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.

Norm Coleman To Return To His DFL Roots?

Former St. Paul Mayor and U.S. Senator Norm Coleman is nothing if not flexible.

  • When  leftist radicals were de rigueur in the 1960s, Norm 1.0 was a leftist radical.
  • When Skip Humphrey and Bill Clinton were on top of the political world, Norm 2.0 clung to them and the rest of the Democratic establishment.
  • When the easier path to higher office appeared to be through the GOP, Coleman retrofitted into GOP Norm 3.0.
  • When the Tea Partiers became power brokers, Norm 3.0 dutifully donned a tri-corner hat, formed a Super PAC to fund Tea Party-backed candidates, and endorsed Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann for, I kid you not, Vice President.

Then in 2012,  the going got tough for Senator Coleman and Tea Partiers, so the tough got a poll. In a St. Paul Pioneer Press commentary this week, Coleman advises Minnesotans  that he is in possession of scientific evidence indicating that “Minnesotans are not anti-government.” Continue reading

A Kinda Sorta Retraction on Constitutional Amendments

A while back, a communications strategist for the Minnesota House Republicans took umbrage with my assertion that the 2012 GOP-controlled Legislature had a historically low approval rating of 17% in part because Republican legislators were:

“Wasting all their time on constitutional amendments to limit Minnesotans’ freedoms to marry and vote.”

He took exception with my use of the word “all.”  To his credit, the Umbrage Taker was wielding supportive data, which earned him extra credit in my book.  I have no reason to dispute the data, and found them interesting, so I am happy to share them to hereby clear the record:

Continue reading

The Anti-Amendment Amendment Lives

A little less than a year ago, I blogged at The Same Rowdy Crowd about One Minnesota Ballot Initiative I Could Support.

In said blog, Captain Obvious pointed out that Minnesota is supposed to have a representative democracy, where we elect leaders to make decisions for us, rather than a direct democracy, where elected officials pass the decision-making buck back to the voters who elected them to make decisions.

My specific complaint was about Minnesota conservatives’ rush toward a rash of constitutional amendments as a means of bypassing the normal two-branch lawmaking process, which includes a liberal Governor in possession of a veto pen.

I then proposed, somewhat cheekily, that: Continue reading

How In the World Did Minnesota GOPers Screw Up Their Golden Opportunity?

I have a prediction, though not a particularly prescient one.  Minnesota Republicans will say they lost the election because of bad candidates.  Mitt Romney, Kurt Bills, and the Tea Party-supported freshmen legislators were all just bad candidates, they will say.

“Victory has a thousand fathers, and defeat is an orphan,” as John F. Kennedy observed, and in the coming days a lot of Republican candidates will be orphaned.

But for their own good, Republican leaders need to objectively ponder this question:  Bad candidates, or bad policies? Continue reading

Brodkorb Says Gay Marriage Opponents Are Being Used As Political Pawns. Photo ID Supporters Too?

Michael Brodkorb, former top political strategist for Minnesota Republicans, recently made it perfectly clear that the Republican-proposed gay marriage ban amendment was motivated by politics, not principles.

As WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler reported:

 In an interview with WCCO, Mr. Brodkorb Continue reading

Governors Glum and Glummer Team Up In Voter Restriction Ad

In an era of extreme partisan polarization, DFL Governor Mark Dayton and Republican former Governor Arne Carlson have teamed up in an interesting bipartisan effort to defeat the highly partisan voter restriction constitutional amendment.

While I admire the integrity of both men, let’s just say these are not two of the more perky pitchmen you’ll ever hear. Minnesota has been host to the filming of Grumpy Old Men, Grumpier Old Men, and, now, Grumpiest Old Men. Continue reading

Why Minnesotans Might Re-hire the Worst Legislature in History

Most Minnesotans like their kids’ teachers, but not the overall K-12 system.

They like their doctor, but not the overall health care system.

They like the individual they can connect with personally in their immediate sphere, but have disdain for the individual’s institution.  Once we have looked someone in the eye, pressed their flesh, and heard their life stories, we form human connections that drown out our critical thinking.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more prevalent than in politics.  In politics, people often express emphatic disapproval for legislative bodies, yet they keep returning their own representative to that body.

