A month from now the nine-person scramble that is the DFL Senate race will be narrowed down considerably.
Former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, who was defeated in the DFL primary for attorney general in 1998, is one of four candidates who has pledged to abide by the decision of the June 2-4 DFL endorsing convention in Rochester. In Brainerd Monday to meet with Crow Wing County DFLers, Lillehaug said he hopes to win the endorsement and face the three remaining "serious" candidates in a Sept. 12 primary.
Also pledging to abide by the convention's endorsement are Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, Steve Miles, and Sen. Jerry Janezich, DFL-Chisholm. Preparing to run in the primary are Rebecca Yanisch, Mike Ciresi and Mark Dayton. The candidates Lillehaug described as not "serious" are Dick Franson and Ole Savior.
"It's very confusing," he admitted.
The task before Lillehaug is to find a way to stand out in such a crowded field. He will make note of his experience in prosecuting drug dealers as U.S. attorney, but said he realizes "we can't arrest our way out of society's problems." The drug abuse problem has to be dealt with from the demand side of the equation, he said, lessening the users' desire for illicit chemicals.
"We have to give them hope and opportunity," he said.
While a primary fight is a virtual certainty, Lillehaug doesn't relish the idea. He said he was somewhat heartened by Minnesota's political history in which wealthy candidates have not fared all that well.
"It would be much better for Democrats to unify in June," he said. "It's not a good thing to fight through Sept. 12."
Getting the big money out of politics is one of the issues Lillehaug emphasizes. He wants to see campaign reforms such as banning soft money, offering free broadcast time to candidates, partial government funding of primary elections and full government funding of general elections for federal candidates.
Another theme is making sure no one is left behind in today's booming economy. One way to ensure that is to solve the problem of rising health care costs. Congress needs to pass the Patient Bill of Rights, and the disparity in medicine prices between the U.S. and Canada must be addressed, Lillehaug said. He also wants to help the 45 million people who are uninsured and wants to raise the minimum wage.
He opposes the move to privatize Social Security, noting that current workers are paying for the generation that is retired now and he has not seen where the extra money for private investing is going to come from.
"They also assume the stock market is going to be hunky-dory," Lillehaug said.
Lillehaug said he would be a strong, credible alternative to Republican Sen. Rod Grams. He said he wants to rekindle the interest of young people in politics.
"A lot of them have been turned off by the influence of wealth and power in the system. We're really reaching out for young people."
The key is being straightforward, which is something that Gov. Jesse Ventura excelled at in his 1998 gubernatorial campaign.
"Young people have great BS detectors," Lillehaug said.
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