Copyright 1994 Star Tribune.

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Mike Hatch: DFL candidate for governor

Date published: August 17, 1994

By Allen Short
Staff Writer

The twin-engine five-seater is cruising at 220 miles per hour above Minnesota's Red River Valley, an agricultural cornucopia obscured this August morning by an opaque mantle of gray clouds. DFLer Mike Hatch, a former state commerce commissioner and would-be nominee for governor, is taking his message to corn country.

The roar of the plane's engines is deafening. But whether he's on the ground in St. Paul or a mile above the croplands of western Minnesota, Hatch is willing to shout to be heard.

"I'm the only candidate with any rural connections," he says. "The only one who's come out here and talked about rural development. You can't win this thing if you don't get out and meet people."

As always, he's emphatic - about his DFL and Independent-Republican opponents, as well as about Mike Hatch.

On this day, his target is Gov. Arne Carlson and his veto of a bill that would have boosted construction of ethanol plants and created jobs in rural Minnesota. Hatch will deliver broadsides against Carlson in Fargo, N.D., Alexandria, Mankato and Rochester. A stop in Sioux Falls, S.D., fails to interest the local news media.

Accompanying Hatch on the plane is Andy Quinn, a Litchfield farmer and member of the board of directors of the Minnesota Corn Growers' Association, a mostly Independent-Republican group that Quinn says is not involved in today's trip.

Once a political operative for former Gov. Rudy Perpich, Quinn believes that Hatch is the only gubernatorial primary candidate in either party with an eye out for the farmer. The corn growers want increased economic incentives for ethanol production, and Hatch has promised to supply them if he's elected.

There's a carafe of steaming coffee tucked in the back of the plane; it keep Hatch's engines running. Except for a midafternoon hot dog at the Rochester airport, he eats nothing, but seems to gain energy as the day wears on. As Perpich's commerce commissioner from 1982 until 1989, he was known as a tireless executive who kept long office hours.

A long time to get organized

He wasn't always so dedicated. As a young man in Duluth, Hatch dropped out of college several times and eventually wandered into the merchant marine, unsure of who he was or where he was headed. When his mother died in 1967 he returned to Duluth to care for his alcoholic father and to finish college.

"I was no Boy Scout, and I have no Horatio Alger story. Until my mother died [of complications from alcoholism], I wasn't ready, I never grew up. When I got back out of the merchant marine, I decided I'd better go do something. I came back and I took care of my father. I spent two years busting my butt, taking all those credits, working and taking care of him at the same time. My college experience was definitely different than for others."

He earned a political science degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1970 and graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School three years later.

Today he's neat as a trial lawyer in his charcoal Brooks Brothers suit and starched white shirt. The conservative, patterned silk tie stays knotted all day in deference to the TV cameras and newspaper photographers gathered in the airport conference rooms where Hatch gives a brief speech and answers questions. Before the plane lands in Fargo, site of the day's first news conference, Quinn hands the candidate a shiny brass lapel pin in the shape of an ear of corn.

An advocate for ethanol

In his four news conferences, Hatch slams Carlson for handing hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to Northwest Airlines and the owners of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but turning his back on the ethanol industry's request for a $10 million appropriation "to create hundreds of jobs in rural Minnesota and help our farmers."

Hatch has positioned himself as a middle-of-the-road candidate, a moderate DFLer who advocates a tough approach on crime and punishment, and increased economic development for outstate Minnesota.

For the most part, his message receives an enthusiastic response. There'll be video of Mike Hatch, Friend of the Farmer, on tens of thousands of rural TV screens tonight. Tomorrow, Hatch will switch gears and issue a scathing attack on DFL rival Tony Bouza, the former Minneapolis police chief.

If Hatch is anything, he's focused. For the remaining few weeks of the primary campaign he'll continue to zero in on Carlson and Bouza. He considers DFL endorsee John Marty too liberal to win the party's primary, and IR endorsee Allen Quist too conservative to prevail in November's general election. "Fringe candidates," he calls them. By targeting Bouza and Carlson, he hopes to win the DFL primary and at the same time increase the odds that Quist, not Carlson, will be his opponent in November.

He's betting what is reputed to be the largest campaign treasury among the DFL candidates - second only to incumbent Carlson's campaign fund - on his hunch. Over the next few weeks, Hatch will spend between $300,000 and $400,000 on radio and TV ads portraying Bouza as soft on crime, and the governor as out of touch with Minnesota beyond the Twin Cities.

He once led the DFL Party

Hatch isn't without strategic experience in such matters. From 1980 to 1982 he presided as chair over a rejuvenated DFL Party that raised more than $1 million a year for the first time in its history. Although its gubernatorial endorsee, Warren Spannaus, lost to the maverick Perpich in the 1982 primary, the party won major gains in the Legislature that year.

Perpich, anxious to build bridges with the DFL after winning the general election, invited Hatch to join his administration as commerce commissioner. The former governor says it was one of the best appointments he ever made, and not just because it helped build solidarity among DFLers.

