Minnesota Legislators Turn To GoFundMe To Pay Bills

Saint Paul. MN — Ronald “Bud” Carlson, a 68-year old veteran of the Minnesota Senate (R-Lake City), desperately needed a new power tie for an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual meeting at a Trump Hotel in Las Vegas last week. But he didn’t have the money to pay for the Stefano Ricci one he needed.

“A lobbyist asked if it was the same red power tie I wore last year,” said Carlson. “It was obviously one of the most profoundly humiliating moments of my life.”

Meanwhile, Becca Nowakowski-Alexopoulos, a 38-year old member of the Minnesota House (DLF-Minneapolis), is weeks behind in her regular contributions to a climate change nonprofit organization, donations which she makes to offset the carbon emitted during her regular plane trips to climate change conferences.

“It’s certainly not a coincidence that hurricanes started devastating vulnerable socioeconomic populations after my carbon offset contributions had to stop,” noted an emotional Nowakowski-Alexopoulos.

Carlson and Nowakowski-Alexopoulos are just two of the many legislators courageously struggling to continue their public service careers in the wake of Governor Mark Dayton’s controversial line-item veto of funding for the Minnesota Legislature. The State Supreme Court recently issued a convoluted non-ruling ruling to avoid resolving the constitutional crisis, instead ordering the Governor and Legislature to work with a mediator and “figure it out yourself.”

But in a heartwarming moment of bipartisan cooperation, Carlson and Nowakowski-Alexopoulos, who are often bitter enemies during legislative debates, have been collaborating to solicit contributions via the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com.

Their hope is that crowdfunding, the raising of small donations from large numbers of people via the Internet, will help them and their colleagues survive until the bitter impasse with Governor Dayton can be resolved.  An estimated $34 billion was raised via crowdfunding in 2015.

“Minnesotans have been truly amazing, sharing their stories of our legislative heroism at #MNlegStrong and digging deep to prove how much they value us,” said Nowakowski-Alexopoulos.

Over the past month, $200,035.73 has been raised, including $100,000 from ALEC and $100,000 from the AFL-CIO. Carlson and Nowakowski-Alexopoulos have recently brought in a second Minnesota Supreme Court-appointed mediator to resolve irreconcilable differences about how to distribute the funds among the 201 legislators and their staffs.

A Policy Agenda For Minnesota’s Next Progressive Governor

In 2018, progressive Governor Mark Dayton will be retiring, and Minnesota voters will be selecting a new chief executive.  To retain control of the Governor’s office in 2018, Minnesota Democrats need a compelling policy agenda. It goes without saying that they also need a compelling candidate, but this discussion is about policy.

What constitutes a compelling policy agenda? First, it’s bite-sized. It can be quickly consumed and remembered by casually engaged voters. It’s more like five proposals, not fifty proposals. That doesn’t mean leaders should only do five things as a governor, but it does mean that they should only stress and repeat five-ish policies as a candidate, so that the agenda can be remembered.

Second, a compelling policy agenda delivers relatively bold change. It’s not merely about protection of the status quo from the bad guys, or small incremental improvements (see HRC campaign). It’s aspirational, and not limited to ideas that currently have the necessary votes to pass. If a candidate has to scale it back after elected, so be it. But they should run with a bold vision.

Third, a compelling policy agenda needs to have popular support beyond the political base. After all, a campaign agenda is about winning votes.

Fourth, it’s is easy to understand. Few have the time or inclination to study the intricacies of a 15-point tax reform plan, so candidates should stick to things that most can easily grasp and embrace.

Finally, a compelling policy agenda must be directed at Minnesota’s most pressing problems. It shouldn’t merely be about kowtowing to the most powerful interest groups, as is so often the case. It must actually be about the problems that most need fixing.

What fits those criteria? In no particular order, here’s my recommendation for a progressive gubernatorial candidate’s agenda.

