Put Out a Contract on These Campaigns

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterGood lord. This one can’t end soon enough, and I’m tempted to say “badly enough’. There really should be penalties and pain for political campaigns as time and attention-sucking and uninvolving as the one we’re enduring right now.

I freely confess to jaded-induced boredom. I’ve seen too many campaigns. I really should slink away to the Yukon with a faithful dog, a store of hardtack and jerky and let this ceaseless barrage of boilerplate bluster and by-the-numbers attack advertising run its course, which of course would mean killing off the last critical synapses in the last sentient voter walking the land. When (or if) I re-emerged the world might resemble the aftermath of some zombie plague, with the brain-eaters being political consultants and messaging experts.

We all know it’s bad, as in dull, monotonous, predictable and off-putting. Need a fresh example? How about GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden devoting one day to announcing his “contract with Minnesota” and then another day to signing it? Inspiring stuff. Imaginative, too. Another “contract”. The latest in a 20-plus year run of “contracts” thrown up by imagination-free political candidates who don’t dare, and/or are advised not to dare ever saying anything that might engage the mental machinery of what I refer to as the “actively informed voter.”

Obviously, if you’re one of those people you fully understand that these campaigns, which thanks to the epic flow of money unleashed by Citizens United never actually end any longer, are targeted on a sliver of the population that rarely exceeds 15%. These would be your “persuadable voters”, the folks who, put another way, mostly ignore political/government function, get a lot of their news from headlines they see walking past the few newspaper racks still remaining, overhear at the plant or see on some cable channel in the dentist’s office. That’s who all the money is being spent on. And who knows, a couple of them might even be persuaded to vote … against the other guy.

Meanwhile, it is worse than a Newton Minow “wasteland” for everyone else. If you care enough to follow these processes daily, instead of just for a couple weeks every other year, you’ve come to accept that there’s nothing here for you. You’ve heard every attack thousands of times, seen every grainy video of lock-stepping “ultra-liberals” and lapse into narcolepsy at the hint of yet another “debate”. Essentially you made your mind up months (if not years) ago and are enduring this siege of unrelenting blandness as you might a stand-up comic suitable for your mother’s nursing home.

Obviously, if this were Kentucky or even Iowa, or as Joe has been following, South Dakota, it might a little different. There’d at least be a pulse. But here in Minnesota there’s never been any serious doubt that either Al Franken or Mark Dayton was going to be reelected. If there was it vanished with the nominations of Mike McFadden and Jeff Johnson, two guys with all the inspirational ability of a couple corporate trainers who forgot their PowerPoint.

So what to do? Well nothing, if like Franken your handlers, advisers and kitchen cabinet have wrung every last ounce of wit and risk out of you. (Dayton will always and only do what Dayton wants to do.)

But in (my) ideal world here’s something I’d like some genuinely “courageous” candidate “fighting” for the middle-class and “hard working” Americans everywhere to give a try.

Screw these ritualized debates, which long ago degenerated into a trench warfare of pre-digested catch phrases and attack slogans hurled back and forth like mustard gas.

I’d like to see a (formerly) witty, daring guy like Franken agree to a serious of “thesis candidate” interviews with bona fide experts on a series of issues. Tell the League of Women Voters to go find three acknowledged experts each on economics, public ethics, communications, whatever and you’ll agree to sit, by yourself, not with your opponent, and be cross-examined by them for 90 minutes. No horse-race obsessed professional journalists allowed. Instead, a conversation rewarding actual brainpower, intellectual resourcefulness and humility.

To be revealed: What you do and don’t know about the reality of what you’re selling to the persuadables on primetime TV, in between episodes of “Honey Boo Boo” and Thursday Night Football.

Suicide for the fool who agrees to such a concept? I’m not so sure. If Franken agreed to do it, what’s the predicament for McFadden?

Bottom line question: Does any politician dare talk to adults like adults? I’ve decided the answer is “no.”

Hmmm … must check Expedia for packages to Whitehorse.