As commerce commissioner, Hatch bullied and often alienated segments of two of the state's most powerful business groups, the insurance industry and banking interests. He inherited a department that traditionally had shown little concern for consumers of those services. "It was Sleepy Hollow," Hatch recalled in his 1990 memoirs of his days at Commerce.

All that changed, quickly. Hatch was combative. He consolidated and reorganized the department, saving an estimated $500,000 a year. He held frequent news conferences to expose fraud and waste. The kid who was always getting into fights at Duluth East High School had found bigger targets to swing at.

"Mike did a great job," recalled Perpich, echoing a sentiment widely, if reluctantly, acknowledged even by Hatch's severest critics. Perpich is not among them.

"There was absolutely no monkey business. I always trusted him. The cookies are all over the place at Commerce, but I just felt totally relaxed about him as commissioner. He's very, very able.

A reputation for ambition

"Of course he's also very ambitious," Perpich added. "But he still did a good job."

Hatch's ambition is almost legendary, leading some in his own party to describe him as ruthless and self-aggrandizing. There is no deep reservoir of goodwill toward him within the DFL hierarchy. To others, Hatch is simply a smart, tough pol, a pragmatist who knows that you have to get elected before you can make a difference. Both views stem from two seminal chapters in Hatch's political life.

The first occurred in 1990 when, after conducting his own polls, he told Perpich that he couldn't possibly win a third term as governor. He announced to his boss that he intended to succeed him. He promised to abide by the DFL's endorsement process, but snubbed the party he once headed when it handed its imprimatur to Perpich. The governor wished his commerce commissioner well, then clobbered Hatch in the DFL primary before losing to Carlson in the general election.

After the primary, Hatch wrote an open letter to Perpich, withdrawing his support because of the governor's "negative" campaign tactics against IR nominee Jon Grunseth.

After his 1990 defeat, Hatch returned to private law practice in Minneapolis, where he built a reputation by successfully representing breast cancer victims whose insurers refused to pay for bone-marrow transplants.

Four years later, in June, Hatch arrived at the DFL nominating convention in St. Paul with 50 committed delegates, far fewer than needed to gain the party's endorsement. His goal: to make sure the party didn't nominate his potentially toughest rival, Mike Freeman, a moderate DFLer and Hennepin County attorney.

A clash with Freeman

Freeman had promised to abide by the endorsement process and not run in the primary without the party's blessing. Before the convention, Hatch's operatives had been calling uncommitted delegates, seeking their support. To those who gave them the cold shoulder, Hatch's people suggested a vote for John Marty. On the first ballot at the convention, a large block of Hatch's delegates jumped to the Marty camp. After Freeman's delegates staged a demonstration against Hatch, the rest of the Hatch delegates helped put Marty over the top.

Perpich is forgiving about Hatch's role in the 1990 election. Before deciding to run again this year, Hatch apparently made amends with his old boss and political mentor.

"He apologized," Perpich said. "I accepted that and it was all over. I'm in no way impeding him now. It seems to me that a majority of my folks are going to [work for Hatch], rather than to Marty or Bouza. He'd make a better governor than Carlson. Any of those three [DFLers] would."

If there's anything that still bothers Perpich about his former cabinet member, it may be the open letter Hatch wrote decrying Perpich's campaign tactics against Grunseth. Hatch wrote the letter after Perpich distributed to journalists copies of court documents in which Grunseth was accused of failing to pay court-ordered child support.

"I think that's the one thing he did that may have hurt me," Perpich said. Perpich may not have known it at the time, but family is where Hatch draws the line on political strategy. Clearly, his deepest loyalty is not to politics, political parties or colleagues. He acknowledges, for example, that both of his parents were alcoholics, but winces when he sees that fact in print and refuses to discuss how it affected him as a child.

"People who parade out those kinds of personal details, it just isn't proper. I remember reading [a long newspaper profile of State Auditor] Mark Dayton and him talking about his [alcoholic] parents. I don't want to get into that. It's their lives. Good people. My parents were good people.

"I've got two sisters and a brother. I don't want them reading that kind of thing in the paper."

Hatch's wife of 18 years, Patti, a teacher in Burnsville, has stayed out of the campaign except for a recent visit to her native Keewatin, on the Iron Range, with the couple's three daughters.

As for Hatch's role in June's DFL convention, where he used his delegates to spoil Freeman's endorsement hopes, Perpich said that was just shrewd political strategy.

"You can't fault him for that."

But Freeman does. His wounds are fresh; he remains bitter. "What I think Hatch did was to move his delegates to a person that they openly said would be easier to beat in the primary than me," Freeman said. "To me, that shows a very cynical view of the party and the process.

"I would not say the same things about Marty or Bouza. I'm supporting Marty. But I spent a year on the campaign trail with Hatch. His is a fairly crafty form of negative campaigning. It has no joy or vision."

Perpich out, Hatch in

Hatch said Perpich's polling numbers were so bad in 1989 that he didn't expect him to seek another term. By the time Perpich announced he would, Hatch already had assembled a campaign organization and had begun soliciting support.