  • MinnesotaCare for All Option. Allow all Minnesotans to buy into the MinnesotaCare public health insurance program. This will put competitive pressure on private insurance companies to keep premiums down, and ensure Minnesotans will always have a coverage option, even if health plans pull out of the market.
  • Transportation Jobs Fund. Increase the gas tax by a nickel per gallon — one penny per gallon per year over five years — and put the proceeds into an untouchable fund that will put Minnesotans to work improving the state’s roads, bridges and transit system. This will lift up the portion of the workforce that is struggling the most, and ensure Minnesota has a competitive economy and quality-of-life into the future.
  • Achievement Gap Prevention Plan. Ensure every child under age five has access to a high quality early learning program, starting with the children who can’t afford those programs on their own. This will prevent low-income children from falling into Minnesota’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gaps, gaps that opens before age two, lead to lifelong inequity and pose a grave threat to our economic competitiveness.
  • Fair Share Tax. Create a new, higher tax bracket for the wealthiest 10% of Minnesotans.  During a time when income inequality is the worst it has been since  just prior to the Great Depression (1928), the wealthiest Minnesotans are paying a lower share of their income in state and local taxes.   Adjusting the state income tax is the best way to remedy that disparity.
  • Super-sized Rainy Day Fund. Increase the size of the state’s rainy day fund by 25%. This will control taxpayers’ borrowing costs and help keep Minnesota stable in the face of 1) an economy that, after the longest period of economic expansion in history, may be due for a downturn and 2) a federal government that is threatening to shift many fiscal burdens to states. Bolstering the rainy day fund will also communicate to moderate voters that a progressive will be a level-headed manager of their tax dollars.

Yes, worthy issues are left off this agenda.  But we’ve seen time and again that when Democrats try to communicate about everything, they effectively communicate about nothing.  Long, complex “laundry list” policy agendas may please the interest groups who are constantly lobbying the candidates and their staffs, but they are simply too much for busy voters to absorb.  As legendary ad man David Ogilvy preached, “the essence of strategy is sacrifice.”  To be heard, many things must be left unsaid.

This kind of progressive gubernatorial policy agenda would be simple enough to be understood and remembered, but not simplistic.  It would be relatively bold and visionary, but not pie-in-the-sky.  It would be progressive, but swing voter-friendly.

This agenda would put Republican opponents in a political bind, because these progressive proposals are popular with moderate swing voters.  The partial exception is the Transportation Jobs Fund, where swing voters are conflicted.   Surveys tell us that gas taxes are somewhat unpopular, particularly in exurban and rural areas, but the transportation improvements that would be funded by the higher gas tax are very popular with voters of all political stripes, as are jobs programs.  On that front, one key is to guarantee that tax proceeds could only be spent on improvements, something many skeptical voters seem to doubt.

If such an agenda were sufficiently repeated and stressed by a disciplined candidate, fewer Minnesotans would be lamenting that they “have no idea what Democrats stand for.” Most importantly, this agenda also would go a long ways toward fixing some of Minnesota’s most pressing problems.

This is Not Mark Dayton’s Finest Hour

TCursor_and_Constitutional_fight_escalates_between_Dayton__Legislature_-_StarTribune_comhis is going to sound awfully school marmy, but I expected more from you, Mark Dayton.

I’m speaking, of course, of the spat over Dayton’s defunding of the legislative branch of government in retaliation for the Republicans planting a legislative stink bomb in their unwise tax cut bill.

Admittedly, poor Mark Dayton suffers from my high expectations. During his career of public service, he’s usually been a thoughtful and mature leader who has shown great respect for our constitutional democracy.  For that reason, I just expect a lot more from him than I do from Republican state legislators, who have, in recent years, had more of a track record of recklessness and immaturity.

So, I’m disappointed with Dayton’s gamesmanship in this case, because it is probably unconstitutional and certainly childish. Mind you, this criticism is coming from someone who hates the Republicans’ tax and budget cuts, and dislikes many of their policy changes, but is also all too aware that, heavy sigh, elections have consequences.  That means that the party that won control of both chambers of Legislature in 2016 unfortunately gets to win a lot.

Someone who respects our guiding principle of separation of powers should never use their executive power to defund a coequal branch of government. Regardless of what the courts decide about the strict constitutionality of Dayton’s fiscal trickery, the question of “should” still ought  to matter to defenders of democratic principles, not just the question of “can.”

