Labor-endorsed Tobolt seeks council seat without help from shadowy ‘reform’ groups

[This report by Larry Sillanpa is adapted from his column, “A View from the Ditch,” in the July 22 edition of the Labor World, a Duluth-based publication Sillanpa edits.]

Megan Boldt and Darren Tobolt address union leaders in Duluth. (Labor World photo)

Megan Boldt and Darren Tobolt address union leaders in Duluth. (Labor World photo)

DULUTH – It seemed like a stretch – a St. Paul City Council candidate was coming to Duluth to talk about how corporate “school reformers” are trying to gain a foothold in Minnesota, including in his Ward 2 race. Turns out it’s not a stretch. We should know better by now. It’s already happened in Minneapolis, and it may be coming up I-35 to a town you know and love.

Darren Tobolt has a long list of labor endorsements in his first bid for office. But if you’ve been paying attention to how electoral politics are run in America now, you know big money is heavily invested to protect corporate interests. Much of it is that “dark money” that never sees the light of day.

Deep pockets have now even turned their attention to elections for courts, judges and local races to try to have laws interpreted and policies dictated that will be good returns on their investments. Right to work laws are now being heard on the local level. ALEC’s hard at work.

Megan Boldt works in public affairs for Education Minnesota and came to town with Tobolt to talk about the new campaign to take over local governments. There are many “reform” groups that have surfaced that have political committees, she said. They have nice, soft names like Teach for America, Stand for Children and Campaign for Achievement Now. Just one of them showed $90 million on its 2013 federal 990 form, Boldt said. But they also have private foundations with undisclosed assets involved in politics. In just two recent Minneapolis school board elections their network invested $250,000.

“Ninety-five percent of that money came from millionaires outside the state,” Boldt told a breakfast gathering in the Labor Temple July 17.

The network is made of organizations that hate unions, but love charter schools, privatization, less regulation and oversight, and want to be able to award contracts to vendors who are their friends.

Asked why he thought his race was being targeted Tobolt replied, “I don’t think they’re targeting me, but they know I’ll be an advocate for unions.” He said it’s an easy entrance into local government for them and they have a good candidate that they know is one of their own. A no-brainer for them. They do it because they can. Giving money is easy for them.

Boldt said the network hasn’t made positive inroads on the state level in Minnesota, which makes them want to “buy seats” in local government to move their friends into positions of power.

“They anoint candidates so their deep pocketed friends will know who to give to,” said Boldt. But it goes far beyond that. Teach for America’s agenda seeks to get 250 alumni elected this year, but also wants alumni to get jobs in every Congressional district office to influence policy.

“They’ll come right up (I-) 35 and try it in Duluth, that’s why this matters,” said Boldt.  She said in Minneapolis candidates had portrayed themselves as progressives but were actually for things like voter ID amendments. One was a lawyer working against SEIU organizing home health care workers.

North East Area Labor Council President Alan Netland reminded everyone of how Stanley Hubbard used his deep pockets to back St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg’s U.S. Senate campaign.

Duluth School Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp thanked Tobolt and Boldt for making the connection between schools and city councils. “Public schools are important for our neighborhoods, and I hope we have city councilors say the same thing in support of public schools.”

Tobolt said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has done a good job of trying to partner with the schools.

“Brooklyn Center is a good example of the city, county and schools working together,” Tobolt said. “Our rec centers are community centers.”

Tobolt figures his race will go right down to the Nov. 3 General Election. He said campaigns have to make financial disclosures in September, but they don’t have to do it again after that until the election is over. He knows how much money his opponent will be able to raise in that time.

No, it’s not a stretch. You can look for that kind of activity in your community too because money’s not a problem, even though it is the problem. Voting’s always a good idea. Work on it with someone you care about who doesn’t care about it. Every vote helps.


  1. John Slade says:

    As a supporter of the labor movement, and a former candidate for St. Paul City Council, I was very interested in this article, but it seems to be missing one part – who is getting supported, in what way, by corporate education groups in the Ward 2 race? There’s no ‘there’ there.

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