This year, Hatch was certain that Perpich would enter the race. When he didn't, Hatch said his campaign, which started out as "a massive letter to the editor, where I simply got to say what I wanted to without fear," turned into a legitimate candidacy.

As his rented campaign plane returns to the Crystal Airport at the end of a 10-hour, 1,000-mile jaunt across the state, Hatch finally loosens his tie slightly, but still is talking strategy. He maps out his campaign appearances and hoped-for endorsements over the next few days.

The plane is specially modified, Hatch explains. Its short wingspan gives it greater speed, but makes it less maneuverable than other propeller-driven twin-engine planes.

"If it slows down," he says, "it sinks like a rock."

Mike Hatch

Q & A: Where Hatch stands

Should cities or the state place additional restrictions on the purchase of handguns? Would you support legislation authorizing capital punishment?

Advocates enforcement of current laws rather than creating new ones. Does not support ther death penalty. Favors increased penaltities for certain crimes. "For instance, I support life without parole for first-degree homicide. I also believe the minimum sentence for first-time rapists should be increased to 20 years and that two-time rapists should get life imprisonment."

Jobs: What steps would you take to create more and better jobs? What would you do to address the growing disparity between the affluent and the working poor?

Proposes attracting disgruntled high-tech and medical industries based on the East and West Coasts. "Minnesota has the infrastructure, schools, housing, streets and utilities to be attractive sites for these companies . . . it's appropriate for the governor of Minnesota to be a salesperson for the state and ask companies for their business . . . The best way to address disparity between the affluent and the working poor is to stimulate job growth so that the working poor are not underempolyed or employed in low-paying jobs." Would push for construction of ethanol plants. Would make better use of University of Minnesota medical facilities to develop jobs in the health care industry.

Gambling: In your view, does Minnesota have enough forms of gambling, or would you support off-track betting and video gaming in bars?

"Our state policy on gambling has caused bankrupt charities, closed restautants, destroyed families and increased the cost of welfare and public safety." Advocates requiring casinos to pay taxes or fees to state or local governments.

Families: What ideas do you have for making day care more accessible and affordable, and for strengthening families?

Proposes tax breaks or subsidies for families that care for elderly parents.

On day care: "A multifaceted approach should be pursued until a consensus develops on the appropriate involvement. Such techniques should include a mix fo tax credits, direct subsidies and vouchers. The primary emphasis should be to implement a system which enables welfare recipients to return to work."

Taxes: State and local governments in Minnesota spend about 21 percent of personal income. What will happen to that figure under your administration? Should Minnesota's tax structure be more progressive, placing higher taxes on the rich than the poor?

"I expect that the figure will remain about the same under my administration . . . I do not favor an increase in income taxes."

Education: Would you move forward on the initiative to establish an outcome based education system in the state? Would you reduce schools' reliance on property taxes? If so, what revenue source would you propose? How would you make tuition at Minnesota public colleges and universities more affordable?

"Outcome-based education is an appropriate technique for some teachers and some classes. It is inappropriate for others. The state should get out of the mandate business." Advocates uniform state funding for education, rather than reliance on property taxes. Suggests use of a gambling tax for education. "State funding not only assures a more equitable tax base, but it assures that the quality of education for a child is not dependent upon the property wealth of a community."

Agriculture: Would you favor stricter controls on runoff of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides?

Advocates policies that "encourage minimum use of chemicals and best management techiques for natural fertilizers (manure, etc.) will protect the environment and ensure greater profitability for Minnesota agriculture."

Abortion: Should the state's existing laws on abortion be changed? Do you favor requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion?

"Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. I would, however, sign a 24-hour waiting period requirement."

Corporate aid: Should the state provide financial assistance to companies such as Northwest Airlines and the Minnesota Timberwolves to guarantee employment or to keep them from moving?

"The ineffectiveness of the state in the NWA deal is demonstrated by the fact that $250 million in loans has still not resulted in an Airbus facility. The Timberwolves bailout has also fallen short of its mark. The state should offer economic incentives, but it should offer such incentives in an effective and businesslike manner where real economic development is returned."

Health care: If Minnesota keeps moving forward with its own universal health care program, rather than waiting for the federal government, how would you fund it?

Advocates expanding the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA), an assigned-risk plan for Minnesotans, to include fees of self-insured companies as well as insurers. Its coverage could be extended to all people on an "ability-to-pay" basis.

Welfare: How would you change the state's welfare system, if at all?

"The government should focus less attention on direct subsidy and more commitment to day care, health care and other necessities to enable the recipient to return to work."

Leadership: What special qualities of leadership do you bring to the office you are seeking?

"Unlike most of the candidates, I have managerial experience in both government and the private sector. I have successfully managed my own business and, as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, I consolidated three state agencies into one streamlined Department of Commerce, reducing the size of government and making it more responsive to the public . . . a governor must sometimes be able to say `no' when it is in the public interest. Throughout my career I have stood up to special interests. As commerce commissioner, I wasn't afraid to say no to powerful insurance companies when it helped the public. And I have kept my campaign focused on mainstream issues like jobs, crime and education, rather than pandering to a myriad of special interests."