And the Stiffs Just Keep on Comin’

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterLacking anything resembling a passionate issue, this year’s political campaigns, certainly here in Minnesota, have acquired a common theme by default. Put one way it is: “How did we end up with this pack of stiffs and maroons?”

Colleague Joe has been lucid about one aspect of this. But then us fringy blogger types aren’t required to stick a sock in what we really think in the interests of, you know, “promoting a civil discourse”.

Translation: If you’re getting paid for what you write, never publish anything that might upset your mega-church going maiden aunt.

Today though, Strib columnist Jon Tevlin ventures about as far out on the institutional branch as he can get when he surveys the recent Tom Hagedorn/Michelle MacDonald/Keith Downey/Al Franken news cycle, and, after five paragraphs of promising never to sully himself with such gutter talk ever again, declares the lot of ‘em … “a bunch of idiots”.

Jon is a quality guy and a talented writer. (I.e. I’d really rip him if he were a putz.) But his first obligation is to play within the parameters of a mainstream commercial news organization, a business enterprise determined to maintain credibility across the entire spectrum of modern American, uh, “discourse”. Within that business plan, calling aspiring/elected officials “idiots” is a journalistic “no fly zone”.

No matter how ill-informed, craven, hypocritical and reckless, respectable/moderated journalism does not go to … “idiot”. Not even if there’s a clinical diagnosis involved. Juvenile name-calling is left to spittle-flecked bloggers with no advertising base to endanger.

These moments always reminds me of a lunch interview I had with the author Paul Theroux years ago. Theroux occasionally wrote for The New York Times, and struggled with the grand institution’s rules of order. Like the time he was assigned a piece on the physical experience of The Big Apple’s 1980s subway system. This naturally involved describing smelly piles of what the Times copy desk insisted he refer to as  “fecal material” polluting stations and platforms.

Said Theroux in essence, “It was classic Times. Struggling not to describe in language everyone understands what everyone sees under foot every day of their lives.”

The essential point here is to ask (again) how much better our political “discourse” might be if the “real media” described characters and events in terms all of us understand instantly and use every day? How much less of Michele Bachmann’s ludicrous circus act would we have had to endure if words like “lying”, “reckless” and “self-serving” had been deployed with near-daily regularity by the Strib, the PiPress, MPR, and the local TV outlets … instead of just the bed-head rabble of dyspeptic bloggers?

Given the appetite of today’s “movement conservatives” for “idiot discourse” and self-serving demagoguery, the media alone won’t be able to nudge that ship/garbage scowl into a channel of sanity. But let me argue that a professional reporting class permitted a vernacular beyond that which doesn’t induce indigestion in devout Mormons might loosen up some of the “stiffs” smelling up our public offices.

Mar(k) Dayton is probably beyond “loosening”. But how much more effective might Al Franken be if he felt comfortable melding both his innate satirical wit with his policy smarts? How much larger a public platform would he have, with benefits both to Minnesotans and national progressives, if he routinely spoke in a language everyone (other than Mormons and churchy aunts) immediately understands and uses every day? Would he, after applying a little comic lubricant, be more or less influential than the glaze-inducing grey cardboard character he’s playing today? A caricature acceptable enough for Times copy editors.

The commercial media’s role in a renaissance of public “discourse” would be, as it is now, to fairly assess the claims of partisan critics who will inevitably shriek and froth for their base any time Franken or any other politician talks and acts like a human being, as opposed to some committee-neutered corporate spokesman in permanent crisis management mode.

I don’t know if any of this would make me walk a block to listen to a stump speech. But it might at least convince me there’s some blood in their veins.


Still Waiting for the State GOP’s “Winning Strategy”

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterJust a crazy, hysterical notion here … .

I’m not sure Minnesota’s Republicans have quite figured out the winning strategy for this November’s elections. The national crowd isn’t much better, but they’ve got games going in places like Kentucky and Mississippi and Georgia, hotbeds of 21st century conservative zealotry and deep-thinking, so they have an advantage.

