The Tweet The Gophers’ Coach Should Have Sent

When University of Minnesota football players boycotted practice because they didn’t approve of how fellow players were being treated by the University during a sexual assault investigation, head football coach Tracy Claeys took to Twitter to praise them lavishly:

“Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world.”

cursor_and_sexual_assault_university_of_minnesota_-_google_searchThere were a lot of problems with that tweet. Coach Claeys presumably didn’t have all the facts, yet, by making the “better world,” comment, he seemed to be siding with the accused over the accuser.  He was publicly crossing his bosses, University Athletic Director Mark Coyle and President Eric Kaler, who did have the facts.  Importantly, he expressed no concern about the seriousness of an extremely disturbing allegation.

Both in terms of football and morals, Claeys was following his players instead of leading them. A strong moral and football leader have tweeted something more like this to the community and these emotional young men:

“Until we learn the facts about these disturbing allegations, we’re going to be students & players, not administrators. Back to practice men.”

Don’t take sides on the investigation.  Don’t side with the accused over the accuser, or vice versa.  Don’t undermine your bosses facing a difficult decision.  Don’t allow your players to dictate when they will and won’t choose to practice or play.

If Coach Claeys would have chosen something like those 140 characters to lead instead of follow, he would have had some young men angry at him.  That happens to leaders.  But he would have taught his young players and the rest of the student body an important lesson about how to act and lead during a time of uncertainty.  He would still have the respect of his university and community. He would still have a chance to rebuild the reputation of the program that was so badly damaged by his entitled players.

But Coach Claeys chose a very different 140 characters on Twitter, and the characters he chose prove that he is not the right person for that very difficult job.  For that, he has no one to blame but himself.

Tim Pawlenty: “Health Care Policy All-Star?”

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is being featured as a “health policy all-star” by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. No, I’m not kidding.


The University event is celebrating the accomplishments of a 2008 Healthcare Transformation Task Force that happened during the Pawlenty years.   Governor Pawlenty is the keynote speaker.  The invitation portrays the Pawlenty years as a time when there was less intense partisan disagreement. Again, not kidding.

Health care policy has generated intense partisan disagreement over the past 5 years. The acrimony has been a sharp departure from Minnesota’s long tradition of collaboration among Democrats and Republicans and across the business, non-profit, and public sectors.

I’m not all that familiar with the Task Force’s work, but I’m sure it made excellent health care policy contributions.  It’s very worthwhile to recognize and reflect on that work, and I applaud the University’s Humphrey School for doing that.  If you’re interested in health care policy, I’d encourage you to attend the event.

But perhaps the Humphrey School should also invite the community to reflect on some of the big picture differences between health care in Minnesota under the Pawlenty-era policies versus health care in the post-Pawlenty era.  Minnesotans should reflect on the dramatic health care improvements that have happened despite Governor Pawlenty, rather than because of him.

The Good Old Days

Ah 2008, those certainly were the good old days of Pawlenty era health care in Minnesota, back when the rate of health uninsurance was 9.0 percent. In contrast, in the post-Pawlenty era, the rate of uninsurance under Governor Dayton has declined to 4.9 percent, the lowest point in Minnesota history.

This happened largely due of the success of the ACA reforms that Governor Pawlenty persistently and bitterly opposed.  For example, in 2011 Governor Pawlenty revved up a Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) audience with this simplistic barn burner:

The individual mandate in ObamaCare is a page right out of the Jimmy Carter playbook. The left simply doesn’t understand. The individual mandate reflects completely backwards thinking. They, the bureaucrats, don’t tell us what to do. We, the people, tell the government what to do!

We’re blessed to live in the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Our freedom is the very air we breathe. We must repeal Obamacare!

Do you see how much less “intensely partisan” health care policy was five years ago under Governor Pawlenty?

hqdefault_jpg__480×360_Oh and then there was that super nonpartisan time when Governor Pawlenty, who was preparing to run against President Obama, enacted an executive order to ban Minnesota from accepting any Obamacare-related Medicaid funding to provide health care coverage for 35,000 of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens. As the Star Tribune reported at the time, even Pawlenty-friendly health industry groups reacted to the highly partisan and punitive Pawlenty ban with unified expression of strong disapproval.

In a rare and unusually sharp statement, heads of Minnesota’s most influential medical associations said Pawlenty’s step contradicts his earlier embrace of state health care legislation. “The governor’s decision just doesn’t make sense for Minnesotans,” the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, the Minnesota Hospital Association and the Minnesota Medical Association said in a joint statement late Tuesday.

