District 6 is a bizarre creature. Stretching in a "C" around
the metro area from Stillwater all the way to St. Cloud, the district
encompasses a huge range of incomes, lifestyles, political philosophies, albeit
a rather narrow range of races – remaining 95 percent white according to census
data. One might assume this variety would mean the region would trend toward
moderation, but like a Coon Rapids-dweller wobbling his way to the F-150 after
bar close, the district has teetered between conservative and liberal
candidates in the last several elections.
For the last eight years, this electoral St. Vitus’ Dance has had a profoundly polarizing effect on Minnesota politics –
Michelle Bachmann. From her position as a Minnesota State Senator, she gave us
a glimpse of the legend that would soon beget the frothing hatred of the
liberally-minded, with vitriol, bile and impotent rage spewing forth across the internet, spilling on to the fabled YouTube and
dripping in a wholly unsavory way upon Larry
King’s already scabrous and soiled lap.
Now, as District 6’s representative in Congress, she’s
baffled many with her slavish devotion to the administration, even in its
declining years, not to mention made some question her sanity with questionable
interpretations of intelligence reports, crusade for freedom of choice in
lighting and firm conviction that Jesus
died for our carbon credits. So it should come as no surprise that she has
some serious opposition in the upcoming race for the District 6 congressional
seat in the form of former Minnesota Commissioner of Transportation Elwyn
Tinklenberg, who also served as mayor of Blaine, consented
to speak with us about why the hell he was willing to risk the fires of Hades
by contesting Bachmann’s
divine right to a congressional seat, as well as what he plans to do in the
short time before he’s struck down for defying the Lord’s mandate if he wins.
The Rake: Why, after watching a better funded Patty
Wetterling lose the last election to Bachmann, did you decide to step in the
Tinklenberg: I think there are a number of
differences from that time to this time. The biggest one is that they now know
who Bachmann is. They know how she votes, how she behaves, what she says. And
all that is demonstrated, in a way that the last campaign wasn’t able to, how
out of touch she is with the values and concerns of the district.
For example, obviously from almost the beginning – her
embrace of the president at the State of the Union, her vote on the childrens’
health initiative, to her defense of the incandescent light bulb. Everything
that people have come to know about her has demonstrated that. She’s voted
against veterans’ benefits, the farm bill, funding for the bridge replacement
in Minneapolis. Every vote has demonstrated that.
The Rake: So why do people keep sending
her back if she’s so completely out of touch?
Tinklenberg: I don’t think the last campaign
succeeded in helping people understand who Michelle Bachmann was. I don’t think
the people of the district understood or knew that much about her. She built
her career on wedge issues and divisive partisan politics. I don’t think that
came out that well in the last campaign. Now on a broader scale they’ve seen
the stories and the votes. I think now it’s different, people are sitting back
and saying "That’s not what we bargained for." And Patty Wetterling won in
Bachmann’s home town. The more they knew about her, the less likely they were
to vote for her.
And I think the other part of this too is that I have some
experience in government, in the district, and with campaigning that are real
assets to my campaign. That helps as well. And the fact that I have the DFL and
independent party endorsements are reflective of the kind of support we have.
It’s her record, and my own, that give me an advantage over the last campaign.
The Rake: Are you
worried that the district demos lend themselves to those wedge issues being
important? Do folks in Anoka sit up at night scared to death of the looming
specter of man-donkey marriage?
Tinklenberg: As long as we leave those issues in a
kind of polarizing debate we’re not going to make any progress. There are other
issues the district is concerned about as well. Especially the economy and
what’s happening in the economy. We saw that when labor stats and employment
stats came out yesterday. Unemployment in Minnesota is at a 25 year high and people
are concerned about what’s going on in the economy and in their own lives. So
there are a lot of issues at play now that weren’t in campaigns of the last few
years. People are looking for solutions and help and a stop to the endless
partisan debate. That’s a huge advantage for what I bring to the campaign. My
experience has been as mayor and commissioner and I bring people together and
build coalitions. I think that’s what the voters are looking for.
Take a look at our records. In the last campaign, Bachmann
talked about things she proposed and introduced in the state legislature, but
what did she accomplish there. Or in the Congress? I can point to things that
we built. The National Sports Center. Light rail. I can point to things that
happened when I was working for Anoka County. I think that stands in pretty
sharp contrast to her record, or lack of it. She’s talked about a couple
issues, but really what has she gotten done that has created jobs or built a
better future for the Sixth District?
She hasn’t wanted to bring any federal dollars for
transportation projects and agriculture continues to be a huge issue. She voted
against the energy bill. What can she actually point to? She voted against the
GI bill and support for our veterans. For so long the Republicans talked about
accountability and results. How about some accountability from them? Look at
what the policies of the administration, which Bachmann supported, have done.
