Pipers get political: Sen. John Marty speaks at National Voter Registration Day

Jackie Bussjaeger, Editor-in-Chief

If politics don’t quite get your attention, this senator’s bowtie might. Last Tuesday, Hamline’s chapter of MPIRG invited Senator John Marty (DFL) to speak on campus in honor of National Voter Registration Day. With the Minnesota local election right around the corner, MPIRG has been trying to spread the word and make voter registration forms available to students since the semester began.

Students were invited to come by Anderson 112 to enjoy some pizza and dessert, complete their registration for this district, and listen to a few words from Sen. Marty, who serves as the representative of the Hamline Midway and surrounding communities. First elected in 1986, Marty described his political history, including his involvement with MPIRG when he was an undergraduate at St. Olaf. He also explained what he thought were Minnesota’s biggest challenges in moving forward, and why it is essential that young people be interested in government elections.

“The nation’s founders wouldn’t think much of democracy’s progress,” Marty said. “People hear less about politics, because at a certain point they think, ‘Ah, heck with politics. It’s dirty, it’s messy, it’s nasty.’ They tune it out.”

Marty explained how this is a dangerous frame of mind, because if voters are not acting for their own best interests, corporations will take advantage of their indifference.

“We’ve lost our ability to believe we can change things,” he said.

He believes that the Supreme Court rulings surrounding the First Amendment in the past have been a step in the wrong direction, and he wants to see the problem corrected with a constitutional amendment, although he realizes it would be an enormous amount of work to see it pass.

“We gotta get our democracy back and work on that aggressively,” he said. “If we don’t do it, the Koch brothers and their money will choose things for us. The biggest problem is not crooked people, but a corrupt system.”

Besides his First Amendment concerns, Marty’s key interests include healthcare and sustainable energy. He discussed his proposed Minnesota Health Plan, which would cover healthcare costs statewide.
“Covering everybody for health care isn’t rocket science,” Marty said. “Thirty countries in the world already do that. Why is that not possible here?” He suggested that health care ought to be handled like other public services, such as the police department, the fire department and public education.

He also addressed the need for environmentally friendly energy sources, and wants to set a goal for Minnesota to be the first state in the nation with a fossil-free economy. He called for immediate action, saying, “Your generation has fewer choices every year because of our failure to work on it now.” He said that the Minnesota Energy Commission, which is composed of 20 members of the House and Senate, includes nine or ten individuals who do not believe that climate change is an issue.

Despite this statistic, Marty believes that the best investment for better-paying jobs in Minnesota would be renewable energy. Since Minnesota spends up to $18 million a year importing its fuel, and because it’s becoming cheaper to construct the equipment necessary to harness wind and solar energy, Marty believes that a fossil-free economy will be the most ideal future.

“We’d be transferring dollars that we ship out of state to buy fuel to burn, and replacing it with money going to in-state jobs created by more power sources,” he said. “The best way to create jobs is to invest in the future of society and human potential.”

After his speech, Marty opened the floor to questions and comments from the attendees. Besides members of MPIRG, only a couple of Hamline students were present, which seemed to emphasize Marty’s point on the decline of student interest in politics.

MPIRG is actually a non-partisan organization, and its leaders have expressed that they are more concerned that students are participating in the vote than they are about whose name students check on the ballot. Junior and MPIRG member Ellen Brand said that the organization was able to collect almost 250 names of students who agreed to register, and they hope to increase that number as the election draws nearer.
Junior and MPIRG member Katie Jerome agreed, saying that this is a particularly good election for first-time participation.

“It’s not like the Marriage Amendment; I don’t think there’s any big ticket issues,” Jerome said. “It’s low stakes, so it’s like a practice election, but it’s still important. You don’t have to be so stressed out.”

MPIRG hosted the event in conjunction with the Wesley Center, and together they plan on continuing to make the election more available to students. In the coming weeks, they will be trying to organize transportation to voting centers, getting information to students, providing pamphlets for information about the candidates and continuing the registrations.

For more information on voter registration on campus, email hampirg@gmail.com. MPIRG meets weekly at 4:15 in GLC 141S.