Reality Check Needed In GOP Debate Venues

GOP_debate_audience_-_Google_SearchIf I were a political party chair, I would make one simple adjustment to make my party more competitive. I would only allow general election swing voters to attend candidate debates.

In general elections, history tells us that the Republican nominee is going to win most Republican voters and lose most Democratic voters. Therefore, their fate is usually going to be determined by their relative ability to attract the roughly one-third of the electorate who are undecided and/or don’t have predictable partisan voting patterns.

If only these type of “swing voters” were sitting in the audience of the debates, candidates would get the kind of reality check that they just don’t get when speaking at partisan debates, rallies, fundraisers, and interest group endorsement interviews.

For instance, when billionaire Donald Trump demeans women, Hispanics, immigrants, and other large voting blocks, he wouldn’t hear the roar of approval he hears from his loyal supporters. He would hear the groans of a broader group of Americans, 59% of whom now have an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Trump, by far the worst of all Republican candidates.

When Dr. Ben Carson says the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the worst thing since slavery, he wouldn’t be rewarded with the hoots and hollers he gets at gatherings of extreme conservatives. Instead, he would hear disapproval from Independent voters, a plurality of whom want the ACA either maintained or expanded (only 30% want it repealed).

When Senator Marco Rubio brags about his legislation opposing Affordable Care Act funding of birth control, he won’t hear the “amens” he gets at gatherings of his anti-abortion supporters.   He’ll hear boos from the 69% of Americans, and 77% of women, who support that ACA birth control benefit.

When Jeb Bush describes his predictable plan to further cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, he won’t get the cheers he gets from the GOP establishment. He’ll hear boos from the 66% of Independent voters who want to increase income taxes on people earning over $250,000 per year.

When Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rick Santorum, Governor Bobby Jindal and Dr. Carson all tout their support for a constitutional amendment banning same sex couples from getting married, an audience of swing voters would not react nearly as positively as conservative audiences do.   After all, a solid majority (61%) of Independents now favor same sex marriages.

To save their party, Republican candidates desperately need a reality check to prevent them from taking extreme positions that sell well with extreme right wing activists, but harm them in general elections, when they need to win a majority of middle-of-the-road voters. Removing the conservative hallelujah chorus from presidential debate audiences would be one good way to begin to inject such a reality check.

Why Aren’t The Best and Brightest Flocking to the Minnesota Legislature?

Both political parties are busily approaching new candidates to seek seats in the Minnesota Legislature for the 2016-2018 legislative session.   This is a noble cause.  For those of us who care about good public policy, this is an opportunity to recruit Minnesota’s best and brightest to elevate the level of discourse, analysis and decision-making that will guide our great state forward.  I’m thankful to all who do this work.

So if you know anyone who has the right stuff, encourage them to run!

HELP WANTED:

Help_wanted_retroBecome a member of our dynamic Minnesota House of Representatives team!  We are seeking candidates with deep professional experience, strong educational background, extensive community ties, impeccable personal ethics and morals, outstanding interpersonal skills, uncommon diplomatic acumen, stellar leadership qualities, deep policy expertise in several different areas, and a highly photogenic family.  Come associate your good name with an organization that has the approval of  a historically low 17 percent of your friends and neighbors.   Candidates must be willing to work round the clock, seven days per week, surrounded by often manipulative, self-serving colleagues and associates, many masquerading as friends.  Even the most talented employees should be expected to remain largely silent and powerless for several years, due to seniority rules that ensure that major decisions are shaped by senior committee chairs and caucus leaders from gerrymandered-safe legislative seats.  Employees will be constantly criticized by news reporters, snarky bloggers and anonymous Tweeters, often based on inaccurate or incomplete information. Employees shouldn’t be surprised if they are audited, scrutinized and prosecuted for partisan purposes. Even the most highly accomplished employees will be automatically fired every two years. However, employees willing to work round the clock may earn rehiring,  following thousands of job interviews conducted by hostile and lightly informed interrogators who are often basing their rehiring decision  on just one of the thousands of official decisions the employee has made over the course of their career.  To finance the rehirement attempt, employees will be expected to continually raise large sums of money from friends, relatives, neighbors, strangers and interest groups making shady demands.  The non-negotiable salary for this position is less than the average salary of a sewage worker, $31,141 per year.

