True Confession: I Miss The GOP-Controlled Legislature

When it comes to the 2014 legislative elections, I have divided loyalties.

One the one hand, the current DFL-controlled Legislature has delivered a lot of very good things for ordinary Minnesotans.  Compared to the previous GOP-controlled Legislature, the DFL-controlled Legislature has delivered a healthier economy, budget surpluses, more tax fairness, marriage equality, job-creating infrastructure improvement projects, paid back schools, all-day kindergarten, early education scholarships and a long overdue increase in the minimum wage, among other things.

In the most recently concluded session, they even had the earliest adjournment in thirty years, a mark of impressive democratic efficiency. I look at that record and conclude that the DFL Legislature and Governor deserve to be rehired in the upcoming elections.

clown_carOn the other hand, as a blogger interested in the absurd side of politics, I’m pulled mightily in the opposite direction.  Because when it comes to generating a steady stream of blog-worthy absurdity, nothing beats the modern Tea Party-backed Republican Party.  After all, the last time the Republicans controlled the Minnesota Legislature they:

  • No Separation Between Church and Hate.  Found a way to make even the daily ecumenical prayer controversial and divisive;
  • Dehumanizing KidsWarned that supplying food stamps to Minnesota’s most vulnerable children is just as inadvisable as feeding wild animals; and

I get tears of joy just thinking about it. I was never in need of blog topics in those days.  Minnesota’s last GOP-controlled Legislature gave us the golden age of political comedy, and I will forever be grateful to them for that.   Memories, misty water-colored memories.

While a historically low 17% of Minnesotans approved of the GOP-controlled Legislature that was drummed out of office in 2012, Wry Wing Politics has sorely missed having the likes Mary Fransen, Steve Drazkowski,  Mark Buesgens, Tom Emmer, Curt Bills, Kurt Zellers, Dave Thompson, Amy Koch and others in positions of authority, where they had more opportunities to say and do ridiculous things.

The topic-hungry blogger in me pines for the hot mess of a Legislature that Teapublicans  built.  But deep down the responsible citizen in me knows that I need to vote to bring back the DFL’s brand of colorless competence.  Sigh.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was featured as a “best of the best” in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Which MN Candidates Will Sign The Pull-The-Plug Pledge?

Pull_the_plugAs a general matter, I despise campaign pledges.  Candidates are continually badgered by interest groups to pledge in writing that they will always do X, or never do Y.

The Problem With Pledges

The problem with most pledges is the “always” or “never” parts of them.  The world changes, and policy positions therefore sometimes need to change with them.

  • Pledging to not increase taxes today may make sense at one point in history, but a few years later the circumstances may have changed dramatically.
  • Pledging to support a policy or project now may make sense, but not after surprising new information surfaces.
  • Pledging to tax millionaires may make sense at a time when they’re not paying their fair share, but not a few years later when circumstances may have changed.

So sometimes making policy shifts isn’t  a sign of weakness or dishonesty, as pledge enforcers often claim.  Sometimes, shifting is a sign of courage, vision and integrity.

That’s why I don’t like most campaign pledges.

Pull-the-Plug Pledge

But I came across a pledge the other day that fits our times, and has an infinite shelf life.  South Dakota congressional candidate Rick Weiland challenged all congressional candidates to sign this simple pledge:

“I hereby pledge that, if elected to represent you, I will never vote to shut down your government, or to place your government in default, in order to force it to act, or to prevent it from acting, on unrelated issues.” 

As a voter, I want to know where every Minnesota congressional candidate stands on this Pull-The-Plug Pledge.

Flat_line-2If there are candidates out there who think it is acceptable from them to pull the plug on the American people’s government and economy, that is their right.  But it’s also the right of the overwhelming 72% percent of Americans who oppose the Republicans’ current plug-pulling scheme to be forewarned of a congressional candidate’s position on that  issue, so that they can vote with their eyes wide open.

Yes, Americans and their policymakers must always be able to make their government a different size and shape as future circumstances dictate.  This pledge doesn’t prevent them from having such flexibility. It simply says it’s not acceptable to completely pull the plug on the American economy and government.

