About Joe Loveland

I've worked for politicians, a PR firm, corporations, nonprofits and state and federal government. Since 2000, I've run a PR and marketing sole proprietorship. I think politics is important, maddening, humorous and good fodder for a spirited conversation. So I sometimes hang out here when I need a break from work and life.

Boot the Mute

Cursor_and_Minnesota_gets_D-_grade_in_2015_State_Integrity_Investigation___Center_for_Public_IntegrityWhen Republicans took over the Minnesota House of Representatives, they got their chance to show Minnesotans their preferred style of governing.

Think of all of the things Republicans could have done to strut their stuff for voters. They could have enacted reforms to improve Minnesota laws regarding public access to information. They might have reformed Minnesota laws related to legislative accountability, ethics enforcement or state pension fund management. After all, the Center for Public Integrity gives Minnesota — a state that often can’t stop congratulating itself about how ethical it’s government is — an “F” grade in all of those areas.  DFLers didn’t improve governnance in those areas, so Republicans could have showed them up.

But instead, Republicans leaders have, I kid you not, installed a “master mute” button in the House chambers to shush debate that discomforts them.  MinnPost’s Briana Bierschbach  explains the scene when Minnesota’s first learned of the button’s existence:

On May 22 (2016), with less than an hour to go before a deadline to finish work for the 2016 legislative session, the bonding bill landed on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, standing at the rostrum in front of the chamber, quickly readied the nearly $1 billion package of construction projects for a final vote, but Democrats in the minority weren’t happy. Several members picked up their microphones and shouted in protest, saying there wasn’t enough time to read the entire bill, much less make any changes to the proposal.

Then an odd thing happened: For those watching the chaos on the House chamber’s livestream video feed, the shouting abruptly stopped. Then it started back up, until suddenly voices were cut off again, some midsentence. Daudt, who is shown in the House video standing at the rostrum, pushes something off to his right on the desk several times.

It turns out Daudt was utilizing a new feature installed in the Minnesota House chambers ahead of the 2016 session: A “master mute” button.

News_about__mnleg_on_TwitterThe reality of the mute button is pretty horrifying. Regulating debate should continue to be done with the traditional, predictable, and ever-civil Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, not the impulsive flick of a politicians’ index finger.  Mason’s doesn’t need a mute.

But as bad as the reality of the mute button is, the political optics is worse. Keep in mind the national context for this Minnesota action. At the national level, we have a Republican Congressman bellowing “you lie” in the middle of a President’s State of the Union Address. We have a Republican U.S. Senate Leader  censoring and scolding a Senator for daring to quote a civil rights leader’s assessment of a nominee tasked with enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws. We have a Republican President who cuts off anyone who questions him with a loud and dismissive “quiet,” “no you’re the puppet,” “you’re a nasty woman,” “go back to UniVision,” “wrong, “get em outta here,” and “knock the crap outta them.”

With that as Minnesota Republicans’ ignominious national backdrop, you would think they would be working extra hard to show that they are as civil and transparent as Minnesotans demand. But if you wanted to showcase a party’s insecurity, hubris, and disrespect for free speech, you could not come up with a more outrageous prop than a “master mute” button. It feels like something out of an over-the-top Saturday Night Live or Monte Python skit, not something a state party would do to prove that it isn’t as rude and authoritarian as it’s historically unpopular national leader.  Minnesota Republicans are absolutely tone-deaf on this issue.

The Minnesota House’s mute button is obscene and an attack on our free speech values. So legislators, let’s immediately vote to remove it, apologize to Minnesotans, snip the wires, patch the shameful podium scar, and move forward with blissfully raucous democratic debates about improving ordinary Minnesotans’ lives.

Republicans Extremely Unlikely To Impeach Trump

Cursor_and_trump_impeachment_-_Google_SearchThere’s a popular theory among the chattering classes that Trump will be impeached fairly soon.  It goes something like this: Republican members of Congress are getting very sick of Trump, because of his incompetence, conflicts-of-interest, Putin slavishness, and overall lunacy. Long-term, they worry that Trump will hurt their brand with the non-extreme swing voters they need to win elections.

So, the theory goes, congressional Republicans will eventually latch on to an impeachable offense, such as a blatant violation of a court order, which would spark a constitutional crisis. Congressional Republicans will then join with Democrats to impeach Trump, knowing all the while that doing so will empower one of their own, Vice President Mike Pence.

To congressional Republicans, Pence, a former member of Congress and Governor, is a comfortable old shoe.  He has extremely conservative positions on social issues that won’t sit well with American swing voters.  But he has at least been to charm school, and is competent, administratively speaking. So, the Ryans and McConnells of the world would be relieved to have Pence in the Oval Office instead of Trump.

Anyway, that’s the widely discussed theory.

Not Going To Happen

I find it very unlikely. Here’s why:

Yes, Trump is committing impeachable offenses.  Yes, most Republican congressional leaders worry about Trump, and much prefer Pence.  That part of the theory makes perfect sense.

But more than anything, congressional Republicans care about winning elections and holding onto their power. That is their lifeblood. To hold on to their seats and their majority, they need to a) survive Republican primary challenges in deep red gerrymandered congressional districts and b) have their hardcore Trump-loving base turn out to vote in general elections.

I believe it is highly likely that a significant slice of the Trump loyalists would stick with Trump, even after an impeachment, and maybe especially after an impeachment.  A significant proportion of the Trump voters will never stop being loyal to him.

After a historically bizarre and controversial campaign season, Trump is currently going through a disastrous transition and first couple of weeks in power.  He has criticism coming at him from all directions, including from prominent conservative leaders.   At the same time, Republicans no longer have the demonized Hillary Clinton to cast in their “lesser of two evils” narrative, which helped them win moderates in the Presidential election.

Despite all of that working against Trump, a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey recently found that 95 percent of Trump voters still approve of the job Trump is doing, even though only a 47 percent minority of Americans approve, a historically low level for a President in his honeymoon period.  After all of that, 95 percent of Trump voters still approve of his performance.

Clearly, Trump voters are exceptionally loyal to him.  Still, as the Trump-generated outrages continue to pile up, and Trump fatigue sets in, some of that support will die off. Eventually, I could foresee as many as half of the Trump voters changing their mind about Trump.

But even if only half of Trump voters remain loyal to Trump after an impeachment proceeding, the remaining impeachment-inflamed Trump diehards – stoked by the unrepentant pro-Trump messaging machines like Breitbart, InfoWars, and many others — could wreak havoc on incumbent Republicans who supported impeachment. In general elections, a sizable number of post-impeachment Trump loyalists – enraged by the spurning of their hero — could stay home and cause otherwise safe congressional Republicans to lose in November 2018.

None of this is lost on congressional Republicans, who are hyper-sensitive to the Trump voters.  At the end of the day, most Republican Members of Congress seem to care much more about preserving their political power than they do about saving the republic from a crooked, unstable authoritarian. Because of that, and because Trump’s hard core loyalist voters will stick with him through just about anything, I just can’t see the current Republican majority ever agreeing to impeach Trump.

In other words, unless Trump steps down on his own, I think we’re almost certainly stuck with Trump for four years.