I ask you, what thoughtful Minnesota citizesn wouldn’t jump at such an opportunity?

Note:  This post was republished on MinnPost.

News Flash: Candidate Announces a Running Mate…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

KuisleIn recent years, it feels like the quantity of political reporting in daily newspapers has dropped off.  Whether a function of smaller newsrooms, editors who believe the public wants less political coverage, editors who are gun shy about provocative political topics, or something else, there just seems to be less political coverage.

Political reporters do still cover the most predictable, scripted and formal of political events — candidacy filings and announcements, campaign finance filings, party endorsement events, and running mate announcements.   For the most part, the public snores through all of this formulaic coverage of predictable events.

Case in point:  Today’s Star Tribune carried a fairly in-depth article about Hennepin County Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson picking Guy I’ve Never Heard Of as his Lieutenant Governor running mate.   In this article, we are earnestly briefed about the selection of someone who almost certainly won’t impact the outcome of the gubernatorial race, and almost certainly wouldn’t have substantive duties if he somehow beat the odds and actually got the job.

What is even better is that we can look forward to this kind of scintillating “candidate chooses running mate” coverage for each of the multitudes of candidates in the gubernatorial race.  Spoiler alert:  Each candidate will be picking someone brilliant who is “balancing their ticket” in some fashion.

Meanwhile, more important and interesting things go uncovered or undercovered.

  • When congressional candidate and big box store heir Stuart Mills III airs a TV ad portraying himself a self-made man who treats his workers well, there is no newspaper  probing of those two claims.
  • When Senator Al Franken films an ad implying he has been working overtime to help small businesses get high skilled workers, there is no probing of the veracity of that claim.
  • When shadowy independent expenditure groups’ attack ads are aired, there is too little work put into trying to learn about the financial backing for the ads, and whether the groups’ claims are based in fact.
  • When Candidate A criticizes Policy X while refusing to offer a detailed alternative, there is too little exposing that act of political cowardice and intellectual dishonesty.

These are shadowy areas where savvy, sleuthing political reporters could actually shed light.  But when political operatives figure out that lying and hiding won’t get exposed, guess what, lying and hiding proliferates.  When that happens, our democracy gets weaker.

I hope this isn’t an either/or issue.  Maybe there still is enough capacity in newsrooms and column inches in newspapers to cover both the formulaic stories and the more probing stories.  That would be ideal.  But if there no longer is enough journalistic capacity for both types of coverage, our democracy needs the latter much more than it needs the former.

– Loveland

Five Reasons It’s Okay To Just Say “No” To Checkout Charities

Americans don’t lack for opportunities to donate to charities.  We are continually solicited by telephone, email, social media, mail, and door-to-door.

In recent years, we have added checkout counters to that list.  Now  many retail transactions are concluded with  “would you like to make a donation today to…?”   It’s not unusual to get solicited like this half a dozen times a day, day after day.

I’m not a fan.  It feels like the glaring checkout person is judging while customers are craning their necks to see what kind of sociopath would deny hope to the homeless puppies, cancer battlers or wounded warriors.  And I’m that kind of sociopath.

Good Brand Management?

I understand why charities like this approach.  It’s an opportunity to have third parties making their pitch to a captive audience who just happens to have it’s wallet wide open.  It also doesn’t hurt that the prospective donors’ peers are watching.    The checkout solicitations constitute free advertising and fundraising services delivered at a very opportune moment.

Nickels and dimes, you scoff?  This approach raises a great deal of money — $358 million from 63 charities in 2012 – with the charities barely lifting a finger.

no_solicitations_signI also understand why retailers like it.  The theory is that associating a retail brand with a warm and fuzzy charity makes the retailer feel more warm and fuzzy by association.   At first blush, it looks to be savvy brand management.

But is it?  While few openly complain, I have a feeling I’m not the only one grumpy about it.  There is a reason why you see so many “No Solicitation” signs in front of stores.  Because for many, being solicited is unpleasant and something we try to avoid.