The Post-Pawlenty Health Policy Era

When Governor Dayton took office, he promptly reversed this Pawlenty ban to ensure that 35,000 low-income Minnesotans could get health care coverage.  Governor Dayton took a lot of heat for that decision, but this move started the process of driving down the state’s uninsured rate, a trend that has continued throughout the Dayton era.


In more ways than many citizens realize, Minnesota has benefited enormously from the ACA reforms that Pawlenty politicized and obstructed.  According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services:

  • 64,514 Minnesotans have gained Medicaid or CHIP coverage
  • 1,465,000 Minnesotans with private health insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing
  • Over 2 million Minnesotans are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage
  • As many as 2,318,738 non-elderly Minnesotans have some type of pre-existing health condition, and no longer can have coverage denied because of that condition

Yes, those Pawlenty years, when the Governor was fighting to keep Minnesotans from enjoying all of these ACA benefits, certainly were the good old days of health care policy.  “Health care policy all-star” indeed!


Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.

Gopher Athletics PR: Both Lucky and Good

minnesota_gopher_mascot_sadIn the wake of University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague’s resignation due to sexual harassment of University employees, the University’s PR team is getting glowing marks for the work they did on crisis communications management.

Public relations firefighters tend to get too much credit when things go well, and too much blame when things go poorly. The truth is, with any crisis there are many uncontrollable factors in play that aid or cripple even the most talented PR pros.

First They Got Lucky

The University’s PR people did plenty of things well, but they also got extremely lucky.  For instance, the harassed employees didn’t go directly to the media before the University had a chance to discover exactly what had happened, disclose, apologize and force a resignation. If the victims had told their stories a little bit at a time to the media and blindsided the University, there would have been a steady stream of  stories in which the University would have looked clueless, hapless, defensive and unresponsive to the victims.

The University was also fortunate that they had clear evidence of wrong-doing available – very graphic text messages.  This immediately gave the University the ability to swiftly secure a resignation before facing media scrutiny. Without that evidence, the University could have faced a prolonged “he said, she said” battle on the front pages, with no firm evidence available to help University leaders  bring swift closure to the University, and justice to the victims (see Clarence Thomas).

Then They Did Good Work

Having said all that, the University public relations team did seem to do many things very skillfully.

Disclosure to Closure In One Day. Unless there are more disclosures coming, the PR team seems to have dumped all of the evidence in one day. Mr. Teague has confessed, disclosed, apologized and resigned in one fell swoop. They may be pretty close to having full disclosure and closure on the same day, which is a rarity in the world of crisis communications.

This should help the University limit the number of days this horrendous story has legs. The only thing worse than a reputation-damaging story is multiple days of reputation-damaging stories, and this PR team did what they could to ensure this didn’t become a long-running soap opera.

Friday News Dump. This PR team also got the story out on a Friday. This is an tried and true crisis communications move, and it makes sense. Disclosing it on Friday, puts much of the bad news into Friday night and Saturday, when news consumption is lowest and the public is distracted for a couple of days, especially during Minnesota’s scarce summer days.

No Victim-Blaming. Importantly, the University didn’t directly or indirectly blame the victims.  In the coverage I saw, there was no partially defending Teague by mentioning that the abused employees did something to somehow encourage Teague. While this may seem like an obvious thing to avoid, many make this mistake.

No Hiding. Finally, they didn’t stay in the bunker. A lot of  proud, stubborn, and arrogant leaders refuse to talk to the media when under siege. That didn’t happen in this case. Mr. Teague spoke.  University President Eric Kaler spoke. There were no hands in cameras and no stories reporting that University officials “refused to comment,” which so often makes institutions and people appear to be defensive, secretive, bumbling and guilty.

The one part of the Friday news coverage that didn’t pass the smell test was Mr. Teague seemingly blaming all of his behavior on alcohol abuse. Teague may very well need help with alcoholism, but he also needs help learning how to respect women who clearly and repeatedly send signals that they aren’t interested. But I assume that the University public relations team can’t be blamed for that bit of weasel-speak, because I imagine Mr. Teague wrote his own statement, or at least heavily edited it.

While the University public relations team got very lucky on some big things, their handling of this crisis turned what could have been weeks of really horrible stories into fewer days of horrible stories. In crisis communications, that’s often as good as it gets.

