The Edina Resistance and Katherine Kersten

Judging by the interest in what would normally be a sleepy school board election, The Resistance is alive and fired up in leafy Edina. The town is slathered with yard signs. It isn’t just that there are 12 people running for four seats. It’s also the clear reaction to former Strib columnist Katherine Kersten and a suddenly reinvigorated Center of the American Experiment (CAE).

The latter used to be a deeply ingrown redoubt for what passed for the intellectual right in Minnesota. (It’s run out of Golden Valley.) For years the leader was an amiable guy named Mitch Pearlstein, the sort of character you could have a pleasant and even entertaining lunch with and not feel like you’d been exposed to some mutant toxin. The CAE brought in speakers and held luncheons and generally maintained boiler pressure for the usual conservative shibboleths like “smaller government” and climate change denial.

But as American conservatism began walking further and further out on the plank of talk radio nuttery, the CAE began losing what relevance it had. I mean … eight years of ruinous, disastrous, freedom-sapping Barack Obama rule! This aggression can not stand, man! Whether Pearlstein grew tired of that shtick or simply too old, I don’t know. But roughly a year ago he was replaced by John Hinderaker, best known as the most incendiary (i.e. unhinged) of the attorneys fueling the nationally popular Powerline blog. (The Strib ran a perfunctorily bland PR piece shortly after he took over.)

Hinderaker will forever be remembered for this 2005 commentary on George W. Bush, “It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.” It was typical of both his depth and his lick spittle approach to conservative power centers.

Which is why a lot of people, me among them, suspect Hinderaker tapped some very (very) rich vein of cash to infuse the CAE with enough money to choke Edina mailboxes last month with a remarkably polished magazine, “Thinking Minnesota”, driven by a cover story from Ms. Kersten on “racial identity activists” polluting the traditional curriculum of Edina’s public schools. It was an academic gloss on nakedly distasteful racial fear mongering.

No matter how much Kersten, the CAE and establishment Republicans (most of whom have their toes curled at the very edge of the talk radio, race-baiting plank) try to “intellectualize” and legitimize her message, the fact remains that the targets of her animus are invariably organizations and people with increasing racial and cultural diversity. Rethinking hoary white traditions and encouraging racial/cultural acceptance is like a dagger to her ideological heart.

As everyone watching politics since Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” knows, modern Republican antipathy toward racial and cultural diversity is also a key tactical strategy in suppressing Democratic votes. (Here’s another Strib piece, reporting on the effects of Kersten’s persistent, dog-with-a-bone attacks on a Muslim-oriented St. Paul charter school.)

Anyway, pretty much everywhere you go in unequivocally first world Edina these days people are talking … school board elections. The “Thinking Minnesota” mailing, coupled with a Kersten commentary published by the Strib has given my well-bred, well-educated, upscale neighbors, (I’m none of that), an amphetamine-like injection of resistance/activist zeal. The field of 12 candidates has been parsed down to pro-Kersten and well, “[bleep] Kersten and the horses she rode in on”.

As I say, I don’t know where Hinderaker got the money. Lord knows there are enough well-heeled metro area Republicans to goose the CAE’s prospects. (Climate change denying will always get you a check from Stanley Hubbard.)  Or it could be, as conspiracy-minded liberals like me prefer to think, an example of the Koch brothers tossing the Minnesota bums a dime to both shore up “traditional thinking” on the school board and prep the landscape to reelect Third District Congressman Erik Paulsen. Paulsen being a legislative lightweight ripe for plucking if the Democrats can coalesce around a viable opponent. (“Adult spirits” heir Dean Phillips would seem to have the best shot.)

Defeat of the “Kersten slate” of school board candidates should rightly spook Paulsen.

Down around the bottom line is this: Edina has changed. Once a reliable fortress of white entitlement, the city, while still very (very) white is home to enough brain power and conscience to be disquieted-to-horrified by the corruption and bigotry of the Trump regime and the various apparatuses — (eg: the CAE) — that promoted his pyrrhic victory.

The resistance is lined up for lattes and scones at Patisserie Margo and is saying, “No way! Not here!”


About That “Soaking” Of Minnesota’s Rich

For a long time, we’ve been hearing about how Governor Mark Dayton and DFL legislators “soaked the rich” back in 2013. That’s become the conventional wisdom at both the state and national levels, from both liberals and conservatives.

For example, at the national level, Patrick Caldwell from liberal Mother Jones magazine reported that Dayton ran on a “soak-the-rich platform of massively hiking income taxes on the wealthiest people in the state.”

Locally, conservative columnists Joe Soucheray and Katherine Kersten have long been beating the “soak the rich” rhetoricial drum, as has the conservative Pioneer Press editorial board:

“What’s the plan? Tax the rich, then tax the rich again, then tax the rich again?”

Finally, the Chair of the Minnesota House Tax Committee, Greg Davids, is among many conservative state legislators who have used “soak-the-rich” rhetoric to full effect.

Is the “Soak” Rhetoric True?

But did Governor Dayton’s 2013 tax increase on individuals earning over $150,000 and couples earning over $250,000 actually “soak” them in any meaningful way. This chart, derived from the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s 2015 Tax Incidence Study, calls that conventional wisdom into question:


This chart shows that the highest earning Minnesotans will only be paying a slightly higher proportion of their income in state and local taxes in 2017 than they did in 2012, under the rates in place before the 2013 tax increase. In 2012, the highest income Minnesotans were paying 10.5 percent of their income in state and local taxes. By 2017, the projection is that the highest income Minnesotans will see their state and local tax burden inch up to 10.7 percent.  This 0.2 percent increase hardly represents punitive “soaking.”

On a somewhat related issue, the chart also shows that the 10 percent of Minnesotans with the highest incomes look to be paying a much smaller share of their income in state and local taxes (10.7 percent) than the decile with the lowest incomes  (26.4 percent). However, on this point, the report contains an important caveat about the first decile data (page 17):

“…effective tax rates in the first decile are overstated by an unknown but possibly significant amount.”

But back to my original and primary point, which is not impacted by this caveat:  Despite all of the wailing and gnashing about the alleged mistreatment of the highest income Minnesotans, the impact of the Dayton-era tax increase on top earners’ overall state and local tax will be negligible.  Higher taxes on top earners didn’t cause the massive job losses that conservatives promised — Minnesota currently has the fifth lowest unemployment in the nation — and they didn’t soak anyone.

Don’t Forget About Local Taxes

How is it that Minnesota’s top earners are paying higher taxes, yet still are paying a lower share of state and local taxes than any other income grouping? Part of the reason is that the top 10 percent will only be paying only 2.2 percent of their income in local taxes in 2017, which is much less than the 3.1 percent share of local taxes that will be paid by the average Minnesotans, and less still than the share of local taxes paid by the lowest-income Minnesotans.

Impact_of_local_taxes_on_tax_burden_by_decileThis is a point that is frequently missed, or intentionally ignored, by people who focus solely on state tax burdens, without also taking local tax burdens into consideration.

So, did Mark Dayton really “soak-the-rich” when he increased taxes by $2.1 billion in 2013?   Inflated rhetoric aside, it turns out that the Dayton tax increase was more akin to a light misting than the predicted soaking.

Note:  This post was also published in MinnPost.