MN Rep Debra Hilstrom

Minnesota Representative Debra Hilstrom, DFL, District 40B, is running for Secretary of State in 2014. She chairs the Judicial, Finance and Policy Committee and is a member of the Ways and Means Committee, the Public Safety, Policy and Finance Committee, the Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee, the Rules and Legislation Administration Committee and the Civil Law Committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Debra has passed legislation to protect consumers and as an Anoka County prosecuter she has held criminals accountable for taking advantage of the elderly. She is a seven term representative who has been an advocate for children and women.


PHL: Tell us about the good and or the bad of voting rights in Minnesota?

Representative Debra Hilstrom: Secretary of State Mark Ritchie Made Minnesota proud with his fair handling of the recounts in the Franken-Coleman and Dayton-Emmer elections. Minnesota has a legacy of high voter turnout in elections, but conservative special interests-like ALEC and the Koch Brothers- want to change that.

As Secretary of State I will travel the state to promote voter participation and advocate for law changes that make it easier for working families to vote. I will work to expand voting rights, increase voter turnout by otherwise disenfranchised voters, and I will be a champion for making voting and voter registration more accessible. I support early voting, expanding absentee balloting and making it easier to use mail-in ballots. Families often work long and irregular hours. Early voting and longer poll hours would give working families even more of an opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
Many who do not vote don't believe that their vote matters and feel shutout of the system. As Secretary of State I will engage populations that feel their vote can't make a difference to educate on the process and encourage participation. Minnesota has a long history of high voter turnout that will continue as long as people have had confidence in the voting process.


PHL: What do we need to do to limit out-side influence in elections?

Representative Debra Hilstrom: First, we need to protect voting rights. The conservative special interests – like the Koch Brothers and ALEC – want to limit access to voting. The GOP continues to use statements about voter fraud as reasons to put restrictions on people's ability to vote. In 2012, I traveled the State as Deputy DFL House Minority Leader to help defeat the divisive "photo ID" Constitutional amendment, which would have disenfranchised elderly and minority voters. As Secretary of State, I would fight any and all constitutional amendments designed to disenfranchise voters. I also support an expansion in the Secretary of State's authority to make sure that any constitutional amendments that are proposed by the legislature have a clear title and clear wording so that voters are not misled and know the topic on which they are asked to vote.
Second, money in politics, I will fight to limit the role of special interests in our elections. Citizens United is a court decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned 100 years of law to say that corporations can make political contributions- allowing special interests to influence elections more than ever before. It did not take long after Citizens United for major corporations to dump millions of dollars into the 2010 Governor's race in support of Tom Emmer. In 2012 the Koch Brothers spent an estimated $60 million to influence American elections and legislative votes. I will challenge Citizens United every chance I get. I will fight to limit the ability of corporations that do business with the state to influence elections because if we don't get a handle on corporate influence in elections, special interests threaten to drown out the voices of regular voters. I am the only DFLer running for Secretary of State who voted "no" on allowing corporate lobbyists to spend unlimited money entertaining legislators.



PHL: How can we lessen or eliminate the special interest money and lobbying efforts that lessen the voting impact of the general public?

Representative Debra Hilstrom: As Secretary of State I will advocate common sense reforms to limit the influence of corporations and special interest in our elections. I will argue that clean elections mean getting the influence of corporate America out of elections, both before and after our votes are cast at the ballot box. Citizens United is bad policy, and I will look for every opportunity to challenge its impact.


As a state legislator, I have stood up against special interests to give people a fair shake from their mortgage lenders, their banks, their utilities and their credit card companies. These causes haven't been easy. Corporations can afford to hire armies of lobbyists to represent them and they do. Minnesota now allows corporate lobbyists to spend unlimited amounts of money to entertain legislators. For almost 20 years, this practice was illegal, and I am the only DFL candidate for Secretary of State who voted to keep it illegal.                                                                                                                                                                 Rep Hilstrom at CD3 Evening for Ambassador Sam and                                                                                                                                                                                                  Sylvia Kaplan

My problem with allowing corporate lobbyists to spend gobs of money entertaining legislators is that legal aid attorneys, neighborhood justice volunteers, and head start families can't get the same access. It should be repealed.

Minnesota's Campaign disclosure system received an "F" rating from the Center for Public Integrity. We need to improve that.

I will use the bully pulpit of the Secretary of State's office to argue for measures like: 1) corporations cannot contribute if they have had a contract with the government 2) repeal of the Corporate Soiree law and 3) improved Campaign Finance disclosure laws.

We should do everything we can to make voter registration and voting as easy and accessible as possible. For example, I commend Secretary Ritchie for moving to an online voter registration system. We pay taxes online, renew driver's licenses online, and take out mortgages online. It only makes sense that we should be able to register to vote online. Having said that, there is more we can do. People in underrepresented communities often work long and irregular hours. Early voting and longer poll hours would give underrepresented communities even more of an opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

Absentee voting should be expanded. For example, other states have created a list where people could sign up to be sent an absentee ballot for every election automatically. Absentee ballots are automatically sent to the list every election until the ballot is not returned. Then the voter would again need to request to be placed on the automatic absentee ballot list. I am a strong supporter of mail-in ballots to make it easier for communities to increase voter participation.
Secretary of State Ritchie has already started the process of using technology to make it easier to register to vote and to request an absentee ballot for military voters overseas. I will continue to use technology in that way and advocate for expansion of the use of technology for registration and absentee ballot requests. In addition Secretary of State Ritchie is currently in the process of adopting rules about what identification can be used to register to vote on Election Day to make it easier for people to register.

Ultimately, the best tools for making sure everyone has the ability to exercise their right to vote is to encourage early registration, pass early voting with expanded voting hours and get a handle on corporate money in our elections. The more confidence people have in the election process the more they will believe their vote will make a difference.


PHL:  Why is small business growth so important to Minnesota?

Representative Debra Hilstrom: About 80 percent of jobs are with small businesses. The Office of the Secretary of State registers all new businesses in Minnesota and is in a great position to help encourage economic development and job growth in our state. Jobs support families, and I would expand the services offered by the business side of the Secretary of State's office. I would expand the services Secretary of State Ritchie started that assist veterans, women, and minorities to navigate the filing process to start a small business. In addition, currently the Secretary of States office does not verify the information presented in the business filings. The office could expand the filing service to verify important pieces of information submitted to the state. A new issue that has become more prevalent across the country is business identity theft. I will work with Secretaries of State from across the country to deal with this issue of business identity theft.
In addition, the Secretary of State administers the Safe at Home Program. I will safeguard the Safe at Home program administered by the Secretary of State's office. This program ensures that victims of domestic violence can participate in the election process without disclosing their address to their abuser. We all know that the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they choose to leave their abuser. No voter should have to put his or her safety at risk to participate in the election process.


PHL:  You've been recognized as "Legislator of the Year" by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and received the "Champion for Racial Justice" award from the Children's Defense Fund, have children's issues and racial equality always been a top priority for you?

Representative Debra Hilstrom: As a legislator we work on many issues that impact peoples lives every day. I have been honored to receive many awards during my time in the legislature. A few that I am very proud of are in 2001 I received the "Champion for Racial Justice" award for outstanding leadership towards racial equity. In 2006, the Children's defense fund gave me the "Children's Champion Award" for promoting the health and well-being of Minnesota Children and in 2007 and 2009 I was recognized as "legislator of the Year" by Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and MAPE, respectively. It is always an honor to be recognized as a champion. I have worked hard to get tough laws enacted to protect the average citizen, despite strong opposition from corporate lobbyists.