Given how much retailers invest in optimizing the “customer experience “– the music, the lighting, the staff professionalism, the packaging, the flow of the store – it’s interesting how willing the same brand managers are to top off my customer experience with a big fat guilt trip that leaves me resenting them.  And they wonder why I’m increasingly shopping online?

Five Reasons to Not Give To Checkout Charities

 So I’m here to give you permission to say “no” to the homeless puppies.  If others want to give at checkout, I applaud them.  If that works for them, I’m all for it.  But there are plenty of reasons – altruistic reasons  even — to take a pass at the checkout counter, and donate on your own terms at another place and time.

Reason #1.  To give yourself time to research and prioritize.  Charities are not commodities.  Some are better than others.  Some fit your values better than others.  Some are more efficient than others.   Some produce better results than others. Maybe the charity soliciting at your favorite store is the best choice for you, but you won’t know until you take a little time to learn about them and others.  Most of us wouldn’t dream of investing our savings without doing a bit of research, so why would we invest in charitable work without first doing a little research?

Reason #2.  So you can nudge charities to get better.  When we are doing impulse giving at checkout stands, charities don’t have much competitive pressure to improve their services.  After all, why control your administrative costs and strive to get better results when your impulsive donors aren’t paying attention to those things.   When donors are doing their research, asking probing questions, and voting with their feet based on what they learn, charities improve their services so they can earn more donations.  And when charities improve their services, more people get helped.

Reason #3.  So you can stick to your philanthropic budget. Just as many set a household spending budget, it’s a good idea to have a personal philanthropic budget.  Let’s say your household budget says you can afford to donate $2,500 in a given year.  When you’re haphazardly giving micro-donations at checkouts, it’s difficult to tell if you are over or under that budget at the end of the year.

Reason #4.  So you can get the tax deduction owed to you.  Okay, I don’t want to go all Section 170(c) of the Internal Revenue code on you, but you probably already know that charitable giving is tax deductible.  However, it feels like almost no one tracks the $358 million per year in checkout donations.  Not taking advantage of that deduction can mean the loss of a fair amount of money at tax time.  That may strike you as awfully green eye shadey, but bypassing the charitable deduction is effectively throwing away money, money that you could choose to give charities.

Reason #5.  So you can discourage a proliferation of checkout shakedowns.  This much I promise you, the more we give at checkout, the more we will be solicited at checkout.  Non-profits copy whatever works for other non-profits.  So, if you don’t want to be continually solicited, you have to start declining.

Again, I’m not discouraging giving.  Please keep giving.  I’m just suggesting that it’s perfectly acceptable to deny the homeless puppies at the checkout counter and give on your own terms.  As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, sometimes you “must be cruel only to be kind.”  If you ask me, the checkout counter shakedown is one of those times.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also published in MinnPost.

South Dakota’s Rick Weiland: A Different Kind of U.S. Senate Candidate

Most U.S. Senate candidates spend all of their time traveling to Wall Street, K Street, LaSalle Street, Montgomery Street, and Federal Street to beg for money from millionaires and billionaires who demand obedience after they’re elected.

Most U.S. Senate candidates produce phony cookie cutter ads whose stock photography make them all look and sound the same.

So, it’s refreshing to see at least one U.S. Senate candidate, South Dakota’s Rick Weiland, running a very different kind of campaign, on Main Streets running to reform Wall Street.    Three hundred and eleven South Dakota Main Streets, to be precise.

This video, shot and editied by the candidate’s son Nick, and song, performed by the candidate with family members and friends, isn’t the slickest thing you’ll ever see.  It might even be a little corny for some of you hipsters.  But it’s also a rare breath of fresh air in an all too polluted political atmosphere.

Franken Opponent McFadden Refuses To Confirm Own Existence

invisible_manSaint Paul, Minnesota — Minnesota U.S.  Senate candidate Mike McFadden held a news conference today to announce that he would be announcing nothing.

