Whatever Happened to the GOP Extremists in Legislature?

carnival_sideshow_vingate_signThe antics of Republican members of the Minnesota State Legislature used to be a reliable source of gasps and guffaws. Over recent years, Republican legislators have been obsessed with regulating gay couple’s love lives and straight citizen’s sexual health. They continually attempted to have their narrow religious views dictate the governance of a pluralistic society. They compared poverty stricken families to wild animals who shouldn’t be fed, and backed up that ugly rhetoric with deep cuts in human services for those families.  They shut down of state government in an attempt to make services in Minnesota more Mississippi-ish

These were not Republicans in the mold of Elmer Anderson, Al Quie, Arne Carlson, Duane Benson or David Jennings. These were Republicans in the mold of Bradlee Dean, Michael Brodkorb, Wayne LaPierre, Cliven Bundy, Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh.

But in the 2015 legislative session, Republican legislators were an unusually controlled bunch. They did boring and constructive things, such as changing how nursing homes were reimbursed. They even proposed modest k-12 education funding increases, and ultimately accepted the much larger funding formula increases promoted by DFLers.

Yes, Republican legislators still did some things that don’t make any sense. For instance, they ran for election in 2014 on the need to fix a long list of deteriorating roads and bridges, then inexplicably opposed the revenue increases necessary to get the work done. They still want to weaken minimum wages, despite the most pronounced income disparity since the 1920s and the lack of any evidence that last year’s minimum wage hike is damaging the economy.

Michele_Bachmann_hiding_at_gay_rights_rallyBut to my knowledge, there were no legislators hiding in the shrubbery at gay rights rallies this year. There was no legislator-fueled politicizing of the morning prayer with hateful castigations of the President and gay people. There were no throwback campaigns to enact a state currency or Confederacy-style nullification laws.

At a time when Republicans at the national level could scarcely be more absurd, Minnesota’s Republican leaders seem to have at least temporarily kept the most extreme elements of their fragile coalition – religious fundamentalists, fiscal libertarians, paranoid gun enthusiasts, bedroom cops, and hyper-partisan jihadists – quietly mumbling to themselves instead of in the headlines.

For the sake of Minnesota’s collective future, let’s hope that’s a trend that continues. With a dangerous achievement gap,deteriorating infrastructure, and a lot of families finding upward mobility out of reach, we have a lot of work to do.   But for the sake of humor-dependent bloggers, hear’s hoping the silence of the extremists is short-lived.

Learning To Lose With MnSure

Bunyan_woodpeckerIn case you haven’t heard, Republicans hate health insurance exchanges like MnSure. While the conservative Heritage Foundation developed the approach, conservative leaders like Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and Orrin Hatch endorsed it, and conservative standard bearer Mitt Romney pioneered it, contemporary conservatives have come to despise it since it was adopted by President Obama.

Conservatives now prefer to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines governed by federal regulations, instead of the current system of state-by-state regulation of insurance products.  But there isn’t sufficient political support to enact the conservatives’ preferred interstate competition approach.

I feel my conservative friends’ pain, because my preferred approach also doesn’t have enough political support to become law, and I also don’t love insurance exchanges like MnSure.  I’d much rather have a single payer system — the system that delivers the best care and value in other industrialized nations — than this competitive private sector exchange model.  However, since there wasn’t sufficient political support for my first choice, my fallback preference was to authorize a “public option”—a Medicare-for-All — competing against private options to test which model is more efficient and effective.

But alas, after a long, fair and considered congressional debate, I lost on both my first and second choices.  Now I and all Americans have to accept the private competitive exchange model that prevailed in the democratic arena.

Memo to my Republican friends:  That’s how losing works in a democracy.  You have to accept the outcome of the democratic process, and move on like an adult.

While insurance exchanges like MnSure were far from my preferred option, there are things I like about them.  For the first time, they require products to be directly comparable, so that a lightly informed consumer like me can actually do apples-to-apples shopping, or silver plan-to-silver plan shopping.

That represents a significant improvement that will reshape the marketplace in a somewhat more consumer-friendly way. With private and non-profit insurers required to create directly comparable products, insurers now know that many consumers are going to buy the more affordable apple over the comparatively expensive apple.  That puts consumer demand pressure on insurers to offer the most affordable apple possible, just as airlines have constant demand pressure to offer the most affordable ticket to New York City via online marketplaces like Kayak, Orbitz and Travelocity.

Whether we’re talking about Kayak or MnSure, the widespread availability and use of the Internet makes this kind of comparison shopping possible.  Social media and advertising guru Simon Mainwaring is among those those who have written about how the Internet changes modern marketplaces:

“More than ever before, consumers have the ability to unify their voices and coalesce their buying power to influence corporate behaviors.”

So far, this type of “coalesced buying power” is showing promise.  In Minnesota’s competitive exchange, we are seeing among the lowest premium prices in the nation.  That’s a tribute to Minnesota’s non-profit health insurance companies, the state health care model that Republican Governor Arne Carlson significantly shaped and the exchange model that Republicans developed, supported and pioneered.

In life and in policy making, sometimes we don’t get our first choice, or even our second choice.   Liberals like me certainly didn’t get our first or second choice in the 2010 federal health reform debate.  But that doesn’t mean that some good can’t come from the third choice, if we’re adult enough to give it a chance, instead of working overtime to sabotage it.

So my conservative friends, on the launch day for MnSure, join me in belting out those healing Stephen Stills lyrics:  “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.”

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

What if Romney Picked Bachmann To Be His Running Mate? He Did.