So, Tim Walz, Mike Benson, John Kline, Mike Obermuller, Paula Overby, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer, Rhonda Sivarajah, Phil Krinkie, John Pederson, Judy Adams, Collin Pederson, Rick Nolan, Stewart Mills III, Monti Moreno, Chris Dahlberg, Mike McFadden, Julianne Ortman, Jim Abeler, and Al Franken, will you sign the Pull-The-Plug Pledge?

– Loveland

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

The Bachmann Wannabes: Conservative in the Abstract, But Slippery with Specifics

All four candidates running to succeed U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District are running on their intent to reverse budget deficits allegedly piled up during the Obama era.  As Minnesota Public Radio’s (MPR) Brett Neely reports:

“So far, there’s little in the way of policy differences that separates the four candidates.  They’re all sticking with the national GOP’s message about what ails Washington.

GOP candidate Rhonda Sivarajah:  “The debt.”

GOP candidate Phil Krinkie:  “Out of control spending.”

GOP candidate Tom Emmer:  “Bureaucrats.”

GOP candidate John Pederson:  “The deficit.”

The same can be said of the Republicans challenging Senator Al Franken, Governor Mark Dayton, and every other DFL incumbent.  This should come as no surprise.  “The national GOP message” is based on public opinion research, and polls show that an overwhelming number of Americans are concerned about the deficit.  For instance, about 90 percent of Americans surveyed in a Bloomberg poll believed that the deficit is getting worse (62 percent) or not improving (28 percent), with only 6 percent saying that the deficit is decreasing.

In other words, the Republican message is selling with Americans.  This bodes well for them in the 2014 mid-term elections.

 The Myth of “Skyrocketing Deficits”

It’s worth noting that 90 percent of Americans are wrong about the state of the deficit.  In an article titled “The Best Kept Secret In American Politics-Federal Budget Deficits Are Actually Shrinking!,” Forbes magazine notes:

Over the first four years of the Obama presidency, the deficit shrunk by a total of $300 billion dollars.  The improvement in the deficit as measured against GDP is the direct result of the deficit falling to $845 billion for fiscal year 2013—a $300 billion improvement over the previous year. And the positive trend is projected to continue though the next fiscal year where the the annual budgetary deficit will fall again to $430 billion.

More recently, the deficit outlook has further stabilized. As CNN Money reported in May 2013:

By 2015, the deficit will fall to its lowest point of the next decade – 2.1% of GDP. And it will remain below 3% until 2019, at which point it will start to increase again. Deficits below 3% are considered sustainable because it means budget shortfalls are not growing faster than the economy.

Still, perception is reality in politics, so conservatives can be expected to milk this inaccurate “the deficit is skyrocketing” myth for all it is worth.

Courting “Progressative” Voters With Generalities

Will_reporters_press_deficit_chicken_hawks_for_specific_cuts_At the same time, don’t look for conservative candidates to provide a detailed list of spending cuts they would make to reduce the deficit and debt more rapidly.  Again, they read polls, so they know that Americans overwhelmingly oppose cutting the largest and fastest growing government programs.  For instance, a Washington Post poll finds that 77% oppose “reducing Medicare benefits,”  82% oppose “reducing Social Security benefits,”  and 51% oppose “reducing military spending.”  Other polls show that opposition to cutting Medicare and Social Security is even more vehement among Americans over 50 years old, who are disproportionately likely to vote, particularly in non-presidential election years such as 2014.

Pew_Research_Poll__May_2013Beyond those enormous spending programs, a Pew poll also finds that a plurality of Americans believes that the funding levels for all 19 major government spending categories they tested should be either increased or maintained.  Though conservatives have spent decades calling for cuts in “government spending,” Americans are steadfastly rejecting specific cuts in all parts of the federal budget.

Therefore, the dilemma for contemporary politicians is this:   Americans support the abstract notion of “cutting government spending,” which sometimes make us appear to be a conservative nation.  At the same time, Americans oppose cutting any of the component parts of “government spending,” which makes us look like a remarkably progressive nation.  Fiscally speaking, Americans are “progressatives,” conservative with our generalized rhetoric, but progressive with our program-by-program choices.