“Minnesota is great, and I’ll do lots of great stuff in the Senate to make it even greater,” said McFadden, to roaring applause from his supporters.  “Beyond that, I promise that I will not do wasteful ungreat things that keep Minnesota from becoming greater.”

Under questioning from reporters, the wealthy businessman running to replace U.S. Senator Al Franken refused to provide positions  on the national policy issues that are debated in the U.S. Senate.   For example, McFadden declined to state his position on the minimum wage, the Paycheck Fairness Act and a “personhood” anti-birth control measure.

MinnPost reporter Eric Black recently attempted to profile the stealth Senate candidate, but struggled to find anything to profile beyond the over $2 million the former businessman has raised from enthusiastic conservative donors.  Black characterized the McFadden record like this:

I’m not sure what the record is for seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate without disclosing issue positions, but McFadden, who declared his candidacy nine months ago, may be giving it a run.

There is no “issues” section on his campaign website. He skipped the first three opportunities to debate his Republican opponents for the nomination.  On Monday, he appeared at the fourth debate, but that one was closed to the press and public.

The McFadden campaign maintains that the candidate has taken many position stands, such as his desire to “name way more awesome things after Ronald Reagan” and “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

When pressed for details about what he would replace the ACA with, McFadden said that announcement would need to wait until he begins his six-year term in office.

“We will help, not hurt Americans,” McFadden  explained.

The campaign did release a 12-page single spaced list of things McFadden would rename after Ronald Reagan.

When asked to name political role models McFadden listed Ronald Reagan, several Reagan impersonators and Chauncey Gardiner.

“By standing for no one, and Mike is appealing to everyone,” said Saul Loes, a conservative political consultant advising the McFadden campaign. “He just might be the most brilliant politician of our generation, if he exists, which we are neither confirming nor denying.”

Note:  This post is satire.

Minnesota Majority: Too Fig To Fail

Fig leafs to hide that which you'd rather not be public.

There was an interesting item this week in Politics in Minnesota about the potential demise of a conservative interest group called Minnesota Majority.  In the most desperate fundraising appeal I’ve seen since the waning days of Tony Sutton at the Minnesota GOP, the power brokers at Minnesota Majority declared that if their conservative benefactors don’t deliver another $20,000 to their doorstep this week, they would be forced to cease operations.

Founded in 2007 by a fellow named Jeff Davis, Minnesota Majority was the lead organization behind the 2012 drive to build additional barriers to voting in Minnesota, a proposition that was wisely rejected by 54% of Minnesota voters.

Since Minnesota Majority proved to be in the minority, it apparently has fallen upon hard times.  Current Majority leader Dan McGrath spins it this way in a recent fundraising appeal:

“The 2012 election results seem to have brought about a dangerous malaise causing many people, including some past major donors, to disengage,” the appeal states. “As a result, we’ve been struggling to raise enough money to keep the lights on all year and we’re rapidly reaching a critical point, where we will have do decide if it’s viable to continue operating at all.”

If Minnesota Majority actually goes under, I’d love to go to their  “Going Out of Business Sale.”  I bet you could get some sweet deals on glamour shots of the Koch brothers, the billionaire masterminds of the voter suppression drive.  I’d also love to see how much they can get for that framed May 2011 Star Tribune poll showing 80% support for Minnesota Majority’s voter ID proposal.  (To me, the smashed glass only adds a sense of history to the artifact.)

I still am not convinced that Jeff “Not Jefferson” Davis and his merrymakers at Minnesota Majority are truly done with their voter suppression shenanigans.  After all, it seems to have served a very important purpose for a lot of conservative  donors intent on preventing voting among those least likely to have a photo ID — the old, the young, the poor, and the minorities.  Many of those Minnesota Majority donors would rather not be too public about these sordid anti-democratic efforts.

In short, the voting suppressor enthusiasts need something to cover up that which is embarrassing to show in public, a sort of 501(c)(3) fig leaf.  Even if Minnesota Majority goes away in its current form, it will return in a laundered form, so that there will be someone to do the things some conservative donors would rather not do too publicly.  The struggling voting suppressors at Minnesota Majority are, in the final analysis, too fig to fail.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured as a Best of the Blogs by Politics in Minnesota and in MinnPost.