When it comes to the playground “they started it” defense that Dayton and his DFL allies are using, I can’t disagree on factual grounds.  At the same time, I’m with old Mahatma Ghandi on this one: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

In these dangerously politically polarized times, “adults in the room” are in desperately short supply. I’m grateful that Governor Dayton has played that thankless adult role many times during his career. Unfortunately, this time, our frustrated Governor has joined Republican legislators on the puerile path, just when we needed him most.

Is Minnesota GOP Sabotaging The Individual Health Insurance Market By Rejecting MinnesotaCare-for-All Option?

Minnesota Republican legislators spent their 2016 election campaigns expressing grave concerns about whether private health insurance companies in the individual market* have sufficient competitive pressure to keep prices down, and whether Minnesotans who live outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan region will have at least one solid coverage option available to them in coming years.

Those are legitimate concerns shared by both parties. But after Republicans won control of the Minnesota House and Senate, they have been unwilling to do one very important thing that that could achieve those two goals. They have been unwilling to give those Minnesotans the option of buying into MinnesotaCare health coverage.

Cursor_and_minnesotacare_for_all_-_Google_Search

Governor Dayton’s proposed “MinnesotaCare-for-All option” would allow any individual market consumer to buy into the state government-run health plan that has served over 120,000 Minnesotans since 2006. An unsubsidized version of MinnesotaCare would be an available option for all Minnesotans.

In other words, MinnesotaCare for all would be a Minnesota-specific “public option” that would always be there for Minnesotans. MinnesotaCare wouldn’t be able to abandon individual market consumers the way corporate insurance companies can and do. Moreover, MinnesotaCare’s presence in the marketplace will pressure private insurers to offer more competitive prices, because MinnesotaCare’s prices don’t have to account for corporate salaries and profits.   Representing the buying power of about a million public plan consumers, the large MinnesotaCare plan should also have leverage to negotiate consumer-friendly reimbursement rates with health care providers, which helps keep premium costs more affordable.

In fact, Governor Dayton’s office estimates that Minnesota families who purchase MinnesotaCare coverage would pay on average about $838 per person less in 2018 than they pay for private coverage in 2017.  To secure those long-term annual savings for Minnesota families, a one-time taxpayer investment of $12 million – a relatively tiny drop in the State’s $39 billion annual budget — would be required to establish the option. In subsequent years, no additional taxpayer funds would be needed to keep the lower costs flowing to Minnesotans. The MinnesotaCare-for-All option would be self-sustainable.

If you believe that government-run operations are always less efficient and customer-friendly than corporations, here’s your chance to prove it. If that’s true, comparison shopping Minnesotans will “vote with their feet” by rejecting it en masse. But if it’s not true, Minnesotans in the individual market will finally have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that at least one coverage option will always be there for them and their loved ones.

Given that 71% of Americans support having a similar Medicare-for-All option, a MinnesotaCare-for-All option is likely popular with Minnesotans.  Still, Republican state legislators killed the proposal this year.

Minnesota Republicans can’t have it both ways. They can’t reject the MinnesotaCare-for-All option and then turn around blame others if competition is insufficient in some parts of Minnesota, or if corporate insurers’ prices prove to be unaffordable to many Minnesotans. No one can know for sure if this idea will work, but if Republicans are unwilling to give things like this a try to help vulnerable consumers, then Minnesota voters should hold them accountable for their obstructionism.

*(Note: The “individual market” is made up of the 10 percent of Minnesotans who a) can’t get insurance through their employer and b) whose incomes are not low enough to quality for either of Minnesota’s two publicly subsidized health insurance plans — Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s version of Medicare) for very low-income citizens or MinnesotaCare a subsidized option for the working poor. Last year, about 250,000 consumers bought coverage in Minnesota’s individual market.)

Strib Poll Uncovers Dark Clouds For Republicans

Cursor_and_minnesota_republicans_-_Google_Search 2As the 2017 Minnesota legislative session heads into the home stretch and President Trump is creating a constitutional crisis, the news for Minnesota Republicans in the recent Star Tribune survey is not  great.

To recap, most Minnesotans are…

Digging Dayton. An overwhelming 62% of Minnesotans approve of the job being done by Minnesota Republicans’ primary antagonist, DFL Governor Mark Dayton. Less than half as many Minnesotans (29%) disapprove of the job Dayton is doing.