Why Minnesota Might Be Planning TOO MUCH Road Expansion

MnSHIP_cover-2The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) released a new 20-year plan in December 2013 – the Minnesota State Highway Investment Plan (MnSHIP).  Spoiler alert:  MnSHIP says we need more money to build more road capacity.

MnSHIP says much more than that, but adding road capacity is a central theme, as has been the case for many years with such long-range plans.  At first blush,  the call for increased road capacity seems like the most unassailable part of the plan.  After all, Minnesota’s population is expected to increase over the next 20 years.

But the call for additional road capacity could ultimately turn out to be the most flawed part of the plan.   Here’s why:  One term you won’t see in MnSHIP is “driverless car.”

Are Driverless Cars Feasible?

When I was a lad, the science fiction cartoon The Jetsons offered  the dream of flying personal vehicles, which, alas, have not materialized.  That has made many of us skeptical about subsequent predictions about revolutionary transportation technology, such as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and driverless vehicles.

Google_driverless_care_on_street-2But driverless cars are far less speculative that flying cars.  Google, one of the wealthiest corporations on the planet, has been investing heavily in a driverless car.  Their test vehicle has logged over half a million miles, and it has never had an accident while the computer was driving.

Based on their tests to date, Google founder Sergey Brin predicts that Google will have autonomous cars available for the general public by 2017.   Again, this isn’t some penniless, garage-based tinkerer expressing his utopian pipe dream.  This is the founder of a company bringing in almost $15 billion in revenue per year.  This is someone who has already produced a prototype that is successfully operating on the streets and has been legalized for use in California, Florida and Nevada.

Beyond Google, just about every major auto manufacturer is engaged in developing this technology.  If Google doesn’t nail the driverless car assignment, one of their well-resourced and experienced competitors might.

Model_T_bad_roads-2Ignoring driverless cars in a 20-year transportation plan beginning in 2013 plan may turn out to be akin to ignoring horseless carriages in a 20-year transportation plan written in 1903.  Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903, and by 1923 Ford was flooding 2,000,000 Model T cars per year onto an overwhelmed infrastructure.

Consumer Buy-In?

But will consumers really surrender control of their vehicles to a computer?  In 2017, the first year Google predicts that driverless cars will be available to consumers, we won’t see mass consumer buy-in.  It will take time for the skeptical masses to observe the early adaptors.  But within the 20-year sweep of the MnSHIP era, broader consumer buy-in is certainly a distinct possibility.

Google_driverless_car-2Safety Advantages.   Driverless vehicles could offer consumers significant advantages.  Any life insurance underwriter can tell you that driving is one of the most dangerous tasks any of us regularly undertake, and driverless vehicles offer the hope of vastly improved safety.    Though human egos makes us skeptical of this truth, computer drivers have the capacity to be much more attentive, reliable and quick to react to danger than even the most skilled human drivers.  In this way, the computers have the potential to keep us safer than human drivers can.

Time-Saving Advantages.  Driverless cars also can offer us more of life’s most precious and limited commodity — time.  Distance sensors and computers allow computer-driven vehicles to safely follow each other at much closer distances and higher speeds than human-driven cars, making for shorter, less congested and less stressful trips.

If driverless cars can supply Americans with more time, less stress, lower insurance rates, and less death and suffering, consumers will demand it.  If policymakers further stimulate such consumer demand with incentives, such as tax breaks or dedicated lanes that offer faster and safer service, the revolution could happen even more quickly.

“Game Changer”

At first blush, the dawn of the driverless car era doesn’t seem to have implications for a transportation plan like MnSHIP.  After all, we would still need roads for those driverless vehicles, right?

While we would still need roads in the era of driverless cars, we might need much less road capacity, and different kinds of road capacity.

Both because of fewer crashes and  vehicles that can follow each other more closely at higher speeds, we might need much less road capacity to serve travel demand.   How much less?  Patcharinee Tientrakool of Columbia University estimates that autonomous vehicles could improve capacity by 43%.  Driverless vehicles that can coordinate with other driverless vehicles would increase capacity by 273%.

Adeel Lari, a transportation expert and former MnDOT leader who is now at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, points out that in the 1960s traffic engineers were taught that highway capacity maxed out at around 2,000 vehicles per lane per hour.  With improved traffic management methods and technology, Lari and his MnDOT colleagues later found they could briefly push capacity as high as 2,600 vehicles per lane per hour.

Temporarily moving from 2,000 to 2,600 vehicles per lane per hour was a huge improvement.  But driverless cars could push capacity to a jaw-dropping 6,000 vehicles per lane per hour or higher, which Lari calls a “game changer.”

