Speaking With Rob Hahn

Rob Hahn is definitely on the fringe as far as political candidates go. He’s neither a Democrat nor Republican, but rather running as an Independence Party gubernatorial hopeful. And, he’s not even that party’s endorsed candidate, though he could wind up as the top choice of voters in the Aug. 10 primary.

Hahn, though, has at least a couple of things going for him in his longshot bid to succeed Gov. Tim Pawlenty. For starters, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, as he did recently when he called teacher’s tenure a “joke” during a recent campaign stop. And, as a third-party candidate, he almost certainly has a better shot than he would in most years, simply because of the current political environment.

I spoke with Hahn on the phone for roughly half an hour last week, talking about both his background and thoughts on a host of issues. A native of Winona and a roughly 20-year resident of St. Paul, he told me he started a small publishing business 14 years ago and, though he’s “always voted and followed politics,” he’s “never been actively involved with any party.” But one issue stood to him when making the decision to run for high office — the need for a charismatic leader who will back up talk on issues with action.

Hahn isn’t afraid to state his opinions, and his views on education represent one example — though he said he didn’t mean to lump all teachers together when making his remarks about tenure.

“I’m not saying that every teacher is like that,” said Hahn, adding later: “Unions have their place in education, but we have to adapt to the changing times. They can’t have this scare-tactic, strangle hold over the state.” He favors implementation of some type of performance-pay program for teachers.

Hahn has one way of differentiating himself from endorsed Independence Party candidate Tom Horner. Horner, he alleged, “conveniently switched” from a prior longtime affiliation with the Republican Party. “I object to someone trying to portray themselves as a true Independent when they’re not. … That shouldn’t be someone going through ‘political rehab,’ or a “recovering Republican.’”

And, Hahn added, this is a good year for an insurgent candidate of sorts, just as when Jesse Ventura made his surprise surge to election in 1998.

“He (Ventura) had the notoriety, he had the name recognition, but if he had not said what he said, he wouldn’t have gotten elected,” Hahn said, comparing Ventura’s outspoken style to his own. “Furthermore, he had two ensconced politicians running against him. … It’s got to be the right political climate, and I certainly think we’ve gotten this year. I’m willing to take on different issues, and not afraid to take on the messy issues.”

The biggest issue for Hahn — as it should be for anyone seeking any state office — is the budget. Hahn believes one way of coping with Minnesota’s red ink is reforming the way many services are delivered; for instance, instead of 87 different counties offering the same things, having them offered via six different regions. He said it would possible to save as much as $4.5 billion a biennium through such changes, “but it’s going to take time.”
Hahn also believes in the importance of making the state more tax-friendly (“without giving away the house, obviously”) and reducing capital gains, “especially when it comes to investment in Minnesota start-up companies.” He also is a proponent of introducing riverboat gambling in the state.

“With six boats in Minnesota, we could generate between $400 to $600 million for the state that’s pure profit,” he stated. “We could partner with Native American tribes, particularly some that haven’t benefitted (from gambling already).

“We’ve got so much gaming in the state, I really think it’s time the state gets a piece of it.”

I would be remiss in writing that Hahn’s running mate is Thomas Harens, who grew up in Worthington and actually ran for President in 2004. At some point, I’ll probably right a blog about Harens — I visited with him briefly a couple of weeks back, and there’s definitely some material there.

As for more on Hahn, though, other points of interest are family law reform and advancing a Vikings stadium. More about the candidate can be learned at www.hahn2010.com.