  • Implication:  He’s grumpy, boring, wonky, and unabashedly liberal, but Governor Eyeore remains quite popular with a strong majority Minnesotans.  Despite Republicans’ best efforts to frame Dayton as being metro-centric and out-of-touch with Greater Minnesota, a majority in every region of the state approve of the job he is doing.  As high stakes budget and policy negotiations between Dayton and legislators begin, Dayton is in a relatively strong position to push his progressive agenda.

In the Dumps About Trump. Only 40% approve of the Republicans’ national leader, President Donald Trump. This marks an all time historical low-point among Presidents, at a time that is supposed to be a President’s “honeymoon period.” For context, eight years ago, during dire economic times, the newly elected President Obama had a 62% approval rating.

  • Implication: To state the obvious, “all time low” is not good.  Republicans who remain steadfastly loyal to their party’s unpopular President could be more vulnerable in the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections. While the conventional wisdom would be for Republican incumbents to distance themselves from the toxic Trump, it’s difficult for them to do so, because Trump remains popular with the narrow band of Trump diehards.  Republican incumbents need those voters on their side in order to survive 2018 primary and general elections. With Trump this unpopular, Republican incumbents are in a political bind.

Swooning for DFL Senators. In comparison to Trump’s 40% approval rating, 58% of Minnesotans approve of DFL Senator Al Franken, and 72% approve of Senator Amy Klobuchar.

  • Implication: Franken and Klobachar remain popular as they relentlessly criticize Trump and his policies, which should embolden other DFLers to do the same. Also, Klobuchar looks difficult for Republicans to defeat in 2018, and both Franken and Klobuchar should be helpful surrogates for down ballot DFL candidates in 2018.

Cursor_and_Minnesota_mexico_wall_-_Google_SearchNot Feeling The Mandate. Trump mandate?  What mandate?  Most Minnesotans don’t like Trump’s policies any better than they like him personally. About two-thirds (65%) oppose Trump’s signature campaign issue – building a Mexico wall. Only 29% support that idea.  The survey also found that Minnesotans oppose Trump’s proposals to accelerate deportations, and his Muslim travel ban.

The only ray of hope in the survey for President Trump was that 70% of Minnesotans support his drive-by Syrian missile strike, proving once again that Americans still love military actions, as long as victory can be declared within a matter of days.

  • Implication. It turns out those “real Americans” at the Trump rallies who cheered wildly about the Mexico wall and Muslim ban are not very representative of most Minnesotans. Therefore, stressing those issues would seem to hurt Republicans more than help them, at least with moderate swing voters. However, the one thing that perhaps could make Trump more popular is a quick, easy military victory.  Don’t think for a moment that a drive-by war has not crossed Trump’s compulsively self-promotional mind.  In other words, it’s probably not a good time to plan a vacation to Grenada.

Nyet On Russiagate Coverup. Republicans steadfastly maintain that no one cares about the Russian controversy. But even prior to the disturbing Comey firing, a majority of Minnesotans (55%) indicated that they would like to see an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, while 39% say there should be no such investigation.

  • Implication: If Republicans continue to cover up and downplay the Russia controversy, it will not pass the smell test with a majority of Minnesotans.

All Aboard On Trains. By a strong twenty-point margin (54% support to 34% oppose), Minnesotans support building two extensions of light rail transit (LRT), from Minneapolis to the southwester suburbs and Minneapolis to the northern suburbs.

  • Implication: Republicans should think twice about making LRT their poster child for wasteful spending.   Despite Republican operatives and talk radio jocks aggressively bashing LRT over many years, most Minnesotans, including plenty of voters in swing suburban districts, support LRT expansion.

Cursor_and_minnesota_tea_party_-_Google_SearchOkay With O’Care. Then there is Obamacare. Republicans seem supremely confident that Obamacare is wildly unpopular.  But a narrow plurality of Minnesotans actually is okay with it. Forty-nine percent of Minnesotans say Obamacare has been “mostly good,” while 44% say it has been “mostly bad.” This issue polled better for Republicans than most other issues, but this finding isn’t very encouraging for Republicans who are dead set on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a Trumpcare plan that offers many fewer patient benefits.

  • Implication: As Republicans prepare to replace Obamacare with something that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says will erases all of the Obamacare coverage gains, these numbers spotlight the political risk that Republicans are taking.  Republicans are beginning to learn that the only thing many Americans hate more than Obamacare is lack of Obamacare.