Improving Minneota’s Health Insurance Market With A “MinnesotaCare for All” Option

For Minnesotans who can’t get health insurance from an employer, Minnesota Republican legislators have been demanding improvements.

where-mn-get-insurance-donut-graphic-254x300_jpg__254×300_Out on the campaign stump, Republicans say they want more health plan options than are currently available. They want health insurance companies to feel more competitive pressure to keep a lid on premiums. They want consumers to have a broad network of health care providers available to them. They want assurances than there will always be at least one solid coverage option available to every Minnesotan, even when health insurance companies decide to pull out of the marketplace, as they have in recent years. Those are all good goals.

To achieve them, Republican state legislators should work with Governor Dayton to give Minnesotans a MinnesotaCare for All option.

Background

Currently in Minnesota, those who can’t get health insurance from an employer can get coverage from one of three sources:

  • TOP TIER. For Minnesotans who can afford premium costs, they can purchase coverage from nonprofit health plans – UCare, HealthPartners, Medica, and Blue Cross. (As part of the federal Affordable Care Act, about 60% of those buying from these companies through the MNsure online shopping tool are offsetting premium costs with federal tax credits, which this year are averaging over $7600 per year.)
  • MIDDLE TIER. For Minnesotans who can afford some, but not all, of the premium cost, they can purchase MinnesotaCare at a subsidized rate that varies depending on household income.
  • LOWER TIER. For the poorest Minnesotans who can’t afford any of the premium cost, they can get Medical Assistance at no cost to them. Medical Assistance is Minnesota’s version of the federal Medicaid program.

MinnesotaCare for All Option

Governor Dayton proposes to give those in the top tier an additional option.  He wants to give those consumers the option of buying into that middle tier — the public MinnesotaCare program.

Adding a MinnesotaCare for All option would achieve what Republicans say they want – more options for consumers, more marketplace competition to drive down prices, a guarantee that at least one plan option will always be available to Minnesotans, and consumer access to a broad network of Minnesota health care providers statewide.

A fact sheet from the Governor’s office elaborates on the consumer benefit:

Purchasing quality health coverage through MinnesotaCare is less expensive than buying coverage directly from a private insurer, because it leverages the buying power of more than 1 million Minnesotans enrolled in public plans.

Minnesotans who purchase MinnesotaCare would get high-quality health coverage for approximately $469 per month, on average. That is more than 12 percent ($69) less than the average statewide premium of $538 for private insurance in 2017.

Under the Governor’s proposal, families would spend on average $838 per person less in 2018 than in 2017 on their health insurance premiums.

After a one-time startup investment ($12 million), the cost of Governor Dayton’s plan would be funded entirely by the premiums of Minnesotans who choose to buy MinnesotaCare coverage. If the Legislature enacted this proposal by April 1, Minnesotans could purchase MinnesotaCare coverage as early as the 2018 open enrollment period.

Having this MinnesotaCare option would likely be very popular with Minnesotans.  After all, a national poll found that an overwhelming 71 percent of Americans support a similar Medicare for All option, while only 13 percent oppose the idea.

Let Consumers Choose

Why would Republicans not want this for Minnesota consumers? If the Governor’s claims about the MinnesotaCare option turn out to be accurate, many of the Republicans’ stated goals for the individual market would be achieved.

At the same time, if the Governor’s MinnesotaCare-related claims about lower prices and better health care network turn out to be inaccurate or inflated, Minnesotans will surely reject the MinnesotaCare option. If it is to their advantage, consumers will choose a nonprofit health insurance company, or a for-profit health maintenance organization (HMO), which the Governor recently agreed to authorize as part of a compromise with Republican legislators.

With the addition of the MinnesotaCare option, private, nonprofit and public options all would be available to Minnesotans who are shopping and comparing via MNsure. Then the politicians could get out of the way, and let the consumers choose the option that works best for them.

Trump Resistance Roadmap

For progressives aiming to win the hearts and minds of the 46% of American voters who supported Donald Trump in 2016, there is a  better and worse way to approach conversations and campaigns.
Trump roadmap chart Slide1

For messages about the Trump policy agenda, the villain needs to be Trump flip-flops, not Trump voters.  The focus needs to be on Trump not keeping his 2016 promises, not on Trump voters being stupid for being conned in 2016.

Trump voters need a face-saving way out of this, so avoiding polarizing “I told you so’s” is critically important.

Much of what I currently see on social media and progressive media is using the “Trump voters are dumb” approach to messaging.  We need to stop.  Believe me, I understand why people are going there.  It’s very cathartic to say “I told you so,” but you can feel it entrenching Trump voters more deeply and permanently into Team Trump.

The messaging nuance recommended in this chart won’t win every Trump voter, but it gives progressives a more hopeful shot at winning a modest subset of them, such as voters who were more anti-Clinton than pro-Trump.  If only a small slice of the 46% of 2016 Trump voters are angry at Trump congressional allies in 2018, the mid-term elections could deal a serious blow to the Trump agenda.  Winning in 2018 is worth taking a pass on cathartic “I told you so’s” over the next two years.

Why I Don’t Say “Not My President?”

cursor_and_not_my_president_-_google_searchDonald Trump is my President.

Those are five words that are painful for me to say or write. But I don’t buy into the “not my President” rallying cry of so many of my well-intentioned friends. I’m a citizen of a nation that uses a representative democracy form of government. Our collective democracy chose, via the electoral college system established in our Constitution, Donald J. Trump to lead us for the next four years. God help us, it’s true and immutable.

So I don’t say “not my President.” I say “not my values.” I say “not my morals.” I say “not my policies.” Citizens are allowed to have different values, morals and policy preferences than their President.   But we can’t wish away our President.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  It doesn’t work.

I also claim Donald Trump as my President because I shouldn’t be let off the hook. Using those words continually reminds me that I’m partly culpable for the American embarrassment that is “President Donald J. Trump.”

No American citizen should be able to wash their hands of this national embarassment with a cavalier “not my President.” We are all part of the nation that elected this clown, and those of us who want that to change need to do more to win the hearts and minds of that nation, including the nearly 46.9% of Americans who didn’t vote. Donate. Speak out. Volunteer. Reform the system. Choose more compelling candidates. Support better journalism.  Own it.

It’s as important to say as it is painful: Donald J. Trump is my President. Shame on me.

The Tweet The Gophers’ Coach Should Have Sent

When University of Minnesota football players boycotted practice because they didn’t approve of how fellow players were being treated by the University during a sexual assault investigation, head football coach Tracy Claeys took to Twitter to praise them lavishly:

“Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world.”

cursor_and_sexual_assault_university_of_minnesota_-_google_searchThere were a lot of problems with that tweet. Coach Claeys presumably didn’t have all the facts, yet, by making the “better world,” comment, he seemed to be siding with the accused over the accuser.  He was publicly crossing his bosses, University Athletic Director Mark Coyle and President Eric Kaler, who did have the facts.  Importantly, he expressed no concern about the seriousness of an extremely disturbing allegation.

Both in terms of football and morals, Claeys was following his players instead of leading them. A strong moral and football leader have tweeted something more like this to the community and these emotional young men:

“Until we learn the facts about these disturbing allegations, we’re going to be students & players, not administrators. Back to practice men.”

