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Opponents say Kiffmeyer too partisan

ST. PAUL -- Mary Kiffmeyer's challengers in the Minnesota secretary of state race leave no doubt about their major complaint with her -- she is too partisan.

ST. PAUL -- Mary Kiffmeyer's challengers in the Minnesota secretary of state race leave no doubt about their major complaint with her -- she is too partisan.

"She has, frankly, turned it into a partisan office," DFL candidate Hubert "Buck" Humphrey said. "I will not have one political person working in the elections division."

If Kiffmeyer produced a voters' guide like she wants, added Dean Alger of the Independence Party, no one would have confidence it was fair.

"If we have the intensely partisan Kiffmeyer, that would scare the hell out of anybody," he said.

Alger, Humphrey and others use two incidents to show the Republican Kiffmeyer makes decisions based on her party affiliation.


One was two years ago when the DFL decided to hold its precinct caucuses on a weekend instead of Tuesday, as required by law. Kiffmeyer released information about Tuesday night caucuses, primarily Republican ones, but not the DFL ones.

"If you are chief election officer and one of the most major old parties are holding their caucuses, you inform the public," said Alger, a former Moorhead State University professor. "This is not like some absolute law."

"I think it is appalling," Humphrey added.

The other example is when she allowed Greg Wersal to use his wife's maiden name (Carlson) on the ballot in an effort to attract Scandinavian voters.

"That is as dramatic as it gets," Alger said.

Kiffmeyer disputed the partisan claims. She said she hires people based on their ability, not on their politics. Besides, she said, her opponents can't find other reasons to criticize her, so they snipe at her alleged partisanship.

As for the DFL caucuses, Kiffmeyer said that state law requires them to be on Tuesdays, so she had no option other than to ignore the illegal caucuses.

"I have to rule according to how the rule is written, not how I would like it to be," she said. "You do take an oath of office to uphold the law. ... Why should I put myself at risk of going to court and losing?"


When she ruled Wersal could use his wife's maiden name on the ballot, she said she did not have the authority to dispute the name he gave her.

Many in Minnesota politics think Kiffmeyer has her eyes set on the governor's office. Since she was sworn in, Democrats have complained about her.

But Kiffmeyer said she has made many improvements in the office since taking over from Democrat Joan Growe Jan. 4, 1999. The Republican trumpeted Minnesota's nation-leading voter turnout in 2000 and good marks given the election by Common Cause.

New computer systems -- which Humphrey and Alger say don't work -- have improved the office, Kiffmeyer said. The office's Internet site, www.sos.state.mn.us , has undergone a complete overhaul, including adding two areas for children.

Kiffmeyer said she wants to put a voters' guide on the Internet to give Minnesotans better access to candidate information.

However, Alger said people would not have confidence in a guide Kiffmeyer produces. He suggested using outside experts with no partisan connection, as well as an advisory committee, to produce such a guide.

Alger is a former political science professor, who was in Moorhead about 10 years, and now is a Twin Cities consultant and author. For most recent elections, he has been a commentator on radio and television stations around Minnesota.

Alger's passion is campaign reform.


While Alger questions Kiffmeyer's ability to be fair, there is a bit of the same feeling toward Humphrey, grandson of the late vice president and senator of the same name.

"Buck, even though he is a nice guy, is still an intense partisan," Alger said, adding, "He hasn't paid a lot of dues."

Humphrey is making his first stab at public office, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, who was Minnesota attorney general and ran for governor four years ago.

"I was taught at my dinner table that public service was the highest calling..." Humphrey said. "I was never pushed toward politics. In fact, I would argue that in the first 20 years of my life I was running from office and for cover."

Humphrey, who said he has no "notions or dreams" of higher office, said his name is good for him because it "is synonymous with good and great public service."

Humphrey said he is for what he calls "no-fault voting." That is allowing anyone to use an absentee ballot, not just those who expect to be far away from the polls on Election Day.

Alger suggested setting up voting machines around the state that could be used by any voter to cast ballots for their home precinct.

Kiffmeyer, however, said she wants absentee voting to remain as is. Voters should find time to vote in their home precinct on Election Day, she said.


"You take more time to get your hair cut, to get the oil changed in your car, to pick out a video than it does to vote," she said.

A fourth candidate in the race, Andrew Koebrick, hasn't been seen much in the campaign. However, the Green Party candidate did gain the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.

Koebrick is a librarian and database manager for a state agency. He wants to make Election Day a state holiday and to enact "instant run-off voting," where voters rank the candidates in their order of preference so if the first choice does not win, the vote rolls over to the second pick. Instant run-offs would eliminate primary elections. He also would eliminate charges imposed on businesses when they register with the secretary of state.

The secretary of state serves four years and is paid $66,169 a year.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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