Loving Local Control. By a whopping 34-point margin (60% oppose, 26% support), Minnesotans oppose the GOP-backed proposal to prevent Minnesota towns and cities from passing work-rule ordinances, such as minimum wage increases.   In every region of Minnesota, a majority oppose limiting local control.

  • Implication:  This is another loser issue for Republicans.  How in the world did the party that constantly preaches about the need for “local control” end up on this side of the issue?

Wrong Tax Cuts. Inexplicably, the Star Tribune apparently didn’t poll on what seems like the overarching question of this legislative session: What should legislators do with the state budget surplus? That is, should they spend it, cut taxes or save it for a rain day (i.e ask about “all,” “most,” “some,” or “none” for each category). Instead, the Star Tribune only asked how to cut taxes, as if tax cutting were the only thing being debated.

Even within that narrow fiscal category, the news wasn’t great for Republicans. Republicans propose tax cuts targeted to narrow constituencies — smokers, farmers, retirees, people with student loan debt, business owners and others. But most Minnesotans (45%) would rather just cut income taxes for all, perhaps because it’s simple and broad-based. Less than 20% of Minnesotans support the Republican-recommended constituency-by-constituency approach, while the rest support Jesse Ventura-style rebates (30%).

  • Implication: Tax-cutting remains the Republicans’ bread-and-butter issue, and it should be a pretty easy sell. Still, Minnesota Republicans can’t even seem to do that right.   They somehow managed to find the most unpopular way to cut taxes, which might somewhat limit the electoral benefits they stand to gain from the tax cuts.

Political tides ebb and flow, so today’s viewpoints could be very different at election time18 months from now. But as it currently stands in the dawn of the Trump era, Minnesota Republicans are not exactly winning so much they’re tired of winning.

Inattentiveness At Minnesota State Legislature Isn’t Gender Or Race Specific

Cursor_and_Minnesota_House_DFL_leader_Melissa_Hortman_calls_out__white_males___won_t_apologize__VIDEO____City_PagesWhen it comes to the kerfuffle about Minnesota House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brookly Park) calling out the “100% white male card game in the retiring room” during a House floor debate, most would probably guess that I would be cheering on Hortman.  After all, I’m a committed liberal, and a strong believer that white male privilege has unfairly benefited me and is a significant problem in all aspects of our democracy and society.

But Minority Leader’s Hartman’s self-righteous speech didn’t sit right with me. In that particular case, the use of “white male” felt gratuitous, an over-the-top attempt to inject race and gender as a partisan bludgeon, because the opposition party is increasingly made up of whites and males.

The core objection at that moment was inattentiveness, so why make it about race and gender?  When race and gender get shoehorned into partisan zingers, I worry that it cheapens more legitimate criticisms of serious race and gender discrimination.

Don’t get me wrong.  As a white male, I certainly didn’t feel discriminated against by Representative Hortman, or in need of an apology, as oh-so-wounded Republican legislators apparently do.  That’s silly.  I just thought the “white male” part of Hortman’s speech was extraneous to the legitimate core criticism.

More importantly, though, the charge felt hypocritical and selectively applied. Anyone who has spent time at the State Capitol has watched all types of legislators being inattentive during proceedings, often quite brazenly and rudely. Legislators are engrossed in their social media monitoring. They’re giggling over whispered inside jokes. They’re dozing. They’re gossiping in the hallway or back of the room.

Last year about this time, I penned a humor piece entitled “The Five Anthropological Certainties of Minnesota Hearings,” and two of the five were dedicated to legislator inattentiveness.

#2. The iPhone Prayer.  The reason legislators continually have their heads bowed is not because they are prayerful or otherwise contemplative. It’s because of smart phones.

The hearing observer will quickly notice that legislators much prefer their smart phone to their smart constituents. Therefore, visitors should expect to mostly see the crowns of legislators’ heads, as they stare down smirking at their latest epic text or tweet.

You see, the State Legislature is like high school, with its complex network of cliques constantly angling to mistreat each other. But the environment is actually much more toxic than high school, because unlike high school, unlimited smart phone use is permitted in class.