And then they wonder why nothing changes in the legislative body.  What’s that old definition of insanity? Continue reading

Key To Photo ID Outcome: Continued Persuasion of Seniors, Minorities and Independents

When proponents of the photo ID constitutional amendment burst onto the scene, they identified themselves as “reformers.”  As a result, many reform-minded Minnesotans initially accepted their reform claim at face value.  In June, a poll found the proposal was backed by nearly six-out-of-ten (58%) voters.

But over the course of the summer and fall, Minnesotans began to scrutinize the “reformer” claim more closely.  Many discovered that the alleged “reformers” were trying to deceive them with what amounts to a really bad fake ID.

As the non-partisan League of Women Voters and many others have pointed out, the voting “reformers” are actually voting restricters, intentionally seeking to suppress the votes of people least likely to have photo IDs – seniors, minorities, poor people and college students.  This message is finally starting to get out.

Who is figuring it out the fastest? Non-white Minnesotans.   Though I earlier noted that 68% of non-white Minnesota voters supported the photo ID in an early June 2012 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey, that number has decreased dramatically to 55% in an October PPP survey.  Clearly minority voters, whose families have endured literacy tests and scores of other procedural barriers to keep them from voting, are beginning to smell another voter suppression rat.

Seniors are catching on too.  The support of Minnesotans older than 65 years old has decreased from 55% in June to 45% in October.  This is a key development, because Minnesota has a lot of seniors, and they are more reliable voters than many other groups.

Independent voters are also getting it, though a bit less slowly.  In June, 58% of self-identified Independents supported the photo ID amendment, and this month that number had decreased a bit to 52%.

The momentum with minorities (13-point swing), seniors (10-point swing) and Independents (six-point swing) over this four-month period is encouraging news for photo ID amendment opponents.  But it is still remarkable that the support for photo ID among these groups is  relatively high, in the 45-to-55% range.
Therefore, the battleground over the next three weeks includes Independent, senior and minority voters.  If the momentum among those voting blocks continues through the next month, the “reformers’’” fake ID scam could be fully exposed by Election Day.
– Loveland
Note:  This post was also featured in the “Best of the Blogs” portion of the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report.

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.

What Republicans Say About Voter ID, Behind Closed Doors

When you want to know why political hacks are doing something, don’t listen to the answer they give in public.  The pols’ public answers are carefully cleansed, and the truth often shrinks or disintegrates in the spin cycle.  Instead, listen to what they say in private.  That’s where the truth comes out.

Take Voter ID.  When you ask Minnesota Republicans why they are pushing a state constitutional amendment to require voters to produce photo IDs, they swear it is to limit voter impersonation.  But when you learn that they can’t produce any evidence of a single case of voter impersonation in Minnesota, you start to wonder if they have an unstated motive that is less pure.   And when you listen to what the revered “father of the conservative movement,” Paul Weyrich, said to conservative leaders in private, the truth emerges:

In a democracy, I can’t think of any words more dangerous than Weyrich’s words:

How many of our Christians have what I call the “goo goo syndrome?” Good government.   They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our (Christian conservative) leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the motive to the photo ID crime.  The reason why Minnesota Republicans want to send voters without photo IDs – disproportionately Minnesota’s oldest, youngest and most pigmented voters, according to the Minnesota League of Women Voters – on a bureaucratic wild goose chase can be found in the words of the father of the modern conservative movement.  They “don’t want everybody to vote.”

Yes, you say, but that was a long time ago.  Conservative patriots can’t possibly still be so cynical that they would attack the very bedrock of our proud American democracy for crass self-serving reasons.  But fast forward to 2012, and listen to what they say to each other when they think no one else is listening.  This is from Pennsylvania state Representative Mike Turzai:

Again, we learn that the motive is not preventing the non-existent problem of voter impersonation.  The motive is voter suppression of non-conservatives.

So to really learn why Republicans are so in love with this idea of photo IDs for voters, forget what they say in public.  Instead, be mindful of the words of legendary country singer Charlie Rich,

“And when we get behind closed doors,
Then she lets her hair hang down.”

Ballot Language Ruling Easily Could Come Back To Bite Minnesota GOP

In the wake of yesterday’s Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the GOP Legislature’s ballot wording for two proposed constitutional amendments, endzone-dancing Republican leaders should keep something in mind.