If the past is predictive of the future, most political reporters won’t press conservative candidates for a specific list of spending cuts to support their bluster.  Instead, reporters will allow conservative candidates to rail in a generalized way about “cutting spending,” and in a false way about “skyrocketing deficits.”  And as long as that rhetorical free ride is allowed to continue, the polls show that conservatives’ “cut government spending” mantra is a winning message.

 -Loveland

Note:  This post also was chosen for re-publication in Minnpost and as one of Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Will Target Put Emmer Back In Its Shopping Cart?

Talk radio pundit and former state legislator Tom Emmer is running to become the new Michele Bachmann.  He fits the part.  Remember, this is the guy who sponsored a “nullification” amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that says Minnesota won’t obey any American laws – civil rights protections, interstate commerce rules, banning of health insurance pre-existing condition limitations, etc. – unless the Minnesota Legislature agrees to do so by a two-thirds majority, a threshold that in recent times has proven to be nearly unattainable.

In other words, Mr. Emmer wants to go to Washington to set federal laws, which he wants Minnesotans to ignore.  It makes perfect sense.

If Mr. Emmer can win the GOP nomination, he will become the new Michele, since Bachmann’s district has been custom gerrymandered for GOP domination.  There won’t be a lot of suspense in that general election contest.

But one interesting question that remains is whether Minnesota-based Target Corporation will again back Emmer, and his anti-choice, anti-fair wage, anti-gay rights, anti-tax, anti-contraceptive, and pro-nullification ways.

To be fair, an  Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel vigorously defended its 2010 backing of Emmer by insisting that he was merely purchasing the anti-tax and anti-fair wage portion of Emmer, not the anti-choice, anti-gay rights, anti-contraceptive, pro-nullification portion of him.

Continue reading

“Democrat Party:” The GOP’s Childish Name Game

We all remember those times on the playground when kids’ names would be twisted into teasing word play.  Private parts and mental health were common themes, as I recall.  Woe be unto the unfortunate child born with a name like “Seymour Butz.”

During childhood, the motives behind the name-oriented word play varied from benign to bullying.  But whatever the motive, it was rarely welcomed by the recipient, and was, above all else, childish.

So surely adults have left all that infantile behavior behind, right?

Well, take a look at recent blog posts on leading Minnesota conservative blog aggregator “True North:” Continue reading

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?

Twenty Debates? Oh No, Mr. Bills!

“Less is more,” minimalist designers tell us.  “The law of diminishing returns,” economists explain.

And so it goes with campaign debates.

Campaign debates serve a lot of important purposes for our democracy. They are a more efficient way to communicate with voters than door-knocking or pressing the flesh one clammy hand at a time.  They get candidates off-script, which captures rare moments of candor, humor, humanity, intelligence, stupidity and reality.  They cover more issues than ads, direct mail and other forms of political communications, which exposes candidates’ depth, or shallowness.

But clearly, there can be too much of a good thing.  In the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Mark Dayton, Tom Horner, and Tom Emmer debated and debated, and debated some more.  They debated an eye-glazing 25 times.  Most of the debates ended up getting ignored by reporters, and just about everyone else, because they became complete and utter re-runs. I mean, even if you love Gilligan’s Island, and who amongst us does not,  the 25th time you see a re-run about Gilligan’s pedal powered bamboo car is significantly less riveting than the first 5 times.

As Washington University political scientist Steven Smith observed about the 2010 marathon debate-a-thon:

 “…there is a point of diminishing returns and I think in the Minnesota case we may have reached the point in the last month where there have been so many debates that the individual debates just don’t receive much attention.

Now in 2012, State Representative Kurt Bills wants to debate U.S. Senator Amy Kloubachar 20 times over about 90 days.  This desire likely has less to do with Bills‘ love of debates than it does with the fact that his campaign is broke and having a difficult time delivering his oddball Wellstonian-libertarian fusion messaging.