Congressman Paul Ryan comes across well.  He’s attractive, smiles a lot, wears the presidential uniform well, and has a ready string of impressive-sounding statistics on the tip of his tongue.

But beyond the candidate packaging, what does this guy stand for?

When trying to understand something new entering our lives, the natural tendency is to seek out a local point-of-reference.  For instance, when Minnesota Timberwolves fans recently asked “who the heck is Alexy Shved,” a player the Wolves’ brain trust acquired this summer, Wolves PR people explained “He’s the Russian Rubio,” referencing their talented point guard Ricky Rubio.

Whether or not the “Russian Rubio” description turns out to be an apt description of Shved’s ability and style of play, it connected with Minnesotans, because it took something unknown and linked it to something known.

So with the Russian Rubio example in mind, what’s the Minnesota parallel to Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan?

Since he’s a popular, moderate-feeling Republican, is he “the Wisconsin Jim Ramstad?”   Since the Beltway media often labels him a “serious” numbers guy, is he “the Wisconsin Arne Carlson?”

Try “the Wisconsin Michele Bachmann.” An analysis of congressional voting patterns by DW-Nominate found that Paul Ryan’s voting record is nearly identical to  Michele Bachmann’s, the local politician who most consistently embarrasses Minnesotans with her ideologically extreme positions.

(Incidentally, another analysis found that Ryan was the most extreme conservative vice presidential nominee — the furthest from the center — since at least 1900.)

Ryan’s tone may be less grating than Bachmann’s, but once you remove the packaging, his policies are almost identical to Michele Bachmann’s.  Paul Ryan is Michele Bachmann, just with more lip control and less lipstick.

Knowing that, ask yourself this question: “If Mitt Romney had chosen Michele Bachman for his running mate, would that make Minnesotans more or less likely to support Romney?”  Because, substantively, that is the question Romney has now effectively posed to Minnesotans, and Americans.

Though Michele Bachman continually gets reelected in one of the most conservative parts of Minnesota, she is remarkably unpopular with Minnesotans as a whole.  A January 2012 PPP survey found that only 34% of Minnesotans view her favorably, while 57% view her unfavorably.  She would get crushed by a whopping 23 points in a head-to-head race versus U.S. Senator Amy Kloubachar.

In other words, Governor Mitt Romney just picked the ideological twin of one of Minnesota’s least popular figures to join his ticket.  Good luck selling that in Minnesota.

– Loveland

The Unofficial Backgrounder For Getting To Know Tim Pawlenty

For the national news media scurrying to cover Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s impending Vice Presidential nomination by Mitt Romney, here are a few facts that may not be included in the Romney for President news release:

The “Fees”.  Like any obedient GOP presidential aspirant, Tim Pawlenty HATES him some taxes.  He will stress this fact dozens of times per speech.  But the less publicized aspect of our former governor is that he actually loves him some “fees.”  GOP former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson points out that Pawlenty actually passed the largest tax increases in Minnesota history.  But national reporters should not listen to people like Arne Carlson.  Fees are revenue collected from citizens by government so the government can provide services, and national reporters should understand that is completely different from a “tax.”  Reporters covering Pawlenty will need to take a crash course on how to speak Pawlentese. Continue reading

Minnesota Health System Needs Obamacare Too

On a weekly basis, Garrison Keillor reminds Minnesotans that we are above average.  But we didn’t need him to tell us that.  We’re a pretty innately smug bunch when it comes to our state.  Call it “Minnesota Exceptionalism.”

We’re especially smug about our health care system.  Therefore, some of us were not all that sure we needed Obamacare’s private health insurance mandate, which is presently the only politically feasible way of improving health insurance coverage and banning pre-existing condition restrictions.

But we do.

It is true that Minnesota is better off than the rest of the nation. Nine percent of Minnesotans lack health insurance coverage, and that’s much better than the nation as a whole, where 16% are uninsured.

We can rest assured that we aren’t suffering nearly as much as many other states, such as Texas (27% uninsured), Mississippi (24% uninsured), Louisiana (22% uninsured), Nevada (22% uninsured), and Oklahoma (22% uninsured). These GOP strongholds are suffering more at the hand of the GOP’s shameless health reform stonewalling than we are.

But let’s not delude our exceptional selves.  Minnesota needs the private insurance mandate too.   After all, using the same kind of health insurance mandate the Supreme Court just upheld, Massachusets has a much better record than Minnesota.  Under ArneCare in Minnesota, we have 9% uninsured, which is better than average.   But under ObamneyCare in Massachusetts, they have only 5% uninsured.

Moreover, we self-congratulatory Minnesotans should never forget that in the shadows of Minnesota’s overall 9% uninsured rate are pockets of much deeper health care despair. For instance, more than a quarter (27%) of low income adult Minnesotans are uninsured. That’s a little bit of Texas in our midst.

No, 9% is not good enough. That’s 463,100 of our Minnesota friends, neighbors, and coworkers who are just one metastasized cell or black ice sheet away from a mountain of medical bills, and the bankruptcy that so often goes with it.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans delaying medical care until medical care becomes much more expensive, and often much less effective.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans who obviously don’t stop getting hurt or ill, and therefore are forced to shift their enormous medical expenses to the rest of us, which in turn forces more of us to drop our own coverage.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans — the population of Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud, Eagan, Plymouth, Lino Lakes, Willmar and Ramsey, combined.

That can’t be ignored.  Minnesota needs the insurance mandate, and the rest of Obamacare too.  So thank you Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich, Don Nickles, Mitt Romney and, now, John Roberts for giving it to us.

– Loveland

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