Minnesota is a little different. The whole Kenyan Muslim Socialist selling the country out to terrorists while destroying our best-in-the-world medical system thing doesn’t play quite as well around here as in South Bogaloosa. Or at least it needs to be dressed up quite a bit to be presentable in public.

In part, that explains the four GOP contenders dialing back on the social issue pandering. But the recent assertion that the miserable state of the local economy, in particular Mark Dayton’s steering of said economy into a sludge-filled ditch will be the focus of the campaign also leaves me a bit skeptical in terms of efficacy.

Now, granted we are in the final weeks of primary season, when the game is all about rallying every registered Republican who listens to six hours a day or more of AM 1280 The Patriot. But still, the economy? That’s what they see as their best shot?

Again, the targeted primary voter would rip Dayton even if he cut their taxes to Medtronic levels, brought in the reincarnation of Ayn Rand to home school their kids, re-paved their driveway and gassed up the family Yukon — the one with the star-spangled license plate and the waving flag sticker that says, “Fear This.” But what then for the general election, back in the pesky world of the “reality-based”? What does the GOP have for that rather crucial slice of the electorate?

There probably aren’t five people of any persuasion who don’t think “the economy” should be better. Every “corporate inversion”-minded CEO, every hardware store operator and Caribou barista will tell you they’d like more money — i.e, a better economy — in their pockets. But given a choice between the party who many will remember wasted its recent majority at the local legislature on tone deaf notions like Voter ID, opposing gay marriage and multiple votes to suppress or rollback abortion rights and the guy who had to restore some order and discipline after the godawful fiscal mess left from Tim Pawlenty’s careerist reign, the choice is pretty easy.

And it remains fairly easy even when the various candidates try to roll “the horror” of Obamacare, or (gasp!) the MNsure website, into their economic message. Where for example do they get a credible metric that says Obamacare isn’t considered an asset by the majority of Minnesotans? Moreover, when “shrewd” businessmen like Mike McFadden wander off the empirical ranch and start talking about replacing Obamacare with something else … something “market-based” and “patient-oriented” — a Minnesotan who actually intends to vote is by now familiar enough with Mitt Romney-style boardroom gobbledygook and corporate-speak to dismiss him as yet another political variant of Gertrude Stein’s Oakland. You know: “There’s no there there.”

And speaking of tone-deaf out past the barbed wire … . Where do you even begin with a guy like Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson promising to “go all Scott Walker” on Minnesota if he can just, A. Get elected himself, and B. Get that dang majority of anti-abortionists, homophobes and election fraud conspiracists back at work?

Scott [bleeping] Walker !? I have to assume that a self-proclaimed smart guy like Johnson has, again, some credible metric showing how much better Wisconsin’s economy is performing than Minnesota’s, because it sure as hell hasn’t appeared in any study or survey produced anywhere other than low-power talk radio.

As I mentioned after Romney cratered two years ago and the national GOP began its extensive soul-searching, (okay they issued a press release and then roared back to tin foil hat business-as-usual), the GOP has a future if it can talk coherently and credibly about some issue, any issue, presumably economic, that has direct positive effect on the middle-class. Screw all the trickle down blather. At this point the public is hip to how little reducing corporate taxes benefits them.

It’s loony, I admit, but let me repeat my advice. Find something that gives the middle-class something they truly want — better schools, better roads, better/cheaper health care — and apply actual brainpower, not glaze-inducing messaging, to constructing such legislation and demand the DFL cooperate in passing it.

In other words: Try credibility for a change.


Dayton Lets His Droll Out For The Dude

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s approval rating is fairly high right now, though his backing of an unpopular sales tax on a wide range of services may be eating into that a bit.

Still, the awkwardly earnest introvert has always been a difficult guy for Minnesotans to get to know, and he hasn’t been known for his sense of humor.  That’s why it was such a treat to see this 7-minute video of the Governor playing along with a gag video for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Dayton gave as good as he got with a comedic host called The Dude, an amalgam of The Dude charcter in the movie The Big Lebowsky and the Wayne character in the SNL-based  Wayne’s World movies.  The Dude tried very hard to upstage the Banterer-in-Chief, and, quiet amazingly, failed. Continue reading

Really, Pioneer Press?