Is Target Still Playing Kingmaker?

About 16-months ago at Minnesota-based Target Corporation’s annual meeting in Pittsburgh, an embattled Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel stressed that Target would heretofore remain neutral on the issue of gay rights, but would continue to make political donations.   A June 9, 2011 Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal headline characterized the balancing act Steinhafel was attempting:

CEO: Target will be neutral on marriage vote, will still give politically

Steinhafel’s neutrality pledge came on the heels of a customer backlash prompted by the corporation making a large political donation to anti-gay rights Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.  Remember all the news stories, boycotts, social media rants, and flash dance protests?

At the time Steinhafel made this announcement in Pittsburgh, I wondered how Target could  possibly manage to support political candidates while keeping its neutrality pledge, since virtually all candidates take positions on gay rights issues.   After all, the world community would no longer consider Switzerland neutral if it was funding a combatant.

So, what is Target doing now?  In the 2012 election, what candidates are being funded by Target, or has Target decided to stay out of politics altogether?

My drive-by Googling can’t find the answer to this question.  After all that coverage and controversy in 2010 and 2011, could it be no business or political reporter has followed up with Target?

Will GOP-Backed Ballot Questions Help or Hurt DFL Candidates?

This year, Minnesota Republicans are pushing two controversial constitutional amendments on the ballot, requiring voters to have photo IDs and banning gay Minnesotans from getting married. Why? Well, political operatives typically add constitutional amendments to the ballot for three primary reasons.  The first two are fairly well-known:

CONVICTION.  First, many genuinely believe in these issues.  Much of the rationale for ballot initiatives is borne of politics, but some of it is borne of values and conviction.  Some really do view unfamiliar forms of love and commitment as a personal or cultural threat, for instance. It’s grossly misguided conviction, but it’s conviction nonetheless.

 PARTICIPATION.  Second, impacting turnout is also a primary goal of ballot initiatives.  Political operators want the existence of the ballot questions to lure like-minded voters to the polls to help their candidates win.  For instance, Republicans know that some on the Christian right hate gays more than they love Romney, so promoting an amendment to take away the rights of gays is their back door way of ensuring that unenthusiastic conservatives show up to hold their nose and vote for Romney.    (And of course, in the case of the photo ID amendment, conservatives want to suppress long-term electoral participation of groups with an annoying propensity to vote against them.)

Finally, there is a  third, less discussed, reason ballot initiatives are promoted:

DISTRACTION.  Beyond conviction and turnout-related motivations, ballot initiative proponents often hope to distract their opponents from the primary electoral task at hand.  In 2012, Republicans put the photo ID and marriage ban questions on the ballot to spread liberal donors and volunteers thin, and distract them from other important campaign tasks.

I was reminded of this distraction motive when recently visiting with a friend who is very involved in supporting a school levy referendum issue in his community.  While my friend is a strong opponent of the idiotic marriage ban amendment promoted by Republicans, he was lamenting the fact that it was difficult to get liberal volunteers and donations for the school funding campaign, because there is so much energy rightfully flowing into playing defense on the Republicans’ marriage ban.  I’ve heard candidates say the same thing.

I’m not arguing that civil rights is less important than school funding, or vice versa, I’m just pointing out that the conservative ballot initiative shenanigans do, to some extent, tie liberal activists into pretzels.  When liberals are playing defense on attempts to deny marriage and voting rights, they have fewer volunteers and dollars to play offense when it comes to Issue A and Candidate B.  It’s subtraction by addition, and it’s very intentional.

But the question remains, will it work out as Republicans intended?   GOP amendment sponsors should be wary of that old Law of Unintended Consequences.  The marriage ban amendment has lit a fire under a large, passionate and well-funded army of GLTB-supportive donors and volunteers, and that army will be driving turnout on Election Day that will help liberals up and down the ballot.  A polarizing issue like gay marriage generates more turnout on both sides.  Historically, it has produced a net benefit for conservatives.  But polls show that the popular tide is rapidly turning on that issue, and this could be the year that the existence of this GOP-sponsored issue on the ballot actually helps liberals more than conservatives.