Transportation Planning Implications

For MnDOT, here’s how “the game” could rapidly change:

  • Less Road Capacity?  Minnesotans might need much less road capacity at a much lower taxpayer cost.
  • Narrower Lanes?  We also might be able to use narrower lanes, since driverless cars could reliably navigate tight spaces, and squeeze more vehicles through choke points in the process.
  • Dedicated Lanes?   In the interim period when both human drivers and computer drivers are sharing the roads, it might make sense to have dedicated lanes for driverless vehicles, to keep them safe from more erratic and less skilled human drivers.
  • More sprawl?  If driverless cars allow for shorter and less stressful trips,  people may  feel free to move further away from their jobs and other destinations.  If they do, the increased sprawl would impact infrastructure needs.
  • Gas Tax Alternative?  Safer driverless vehicles might be able to be much lighter, and therefore be more fuel efficient.  Additionally, less stop-and-go traffic would also save fuel.  While these changes would be good for the environment and energy security, they also would mean less gas tax revenue available for maintaining and retrofitting the transportation infrastructure.

These are just a few of the kinds of issues transportation leaders should be analyzing. Land use planners have their own set of issues to analyze.

MnDOT, and its MnSHIP collaborators at the Met Council, are wise not to construct MnSHIP on an assumption that mass use of driverless vehicles is imminent.  I’m not naive about all the variables that could delay or stop the successful development and deployment of this technology, or the public acceptance of it.

But in a 20-year plan, it is an oversight to ignore the potential implications of an issue as distinctly possible as driverless vehicles.  MnSHIP should call on MnDOT and Met Council leaders to closely monitor and analyze the pace of driverless vehicle development, and consumer buy-in, so they could, if necessary, swiftly adjust their plans to fit a newly emerging reality.   After all, the transition to driverless cars will be no time for vision-less planning.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also republished in MinnPost and

Jerry-in-the-Box Should Be Gophers’ Permanent Model

claeys_sidelines_yelling_-_Google_SearchOn September 16, 2013, I proposed that Minnesota Golden Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill manage his epilepsy, and his program’s reputation, by delegating stressful game management duties to a trusted assistant, while Head Coach Kill manages big picture issues from a less stressful, climate controlled sky box.

At that time, I don’t remember anyone else taking that position. While others were having a spirited “status quo v. let Kill go” argument, I proposed the non-traditional  Jerry-in-the-box model compromise:

The University has every right to ask Coach Kill to do everything he can to manage his disease, and accepting a revised role like this would be one important thing he can do to manage his disease.

It’s too simplistic for Kill supporters to say “epilepsy is a disease, therefore it’s discriminatory to judge him based on the implications of his disease.”  It’s equally simplistic to say “there’s no role for epileptics in big time college football.”

There’s a role for a talented epileptic coach like Jerry Kill, but it may not be the exact role played by other Head Coaches.  There’s a happy medium here, and I hope (Gophers Athletic Director Norwood) Teague and Kill can find it.

The Jerry-in-the-box model was adopted by Kill four games ago, and the team is on an unlikely four-game Big 10 winning streak.

As I said earlier, this approach is the best way to put Kill’s health first, avoid losing him, and show potential recruits that the Gophers situation is stable. I’m quite sure Kill only agreed to temporarily move to the box, while he recovers and learns how to better manage his seizures.  But really, why not make it the Gophers’ permanent model?

– Loveland

Accomodating Coach Kill of Minnesota Golden Gophers Head Football Coach Jerry Kill has epilepsy, and apparently is particularly prone to having seizures in hot and stressful situations.  It’s obviously not his fault.  But epilepsy does make it difficult to do some jobs, such as those involving live performances on hot stressful stages.  For instance, it would be difficult for someone prone to regular stress-induced seizures to be a stage actor at the Guthrie Theater.

Division I FBS college football is a big time performance with tens of thousands of screaming fans in the stadium, and millions more on TV.  Fans and commercial sponsors want an uninterrupted stream of football action.  So unfortunately, Jerry Kill has one of those careers that doesn’t fit all that well with this disease.  When Coach Kill has a seizure, it disrupts the performance that is the source of his large paycheck.  If you have a lot of seizures disrupting a lot of performances, that starts to become a legitimate issue.  The seizures also raise concerns for the elite athletes the University desperately needs to attract in order to rebuild the Gophers’ program.

