Canada and Mexico. In the first decade, the nation would — with incentives from government — dedicate itself to researching and testing innovative alternative energy options.

In the final nine years, preparations would begin in force as the spigot of Mideast oil was gradually shut off. Fuel prices at the pump would likely rise, but that’s what’s been happening over the last 20 years anyway, Wilson said.

Those proposals and others on the list involve all Americans making sacrifices, something candidates are typically reluctant to ask of voters during campaign seasons. But Wilson said the issues facing the nation are serious, and leadership is desperately required.

He contrasts his approach to Demmer’s. The state lawmaker from Hayfield will end up spending close to $1 million on the campaign while offering virtually no specific proposals for some of the nation’s most pressing problems, Wilson said.

“It’s something I cannot understand and cannot relate to,” he said.

Again, he offered an analogy for the campaign run by Demmer, comparing it to somebody proposing to start a newspaper with the following business plan:

“You spend all your time talking about how bad the Minneapolis Star Tribune is, and you never put out a newspaper yourself,” Wilson said. “I just can’t understand it.”

Walz has several specific ideas he has supported — the health care reform law, the cap and trade energy bill that stalled in the Senate, and the economic stimulus bill. All of the votes came in the Mankato school teacher’s second term, and Wilson said all three were mistakes.

Economic stimulus might have made sense in the 1930s and 1940s, when the money borrowed came mostly from the American people through war bonds, when the interest was paid mostly to Americans, and when the borrowed money was mostly spent on American goods and services. Now, most American debt is purchased by foreign countries and many of the goods are produced overseas.

“So who’s economy are we really stimulating in the end?” Wilson asked.

He supports repealing the health care reform because it didn’t focus enough on cost containment.

And while he agrees that global climate change is occurring, be doesn’t think reductions in carbon emissions should be at the center of energy policy — eliminating the nation’s dependence on foreign oil should be.

All things being equal, Wilson thinks voters would hire him, would want to drive his car, would prefer his approach to politics. But all things aren’t even close to being equal.

Wilson is not accepting PAC contributions, but individuals haven’t contributed much either — just $16,000 compared to $1.2 million in individual contributions for Walz and $582,000 for Demmer.

And while Wilson’s ads are positive and issue-based, he couldn’t afford to air many of them.

His only hope for a substantial share of Tuesday’s vote is if voters become angry at the increasingly negative ads being run on behalf of his opponents.

“Unfortunately, that is our best chance,” Wilson said, “if people say ‘Enough is enough, we don’t want to reward bad behavior.’”

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