When South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow and Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich were taking verbal shots at each other in the early 1980s about business climate, that was news, mostly because Janklow and Perpich were the highest ranking elected officials of their respective states, and because in those days neighboring Governors  were typically genteel with each other.  This was something new.

But today the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a breathless piece on its front page, above the fold, about a relatively obscure Tea Party-backed state legislator, Wisconsin State Rep. Erik Serverson (R-Osceola), who wrote a little letter taking a shot at Minnesota about taxes.

A Tea Partier griping about taxes.  Gee, I’ve never heard that before.  Seriously, this is news, Pioneer Press?  It would have been news if this Tea Partier wasn’t opposing Dayton’s tax reform plan. Continue reading

Can Norm Coleman Recover From His Recent Tea Party Cheerleading Role?

So, Norm Coleman won’t rule out a run for Minnesota Governor.  Well, let’s see, what has Norm been doing to ingratiate himself with Minnesota voters since he lost to Al Franken in 2008?  He:

1)   Moved out of Minnesota at the first opportunity.

2)   Became a Super PAC (Congressional Leadership Fund) political hit man doing the dirty work for a group of Tea Party-controlled House members sporting a 9% approval rating, an all-time historic low.

Continue reading

Can Minnesota Leaders Stop The Death of the American Dream?

If the new DFL-controlled Legislature dares to raise the minimum wage, strengthen the social safety net or make the state tax system more progressive, reporters will surely characterize the moves as political payoffs to DFL constituencies.  Mainstream news reporters have fallen into a habit of covering policymaking like it is nothing more than a politically motivated auction of gifts for special interest.

To be sure, those policies help traditional DFL constituencies, and political motives are very much in the mix.  But beyond crass vote-buying, there is also a pretty darn good reason  to help low- and middle-income Minnesotans.

Minnesota is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have nots.  From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that poorest Minnesotans have seen their incomes decrease by 3%, the middle quintile has experienced a 2% decline, and the wealthiest have enjoyed an increase of about 6%.  Therefore, Minnesota’s income inequality gap has been growing. Continue reading

Why Are Top DFLers Outperforming DFLers in State Legislature?

Minnesota’s top DFLers got good news from a recent Public Policy Polling survey.  They are receiving public support that dwarfs Minnesota’s leading Republicans.  The approval rating for Senator Al Franken stands at 49% and the approval rating for Governor Mark Dayton is at 48%, while the favorability ratings for former Governor Tim Pawlenty (40%), former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (35%), and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (29%) are much lower.

Moreover, Franken would handily defeat any of the three top Republicans if the election were held today.  Franken would defeat Bachmann by 12 points, Pawlenty by 7 points, and Norm Coleman, who Franken barely defeated two years ago, by 7 points.

Why are top DFLers polling so much stronger than top Republicans?  Some might theorize that these DFLers are simply more talented and charismatic politicians, and that explains the gap.

But in terms of being articulate media magnates, the top three Republicans are more accomplished than the top two DFLers. Former comedian and talk show host Franken is obviously capable of being articulate and grabbing the spotlight.  But the fact is, Franken has been very low key since becoming a U.S. Senator two years ago.  Dayton is an earnest but awkward communicator, and is easily the most low-key of the bunch.  At the same time, Pawlenty, Coleman and Bachmann are very articulate leaders who regularly get themselves on national news programs.   But despite the charisma gap, Franken and Dayton are much more popular with Minnesotans.

If political talent and charisma don’t explain why top DFL politicians are more popular than top GOP politicians, another theory might be that ideology is behind the gap.  That is, maybe Minnesota is becoming a more progressive state these days.

However, that doesn’t bear out in PPP’s polling on state legislative races.