#3. The Extras. Visitors will notice that the least relevant person in the committee room is the lowly testifier. The person delivering testimony is an extra, a volunteer who is cast by legislators to create the illusion of information gathering and democratic participation.

Seemingly unaware of the ruse, many testifiers spend hours earnestly preparing their thoughtful, fact-filled remarks.  But they quickly discover that committee members have much more pressing needs to attend to, such as epic texts and tweets.

You’ll notice that the anthropologist’s observation was not limited to any one gender, race, party or ethnicity, because the observation applies to just about every single legislator in the building. If you ever have occasion to attend a legislative committee hearing or floor debate, I guarantee you will see plenty of non-white non-males among the inattentive herd.

So, Minority Leader Hortman, thank you for speaking out about the problem of legislators being inattentive during legislative proceedings. That’s a worthwhile cause.  I’d encourage you to look at systemic approaches to making the place more respectful of democratic debate and citizen input, such as asking party leaders to be more vigilant and consistent about insisting that their colleagues at least pretend to pay attention during legislative proceedings, or maybe even closing or repurposing the “retiring room.”

But you lost me when you tried to portray the problem of inattentiveness as something that is specific to a subset of legislators. Because inattentiveness at the Minnesota State Capitol is endemic to all parties, races and genders.

With a Budget Surplus, GOP’s Across-the-Board Cuts Is Not “Kitchen Table Budgeting

Cursor_and_kitchen_table_budgeting_-_Google_SearchRepublicans — ever eager to show they are in touch with the values of ordinary Minnesotans — are very fond of drawing analogies between household budgeting and government budgeting. Former Governor Tim Pawlenty was especially keen on talking about the virtues of “kitchen table budgeting.”

In front of the camera’s, Pawlenty would play the well-rehearsed role of Stern Daddy, saying things like, “when Minnesota families are sitting around the kitchen table making their budgets, they make the tough cuts to balance their budget, and the Legislature needs to what those Minnesota families do.”

Actual Kitchen Table Budgeting

There are a lot of things that are silly about the Republicans’ “kitchen table budgeting” analogy, foremost among them that many families don’t balance their family budgets.   The dirty little secret is that we ordinary families are not quite as financially virtuous as the pandering pols make us out to be.  This from Bloomberg news:

Household borrowing surged in March at the fastest pace since November 2001 as financing for automobiles picked up and Americans’ outstanding credit-card debt soared.

The $29.7 billion increase, or an annualized 10 percent, exceeded the highest estimate in a Bloomberg survey and followed a revised $14.1 billion gain the prior month, Federal Reserve figures showed Friday. Revolving credit, which includes credit-card spending, posted the biggest annualized advance since July 2000.

Political rhetoric aside, the data show that families are borrowing at record rates rather than balancing their budgets.  So ordinary families may not be the right role models for our leaders.

Across-the-Board Cuts?

This year, Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature are proposing to slash state government spending, by 10 percent across-the-board.  This is not the way ordinary families budget at the kitchen table: “Okay sweetie, here are all the bills. Just lop off 10% of what we pay next year for the mortgage, car, RV, boat, snowmobile, cabin, cable, cell phone, utilities, health insurance, groceries, medicines, vacation fund, the college fund, the retirement fund, rainy day fund…”

Instead, families set priorities and cut accordingly. They say things like, “Well, we gotta keep the household running smoothly, and have a household safety net in case of an emergency, so we can’t cut these things.  Sending the kids to college is really important to us, so we can’t skimp there. But I guess we can do without a vacation, a car for the teenager, and premium cable.”  In other words, they reflect on their values, set spending priorities accordingly and cut spending surgically, not across-the-board.

Non-Crisis Family Budgeting

Cursor_and_Price_of_Government_as_of_End_of_2014_Legislative_SessionMore to the point, families typically don’t cut the family budget — across the board or otherwise — when the family finances are stable or improving. I promise you, this is not heard at very many kitchen tables: “Okay sweetie, we’re financially comfortable and stable right now, but let’s cut the household budget deeply anyway!”

The State of Minnesota is not in a crisis.  Our finances are currently sound, with a $1.65 billion budget surplus for the next two years. In contrast to the Pawlenty-era, when budget shortfalls were the norm, Governor Dayton required the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, and the state has been on solid fiscal footing ever since. Moreover, the “price-of-government” — Minnesota state and local government revenues as percentage of personal income — is currently relatively low.