Don’t take sides on the investigation.  Don’t side with the accused over the accuser, or vice versa.  Don’t undermine your bosses facing a difficult decision.  Don’t allow your players to dictate when they will and won’t choose to practice or play.

If Coach Claeys would have chosen something like those 140 characters to lead instead of follow, he would have had some young men angry at him.  That happens to leaders.  But he would have taught his young players and the rest of the student body an important lesson about how to act and lead during a time of uncertainty.  He would still have the respect of his university and community. He would still have a chance to rebuild the reputation of the program that was so badly damaged by his entitled players.

But Coach Claeys chose a very different 140 characters on Twitter, and the characters he chose prove that he is not the right person for that very difficult job.  For that, he has no one to blame but himself.

Wanted: Consumer Reports-style Ratings for Journalism

With the pioneers of fake news – Fox News and conservative talk radio hosts – working hard to brand legitimate news organizations as “fake news,” the world is getting more confusing to citizens who are sincerely trying to engage in critical thinking.

cursor_and_wielding_claims_of_fake_news__conservatives_take_aim_at_mainstream_media_-_the_new_york_times

They need help. America desperately needs an independent nonprofit organization to develop something like a Consumer Reports-style rating system for journalism.

The ratings would measure which news organizations are using journalism best practices. For example, which organizations are and aren’t requiring multiple sources? Who is and isn’t publishing unscientific online polls? Who is and isn’t labeling demonstrably false assertions as false? Who is and isn’t keeping editorials and reporting separate and well-labeled? Who is and isn’t using a rigorous fact-checking system? There are many best practices that could be considered for inclusion, and that would be a really important debate, but those are a few examples.

cursor_and_four_star_rated_-_google_searchThese ratings would need to be very simple, so readers, viewers and listeners people could get a quick, at-a-glance verdict, with more details readily available for the relatively few who want them. For example, a news organization that is found to be using all journalistic best practices might be labeled something like “Four Star Journalism, Most Trustworthy,” while an organization using almost no best practices might be labeled “One Star Journalism, Least Trustworthy.” An organization that is not using any journalistic standards might be labeled something like “Zero Stars, Not Trustworthy Journalism.”

I realize designing and operating a rating system like this would be much easier said than done. For example, who would choose the best practices and what would be chosen? What would the rating organization do when best practices use by an organization is inconsistent? What would it do when best practice claims don’t match actual performance? What would it do under pressure from powerful interests who are upset with the ratings? Who would fund such an endeavor, and would the funders’ reputations destroy the credibility of the ratings?

There are big challenges, but we find ways to rate all sorts of products and services, so I’m confident someone could develop a reasonable system for rating journalism. Moreover, even though the ratings inevitably would be imperfect, even imperfect ratings would be superior to what we have now—virtually no at-a-glance way to judge the relative quality of an information source.

Such a ratings organization would serve at least two important needs. First, it would inform citizens’ critical thinking.   At a time when many powerful interests are trying to make critical thinking difficult-to-impossible, our ailing democracy needs this.

Second, journalism ratings would serve as an incentive for news organizations to maintain and improve their journalism standards, an incentive that largely doesn’t exist today. If news aggregators like Apple News, Google News, News 360, Pulse, Fark, Feedly and Real Clear Politics started putting the star ratings next to news sources, that incentive could become quite powerful.  Maybe news organizations would start adopting best practices for ignoble reasons — fear of losing clicks, brand equity, staff and profits — but they would be adopting best practices nonetheless.

Consumer Reports-style ratings for news organizations would hardly be a panacea. Probably the biggest limitation they would face would be the confirmation bias that we all embrace when challenged. But ratings would make things a little better, and maybe even a lot better.  So why the hell not?

Will Minnesotans Elect Another Grumpy Gus Governor?

grumpy_governorsA steady stream of candidates for the 2018 gubernatorial race will soon be emerging. Often “past is prologue” in politics, so we might want to consider the type of leader Minnesotans have preferred in our recent past.

Over the last quarter century, Minnesota general election voters have chosen Mark Dayton, Tim Pawlenty, Jesse Ventura and Arne Carlson to govern their state. While there are many differences between those men, I would submit that the psychographic common denominators for those successful gubernatorial candidates are:

  • They were all a bit cantankerous
  • They all stressed fiscal management
  • All but Ventura were policy wonks

(They also were all white dudes, but that’s a different post.)

Surly Fiscal Manager seems to have been the job title that Minnesota general election voters have tended to have in mind.  They chose a Grumpy Gus in green eyeshades to manage state government. Their most recent pick — a former State Auditor who has never been known for being cuddly or a stemwinder on the stump — certainly fits that profile.

Meanwhile, the narrow group of DFL caucus fetishists tend to swoon for politicians who have a very different kind of profile. They get energized by partisan cheerleaders/jeerleaders who pledge fealty to unions and other lefty interest groups and  propose significant expansion of government services.  While DFL caucus goers gravitate toward a firery cheerleader – “the next Wellstone” — general election voters seek a comptroller, someone to hold the extremists at bay and ensure state expenditures and revenues are prudently managed.  That may have been why Mark Dayton decided in 2009 to bypass the DFL caucuses and go to the much broader base of primary voters.

There are no ironclad political rules that will never be broken, and this is just a trend, not an ironclad rule.  But this tendency of general election voters does seem like something that should be pondered by DFL kingmakers.

How Democrats Lost to the Worst GOP Presidential Candidate of Our Times

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about three million votes, a larger margin than Presidents Nixon and Kennedy had. She only lost the electoral college by roughly 100,000 votes (0.08 percent of the electorate) in three states. In a race that close, there is a long list of things that might have shifted the outcome of the presidential race.

I am sure that the Clinton campaign’s get out the vote (GOTV), data mining, advertising, debate zingers, primary election peace-making, voter suppression battling and many other things could have been better.  Who knows, those improvements might have swung that relatively small number of votes. But if I had to name the top three things that swung the election, I wouldn’t name any of those more tactical issues.  Instead, these are my nominees:

WORST POSSIBLE NOMINEE PROFILE FOR OUR ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT TIMES.  I admire Hillary Clinton on many levels, and think she has been treated very unfairly in this campaign and throughout her career.  But early on in the nomination cycle, it was extremely clear that general election voters were in a white hot anti-Washington establishment mood, and were looking for someone very different than a Hillary Clinton-type candidate.

Hillary Clinton was the ultimate Washington establishment candidate. Her resume, network, husband and demeanor absolutely screamed “Washington Insider.”   Democrats could have run a less establishmenty candidate that was more sane than Trump –Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, others — but they chose to run a candidate who had the worst possible profile for the times.

This created two huge problems 1) It caused Hillary to lose change-oriented voters who supported change-oriented Obama in the past and 2) It caused much of the Obama coalition to sit out the race, or effectively throw their vote away by supporting a third party candidate.