When asked who they are inclined to support in a state legislative race in their district, Minnesotans are split, with the generic DFL candidate chosen by 47% of the respondents and the generic GOP candidate chosen by 44% of the respondents, a 3% margin that falls within the 3.4% margin of cerror.

So, what explains the difference between the strong performance of top of the ticket DFLers and the mediocre performance of the DFLers in the state legislature?

It’s far from the only explanation, but one big factor is messaging.  The messaging of Franken and Dayton is clear and consistent, and it is proving to be compelling with Minnesotans.  On the other hand, DFL legislative candidates are offering up a cacophony of scattershot messages that each individual candidate crafts on their own to appeal to their respective districts.

I’ve argued that legislative candidates should unite under a common statewide campaign theme along the lines of “replace the worst legislature ever,” to make the election into a referendum on the unpopular GOP-controlled Legislature.   After all “worst ever” is the verdict Minnesotans have given the current GOP-controlled Legislature, with a 19% approval rating, which appears to be the lowest level ever recorded.  That kind of sticky, unifying campaign umbrella would convert the the legislators’ confusing cacophony into the kind of consistent messaging that is benefiting top-of-the-ticket DFLers.

Whether caused by messaging or something else, the gap between the performance of the upper echelon DFLers and the DFLers in the State Legislature is striking.  DFL legislative candidates would be wise to study the approaches of Franken and Dayton, and replicate them.

– Loveland

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

Bills’ Minnesota Currency Proposal: Change We Can Believe In?

U.S. Senator Amy Kloubachar’s virtually invisible campaign opponent Kurt Bills borrows many of his policy ideas from his mentor, libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul.  One of the least discussed of Bills’ proposals is his call for Minnesota to consider issuing its own currency.

Like Congressman Paul, Mr. Bills backs a national return to the gold standard.  In addition, Bills has sponsored state legislation to study whether Minnesota should adopt an alternative currency.  Bills’ bill (H.F. 1664):

“A joint legislative committee is established to study the adoption of an alternative currency by and for the state of Minnesota and its citizens, in response to the abdication by the United States Congress of its constitutional duty to regulate the value of its money, which it has failed to do through the Federal Reserve System.”

Financial experts are not so sure about Mr. Bills’ state currency idea.  For instance David Parsley, a professor of economics and finance at Vanderbilt University was quoted by CNN saying:

“Having 50 Feds” could debase the U.S. dollar and even potentially lead the country into default.  The single currency in the United States is working just fine.  I have no idea why anyone would want to destroy something so successful — unless they actually wanted to destroy the country.”

Despite the naysayers, the prospect of having a cool new state currency raises many creative possibilities for Minnesotans.

Name.  For instance, what would we call the new Minnesota currency?

MinneDollar quickly comes to mind, but that seems much too obvious.  Plus, if the dollar collapses, as Mr. Bills foresees, “MinneDollar” wouldn’t inspire much confidence, now would it?

Alternatively, perhaps Minnesota’s dollar could be called “ “The Viking,” to symbolize our ability to dust ourselves off after humiliating defeats, and come back for more humiliating defeats, without ever seeing the epic futility of it all.  Very Minnesotan.

Or, the corporatist Republicans controlling the Legislature might prefer to sell off the naming rights of the new Minnesota currency for a price, to someone like Twin Cities Federal (TCF) Bank, which  already owns the naming rights to a largely taxpayer-funded stadium, and is run by a former GOP Party Chairman.  Yes, Minnesota’s equivalent to “the dollar” could be called “The TCF.”

Finally, there is always “The Gopher.” What better name to carry on Minnesota’s rich tradition of picking really humiliating names to represent our state?  Plus, “Golden Gopher?”  Gold standard?  Get it?

Faces.  After we name our new currency, we, of course, need to put a good face on it.

America’s first President, George Washington, preferred faceless money.  He was staunchly opposed to putting President’s images on U.S. currency.  Modest George thought doing so was too self-aggrandizing, elitist and monarchical.  In other words, George was a socialist.

