In the Spotlight

News & Features

Campaign 2002 Profile: Judi Dutcher
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
April 30, 2002


The state DFL party holds its convention this weekend, and the main business of the 1,300 delegates will be to choose a candidate for governor. Three candidates are seeking the endorsement: State Auditor Judi Dutcher and state Senators Roger Moe and Becky Lourey. They all say they'll abide by the delegates' decision. This week we'll take a look at each of the three candidates starting with State Auditor Judi Dutcher, who says she represents the future of the Minnesota DFL.

Judi Dutcher talks with Monica Weber from Staples. Weber is a delegate who's supporting Dutcher from Wadena County. "I'm supporting Judy Dutcher for several reasons. One is because of her passion for education. I just graduated from the College of St. Benedict with a degree in education and I feel that that's a major issue going forward in this campaign for which Judy has been endorsed by Education Minnesota, so I think that was really exciting and, you know, serving as state auditor for the last eight years, I think that she's got a great shot at being elected statewide," Weber says.
(MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)

Like the two other DFL candidates for governor, Judi Dutcher has been busy as the convention approaches. On a recent Saturday afternoon, a south Minneapolis coffee shop was one of eight campaign stops.

Dutcher's staff assembled a handful of delegates in a tiny side room of the coffee shop. The campaign signs and buttons are University of Minnesota maroon and gold, a reminder Dutcher is the daughter of former U of M basketball coach Jim Dutcher.

Amid the excitement of the delegates, Dutcher was calm and composed.

"You all are here because you understand that politics is life and that the decisions that you're making relative to who your leaders are going to be are going to dictate exactly what type of quality of life we're going to have here in the state," she said.

Judi Dutcher is finishing her second term as state auditor. Former Governor Arne Carlson enlisted her to run as a Republican in 1994. She was still a Republican when she won reelection four years ago. She became a Democrat in January 2000.

Dutcher, who supports legalized abortion, said she left the Republican Party because it was shifting too far toward the right, leaving little room for moderates.

Before running for auditor Dutcher worked as a city attorney in Minneapolis and a city prosecutor in Eden Prairie.

Dutcher looks comfortable campaigning. And she's engaging as she calls for improving public education, more affordable housing and heightened environmental protection. On the issues, Dutcher makes no effort to distinguish herself from the other DFL-endorsement hopefuls.

For DFL candidates, the debate - at least for now - centers around electability rather than ideology. "We're all very similar on the issues and all very similar on the things that we want to see for the future of the state of Minnesota, but the important thing is who can take on whomever that Republican candidate is going to be and that big guy Jesse Ventura and win in November?" Dutcher said.

Judi Dutcher appeared on MPR's Midday program on April 24, 2002 as part of the show's Meet the Candidate series. Listen.

Dutcher says she decided to run for governor primarily because she thinks Gov. Ventura is not addressing the needs of public education. Backed by the state's teachers' union, Dutcher talks about education more than any other issue, accusing Ventura of being divisive on the issue rather than looking for a solution to strained school finances.

"My priority as governor will be to make certain that the schools have the resources they need to succeed and more importantly a governor who will work with them to make certain we're getting the best values for our dollar, but if you're looking for an exact - I'm going to give this many more millions or dollars to education - that has not been a conclusion I've come to yet. It's not at that stage yet," she says.

When the three candidates seeking endorsement get together, it sometimes sounds like a mutual admiration society. But some backers of Majority Leader Roger Moe suggest Dutcher,39, isn't ready for the state's top job.

Dutcher says Republicans are eager to pick apart Moe's more than 30-year legislative voting record. And Dutcher points out when Moe was Skip Humphrey's running mate four years ago, the DFL ticket finished third.

"We know that we have to do better than the 28 percent that we did in the last gubernatorial election. There's been a tremendous amount of great leadership offered by Sen. Moe, but frankly the difference is when they look at me they look toward the future," she says.

Dutcher says she's qualified to handle the budget shortfall, and her contrast to the old DFL model should be considered an asset. "I have the ability to really reach across party lines, appeal to independent voters, appeal to those Republicans who feel disenfranchised who feel that their party has moved so far to the right that they're looking for an alternative candidate," she says.

Dutcher says she is not interested in running for lieutenant governor if she doesn't win the endorsement for governor.

More from MPR
  • Campaign 2002: Judi Dutcher