President-elect Trump won a somewhat smaller vote total than Republicans have been winning in their past two presidential losses.  Despite all of the post-election hype about the Trump political magic show, he didn’t perform that well, historically speaking.   The difference wasn’t that Trump created a tsunami of support, it was that the cautious establishment-oriented Democratic candidate was unable to generate sufficient excitement among the Obama coalitions of 2008 and 2012, particularly millennials and people of color.  This chart tells the story.

cursor_and_john_edgell

COMPLETE LACK OF ECONOMIC MESSAGE. In May, I made this argument:

The Clinton campaign needs to stick to a small number of lines of attack, even as the Trump vaudeville act continually tosses out new bait to lead the Clinton campaign down dozens of different messaging paths.  Trump is clearly incapable of message discipline, but Clinton can’t allow his lack of discipline to destroy hers.

Swing voters are disgusted by establishment figures like Hillary and Congress, because they see them as part of a corrupt Washington culture that has rigged the economy for the wealthy few to the exclusion of the non-wealthy many.  That is the central concern of many Trumpeters and Bern Feelers, and so that issue is the most important messaging ground for Clinton.

Therefore, Secretary Clinton should align a disciplined campaign messaging machine – ads, speech soundbites, policy announcements, surrogate messaging, etc. — around framing Mr. Trump as: Trump the self-serving economy rigger.

Why choose this framing over all of the other delicious options?  First, it was proven effective against a billionaire candidate in 2012.  There is message equity there.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Second, it goes to the core of what is bugging swing voters the most in 2016.

Needless to say, this never happened. The Clinton campaign reacted to pretty much everything that Trump did, and never stressed anything close to a bold agenda for addressing income inequality.  She also failed to offer much of a critique of a Trump economic agenda that would badly aggravate income inequality for Trump’s base of voters.

For reasons I’ll never understand, the economic populist message and agenda that an unlikely candidate like Bernie Sanders used to light up the political world earlier in the election cycle was almost entirely ignored by Team Clinton.  As a result, 59% of Americans are somewhat or very confident that the economy will improve under President-elect Trump.  Given the truth about the devastation that will be caused by Trump policies, shame on Clinton for allowing that level of public delusion to develop.

CANDIDATE WITH WAY TOO MUCH BAGGAGE. The “controversies” swirling around Secretary Clinton were less a product of corruption than they were a product of three decades of relentless witch-hunting by conservatives in the Congress and at Fox TV, and gutless false equivalency reporting from the mainstream media. The FBI Director’s shameless manipulation of the email investigation and the New York Times’ ridiculous inflation of the email issue was especially damaging to Clinton.

But as unfair and maddening as most of the Hillary criticism was, Democrats knew full well that it was coming.  They knew Clinton had three decades worth of earned and unearned skeletons in her family closet, but arrogantly chose her anyway.

If Democrats hope to win more Presidential elections, the days of always nominating the candidate with the longest political resume must end. In the current environment of non-stop congressional and media investigations, long political resumes now will always come with a long list of real and imagined “scandals.”   Those alleged controversies will, quite unfairly, make veteran insiders increasingly unelectable, because confused, under-informed voters will always tend to conclude “if there is corruption smoke, there must be fire,” as so many did with Clinton.

If Democrats had run a candidate who didn’t have known “scandals” looming, and who had a background, demeanor, agenda and message that gave voters confidence that they were willing and able to do something about an economy rigged in favor of the 1%, Democrats wouldn’t have needed to look for a stray 100,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They could have won in an electoral college landslide over the worst Republican presidential candidate of our times.

Five Reasons Minnesota Voters Should Legalize Marijuana in 2018

state_marijuana_laws_in_2016_mapCitizens in Massachusetts, California, Maine and Nevada recently voted to join Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, the District of Columbia and Washington as states that have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Minnesota should be next.

Minnesota doesn’t allow citizen-initiated ballot measures, but the 2017 Legislature could put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on the ballot, so
Minnesota voters could decide in November 2018 whether to legalize marijuana. Here’s why they should:


LEGALIZED MARIJUANA WILL MAKE MINNESOTA MORE SENSIBLE
. Currently, Minnesota law assumes that marijuana is far more damaging than alcohol.  A mountain of research says otherwise.

Marijuana does create societal problems, such as risk of addiction and impaired driving. But research finds that the risks associated with marijuana pale compared to the risks our society very willingly accepts with legal alcohol products.

For instance, while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finds that 37,000 people per year die of alcohol abuse, none die from marijuana use. None.  Research also shows that marijuana is far less addictive than alcohol, and that the alcohol-related health costs are eight times higher than marijuana-related health costs.

cursor_and_cannabis_facts_for_canadians__essential_information_for_an_informed_debate_about_cannabis_policyGiven the facts, making alcohol legal and marijuana illegal makes absolutely no sense. Treating those two vices equally under the law will make Minnesota a more sensible and intellectually honest place.

cursor_and_how_does_cannabis_compared_to_other_drugs_-_google_search

LEGALIZED MARIJUANA WILL MAKE MINNESOTA MORE JUST. Marijuana prohibition has made Minnesota unjust. The New York Times describes the grotesque amount of damage that has been done by making marijuana use a crime and launching a multi-billion law enforcement war against it:

From 2001 to 2010, the police made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests; almost nine in 10 were for possession alone. In 2011, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together.

The public-safety payoff for all this effort is meager at best: According to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report that tracked 30,000 New Yorkers with no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession, 90 percent had no subsequent felony convictions. Only 3.1 percent committed a violent offense.

What makes the situation far worse is racial disparity. Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates; on average, however, blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession, according to a comprehensive 2013 report by the A.C.L.U.

Stop! This war on marijuana is destroying more lives than marijuana itself ever could. Legalization will  at long last end the madness.

LEGALIZED MARIJUANA WILL SAVE TAX DOLLARS.  Constantly chasing and punishing marijuana users and sellers has been extremely expensive for taxpayers. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), enforcing marijuana costs more than $3.6 billion per year.  That’s billion with a “b.”  Beyond saving tax dollars, legalized marijuana should be taxed, just as we do with alcohol, and generate revenue to address pressing community needs.

LEGALIZED MARIJUANA
WILL HELP ALLEVIATE SUFFERING
.  Minnesota has a medical cannabis law that authorizes the use of precisely dosed cannabis-based pills and oils.  These medicines are customized for each medical condition to limit or eliminate side-effects, such as the “high” sensation.  For instance, children with seizure disorders are able to use precise doses of a purified formulation of cannabis oil that has no intoxication side effects whatsoever.  Minnesota has a medically responsible law, and a Minnesota Department of Health study finds that about 90% of Minnesota patients are benefiting from these medicines.

But producing these medicines is expensive, and insurance companies don’t cover them. So, too many ailing Minnesota patients simply can’t access the medicines to get relief from their suffering. Accordingly, some of the state revenue derived from legalizing marijuana for recreational use should be dedicated to reducing the cost of the medicines, so suffering Minnesotans could get the help they desperately need.

cursor_and_prohibition_ends_-_google_searchLEGALIZED MARIJUANA WILL MAKE MINNESOTA MORE FREE. Finally, just as ending alcohol prohibition made America a more free nation, ending marijuana prohibition will make Minnesota a more free state. If marijuana was legalized, I probably wouldn’t use it. But if some in the “land of the free” want to use something that is demonstrably safer than legalized alcohol, a free society should allow them to do so.

