Greener than green

District 60 House race shapes up as test of liberal credentials

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Now that the primary is over, the race for the District 60 state Senate seat in some respects is a contest to see which of the two men still standing is the greenest.

DFL Rep. Scott Dibble will compete in the Nov. 5 general election with Green Party candidate Nick Granath. Senate District 60 represents Bryn Mawr, Lowry Hill, Lowry Hill East, East Isles, Kenwood, CIDNA, West Calhoun, ECCO, CARAG, East Harriet, Linden Hills, Tangletown, Fulton and parts of Lyndale, Kingfield and Lynnhurst.

The Republicans and Independence Party, meanwhile, did not field candidates for the seat being vacated by retiring DFL Sen. Myron Orfield.

Granath acknowledges he and Dibble, an avowed liberal, share many basic positions, especially on the environment, civil rights and economic justice. Granath said it's really a question of who is willing to go the distance to fulfill a truly "green" agenda.

["Dibble] has done good work," Granath said. "Is he greener? Yeah, that's great. But is he willing to go to these places? I haven't seen him do that, and I haven't seen him represent that he's going to do that."

Granath also noted that Dibble is looking to make the switch to the Senate after only one term as the District 60B state representative.

"I think one of the most important questions you can ask Scott Dibble," Granath said, "is why does he deserve a promotion?"

Dibble, 37, has likened his first two years in office to his first two years in college. And as a student of politics, he said, he's done fine.

"As a freshman in the minority, the way you craft and push legislation is to sign on as coauthor, walking halls, building relationships, adding to the ideas and doing the work with your colleagues," Dibble said. "I think I've been extremely successful in that capacity."

Dibble's record

In Dibble's nearly two years in the House, he has issued 22 pieces of legislation as chief author. None of them has passed. He has had better luck with some of the 160 bills he's co-signed, including one that limited telemarketing solicitations. But he has fared poorly when his name is out front. DFL primary opponent Rick Roche tried to make that an issue, saying it is indicative of failure. Dibble beat Roche 85 percent to 15 percent.

A pair of Republicans, asked for their assessment, said it's too early to say much about Dibble.

"It would be the same thing whether we're talking about a Democrat or a Republican," said Sarah Janacek, a GOP lobbyist and co-editor of the Politics in Minnesota newsletter. "There's just not enough time in one term to get anything accomplished."

Bob Gunther, a GOP House member from Fairmont who has signed on with Dibble on two pieces of legislation, agreed to some extent. But Gunther insisted that Dibble's failure to pass his own bills was not due to Republican control of the House; many of Dibble's bills just didn't have enough support.

"This isn't a case of the big, bad Republicans not giving him a hearing," Gunther said.

"I'm not surprised [Gunther] answered that way," Dibble said. "He's in the majority party and of course they're going to claim that they're extremely fair. But they're not. … I got very few hearings on my bills."

Dibble said his status as an overtly gay legislator has helped impinge on his ability to get some legislation through the gates.

In one case, he said he crafted a bill to reduce violence in school -- a measure aimed at all kids but with particular relevance for young gays. Dibble said he did the virtually all the work, but opted not to put his name on the final bill for fear of Republican backlash.

"To put my name on that legislation would have attracted all kinds of unnecessary, over-the-top opposition," he said.

He won't need to work so much behind the scenes when he is elected to the Senate, Dibble predicted, where DFLers currently enjoy an eight-vote majority.

"I can serve as the lead author [on bills] and have a reasonable expectation to receive a hearing and a reasonable shot to convince the majority of my colleagues to vote in the affirmative," he said.

The greening of Granath

Dibble's opponent is a former Plymouth City Councilmember who beat a heavily favored Republican opponent by a mere six votes back in the early 1990s. He's hoping to repeat the feat.

Granath, 40, was born in Minnetonka to an attorney father and a mother who sometimes taught school. He followed his father's footsteps into labor law, though as an attorney he represents labor's side of the table while his dad used to represent management.

"Dad is a conservative Republican," Granath said. "We have some pretty interesting conversations."

The Greens have not endorsed Granath because he waited too long to see who might run, said state party chair Cameron Gordon. An endorsement still could happen at the next party meeting in October, he said.

Gordon said Granath is a particularly valuable Green candidate because he knows how to campaign and already has proven he can be elected. "That's pretty rare in this party," he said.

Granath said he joined the party nearly two years ago, after the 2000 presidential election fiasco.

"That was the time in recent memory when the failures of the Democratic Party, in terms of its continual drift to the right to accommodate the Republicans and its failure to provide even a loyal opposition, became so obvious that it became possible to lose to a candidate like Bush," he said.

If elected, Granath said he wouldn't limit his sights to District 60. For instance, Granath wants to enact state laws to help reverse the melting of the polar ice caps.

Everything, Granath said, is connected.

"You can't have freedom without justice and you can't have economy without ecology," Granath said. "To me, this is what is relevant to District 60, and this is what I tell people when I'm door-knocking."

Granath knows he is an underdog, but he has a wider scope. He said he considers himself "a foot soldier" in the Green Party's effort to create a sea change in the body politic, by giving a new voice to liberal issues that the Democrats have abandoned.

"Until the public sees candidates out there talking about this and presenting these options, I don't know that the focus that's necessary to take place is going to happen," Granath said. "If everybody sits back in their garage and hugs their SUV, we're not going to get there."