The Supremes did not rule in favor of the Republican Party.  They ruled in favor of the legislature branch.   Important difference.

Here is what the Court said:

The proper role for the judiciary, however, is not to second-guess the wisdom of policy decisions that the constitution commits to one of the political branches.

The Secretary of State exceeded his authority … when he provided titles different from those passed by the Legislature.”

Granted, that’s good news for Republicans this year, because they’re the ones currently controlling  the legislative “policy decisions” of which the Court speaks.

But in future years, the same ruling could easily turn out to be very bad news for Republicans.  After all, the way Minnesota’s long-term demographics are trending – with the most rapid population growth happening in demographic groups historically more supportive of DFL candidates – the prospect of permanent GOP control of the Legislature is far from certain.

Future DFL-controlled Legislatures, stinging from the constitutional word games Republicans have played during their leadership reign, could do something equally absurd, or even more absurd.

For instance, a DFL-controlled Legislature could propose a constitutional amendment to require an enormous tax on the wealthiest Minnesotans to finance, let’s say, vacation homes for DFL leaders, or something else completely reckless.  Furthermore, taking a page out of the GOP’ 2012 playbook, the DFL-controlled Legislature could then deceptively present this proposal to voters on their ballots in benign-sounding euphamisms:

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to support fairness in housing financing in Minnesota, effective July 1, 2015?”

As I understand yesterday’s ruling, the Supremes wouldn’t overrule that kind of a hypothetical ballot wording scam.  Not their job.  I exaggerate in my example, for I am a blogger and exaggeration is what we do, but you get the general idea.

This is not a problem that is going to go away under the status quo approach to wording ballot questions.  The majority party in the Legislature will probably continue to play word games in their drafting, and, again, the majority party may not always be to Speaker Zellers’ liking.

A few days ago I proposed what seems to me to be a more fair way of drafting ballot questions.  Whether the reform comes off of my cocktail napkin, or from someone who actually knows what they’re doing, reform of the current ballot initiative drafting system is needed.   If Minnesota politicians are going to persist in continually trying to amend the State Constitution to tickle their political fancy — and it seems pretty certain that they are — we need to at least get the proposals described to voters clearly and fairly.

– Loveland

The True ID of The Photo ID Proponents: Partisan Hacks

Minnesota Republicans are hell bent on solving the problem of voter impersonation.  This might be a worthy effort, if there was a big problem. However, the Minnesota League of Women Voters, the earnest non-partisan group dedicated to the integrity of our voting system, has concluded:

The only type of illegal voting that a voter photo-ID can prevent is voter impersonation. There is no evidence of voter impersonation in any Minnesota election. In two statewide recounts in 2008 and 2010, our election system was put under a microscope as lawyers from the two major parties looked for problems. They didn’t find any; they did find that Minnesota’s election system is remarkably sound and transparent.

In other words, the biggest problem with this solution is there is no problem that requires solving.  There is no roving gang of thugs engaging in voter impersonation en masse.

Of course, if there were  highly motivated roving gangs of impersonators, or even a lone serial impersonator, they would have no problem overcoming the voter ID proposal.  The Economist reminds us what all of us who have kids, or were kids, know: 

A study in 2009 of American university students found that 17% of freshmen and 32% of seniors owned a false ID.

So if there were a voter impersonation problem, which there isn’t, the photo ID requirement wouldn’t solve it.  Motivated impersonators could still find it easy to impersonate.

While the photo ID requirement doesn’t solve an existing problem, it does create a huge and dangerous one — voter suppression.

Americans are highly motivated to drive, and therefore willing to spend a few hours and dollars to get a drivers license with a photo on it.  But many Americans are not at all motivated to vote.   We know this because we have spent billions of dollars over the years enticing citizens to vote via TV ads, radio ads, mailings, phone calls,  and rides to the polls, and a shocking 90% to 50%  of the population, depending on the election, still does not vote.

With that kind of baseline apathy, it clearly doesn’t take much to get more people to sit out Election Day.  For many, the addition of a bureaucratic scavenger hunt to secure an official photo ID card will do the trick.

People who have photo IDs tend to assume that everyone has them, so the Republicans’ photo ID proposal would merely require voters to take what they already have out of their wallets or purses.  But according to the non-partisan Minnesota League of Women Voters:

Approximately 11% of the voting population does not carry a photo ID that meets these rigid requirements. The percentage is higher among certain groups: the elderly (18%), younger adults (18%), minorities (25% of African-Americans) and people who are low-income (15%).