Look at the results. If there was ever a time to ask yourself if you’re better
off for the policies of the Bush administration and Michelle Bachmann, now is
The Rake: Why are you drawing so much
less money than Bachmann? Maybe Bachmann’s god-fearing supporters are already
used to tithing?
Tinklenberg: We’re seeing this all over. The
presidential campaigns have sucked a lot of money out of the system, but we’re
seeing a lot of increase in fundraising recently. The DCCC put 19 Demo candidates on an emerging
races list. Last quarter we outraised all but four of the 19. Two of the four
only outraised us by a couple thousand dollars. And they were all in larger
states where the potential to raise money is greater. It’s an area we continue
to work hard on, and we need to keep pressing on. Patty Wetterling outraised
Bachmann significantly, but she lost. We need to have the funding, but also
need the other things to run a strong campaign. We are seeing more and more
reports that are calling this race competitive.
The Rake: District 6 is one of the fastest growing
districts in the state, and also home to more SUVs per capita than any other
area in the state – causing some growing pains due to the commutes. Got any
answers that don’t involve drilling in Alaska and riding dinosaurs to
Tinklenberg: There are a bunch of things we need to
do. The energy bill that looked at improving CAFÉ standards; we need to
continue moving forward with that. Those standards didn’t increase for 30
years. We’re only achieving in our fleet average in 2025 what Europe is today.
We need to be more aggressive. There are things we can do
with transit. The Northstar corridor goes through the heart of the district,
and 82 percent approve of it. People there will spend less time on the roads as
a result. Providing alternatives like Northstar and bus rapid transit and
investing in our roads will mean less time wasted in traffic and on the roads.
And if we’re advancing research and development of biofuels, hybrids and
alternative fuel vehicles, plus increasing mileage of traditional vehicles, we
can ease the commutes for lots of people. And all of those things will help
bring down the price of oil. Just a 20 percent reduction of demand in June led
to a 50 cent drop in the price of gas. Reducing demand makes a huge impact.
Individual consumers have a significant role they can play. Everyone making
small changes can make a huge impact.
The Rake: How do you make that difference in
Congress when you’re not only just one guy, but you have to cooperate with
asshats from Mississippi? I mean, Chip
Pickering is kind of a dick.
Tinklenberg: I think I have a unique opportunity to
do that. For example, Mr. Oberstar says he will appoint me to the
transportation and infrastructure committee. It’s a large committee, but I’ll
be the only person on the committee who has run a state department of
transportation. And the committee will be taking up the reauthorization of the
Fed transportation bill and there will be a great opportunity there. I’ll get
to have a disproportionate influence because of my background.
I know the system nationwide, I know people in the city, in
the state. I can bring that experience to congress and provide the change,
options and opportunities people need for transit. The Sixth District has the
longest average commutes in MN. These are critical issues for people. I’ll be
able to address that in ways that the incumbent has shown no interest in doing,
nor does she have the background or expertise to do so.
The Rake: Any debates planned?
Tinklenberg: We’ve proposed a bunch of them, but she
has yet to accept them. We have one scheduled at the Monticello Chamber of
Commerce, but that’s the only one currently scheduled. We were supposed to do a
forum style debate at Farm Fest a week ago, but she didn’t go. She didn’t
bother to show up. She doesn’t want to talk about these issues because she
doesn’t have much positive to say about what she has done or what we should be
The Rake:Your opponent seems to have become Larry
King’s go-to conservative, especially on energy issues. You have any plans to
save the world? Or at least drop gas prices?
Tinklenberg: Well let me ask you, why do you think that
is? It’s certainly not because she’s proven herself to be an articulate
or amazing speaker on these issues. The frontlines of these issues are right
here in the district. She doesn’t need to go all over the country to learn
There’re some fabulous things going on in the district.
There’s a company in the district called Blattner – they make wind turbines.
There’s another company called Sartec in Anoka that has developed a process to
harvest algae to make biodiesel. They’ve got a plant under construction in
Isanti. It’s showing great promise. There have been visits from 40 different countries
to the plant and it’s in the Sixth District.
The greatest energy resource in the country is the
innovation of the American people. We need to start tapping into that and
that’s what’s going on here. She’s missing that because she’s stuck on an oil-centered
approach and has voted against everything else.
The Rake: Despite mounds of overblown rhetoric during
the last election about bringing the troops home and making a difference in
national security policy, Democrats in Congress have rolled over and wet
themselves every time the administration comes calling – The Patriot Act,
wiretapping, funding the war in Iraq. What do you plan on doing differently?