However, something tells me that the likes of Jesse Ventura and Tim Pawlenty wouldn’t let modesty get in the way of monetary immortality for themselves.  So we’ll let those former Governors fight it out to determine whose face is on our new Minnesota currency.

Why did I leave current Governor Mark Dayton off my list?  Ah shucks, Modest Mark doesn’t need that.  (Owning most of the new currency is good enough for him.)

Motto.  After our currency has a name and a face, it would need a motto, something akin to the saying on U.S. currency, “In God We Trust.”

If we go with selling off the naming rights, as contemplated above, I guess we’d need the new currency motto to be “Your convenience bank.”  Stop whining, it will grow on you.

“In Ron Paul We Trust” also could work, since Mr. Paul is the brainchild of all this, and because he is treated like a deity by his adoring followers.

But given the Minnesota Republicans’ obsession with proving they are tighter with the Almighty than everyone else, the GOP-controlled Legislature would probably make the motto something more like “In God We Trust, Unlike the Godless Liberals.” Bam.  On-message.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think my vote for the new Minnesota currency name goes to “The Loon.” I know it’s hackneyed.  But loons are graceful creatures with a gorgeous call that is closely associated with Minnesota’s iconic lakes.   Loons are our State Bird.  “Common Loons” are both beautiful and “common,” just like the great people of Minnesota.

Besides, “The Loon” perfectly captures the merits of the Mr. Bills’ idea.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in the Politics in Minnesota Morning Report “Best of the Blogs” feature, as well as a “best of the best” in Minnpost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Two Decades Of GOP Domination of the Minnesota Judicial Branch Finally Ends

The last time a Minnesota DFL Governor was able to appoint a State Supreme Court Justice, the Cold War was still officially underway.  Bill Clinton was an obscure Governor of a small state, a quixotic wannabe instead of an accomplished elder statesman.  Arnold Schwartzenegger was a cartoon character in The Terminator 2, instead of a disgraced former Governor. In fact, 1991 was so long ago that the Twins actually won a World Series that year, and something called the “Minnesota North Stars” was in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Twenty-one years is too long for any state to go with one party thoroughly controlling it’s State Supreme Court.  So, let’s celebrate Governor Dayton’s historic appointment of Minnesota’s first female African American Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Wilhelmina Wright.  But let’s also celebrate the long overdue movement towards a return to balance in Minnesota’s judicial branch.

Poor Kurt Bills Needs To Learn Modern GOP Fundraising Tactics

I’ve got a tip for poor Kurt Bills or any Republican candidate out there running low on cash:  Say something really, really bizzaro.

I don’t mean a mere gaffe, or run-of-the-mill lie.  I mean the kind of batty stuff that used to get people drummed out of politics.  Because in the increasingly outlandish Republican Party, such rantings are a money magnet.

In today’s Republican Party, if you caterwaul “YOU LIE!” at the President of the United States during a quiet moment of a formal occasion, you no longer will be interrogated by the authorities and have a lifelong security clearance flag on your record.  Instead, you will receive a quick infusion of $200,000 from adoring Republicans.

If you state as incontrovertible fact that 80 Members of the United States Congress are members of the Communist Party, with much less evidence than disgraced Joe McCarthy brought forth, you will no longer be marginalized in American politics.  Rather, you will immediately use your hallucination as fundraising fodder, and be rewarded with a seven-figure avalanche of cash.

If it comes to light that you sexually harassed numerous women while married, you will no longer be ostracized by vigilant marriage-defending Republicans.  You will immediately receive a flood of $400,000 from them, and see your poll numbers spike.

And if you give voice to your reckless McCarthyesque delusions about terrorists infiltrating Hillary Clinton’s inner circle, you will no longer see your career fade to irrelevance the way McCarthy’s did.  Instead, you will open your mailbox to find a cool million waiting for you.