So, enough with the sophomoric Cheech and Chong jokes.  From a purely good government standpoint, legalized marijuana will make Minnesota a more sensible, just, fiscally sound, humane and free state.  It’s time.

CORRECTION:  The original post did not list Maine, District of Columbia, Alaska, and Oregon.  Those states should have been included and were added after the original posting.

When The Lie Referees Lie

False equivalence is a form of logical fallacy in which two arguments are made to appear as if they are equally valid, when in fact they aren’t. Here is a prime example of how false equivalence in newspapers inadvertently misleads.

The Star Tribune editorial page carried a guest commentary on October 31, 2016.  It was written by authors associated with the terrific nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning organization Politifact.  So far, so good.

But the Star Tribune headlined the piece: “Politifact:  The 10 whoppers of both leading presidential candidates.”  This piece then lists ten false statements for Hillary Clinton and ten for Donald Trump.  Ten and ten, presumably to appear “balanced.”

While Politifact’s 20 lies are all fair and well-documented cases, the overall impression given by the headline and commentary is that both candidates lie in equal measure.  As someone who has conducted lots of focus groups in my career, I can almost guarantee you that a focus group of undecided voters — the coin of the realm eight days before the election — would overwhelmingly report “both candidates lie at about the same rate” as their central take-away.

The problem is, that’s not true.  Politifact itself has found that the “both candidates lie in equal measure” assertion is a lie. A more complete look at Politifact’s full body of work finds that the two candidates are far from equivalent in their level of veracity.helpful_infographic_for_disputing_those_who_claim_that_donald__the_line_of__make_america_great_again___the_phrase__that_was_mine__trump_is_better_than_the_same_as_clinton_-_imgur

This chart is not updated through the present, so an updated chart is needed.   But the point is, either the Politifact authors or Star Tribune editors should have included a summary of the complete Politifact findings, to put the “ten whoppers” in proper context.  Doing so would give Star Tribune readers what they deserve, a more clear and complete picture of the truth.

False equivalence is itself a type of lie that is muddying our democratic discourse. So what are citizens to do we do when the Lie Referees also, inadvertently, lie? The Star Tribune and Politifact are two organizations that I value and support, but this is not their finest hour.

Confessions of a Clueless Voter

cursor_and_minnesota_ballot_water_conservation_district_-_google_searchFor all I know, I may have just voted for a creationist to select my kids’ science curricula, or a reckless corporate polluter to set environmental protections in my water conservation district.  But it’s not my fault.

When it comes to the less publicized “down ballot” races, voters need much more information than is currently readily available.  I voted absentee several weeks before election day.  On my presidential vote, I like to think I was supremely informed. But when it came to votes involving the judiciary, school board, and water conservation district, I was embarrassingly uninformed.

Fortunately, voting absentee gives you time to do some research. So, I figured an earnest, computer-savvy fellow like me could be pretty well informed after a dozen or so clicks.

I was shocked about how little information I could find about those backwater candidates. When it came to the more obscure candidates and ballot questions, there hadn’t been any news coverage. This was partially because reporters were waiting to do stories closer to the election — which is increasingly becoming a problem now that large numbers of citizens are voting early —  and partially because newsrooms have shrunk so much in recent eyars that many of these obscure races simply go uncovered.   Surprisingly, the rest of the interwebs was not much better.  I found a little information about the unpublicized candidates, but not nearly enough.

So, I slumped in civic shame, as I guessed on a few and skipped a few.  From conversations with friends, I know I’m not the only clueless voter in the land.  In fact, I know a lot of new and casual voters who guessed and skipped much more than I did.

We can run a better democracy than this, people. With all due respect to Mr. Trump, I’m less concerned that our elections are rigged than I am that our elections are un- or under- informed.

There is a simple fix to this that wouldn’t cost very much. I’ve been told there is this thing called “the Internet,” where people can instantly access information, even on devices most people carry in their pockets into polling places, and everyone can access in public libraries.  So, why can’t do-gooders create a nonpartisan website where candidates — even humble down ballot candidates — can supply information about their background and positions on top issues?

Maybe we call the website something like MNvoting.com, and fund it with philanthropic and/or government funding. Maybe it has a multi-partisan Board of Directors governing it. Maybe the organization creates the basic web space for content, but allows candidates to generate all of the relevant content. Maybe the website includes comment fields for folks to dispute candidates’ claims.  Maybe we promote this wondrous new centralized website to voters via a marketing campaign. These kinds of details obviously can be worked out by the smart people.

But we can do better. In just a couple of clicks, I can currently get a thorough evaluation of a restaurant, movie, or just about any type of product or service. The same needs to become true of ALL of the ballot questions Minnesotans are being asked to decide at the ballot box, not just the top-of-the-ticket questions.

Difficult Time of Year for Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD) Sufferers

cursor_and_custom_ribbon__decision_deficit_disorderWashington, DC — Just as the holiday season can be difficult for those who have recently lost loved ones, election time is a horrific time for those suffering from a little discussed condition known as Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD).

During the election season, DDD sufferers get overwhelmed with anxiety and confusion as they are asked to take 18 months worth of campaign-generated information to make a final decision about which candidate they will support.

“DDD can be extremely, oh gosh I just don’t what the right word would be,” said Jonah Wildarsky, who suffers from DDD and is the Executive Director of the Decision Deficit Disorder Foundation.

As a defense mechanism, those with DDD frequently accuse all candidates of being equally poor, rather than deciding who is the better one, as other voters do.

“Clinton or Trump, Trump or Clinton, it’s just not fair to ask us to decide, because they’re just so identically bad,” screamed Wildarsky. “The pressure during the last month of the campaign is immense. I’ve personally had to suffer through 127 news interviews this year, because there are just so few DDD survivors left for reporters to interview.”

The Foundation works to create awareness of DDD. For instance, Wildarsky says the Foundation hopes some day to distribute ribbons, if a color choice can be finalized.

“Golly, I don’t know, is yellow or pink or some other color best,” asked Wildarsky. “The colors all  seem equally bad to me.  Why in the world can’t we have better colors?”

Wireless

cursor_and_scammers_hacking_victims__computers_by_calling_on_the_phone_-_aol_newsI’ve found a fabulous new productivity tool. I know you’ve heard this before, but I think this one could really change everything.

This thing does a terrific job organizing my scattered thoughts and projects. It helps me prioritize work, think “outside of the box” and provide much better service to my clients. It helps me connect better with key people. It dramatically increases my efficiency. It’s imminently affordable. And as all things must be these days, it’s completely wireless.

But it can’t be found among the dozens of productivity and communications applications installed on my smart phone and computers. And it can’t even be found at Best Buy, Brookstone or the Consumer Electronics Show.

But I can hook you up with one. I like to call it Long Walk 2.0. I’m no expert on productivity tools, but this is rougly how it works:

1. Exit from all other applications.
2. Put one foot in front of the other.
3. Repeat.
4. Think, uninterrupted, for 60 minutes or so.

cursor_and_exercise_walk_-_google_searchYes, I have taken to regularly unplugging from the alleged productivity of my relatively high tech mobile office to do something that looks suspiciously like slacking. Most days, I now set aside time for an hour-long walk or run with my Golden Doodle business partner.