Tinklenberg: I think that the initiatives that were
put forward were stymied by the threat of a veto and the lack of votes to
override it. Until we can address that with a new administration and a stronger
majority, the Democrats are kind of stuck. But we do need to push a lot harder
on that agenda.
In terms of Iraq, we’ve got to have a plan for getting out
and getting more support from the region to secure the area. Our presence there
is actually contributing to the instability. That’s why the government there
wants a timetable for withdrawal and the administration has agreed. But it was
disappointing for me to see the vote on the FISA legislation and the exceptions
for the telecommunications industry. I have great concerns for what the
administration has done to civil liberties and the rule of law in the country.
Oversight in congress was severely mismanaged for the entire term in office. We
need to reestablish that and I support doing that.
The Rake: Earlier this summer, approval of Congress polled at 9 percent. Michael Richards would
probably manage to poll better than that, even if you took the survey in
Compton. People’s faith in their government is at an all time low. And why do
you think you can fix it? What do you think you can do.
Tinklenberg: Let me use this as an example. In Blaine
we started talking about what we could do to build a stronger future for the
community. The biggest obstacle was people’s low expectations. That was the
biggest challenge we faced – getting people to believe we could accomplish
something and work together to change our future for the better. That we could
pursue a vision and accomplish it. That’s what we need in Congress and that’s
why our tagline is rebuilding optimism in America. We need to restore people’s
faith that things can be better and tap into people’s vision and hope for the
future. If we do that, we can accomplish remarkable things.
One of the most damaging aspects of this idea that
government is the problem, is the government is actually the way things get
done together. It undercuts having common goals and objectives. Anything that’s
done to downplay what we can achieve in a public project really hurts the
country and our ability to use our government as a way of working together for
the common good and improve.
The Rake: And it may have something to do with government
officials acting like idiots?
Tinklenberg: Well there’s no shortage of that. But I
don’t know that there is any more of that now than any other time in history.
But now that that’s seen as exemplary acts of a bad system they just contribute
to people’s lack of faith.
The Rake: Congress has been trying to regulate
financial markets for decades, and all they’ve managed to accomplish is demonstrating
that the smart people go into the private sector and find ways around
legislation. Given that record, how do you plan on regulating the mortgage
industry, as you mention in your platform, without turning the finance sector
into a complete and utter clusterfuck that will drag the economy down even
Tinklenberg: I think what we’ve seen is that the
regulation of the banking industry has, in general, brought some of the
stability we wanted to see after the fiascos of the 20s and the S&L crisis.
But after that we had these pseudo banking institutions that grew up and didn’t
fall under that legislation. And when you combine that with large amounts of
capital looking for greater amounts of return–you had an environment where
finances were getting more and more complex, mortgages were used as collateral
and sold off again and again. I think there’s a role for regulation in that.
That’s an area that expanded outside of the regulatory framework and we need to
bring it back in. Some of the proposals by people like Barney Frank have been
moderate and continued to support a strong and growing economy, but eliminate
some of the abuses we’ve seen. That’s an appropriate role for government.
It’s why I got involved in government in the first place–the people I worked with in the community. The largest stress in the early 80s
was finding a good job – a job that provided for the family and provided a
chance to get involved in the community. I think we’ve come back to that.
We can see in this the results of the Bush economic and tax
policies. This notion that if we aggregate large amounts of wealth in a smaller
and smaller portion of the population and that it will trickle down to the rest
of the population and provide more and more benefits. But instead we’re seeing
schemes that are about manipulating markets and pursuing more wealth. We need
to get back to policies that support actual production. That’s why I was
disappointed by the economic stimulus plan that was approved. It didn’t build
anything. There was no long-term plan. It was more of the same – buy something
and it’ll be okay. I think if we had taken some of that money and invested it in
our roads and waterways and infrastructure, it would’ve created jobs and
One statistic I remember from my time at the DOT: every
billion we invest in infrastructure creates 47,500 jobs. That’s a Federal
Highway Administration statistic. And we borrowed $160 billion and sent it to
people and encouraged them to buy a TV. I think we need a longer term, more
robust economic strategy than that.
The Rake: Do you think it would’ve been a different
plan if it wasn’t an election year?
Tinklenberg: I don’t know. I think it could’ve been a
better plan. I did a press conference a while back and called for a second
stimulus plan that would make the kind of investments I’m talking about. The
best economic stimulus is a good job. We need to get back to building an
economy that provides good jobs for people.
The Rake: We’re staring at a $900 billion budget
deficit. What the hell do you do with that? Just give in and hand the Chinese a
couple movie studios, a few hundred thousand copies of Windows XP and some DVD
porn and call it even?