All of which is to say, Minnesota congressional candidate Mike Parry is a political genius.  Because now that he has viciously accused the Governor of being a drug addict with absolutely no evidence, and even ultra-conservatives in his own party contradicting him, he will not be quietly walked off the Republican stage before he does the Party more damage.   Instead, he will probably see Minnesota Republican activists flock to him with wallets wide open.

Therefore, look for U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills, now sitting on a mere 6,000 bills, to say something kooky in the coming days to revitalize his somnolent campaign.  I’m talking even loopier than “look at me, I’m Paul Wellstone!”  Perhaps he could accuse Senator Kloubachar of being a cleverly disguised blood thirsty space alien pedophile cannibal commie intent on overthrowing God, and Smith & Wesson, through provisions she has secretly inserted into the tax code, in invisible ink.

That ought to get him a seat on Hannity tonight, and several million dollars in the bank by morning.

– Loveland


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

What A Pill: Parry the Puerile Pill Policeman Pops Off

Today, Republican congressional candidate Mike Parry charged that Governor Mark Dayton is “scary” because Parry supposedly witnessed the Governor taking 15 or 16 pills at a breakfast meeting.

Then the news cycle takes off:  Dayton says the claim is a lie.  Parry says that it may not have been that many pills, but doesn’t back off the rest of his statement.  The Star Tribune notes that Dayton takes anti-depression medication, and that Parry stopped short of calling the Governor a drug addict.

All of the sudden, the Governor has to deny he is a drug addict?

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

You want to know what is truly “scary?”  It’s scary that anyone would even think to make the alleged taking of medication before a meal an issue.  Though the Governor says Parry’s story is not true, and we should take him at his word, SO WHAT if it was true?

Go ask some of your older friends and relatives how many pills – prescription, over the counter and supplements — they take every day.  You may very well hear a number that could be approaching 15, or could be mistaken by nosey onlookers as being in that range.

And you know what?  That makes them neither scary nor a drug addict.

I have a confession to make.  I too am “scary.”  Today, I took three fish oil capsules, a baby aspirin, a multivitamin, over-the-counter allergy medicine, and two types of prescription asthma medications.  If someone who hated me was watching me take my handful of daily meds, he might delude himself into believing that this handful of pills makes me a scarry drug addict.

Despite those eight medicines, I run about 20 miles per week, have healthy vital signs, and only am certifiably crazy when I hear about things like Mike Parry’s  accusation.

I suspect that the inneuendo game Parry is playing is to remind his fellow Dayton haters that Dayton, gasp, takes depression medication, something Dayton long ago disclosed, prior to be elected Governor.  I suspect that in Parry’s very small mind, taking depression medication somehow equates to “scary.”

But may I remind the wannabe Congressman that about 10% of the population – 27 million people – take depression medication, and the vast, vast majority of them function extremely well in their chosen fields.

Unless I’m missing something here, Mike Parry owes an apology to the Governor, the millions of people who are responsibly and effectively treating their depression and the millions more who take multiple medications per day to keep themselves healthy.

If Mr. Parry must worry about addiction, maybe he should worry about his own apparent addiction to childish personal cheapshots.

– Loveland

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.

Pulling Back the Curtain on the Minnesota Legislature

The one thing that Vikings Stadium proponents and opponents in the Legislature should be able to agree on:  The debate was very bad for all of their reputations.

Why?  Because there was an audience.  While the masses usually are mostly blind to what happens in legislative floor debates, a sizeable audience of casually involved Minnesotans were engaged enough in the high profile stadium issue to seek out legislative coverage on TV or the Internet.   My sense is that they were appalled.

Legislators didn’t really act much worse during the Vikings Stadium debate than they typically do at the end of any session.  It’s just that they usually behave badly in relative anonymity.  Usually, the only witnesses are jaded Capitol insiders, who can no longer be shocked.  Capitol dwellers – legislators, lobbyists, reporters and staff – take it for granted that legislators are breathtakingly rude and disrespectful to each other.  Every day, they see legislators use shallow “if she is for it, then I MUST be against it” policy logic.  To Capitol dwellers, self-serving partisan pranks are de rigueur.