The results have been astounding. On the relative solitude of the stroll I eventually unwind and begin to ask myself questions that don’t get resolved in the office: “If I didn’t have constraints, what would I recommend for them? Are those constraints real or imagined, permanent or surmountable? Are we truly differentiated, or are we spinning ourselves? Am I really giving that client the candid counsel they are paying for, or am I pulling punches because it is more comfortable? Is there a better way to do X? Is Y really necessary?”

And here is the weird part about my unplugged excursions: Sometimes I actually come up with pretty decent answers to the questions.

Of course, there is not a single reason why these issues couldn’t come up in the office. Actually, there’s a couple dozen reasons: “If I didn’t have constraints…(insert email interruption here) Are those constraints real…(Twitter interruption) Are we truly differentiated…(text interruption) Am I really giving candid…(pop-up meeting reminder interruption) Is there a better way…(cell phone interruption).

Like all of us, my personal and professional lives have become an endless symphony of chimes, chirps and vibrations. And for me, the concerto isn’t always soothing or conducive to my best work.

Don’t get me wrong, the electronic interruptions are wonderous in a lot of ways. And love ‘em or hate ‘em, they aren’t going away. But if your job or life sometimes requires you to think deeply for more than a few seconds at a time, the gadgets do have a downside. And the answer for me is not more or better gadgets. It’s a regularly scheduled dose of no gadgets.

– Loveland

Banning Trump From Ballot Doesn’t Pass Smell Test

cursor_and_democrats_right_to_vote_-_google_searchWhen it comes to the Minnesota DFL’s attempt to bar Donald Trump’s name from appearing on Minnesota ballots, the party is making a mistake by focusing on the could versus the should.

Yes, banning Trump from Minnesota ballots could be possible. It appears as if the ever-bungling Minnesota Republican Party perhaps didn’t follow the letter of the law in nominating their presidential elector alternates. I’m no great election law mind, so I’ll let the Star Tribune explain the DFL’s legal argument:

The petition said the state GOP erred at its state convention on May 20-21 in Duluth, where delegates “at large” and from each of Minnesota’s congressional districts nominated 10 presidential electors but failed to nominate 10 alternate electors.

The petition quoted the law (the italicized type is the party’s) as saying, “Presidential electors and alternates for the major political parties of this state shall be nominated by delegate conventions called and held under the supervision of the respective state central committees of the parties of this state.”

The petition continued: “This language is clear and unequivocal: Alternatives ‘shall’ be nominated — not unilaterally by party leaders — but by ‘delegate conventions.’

It sounds as if they might have case.  But letter of the law aside, should DFLers ban Trump?  The spirit of the law is that citizens should get to a chance to vote for the candidate who prevailed in the nominating process, in this case Trump.   That’s what Minnesotans of all parties feel in their gut.  The practical effect of the DFL’s move is to effectively disenfranchise Trump voters in Minnesota, more than one-third of the citizenry. For a party that justifiably preaches keeping democracy open to all voters, effectively disenfranchising at least one-third of the voters just doesn’t pass the smell test. It will offend many voters, including some who would otherwise be DFL-friendly, and it will seed even more cynicism in an already dangerously cynical citizenry.  That’s not good for our democracy.

Beyond the disenfranchisement of it all, DFL Party leaders perhaps should be wary of unintended consequences. An April 2016 Star Tribune-sponsored survey found Clinton with 48% of registered voters, Trump with 35%, and 17% undecided. While that’s a four month old poll, the chances are that Clinton still holds a lead in Minnesota. So, absent Trump being banned from the ballot by the DFL, Clinton probably would win Minnesota the old fashioned way, by earning the most votes.

So, there probably isn’t a lot to gain Electoral College-wise by gagging Trump voters. However, what happens if Trump refugees and undecided voters coalesce around Libertarian Gary Johnson?  What likely would have been a blue state could become, I don’t know, the Libertarian Party color.  That’s probably a long shot, but the possibility exists after the DFL kicks the Trump hornet nest by taking away their ability to vote for their hero.

DFL electoral tacticians likely see it differently. They may think that if Trump isn’t on the ballot, discouraged Trump voters will stay home, which will help the DFL win down-ballot races.  They’re banking on Trump voters to stay home and sulk, and they may be right.  But what happens if Trump voters instead get outraged enough by the perceived injustice of the situation to turn out in record numbers to vote against the party that they feel stole their votes?

DFL leaders probably feel quite self-satisfied about this clever little “gotcha” game.  I’m one strong DFLer who just doesn’t like it.  It feels like a betrayal of one of the party’s most admirable values – defense of every voter’s right to vote for the candidate of their choosing.  In my opinion this is not the Minnesota DFL’s finest hour.

National Unsung Heroes Day

presentation3There are lots of heroes in our society. Soldiers, nurses, police officers, teachers and fire fighters are among them, and we regularly praise those groups with special holidays, public ceremonies, and “I support (fill in the blank)“ ribbons. But sometimes it seems that we heap so much adulation on those high profile professions that we ignore the contributions of more subtle heroes who serve in relative anonymity.

For instance, how about folks like social workers and addiction counselors? They work for modest pay and make a huge difference for folks living in society’s shadows. Those heroes save and improve plenty of lives too.

Then there are water and sewage workers. We hardly give them a second thought, but every day they do the dirty work of managing our human waste so devastating diseases don’t break out.  Waterborne diseases kill 1.5 million peopler every year, so that’s kind of a big deal.

Protesters belong on the long list of unsung heroes. They speak out about what they think is right, even when it’s personally uncomfortable and dangerous. They are courageous and patriotic, and without them the world would have much less peace, safety, conservation and social justice.

How about scientists and engineers who develop products, services, knowledge and methodologies that make the world more safe, or protect the environment?  They do life-saving, planet-saving work, but we’re never going to see ceremonies honoring them before the playing of the National Anthem.

presentation2-2There are the millions of people who have jobs that are not typically regarded as heroic – bureaucrats, janitors, receptionists, brokers, construction workers, computer techies, customer service reps, wait staff, accountants, salespeople and underwriters, to name just a few. Their vocational contributions go largely unrecognized, but their work makes our economy and society hang together and hum.

Many of these folks also donate huge amounts of their free time to better their communities.  They give blood, raise money, defray nonprofit staff costs, visit senior shut-ins, and coach, tutor and mentor kids. Nobody pays them.  They just do it. That’s also heroism.

These unsung heroes don’t have interest groups, politicians, corporations, pro sports leagues, and public relations agencies using their resources to celebrate their contributions. They don’t wear uniforms that serve as reminders of their heroics. But their work is inspiring and important nonetheless.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge the praise we give to soldiers, nurses, police officers, teachers, fire fighters and others. But I worry that the klieg lights we shine on those groups tends to blind us to the more subtle every day heroism that is happening all around us.

So if we feel like we need to add another holiday, maybe we should go with an umbrella day to remember these other folks. “National Unsung Heroes Day” has kind of a nice ring to it — a day to remember those we usually forget.  Those heroes deserve recognition too, and the rest of us deserve another three day weekend.