So, why cut state spending at all? Did we suddenly come to the realization that Minnesotans need 10 percent less education?  Compared to the past, do we really think Minnesotans need 10 percent less roads, transit, human services, public health protection, environmental protection, economic development, and public safety? If not, then why in the world would we slash all of those vital services by 10 percent, at a time when we have a large budget surplus and the price of government is lower than historic averages.

After all, it’s certainly not what Minnesotans would do at the kitchen table.

Trumpcare’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

America currently has a health reform model that has given it the highest rate of health insurance coverage in history, covering more than 20 million of its most difficult to insure citizens.  It has helped those 20 million Americans avoid having their lives ruined by crushing medical bills, or shifting those costs onto other Americans.

Gallup_uninsured_chartAnd despite years of heavily-financed and relentless attacks on the model, most Americans now have a favorable impression of it.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) system isn’t perfect.  Yes liberals, a Medicare for All system would be much more effective and efficient than the current ACA system. Yes conservatives, this ACA needs adjustments, though, to borrow from Mark Twain, the reports of its death spiraliness have been greatly exaggerated.

Fact Check:  Obamacare Is Not In A Death Spiral

“You could, I think, relatively simply address the issues that the exchanges have,” said Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a health consulting firm, noting that other major programs including Medicare have been tweaked repeatedly since their creation.

Now President Trump and the Republicans want to blow up the ACA model — the one that covered the most Americans in history — in favor of a model that will cause an estimated 6 million to10 million Americans to lose their coverage. Their alternative particularly hurts the low-income, rural and elderly.  To add insult to injury, it shoehorns in a grotesquely large tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, at a time when we have the worst inequality in incomes since the 1920s.  The alternative is vehemently opposed by doctors, nurses, hospitals, seniors, conservatives, and liberals. And Republicans promise to pass it within three weeks, without cost estimates if necessary, after complaining about the ACA being “rammed through” over 13 months.

This is the political and policymaking genius that is Trumpcare.

Will Rogers said, “this country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” Never has that been more true than now.

Boot the Mute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans Extremely Unlikely To Impeach Trump

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

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

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

Anyway, that’s the widely discussed theory.

Not Going To Happen

I find it very unlikely. Here’s why:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

MinnesotaCare for All Option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Consumers Choose

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

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

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

Trump Resistance Roadmap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cursor_and_john_edgell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When The Lie Referees Lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banning Trump From Ballot Doesn’t Pass Smell Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Dakota: Imagine There’s No Parties

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

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

John Lennon

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

Imagine there’s no parties?

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

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

Cursor_and_nonpartisan_nebraska_-_Google_Search

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

Partisanship Pros

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

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

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

Imagine A Nonpartisan System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary, the ACA and the Art of the Possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progressives and Moderates Intrigued By Gary Johnson Should Look Deeper

Cursor_and_gary_johnson_funny_-_Google_SearchWhen I started seeing ads and social media chatter about former Republican Governor Gary Johnson running for President, I went to OnTheIssues.org to learn more.

I liked some of what I saw on foreign policy and law enforcement reform, but one line jumped out at me as particularly disturbing. It said Governor Johnson wants to:

“cut the federal budget by 43%.”

Just to be clear, a 43% cut in federal spending would constitute a major conservative revolution.  That would bring a much deeper reduction in government services than has been proposed in the past by ultra-conservative firebrands such as Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, or Michele Bachmann.

Still, I realize that a 43% cut has surface appeal.  After all, nobody feels a deep affinity for the abstract notion of “the federal government budget.” But budgets are collections of individual programs that deliver individual sets of services and benefits to Americans,  so we need to evaluate Johnson’s radical austerity plan on a program-by-program basis.

So, my fellow Americans, which federal services are you willing to cut by 43%, as Gary Johnson proposes.

Cut Infrastructure by 43%?  For instance, are the American people willing to cut infrastructure investments by 43%?  Do we want to slash investment in roads, bridges, transit, trains, airports, water and sewage systems, and the like?  A GBA Strategies survey finds that an overwhelming 71% of Americans want to spend $400 million more on infrastructure, not less.  Only 13% oppose such a massive federal government spending increase.

