Is Southwest LRT a Campaign Asset or Obstacle?
While supporters are still working to promote the Southwest Transitway, one campaign ad uses a candidate’s backing for the project as its most-visible selling point. What role does light rail play in this election?
Southwest Light Rail Transit supporters haven’t been shy about trying to sell residents on the project. Local chambers have taken an active role in encouraging legislators to back the project, and they recently launched a “More Jobs Less Traffic” campaign to boost support among the general public.
What hasn’t happened as frequently is candidates using Southwest LRT as the major selling point for their own campaigns. Yet that’s exactly what Senate District 49 candidate Melisa Franzen’s campaign did in an advertisement last week.
Residents in her district received a mailer that featured a Metro Transit train, a map of the proposed Southwest LRT route and the campaign promise, “With Melisa Franzen in the Senate, 60,000 new jobs are just the first stop.”
Sarah Duevel, Franzen’s campaign manager, thinks candidates have avoided making light rail as prominent a part of their advertisements because they’re reluctant to endorse anything with a price tag attached.
But she said Franzen is a commuter who personally feels strongly about Southwest LRT and thinks it’s money well spent.
“I don’t think she was worried about alienating people because what she was doing was (viewing the project as) making a great investment,” Duevel said. “There are always going to be people on both sides of an issue.”
But Southwest LRT isn’t just any issue. It’s one that’s faced significant pushback. Neither the state Legislature nor Department of Employment and Economic Development deemed the project worthy of a multi-million-dollar request—although Dayton eventually allocated $2 million to keep LRT moving forward.
At a time when light rail supporters are working hard just to build support for the required state commitment, candidates haven’t historically been able to count on Southwest Transitway support to send votes rolling their way.
And that doesn’t even take into account the difference in awareness between officials and everyday voters.
The ad puts much of the burden on potential voters to know that it’s talking about the Southwest Transitway. “Southwest” is mentioned just twice—on the back in the body of a subsection and as one of the 18 station names on the route map.
The only at-a-glance indicators that the advertisement is about Southwest LRT are the metro transit train, the route map and the 60,000-jobs figure that light rail supporters frequently cite. All three require voters to have pre-existing knowledge about the Southwest line.
Duevel doesn’t expect voters to have any confusion about the project Franzen’s ad references. For one, it taps into work already done by the five big chambers with a stake in it—TwinWest, the Edina Chamber of Commerce, the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
Still, Franzen’s ad goes against the grain and it’s not yet clear whether it taps into a greater awareness of and support for light rail—or if it’s a stance that will fall on deaf ears.
Duevel, for one, is betting the ad will connect with voters.
“The image, we think, shows the future of business,” she said.