On the Wednesday, January 2, the night before winter term’s commencement, Al Franken and various democratic candidates and politicians stood before the enormous crowd of Carleton students in Sayles-Hill campus center. Also the eve of a special election for state senate, Franken and the politicians appealed to the student vote and endorsed the now victorious state senator, Northfield resident Kevin Dahle.
The politicians promoted the democratic political agenda and strongly encouraged students to claim their right to vote. The rally proved influential when numerous students headed to the polls the following day. The UCC Church, Carleton’s main precinct, saw 909 voters, at least half of who were probably Carleton students. This high turnout was perhaps controversial in Northfield, where Republican supporters of former senator Ray Cox have spoken out against college student participation in the District 25 elections.
Whether due to the presence of influential, albeit controversial, national figure Franken, the desire to become further informed about or show support for Dahle, or the wish to participate in local elections, among other possibilities, the political rally drew an enormous gathering of students. An estimated one third of the College’s population filled both tiers of Sayles-Hill.
Democratic politicians at the rally included Senator Teryl Clark, U.S. Congressman Tim Walz, and U.S. Senate candidate and Emmy Award winning comedian Al Franken. All cast support behind the recently elected Senator Dahle, who faced an election against former senator Cox the following day. “We’re [the democrats] going to take this country back,” Franken proclaimed at the rally. “And it starts tomorrow. By electing another teacher, another coach.”
Senator Clark initiated the rally, appealing to student political participation with her opening statement, “Get more students on board. You have led the nation on voting.” She alluded that the government has a tendency to set special elections at times when students are not at school or when they have recently arrived on campus, creating obstacles to participation.
Congressman Walz echoed Senator Clark’s sentiments, telling students, “The most important thing in democracy is casting a vote.” He promoted Dahle and the democratic agenda. “We’re not just telling you that its about just electing democrats. We’re here telling you that its about electing leaders,” Walz said, jokingly adding, “It just happens that right now it is only the democrats that fit that description.”
Franken spoke next and continued along the trend of expressing disillusionment with leadership in Washington and advocating the Democratic Party. After endorsing Dahle, Franken described his hopes for the United States, which he sees as having fallen under extreme ideology.
“Those of you who are freshmen were eleven when Bush was elected. You may not know that a president can be articulate,’ Franken said. “You may not know that a federal government can work, because you’ve seen Iraq and you’ve seen Katrina. And what’s saddest is that you may not remember that the United States was once on of the most respected countries in the world. Well, it can be again.”
Franken was optimistic for the future of United States’ and emphasized the importance of the Iowa presidential caucuses, which were to occur the following day. “I believe the next president will be a democrat, and I believe that will be the start of us reclaiming our country,” he said. Franken went on to praise Dahle and then passed the microphone to the State Senate candidate.
A Minnesota resident, Dahle began his teaching career in 1984 and has taught civics, economics, political science, and social psychology at Northfield high school for more than 15 years. He has also coached wrestling for a number of years. Dahle drew on his active role in the community for support and promised improvements in education, healthcare and environmental policy if he was to be elected. “You have a great opportunity to make this change,” Dahle said, again encouraging student political participation. “You deserve every right to vote and you should not be disenfranchised by this governor.”
The continual theme of promoting student voting perhaps came as a response to recent resistance to college student participation in the community voting. On January 2, the day of the rally, LTE New Prague Times printed the Republican ad, “We, the residents of District 25 will decide our state senator choice, not the college students of Carleton and St. Olaf..”
The Montgomery Messenger printed a similar message on January 3, the day of the special election for State Senate. A campaign ad for Ray Cox states, “If the tax-paying residents who live, work and make up the community life of Le Sueur, Rice, Scott and Sibley counties need a reason to vote for Ray Cox for State Senator, just read the following.” An email from president of the Carleton Democrats Pablo Kenney ’08 follows, in which Kenney encourages the Carleton Democrats to vote and emphasizes the potential impact of the student population. The ad concludes by commenting on Kenney’s email: “We, the residents of District 25, will decide our State Senator choice, not the college students of Carleton and St. Olaf.”
The advertisement was paid and prepared by a private citizen. By all accounts, Cox was not aware of the advertisement before it was published.
Kenney is not aware of how his email reached The Montgomery Messenger, but stated, “They were able to edit my capitalization, but they couldn’t take the time to edit my name or email [address out]. I think I would take the time to make sure someone had more privacy, especially when their email was printed without permission.”
Kenney says he received private emails arguing that college students should not be permitted to vote, which generally expressed concerns that students vote and then move away, leaving problems for native Minnesotans.
“If you leave, its very likely that someone like you will come back,” Kenney said in response. “You’re voting for the students at Carleton, and while we’re not all alike, we share many of the same interests…We live here nine months of the year, we eat here, we sleep here, we’re affected by laws and taxes. If we’re not residents here, then we’re not residents anywhere.”
Within the whirlwind of the debate, a large number of students did vote on January 3. A shuttle service carried Carleton students from Sayles-Hill to the two main polling locations every thirty minutes throughout the day. Student voting is measured by same-day voter registration. In District 25, same-day voter registration accumulated to 90 percent of the numbers that participated in the 2006 election, signifying an impressive turnout on the part of students.
Senator-Elect Dahle was announced the winner of the election that evening. Dahle and Cox ran neck-and-neck in the western part of the district. In Northfield, the last city to report results, Dahle pushed ahead by taking nearly 72 percent of the votes.
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