Though Kloubachar is a bright and skilled debater, her campaign strategists would prefer to keep the popular incumbent in highly controlled settings until Election Day, to preserve her large lead.  Therefore, so far they have agreed to two debates.  For context, former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman agreed to debate challenger Al Franken five times.

Somewhere between Kloubachar’s 2 and Bills’ 20 is a reasonable number.  I’d say the number is no higher than 10.

Here is my rationale:  Most of what is learned by undecided voters through debates is conveyed through news coverage.  After all, the people actually attending the debates, or monitoring them start-to-finish on TV or radio, are predominantly voters who made up their minds long ago.  So, when the news coverage stops, the debates pretty much stop yielding benefits for undecided voters.

Minnesota’s newsrooms continue to shrink dramatically, and are decreasingly willing to cover politics, particularly broadcast news outlets.   Given those unfortunate trends, I find it difficult to believe that the Minnesota’s press corps will give decent coverage to more than about 10 debates.

So, I’m all for debates.  And two is not enough.  But oh no, Mr. Bills, not 20.

– Loveland

 

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

The Minnesota Vikings and The Butterfly Effect

Part of chaos theory is something called the butterfly effect, the notion that even a minor change in a nonlinear system, such as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, can result in large differences in outcome later on, such as the change in the path of a tornado.

Politics is a decidedly non-linear system, where small changes can definitely cause large swings in outcomes. Here are a few the behind-the-scenes flutters that caused the Vikings to finally prevail in their decade-long effort to secure stadium subsidies at the State Capitol.

A Recount.  00.4% of the vote.  That was Mark Dayton’s margin in a general election recount in 2010.  As a result, “Landslide Dayton” became the Vikings most powerful and committed supporter.

But what if Dayton’s 2010 opponent Tom Emmer had not started his campaign so gaffe-prone?  What if pennies had not been dumped on Emmer, turning an obscure issue like tip credits into an enduring symbol of an ideologically extreme candidate?

In a Republican wave election year, it’s easy to imagine that a few small improvements in Emmer’s campaign could have given Emmer an additional 00.5% of the vote, and the helm of state government.

If Emmer had prevailed, he would not have been as aggressively pro-Vikings Stadium as Dayton.  MPR captured Emmer’s position in 2010:

 “I support a solution for a Vikings stadium, but I don’t think you give $700 million in taxpayer money and hand it over to a private business.”

Emmer suggested a voter referendum linking funds from a new casino to pay for the stadium. He also suggested community ownership (Green Bay Packers model) or giving Wilf the Metrodome.

The Vikings viewed all of Emmer’s demands to be bill killers.  So if Dayton hadn’t squeezed into the electoral end zone — after an instant replay review by the officials — the Vikings likely would not have squeezed into their stadium subsidy end zone.

A Leader.  Powerful House GOP Speaker Kurt Zellers opposed the Vikings bill.  So did powerful House GOP Majority Leader Matt Dean.  That could easily have spelled the end for the Vikings.  After all, there aren’t too many major bills that pass the House with the leadership of both parties opposing the bill.

So if the DFL’s highest ranking House member, the often powerless Minority Leader Paul Thissen, had joined Zellers and Dean in opposing the bill, the Vikings fragile coalition probably could not have scored.

It’s not often that a minority party leader swings the balance in our polarized Legislature, but Thissen did.

A City Attorney.  With the Metrodome site as the only viable option at the end of the session, the whole effort would have collapsed without an endorsement by the Minneapolis City Council, a very tall order at the time.  And if Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal had not ruled that a city referendum provision didn’t apply to the City’s stadium proposal, because the City didn’t control the funding in question, City Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy made it pretty clear that she would not have been the final swing vote in support of the proposal.

Vikings MVP?

Think about that a minute.  If a political pundit had predicted before the session that someone named Susan Segal would be the key to whether the Vikings would get their new stadium, even many political savants would have said “who?”

But Susan Segal, Paul Thissen and 00.4% of Minnesotans all fluttered their relatively small wings, and the Vikings decade-long stadium loss streak finally came to an end.

“A game of inches,” indeed.

– Loveland

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