Cut Medicare by 43%?  Do the American people want to cut Medicare by 43%? After all, Medicare is a huge and growing part of the federal budget.  Americans not only don’t want to cut Medicare, more than three-fourths (77%) of Americans want to fund a new, massively expensive Medicare-for-All option.  Only 17% oppose such an expansion of government services and spending.

Cut Social Security by 43%?  Maybe Americans want to cut Social Security benefits by 43%?  While Social Security represents an enormous slice of the federal pie, the vast majority of Americans not only don’t want to cut Social Security benefits, a whopping 70% want to strengthen them.  Only 15% oppose expanding Social Security benefits.

Cut National Defense by 43%?  What about a 43% cut in national defense spending? Gallup finds that only 32% of Americans support national defense budget cuts.

Cut Other Programs by 43%?  Similarly, the GBA survey finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans want major government spending increases for green energy technology (70% support, 20% oppose), debt-free public higher education (71% support, 19% oppose), and subsidies for high quality child care  (53% support, 33% oppose) . There is no public appetite to cut any of those federal programs by 43%, as Governor Johnson proposes.

In other words,  only a thin slice of the most deeply ultra-conservative voters support Johnson’s fiscal austerity ideas.  Therefore, more moderate voters who are concerned about the nation’s poor, middle class, national security and global competitiveness need to learn about the implications of Johnson’s fiscal proposals before they jump on the Johnson bandwagon.

Confessions of a Facebook Killjoy

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Martin Niemöller, 1947

“I try not to post political stuff…”
Me and most of my Facebook friends

Cursor_and_speak_no_evil_-_Google_SearchIn the era of Donald Trump and social media, these two statements haunt me.

On the one hand, I know that silence heals.  During these bitterly polarized times, it seems more important than ever to have a safe place like Facebook where politically divided friends and relatives momentarily set aside political rantings.  Sometimes we need to just take time to small talk, coo over snapshots and chortle over animal videos. So maybe, I think to myself, since I speak out in the blogosphere and on Twitter, I can give it a rest on Facebook.

But, as Niemöller reminds, sometimes silence doesn’t heal.  A grossly ignorant, bigoted, emotional pygmy with bullyboy tendencies could be about to become the leader of the free world during very dangerous and fragile times.  That is not an exaggeration. That may not end well.  So maybe, I think to myself, shame on me if I don’t heed Niemöller’s warning.

I was thinking about this the other day after reading a New Yorker article about Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer of Trump’s bestselling book “The Art of the Deal.” Schwartz spent a year interviewing and shadowing Trump, so he got to know Trump better than most. He came away from that up-close exposure with this to say about the man who soon could be President:

“I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.”

He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

If he were writing “The Art of the Deal” today, Schwartz said, it would be a very different book with a very different title. Asked what he would call it, he answered, “The Sociopath.”

So, the stakes of this election could be just a little bit high.  If so, what am I going to tell my grandkids if things turn out badly?

“He came to nuke the Muslims and I did not speak out Because I didn’t want to put a damper on the baby elephant video.”

As a friend and I were discussing the other day, I’m not really sure how to be a responsible citizen during a time of crisis. I’m a rookie at this, as I suppose Niemöller was during Hitler’s rise.  We have lived our whole lives during a time when there has not been what I would consider a mega-crisis, such as an epic moral battle over slavery, suffrage or segregation, a Great Depression or a World War.

In the wake of the biggest crisis of my lifetime — the 9-11 terror attacks — I wasn’t a particularly responsible citizen. I didn’t speak out against the anti-American Patriot Act. I didn’t speak out in a timely way about the wholly unnecessary Iraq War. I didn’t speak out against anti-Muslim hate crimes.  In the process, my silence contributed in a small way to making the the world less stable, just and safe.  I also haven’t been a very responsible citizen in the face of a mountain of evidence proving an unconscionable level of societal racial bias.

So, forgive me Facebook friends, but I just don’t feel like I can afford to completely sit silent over the next four months of this historically scary election.  I need to speak out, at least a little.  It may not make any difference, but I have to try.

And if everything turns out okay on November 8th, I promise on November 9th I will stick to baby elephant videos for a while.