Five Reasons To HATE State Fair TV News Coverage

Cursor_and_grinch_looking_down_-_Google_SearchI loathe State Fair TV news coverage.  And just to preempt the question, yes, I’m not “from here.”

The State Fair begins today, but State Fair TV news coverage started in roughly February.  I’ve already been through a lot, so allow me my primal scream.

Reasons to hate on State Fair TV news coverage:

Reason #1: Because it crowds out all other news coverage. If in the next ten days the Republican Speaker of the House comes out for a 75% tax on all Tea Party members’ Medicare benefits, the Vikings trade a 73-year old groundskeeper for Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson, and space aliens colonize a Mahtomedi strip mall, this much I promise you: You will not hear about it. No chance. Why? Because during the last 10 days of August there is sameness happening in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. And there is an unwritten rule in Twin Cities TV newsrooms: All that is the same in Falcon Heights must crowd out all that is new in the rest of the state. (Though to be fair, the crop art turns over every year.)

“It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

Reason #2: Because skinny people repeatedly fabricating overeating stories is never that funny. One of the many recurring gags we will suffer through during State Fair TV news coverage involves willowy anchors and svelte reporters exchanging witty repartee about how grotesquely bloated and obese they are from going all Joey Chestnut on Commoner Food all day long. Oh, the humanity! Their image consultants tell them that pretending to be like the binging masses will help their Nielsens. But make no mistake, they are mocking us, as they spit and rinse their Sweet Martha’s at station breaks, and nibble the sensible sack lunches packed by their personal nutritionists.

“And they’d feast! And they’d feast! And they’d FEAST! FEAST! FEAST!”

Reason #3: Because even hilarious jokes lose their charm when repeated the 653,776th time. “On a stick.” “Jokes” using those three hideous words will be repeated hundreds of times over the next 10 days on TV news. Though even Ed McMahon wouldn’t laugh the 653,776th time, you can count on our TV news friends to guffaw uproariously at every “on a stick” utterance, as if they just heard it for the first time. To make things worse, every PR person in town will put their client’s product or service on-a- stick – long term care insurance on-a-stick, get it?! — because it is the one guaranteed way to get coverage for your otherwise non-newsworthy client.

“They’d stand hand in hand and they’d start singing.”

Reason #4. Because Def Leppard hasn’t been remotely newsworthy for at least twenty years. …yet we can be certain that there will be a full length news story about them by every station. Why? Because for the last ten days or August, anything within earshot of the broadast booth is automatically deemed newsworthy. Plus, it’s so adorable when Frank tosses “Pour Some Sugar On Me” segues to Amelia.

“They’d sing! And they’d sing! AND they’d SING! SING! SING! SING!”

Reason #5. Because the 3.5 million Minnesotans who avoid the Fair every year are people too. One of the most fascinating parts of State Fair news coverage – and it’s quite a competition — is regular attendance updates. Spolier alert: The number will astound the reporters. Last year, it was 1.77 million. Though I’ve always suspected that’s probably the same 177,000 mini-donut addicts coming back each of the ten days, for the sake of argument, I’ll accept the number. Even using that number, that leaves something like 3.56 million of us — about two-thirds of all Minnesotans, I’ll have you know — who have chosen NOT to attend the State Fair. And maybe, just maybe, those of us who chose to stay away from the Great Minnesota SweatTogether would rather the news broadcast contain a little actual NEWS.

“Why for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now! I MUST stop it from coming! …But HOW?”

There. I’m better now. Nothing like a good rant. On a stick.

Note:  This is a Wry Wrerun, originally posted by Joe Loveland on The Same Rowdy Crowd blog in August of 2011.

South Dakota: Imagine There’s No Parties

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… 

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

John Lennon

Cursor_and_amendment_v_south_dakota_-_Google_SearchWhen I heard about the constitutional amendment on the South Dakota ballot to make all
state elections nonpartisan, I thought of these lyrics.

Imagine there’s no parties?

Believe it or not, that’s sort of what South Dakota is debating this fall.   At first blush, it struck me as every bit as unlikely and impractical as what John Lennon sang.  But if Amendment V gets a plurality of votes from South Dakotans of all party affiliations this fall, every state office would become nonpartisan.

That means that in every election except for presidential contests there would no longer be separate primaries for the respective political parties, party labels would not be used on ballots, and citizens would no longer have their voting restricted due to their party affiliation, or lack of a party affiliation. Instead of party primaries, a single primary contest would be held, and the top two finishers, regardless of their party affiliations, would face off in the general election.

Cursor_and_nonpartisan_nebraska_-_Google_Search

“Imagine there’s no parties. It isn’t hard to do.”

Partisanship Pros

Except that it is hard for me. Very hard. While municipal and judicial elections currently don’t use party labels, I like having party labels on ballots. They give me helpful shorthand clues when I come across an unfamiliar name towards the end of the ballot.  For instance, if I want to avoid inadvertently casting my vote for someone who wants to underfund public services or weaken environmental protections, seeing that “D” next to a candidate name on the ballot reduces the chance that I will mistakenly vote for someone who doesn’t share my  values.

To be sure, party labels don’t tell you everything, but they give a pretty solid clue about a candidate’s likely positions. I support disclosure in government and governing, and requiring party labels has disclosure benefits.

If party labels weren’t on the ballot, I’d have to do more homework to avoid making voting blunders on the more obscure portions of the ballot.  On the other hand, with online resources that are now available, homework has never been easier.  By the way, this problem could be lessened if all state and local governments allowed citizens to use smart phones or other types of computers while voting. That’s an antiquated rule that needs to be changed.  I need to be able to use my spare brain in the voting booth.

Imagine A Nonpartisan System

Maybe the inconvenience and lack of disclosure associated with a nonpartisan election system would be worth it.  I am painfully aware of what extreme partisanship is doing to our politics. It’s making us mindlessly tribal. It’s causing legislators to substitute logic and analysis for blind loyalty to party leaders and their most powerful interest groups. It’s muting the voices of independent and moderate citizens who don’t identify with either of the major parties. It’s making compromise almost impossible.

Drey Samuelson, one of the founders of the South Dakota public interest group championing Amendment V, TakeItBack.org, feels strongly that the benefits of nonpartisan elections and offices greatly outweigh whatever disclosure-related benefits there might be associated with the status quo.

Imagine no closed door caucus scheming.  Samuelson says one of the most compelling reasons to keep party labels off the ballot is that it removes partisan control from the Legislature, as it has in Nebraska. Party caucuses don’t exist in the Nebraska Legislature, so policy isn’t made behind closed party caucus doors.

Party caucuses aren’t banned by Amendment V.  But Samuelson said that if the nonpartisan amendment passes in South Dakota this fall, there would be strong public pressure for South Dakota legislators to organize themselves in a nonpartisan way — without party caucus meetings and with party power-sharing — as Nebraska has done.

Imagine sharing power and accountability.  In Nebraska’s nonpartisan Legislature, legislators from both parties can and do become legislative committee chairs. Because they share power, they also share credit for legislative successes, and accountability for scandals. There is less time and energy wasted on blame games.

