We here at Project Vote Smart often lament the lack of civility in Congress and in state legislatures across this nation. These days, it seems like nothing can get Democrats and Republicans in the same room. At least nothing that isn't cheesy and baked.
No, we're not referring to cheesy platitudes or half baked policy proposals, we're talking about the annual Minnesota delegation “Hot Dish Off”. Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive caucus, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann, chairman of the Tea Party caucus, might not agree on a whole lot. But they're willing to set aside those differences once a year in the name of a time honored (three years old) tradition that highlights an important part of Minnesota culture and cuisine.
For those of you east of the Mississippi, or west of, say, the Rockies, or really just not from Minnesota – a hotdish is a casserole. Wikipedia makes the important distinction that these special casseroles “typically [contain] a starch, a meat or other protein, and a canned and/or frozen vegetable, mixed with canned soup.” You know, to differentiate them from all the other casseroles out there. These dishes are a big deal in Minnesota, with different specialties by region, and fiercely guarded recipes . Rep. Tim Walz, who won this years competition with his “Herman the German” recipe underlined the importance of hot dish in Minnesota society. As he explained to the Star Tribune, “This is bragging rights in Minnesota. The hotdish (sic?) is serious business.”
Freshman Democratic Sen. Al Franken started this “Hot Dish Off” in 2011 “as a way to bring the delegation together at the start of the new session”. Given the stark differences in many of the Minnesota delegation's voting records it's not completely clear how long this cream of cooperation stays fresh, but it certainly seems like a nice gesture. To ensure there is no political bias, the contest is judged by former Minnesota Reps. Vin Weber, a Republican, and Gerry Sikorski, a Democrat.
As mentioned above Rep. Tim Walz won this years competition. Last year there was a tie between Franken and former Rep. Chip Cravaack. The winner of the inaugural competition was Minnesota's senior senator, Amy Klobuchar. For those of you interested in reading tea leaves, or perhaps bay leaves, Klobuchar won reelection last year, Chip Cravaack lost – so far an understanding of tater tots and oven temperatures does not necessarily translate into success at the polling place.
For a complete list of this year's recipes click here. Our newest staff member, Nick Gann, who hails from the Great Lakes Region (Michigan, to be exact), claims that he will be attempting several of these recipes for the benefit of our current interns. We'll let you know how it turns out.
Ben Raker is currently the project manager for Project Vote Smart's data categorization and coding project, which is laying the groundwork for more data visualizations and an easier user experience on the site. If you have questions about this project or anything we do here, please call 1-800-VOTE-SMART or email firstname.lastname@example.org.