But this is news to ordinary Minnesotans.  They hear about it, but they don’t often see it.

“I hardly ever watch the Legislature, but I tuned in for some of the big stadium debate…,” friends have been telling me.  Then their eyes bug out, and their mouths gape, as if they had just caught a glimpse of Lobster Boy and the Elephant Man at the carnival’s side show.  “Oh my.  I had NO idea.”

This reaction came regardless of how the individual felt about the outcome of the Vikings Stadium debate.  In a way, winners still felt like losers.

Lobster Boy indeed.  Half-baked Plan Z’s were sprung in the closing hours of a decade long debate.  The House’s top “leader” declared he was voting against the bill, but hoped it would pass.  Reckless amendment after reckless amendment were added, making the bill read like the contents of an elementary school Suggestion Box, instead of the product of a decade’s worth of expert study and analysis.

In the midst of a blinding blizzard of amendments, freshman Rep. John Kriesel plaintively held up a sign from the House floor reading “Help!”  From Baudette to Blooming Prairie, ordinary Minnesotans’ on both sides of the issue were collectively nodding at the sentiment.

A recent SurveyUSA poll found that only one of five (21%) Minnesotans approves of the job the Legislature is doing.  That number might be even smaller among those who watched a chunk of the Vikings Stadium debate.  Incidentally, Governor Dayton’s approval rating (56%) is about three times higher than the Legislature’s, despite the fact that he was in the center of the bruising stadium debate.  Demeanor probably explains some of this difference.  Dayton wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t Lobster Boy.

When Dorothy of Kansas was shocked by what she found behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, she declared “you’re a very bad man.”  After Minnesotans pulled back the curtain of public indifference that usually covers up St. Paul’s secrets, they may be feeling the same way.

But most of the legislators aren’t bad people.  It’s just that powerful special interests, partisan bullies and fatigue don’t bring out the best in them.  Sometimes good people can be bad leaders.  As the Wizard of Oz sheepishly responded in his defense, “Oh no, my dear.  I’m a very good man.  I’m just a very bad wizard.”



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

Vikings Post Game Show

Is the Vikings Stadium bill a political boon or bust?  A new SurveyUSA poll brings political hand wringers mixed messages.

Post-game pondering.

One the one hand, Governor Mark Dayton, who unapologetically led a bone-crushing stadium drive, still has a very respectable 56% approval rating.  In other good news for supporters, 55% of Minnesotans are fine with expanding gambling, the primary state financing mechanism used in the bill.  Most (57%) believe that the Vikings will leave without a new stadium.  Bottom line:  An impressive 70% say that if a lawmaker backed the bill, it would either make no difference in their voting (47%) or make them more likely to support that politician (23%).

So, backlash?  What backlash?

But the news in the poll isn’t all skol-worthy.   A slim majority of Minnesotans (52%) either want the Vikings to stay in the Metrodome in its current plain Jane state (16%) or renovate the Metrodome (36%).  In addition, most citizens prefer racino (26% support) and a downtown casino (36% support) over the bill’s heavy reliance on electronic pulltabs (15% support).  Overall, 58% say the Vikings Stadium should be funded entirely with public funding.  Finally, a whopping two-thirds (67%) of Minnesotans say there should be “a public vote before any taxes are raised to pay for a Vikings Stadium,” something the Vikings bill does not allow.

So, political armageddon is nigh, correct?

The fact is, polling on the Vikings Stadium is a bit of a political Rorschach Test.  Politicians can see what they want to see in today’s polling, because Minnesotans’ collective druthers are divided.  As certain as state politicians and pundits’ claim to be about what they think voters want, voters themselves don’t seem to be at all certain.

Is a vote in favor of the Vikings Stadium a political “W” or “L?”  Well, the most difficult day to be a Vikings Stadium supporter was probably last Wednesday.  The most difficult day to be an opponent of the Stadium will be the Minneapolis-hosted Super Sunday in 2016 or 2017.   To every thing, there is a season.

– Loveland