Imagine an equal voice for all.  TakeItBack.org also stresses that a nonpartisan system will give South Dakota’s 115,000 registered Independents an equal voice in the elections and government they fund, which they lack today.  This is particularly important in primary elections, where many of the most important decisions are made.

Imagine a popular Legislature.  A nonpartisan Legislature would also very likely be a more popular Legislature.

“People, by and large, don’t like the division, the bickering, the polarization, and the inefficiency of partisan government,” says Samuelson. “They find that nonpartisan government simply functions better.”

In fact, the nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature is nearly twice as popular as the partisan one to the north. A January 2016 PPP survey of South Dakotans found a 36% approval rating for the South Dakota Legislature, while a June 2015 Tarrance Group survey of Nebraskans found a 62% approval rating for the Nebraska Legislature.

A 62% approval rating should look pretty good to Minnesota legislators.  Minnesota DFL legislators have a 29% approval rating, and Republican legislators have an 18% approval rating (PPP, August 2015).

For my part, I’d be willing to give up partisan labels on the ballot if it would get us a less petty, Balkanized and recalcitrant Legislature.   If Nebraska is predictive of what Minnesota could become, the benefits of such a nonpartisan body would outweigh the costs.

Is South Dakota About To Lead An Anti-Gerrymandering Revolution?

I adore my home state of South Dakota, but I rarely find myself calling for my adopted state of Minnesota to copy South Dakota policies. On a whole range of issues from progressive state income taxes to a higher minimum wage to LGBT rights to dedicated conservation spending to teacher pay to Medicare coverage, I wish the Rushmore state’s policies would become more like Minnesota’s, not vice versa.

But if a majority of South Dakota voters embrace Amendment T at the polls this November, I may soon be feeling some serious SoDak envy.

gerrymander_-_Google_SearchOnce every ten years, all states redraw state and congressional legislative district lines, so that the new boundaries reflect population changes that have occurred in the prior decade. In both Minnesota and South Dakota, elected state legislators draw those district map lines, and the decision-making is dominated by leaders of the party or parties in power.

South Dakota’s pending Amendment T calls for a very different approach. If a majority of South Dakota voters support Amendment T this fall, redrawing of legislative district lines would be done by a multi-partisan commission made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and three independents.  None of the nine commission members could be elected officials.

South_Dakota_Amendment_TThe basic rationale behind Amendment T is this: Elected officials have a direct stake in how those district boundaries are drawn, so giving them the power to draw the maps can easily lead to either the perception or reality of self-serving shenanigans.

As we all know, redistricting shenanigans are common. Guided by increasingly high tech tools and lowbrow ethics, elected officials regularly produce contorted district maps that draw snickers and gasps from citizens.   Often, the judicial branch needs to intervene in an attempt to restore partisan or racial fairness to the maps that the politicians’ produce.

Gerrymandering and Polarization

There are all kinds of problems created by the elected officials’ self-serving gerrymandering.  Legislators in control of the process draw lines to ensure that the gerrymanderer’s party has a majority in as many districts as possible. This leads to many “safe districts,” where one party dominates.  In safe districts, the primary election is effectively the only election that matters. General elections become meaningless, because the winner of the primary elections routinely cruises to an easy victory.

In this way, disproportionately partisan primary voters, who some times make up as little as 5 percent of the overall electorate, effectively become kingmakers who decide who serves in legislative bodies. Meanwhile, minority party and independent voters effectively have almost no say in the choice of lawmakers, even though they usually combine to make up more than 50% of the electorate.

In other words, gerrymandering has given America government of, for and by 5 percent of the people.

Because these primary election kingmakers tend to be from the far ends of the ideological spectrum, gerrymandering has contributed to the polarization of our politics. It has created an environment in which elected officials live in fear that they will be punished in primary elections if they dare to compromise with the other party. As a result, bipartisan compromise has become increasingly extinct in many legislative bodies.

Gerrymandering and Distrust

Beyond political polarization, perhaps the worst thing about politician-driven redistricting is that it makes citizens cynical about their democracy.  Whether you believe problems are real or merely perceived, the fact that elected officials are at the center of redistricting controversies creates deep citizen-leader distrust.  When citizens become convinced that elections are being rigged by elected officials so that the politicians can preserve their personal power, citizens lose faith and pride in their representative democracy. When we lose that, we lose our American heart and soul.

So Minnesota, let’s commit to creating — either via a new state law or by referring a constitutional amendment to voters –our own multi-partisan redistricting commission that removes elected officials from the process. Let’s govern more like South Dakota!

Did I really just say that?

Hillary, the ACA and the Art of the Possible

Cursor_and_hillary_clinton_-_Google_SearchThough I’m a solid Hillary Clinton supporter, I don’t particularly relish defending her at water coolers, dinner tables and social media venues.  When defending Hillary Clinton to those who hoped for more, I often feel like I do when defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to those who hoped for more.

To be clear, neither Hillary nor the ACA were my first choice. Elizabeth Warren and single payer were my first choices.

Neither Hillary nor the ACA are as bold as I’d prefer. They both promise modest incremental change, rather than the more revolutionary change that is needed.

Neither Hillary nor the ACA are, shall we say, untouched by special interests. The ACA is the product of accommodations made to private health insurers, physicians and the pharmaceutical industry, while Clinton is the product of accommodations made to corporations, unions and military leaders.

Also, neither Hillary nor the ACA are easy to understand. Hillary is a wonk’s wonk whose eye-glazing 20-point policy plans don’t exactly sing to lightly engaged voters.   Likewise, the ACA has given birth to 20,000 pages of the densest regulations you’ll ever find. (By the way, a primary reason the ACA is so complex is that conservatives and moderates insisted that it accommodate dozens of for-profit insurance companies instead of  using the more linear single payer model that has been proven effective and efficient by other industrialized nations. In this way, the need for much of the ACA complexity was created by conservatives, not liberals.)

At the same time, neither Hillary nor the ACA are anywhere near as bad as the caricatures created by their demagogic critics. Hillary is not a serial liar and murderer any more than the ACA led to “Death Panels” and force-fed birth control.

The bottom line is that both Hillary and the ACA, for all their respective flaws, are far superior to the alternatives. The steady, smart, savvy, and decent Clinton is much better than the erratic, ignorant, inept and vile Trump. The current ACA era, with a 9.2% uninsured rate (4.3% in Minnesota, where the ACA is more faithfully implemented than it is in many states) and all preexisting conditions covered is much better than the pre-ACA status quo, with an uninsured rate of 15.7% (9% in Minnesota) and millions denied health coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Hillary and the ACA both bring progress, but they are hardly the final word.  The fact that I am supporting the ACA in 2016 doesn’t mean I’m going to stop advocating for ACA improvements, a Medicare-for-All option and ultimately a single payer system. The fact that I am supporting Hillary in 2016 doesn’t mean I’m not going to push for more progressive, bold, compelling and independent leaders in the future.

But politics is the art of the possible.  Hillary and the ACA are what is possible at this point in the history of our imperfect democracy.   As such, I can champion both comfortably, if not entirely enthusiastically.