– Loveland

 

Note:  The post was also featured in the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report’s “Best of the Blogs” feature.

Five Freedoms Citizen Pawlenty Can Now Enjoy

To politicians, losing is agonizing.   I can empathize with the pain of a lifelong dream lost, but I always wonder if a part of them isn’t just a little relieved.  After all, losing does give politiicans back the freedom they surrendered when they decided to become a politician, with all of the artificiality and risk averse programming that is baked into that lifestyle.

I sincerely hope Tim Pawlenty is feeling some of that relief after seeing his presidential and vice presidential dreams slip away.  Because though he has lost at the hands of McCain and Romney, he has also gained.  As Citizen Pawlenty, Tim now will gain back the freedoms most of us take for granted.

THE FREEDOM TO SAY THE WORD “TAX.”  As Governor, Pawlenty was strictly forbidden from saying the word “tax” in association with his own policies.  To do so, would, Continue reading

Poor Kurt Bills Needs To Learn Modern GOP Fundraising Tactics

I’ve got a tip for poor Kurt Bills or any Republican candidate out there running low on cash:  Say something really, really bizzaro.

I don’t mean a mere gaffe, or run-of-the-mill lie.  I mean the kind of batty stuff that used to get people drummed out of politics.  Because in the increasingly outlandish Republican Party, such rantings are a money magnet.

In today’s Republican Party, if you caterwaul “YOU LIE!” at the President of the United States during a quiet moment of a formal occasion, you no longer will be interrogated by the authorities and have a lifelong security clearance flag on your record.  Instead, you will receive a quick infusion of $200,000 from adoring Republicans.

If you state as incontrovertible fact that 80 Members of the United States Congress are members of the Communist Party, with much less evidence than disgraced Joe McCarthy brought forth, you will no longer be marginalized in American politics.  Rather, you will immediately use your hallucination as fundraising fodder, and be rewarded with a seven-figure avalanche of cash.

If it comes to light that you sexually harassed numerous women while married, you will no longer be ostracized by vigilant marriage-defending Republicans.  You will immediately receive a flood of $400,000 from them, and see your poll numbers spike.

And if you give voice to your reckless McCarthyesque delusions about terrorists infiltrating Hillary Clinton’s inner circle, you will no longer see your career fade to irrelevance the way McCarthy’s did.  Instead, you will open your mailbox to find a cool million waiting for you.

All of which is to say, Minnesota congressional candidate Mike Parry is a political genius.  Because now that he has viciously accused the Governor of being a drug addict with absolutely no evidence, and even ultra-conservatives in his own party contradicting him, he will not be quietly walked off the Republican stage before he does the Party more damage.   Instead, he will probably see Minnesota Republican activists flock to him with wallets wide open.

Therefore, look for U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills, now sitting on a mere 6,000 bills, to say something kooky in the coming days to revitalize his somnolent campaign.  I’m talking even loopier than “look at me, I’m Paul Wellstone!”  Perhaps he could accuse Senator Kloubachar of being a cleverly disguised blood thirsty space alien pedophile cannibal commie intent on overthrowing God, and Smith & Wesson, through provisions she has secretly inserted into the tax code, in invisible ink.

That ought to get him a seat on Hannity tonight, and several million dollars in the bank by morning.

– Loveland

 

Note:  This post was also featured as part of the “Best of the Blogs” feature in Politics in Minnesota’s Morning Report.

Sponsor a Starving Minnesota Republican Party Leader Today

Just pennies per day.

That’s all it will take to sponsor a starving Minnesota Republican Party official suffering under the most brutal fundraising drought in years.

Drought conditions in the troubled land of AynRandia have reached catastrophic proportions.

  • Beluga sturgeon caviar at GOP fundraisers is being rationed with Death Panel-like barbarity.
  • Tri-corner hats for Tea Party rallies are in desperately short supply.
  • GOP leaders’ extramarital liaisons are having to take place at mere four-star hotels.

Relief workers in the front lines have described conditions as “horrific.” Continue reading