Hey, wait a minute.  Old, young, minority and poor people?  Aren’t they all groups that tend to vote disproportionately against Republicans?  Could it be that the Republicans want to solve a different problem than the non-existent problem of voter impersonation, the problem of citizens who vote against Republicans?

– Loveland


Note:  This post was also featured as a “best of the blogs” in Politics in Minnesota’s Morning Report.

A Better Way to Write Minnesota’s Ballot Questions?

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of the debate over the wording of Constitutional Amemdment summaries appearing on Minnesota ballots.   Secretary of State Ritchie’s wording seems significantly more clear and descriptive of the actual amendment content.  But I’m not sure if a Secretary of State has authority to change the language that the Legislature passes.  Soon, the Minnesota Supremes will clarity that question.

But regardless of what the justices say about authority, I wonder if there is a better way to draft clear and accurate ballot language in the future?

I have a rough idea that I recently developed over a few adult beverages.  What, you think the Founding Dads didn’t scribble on the occasional ale house napkin?

Anyway, here is my idea:  The Legislature and Governor could pass a statute to create a “Ballot Initiative Commission,” or some such proper sounding name. The Commission’s job would be to develop the wording of ballot summaries, which means neither the Legislature nor the Secretary of State would have drafting authority in the future.

Sample Commission details:  The Governor could appoint three members, and legislative leaders could appoint three members.  None of the members could be current elected officials or government employees, or have served as an elected official or government employee for the past 10 years.

To help get the focus on clarity, the first draft of the ballot language would be developed by whoever is the current head of the University of Minnesota’s Department of English.  The English Department Chair’s role would be advisory only.

The Commission could alter the draft however it collectively wanted.  There would need to be a majority vote of the Commission supporting the final wording before the language would be conveyed to the Secretary of State for inclusion on the ballot.  There would be deadlines to ensure they got their work done in a timely fashion.

The Commission’s wording obviously could still be challenged in the courts, as is happening now with the status quo system.  But the big change would be that the language would originate from this less partisan Commission that is structurally required to compromise, not elected officials in either the Legislature or the Secretary of State’s office, or their staffs.

I don’t feel especially strongly about the details of the proposal.  The pointy-heads at the Capitol can add all the “whereases,” “in lieu ofs” and “heretofores” they want.  The underlying principles are what matter:

REDUCE THE POLITICIZATION OF THE DRAFTING PROCESS.  Get ballot language drafting out of the hands of elected officials, who will always be tempted to be more concerned about partisan advantage than clarity or accuracy.   Instead, get the drafting into the hands of less partisan Minnesotans.

BAKE THE NEED FOR BIPARTISAN COMPROMISE INTO THE PROCESS.  Numerically speaking, structure the Commission so that the Legislature’s appointees can’t attain a majority without winning over at least one vote from a gubernatorial appointee, or vice versa.

PUT MORE INITIAL FOCUS ON CLARITY.  At least begin the process with a writer who is paid to be clear, not a writer who is paid to win elections.

A perfect process?  Of course, not.  Games would still be played.  But it would be much better than the current process that is currently in the throes of a messy food fight in the State Supreme Court.

Anyway, if anyone out there is interested, I think I still have the napkin.

– Loveland


This post was also featured as a “best of the best” on MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Racial Minorities Overwhelmingly Support the Photo ID Amendment That Suppresses Their Vote

The case against the state constitutional amendment to require photo identification at Minnesota voting sites is that the requirement will disproportionately suppress turnout of, among others, racial minorities.  State Senator Patricia Torres-Ray:

 It’s going to make voting more difficult for thousands of law-abiding Minnesotans, and the brunt of that burden will fall on communities of color.

Amendment opponents need to more effectively make their case to communities of color, because in a obscure crosstab of a new Public Policy Polling survey released this week it is clear that racial minorities in Minnesota are currently overwhelmly supportive of the amendment, even significantly more so than white Minnesotans.

To state the obvious, a particular specialty of mine:  If opponents can’t even convince the primary victims of this amendment to oppose it, the Photo ID Amendment is headed for easy passage.

There is a LOT of work to do here.

– Loveland


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