Tinklenberg: You have to fix it slowly. It’s not
something that’s going to happen overnight. The first thing you do when you
find yourself in a hole is stop digging. We need to take seriously the fiscal
responsibility we have as elected officials and start being serious about
setting priorities and how we fund those. It’s going to be hard. I’ve been
endorsed by the Blue Dogs.
They’ve been talking about this, pushing responses to this – both on the
spending side and the revenue side. McCain called Bush’s tax cuts, especially
to the wealthy, abominable. I think the tax cuts to people making over $250,000
need to be allowed to expire. And we need to refocus tax incentives around job
creation, research and development, infrastructure – create the jobs of the
future. Growth needs to be a part of the strategy as well.
The Rake: But is growth actually a strategy?
Our esteemed leader has been talking about growing our way out of this mess for
Tinklenberg: We have to be proactive about this. We
need to put policies in place that grow the economy. The Bush economic plan has
been a colossal failure. The idea that doing a little more of it will somehow
be better is the definition of insanity. We have to do those things that will
support growth in the economy. We’ve had two straight years of job losses in
the manufacturing sector so we need to do what we can to support growth there
and put policies in place to support the housing sector as well.
One of the places the Bush administration policies has
really failed the future is in research and development. When he talked about
the importance of switch grass and renewables and a hydrogen economy, he cut
funding to the research. The role of government in innovation is critical for
our economy. When you don’t fund that you put yourself way behind. Those things
take years to develop. We’ll be making up for the failures of this
administration to invest in innovation for years to come. The way we build the
energy and economy of the future is the innovation and R&D funding of the
The Rake: On healthcare, it looks a little like you
want to have your morphine and take it too — a low-priced public option
available to everyone while keeping private insurers around? A lot of
economists seem to think you can’t have universal coverage via a public plan
without having single payer – what conservatives and those odd creatures known
as Canadians call socialized medicine.
What makes you think otherwise?
Tinklenberg: Some of the work that John Edwards did was
good work. Some of what’s going on in Massachusetts is a good starting point.
We saw what happened to the Clinton proposal several years ago. We didn’t move
forward on that. So I think you need to continue to allow private companies to
make insurance available, but there’s a public backstop. I think that’s a good
option and a way for us to get moving on universal coverage. The idea is that
you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I thought the Edwards
proposal offered a way forward. And that provided the option of a government
While I think business needs to share the cost of
healthcare, I think it needs to be portable. It has to go with the person, not
The Rake: How do you pay for that sort of backstop?
Tinklenberg: How do you pay now? People still get
sick now. We just pay for emergency room visits instead of doing preventive
care. The money is still being sunk into the system, we’re just rationalizing
it. We’re paying for it in higher premiums, various welfare programs, medical
assistance programs. It’s not about bringing more money to the table. The
system is currently as expensive as it can be.
The Rake: Here in the U.S., we still generally regard
ourselves as the world’s greatest superpower. But the conflict in Georgia has
made it seem that we’re actually somewhat powerless on the world stage. Where
once we stood proudly erect, we now slump limply – weak and impotent.
Tinklenberg: I think it’s true. We have, on a number
of different fronts, undermined our strength. We’ve undermined our moral
authority because of Guantanamo. We’ve undermined our strength because of the
drain in Iraq and our economic policies. Because of the fact that we are so
much in debt to so many foreign governments – in terms of energy, of currency.
It’s made us vulnerable. It has undermined our security and I think that’s
going to be problematic in terms of the strength of our response – militarily
and diplomatically, if people see us as a paper tiger because we’re vulnerable
militarily or economically or from a global perspective/reputation. And that’s
a direct result of the Bush foreign policy.
This is the thing that amazes me. I was in D.C. on Sept 11.
We were stuck there and out on the Mall looking at the smoke coming up from the Pentagon. And one of the things that provided comfort in the aftermath was what
we were hearing from around the world. The French president actually said,
"Today we are all Americans." There was incredible strength in that. And we
lost it in no time at all. All of a sudden we were talking about freedom
fries and lost so many of our allies and pursuing a unilateralist policy. That
was a part of the erosion of our strength. And then following on that the
exhaustion of our military deployment in the Iraq war.
That’s going to be an important issue for the next Congress.
Rebuilding that strength, militarily and diplomatically is a huge thing to
tackle for the next administration and Congress.
The Rake: Michelle Bachmann – direct connection to God
or just bat-shit crazy?
Tinklenberg: Ah, I don’t know. As someone who started
my life as a United Methodist minister, that old advice about walking humbly
applies to me. I’ve tried to heed that. So I try to be careful about implying
that somehow I’m able to define God’s will for everyone else. I do it badly
enough for myself, so that advice to walk humbly is important.