Still, I hope the University doesn’t replace Jerry Kill because of this issue.  Time will tell, but Kill looks to be an effective coach for a program that desperately needs both an effective coach and coaching continuity.  But to make it work for Kill, the University may have to make an accommodation, and Kill may have to accept an adjusted role that isn’t precisely what he prefers.

Head Coach, But Not Head Sidlines Coach

Coach Kill and Gophers Athletic Director Norwood Teague should agree to a new coaching model that looks something like this:

First, give Kill the title Head Coach, and give one of his top assistants the title of Head Sidelines Coach.  Then have Head Coach Kill work in a climate controlled stadium suite during games, managing the big picture of the game, while the Head Sidelines Coach manages, with some consultation with the Head Coach, hectic stress-inducing tasks like communications with the referee, calling timeouts, challenging penalties, clock management, and real time feedback to players.

The University has every right to ask Coach Kill to do everything he can to manage his disease, and accepting a revised role like this would be one important thing he can do to manage his disease.

There would be several advantages to this kind of approach:

  • STABILIZES GAME MANAGEMENT.  First, the power-sharing arrangement would give players, potential recruits, and fans confidence that the Gophers’ game management is secure and stable.  I wish Coach Kill weren’t in this position, but game management is a legitimate concern when you have a lead game manager who has regular heat- and stress-induced seizures.  With this kind of revised role for Kill, fewer games would be disrupted.  For recruits who think to themselves “Coach Kill seems like a great guy and coach, but all of those mid-game seizures are destabilizing for this program,” this power-sharing model shows them that they can get both Jerry Kill and stable game management at the University of Minnesota.  It addresses both the real and perceived problem the Gophers program currently faces.
  • KEEPS KILL WITH THE GOPHERS.  Importantly, this plan would keep Coach Kill adding tremendous value at the University. Kill is a talented and likeable football coach who seems to be making slow, steady progress rebuilding this troubled football program.  Arguably, 90% of his contributions to the University of Minnesota football program happen  outside of the glare of the game day spotlight – in practices, game planning meetings, personnel management, recruiting visits, film study, and public appearances.  So, it makes sense to scale back the most stressful 10% of his duties in order to keep him available to deliver 90% of the value he currently brings.  If Coach Kill is regularly having seizures during games, there probably will come a time when the Gophers will reluctantly have to go with a different head coach.  That would hurt both the University and Kill, so both sides should make a proactive move to  prevent it.
  • BETTER MANAGES KILL’S HEALTH.  Most importantly, this kind of role would be better for Kill’s health.  Being in a climate controlled setting with fewer stressful game time duties would reduce the number of seizure triggers, and therefore, one would hope, the number of seizures Kill suffers.  That’s good for both the Gophers program and Kill.

It’s too simplistic for Kill supporters to say “epilepsy is a disease, therefore it’s discriminatory to judge him based on the implications of his disease.”  It’s equally simplistic to say “there’s no role for epileptics in big time college football.”  There’s a role for a talented epileptic coach like Jerry Kill, but it may not be the exact role played by other Head Coaches.  There’s a happy medium here, and I hope Teague and Kill can find it.

– Loveland

Are All Higher Education Sabbaticals Worth the Taxpayer Cost?

I’m a huge higher education booster.   Minnesota under-invests in education at all levels, including higher education.  Higher education is an economic engine for our state, and it is also, in many ways, a quality-of-life engine.

But I’m also a parent who is one-third of the way into a grueling 12-year a college tuition march that will cost well into the six figures.  I don’t want to get melodramatic, but higher education officials need to understand how difficult the tuition burden has become for many families.  As we say in our household, “tuition is the new retirement.”  It is a statement of fact, not a joke. Continue reading

Fairview-Sanford Merger: The Right and Wrong Questions to Ask

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is right to scrutinize the proposed merger of Fairview Health System and Sanford Health System.  It could have a big impact on Minnesota taxpayers, and it shouldn’t only be discussed by Sanford and Fairview C-suiters.  The discussion should be out in the open.

So now that Attorney General Swanson has moved the Fairview-Sanford merger issue into the sunshine, what questions should Minnesotans be asking about it? So far, some of the questions have been excellent, and some have been silly. Continue reading

Ten Reasons State Fair Swine Flu Coverage Is Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Prepare for more State Fair pig coverage.  I guarantee, you have not heard the last of the coverage of the swine flu threat at the State Fair.  Why?

10.  Because anything that happens in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in the second half of August gets ten times more news coverage than it deserves, and this actually deserves coverage.

9.  Because there are a lot of cutesy segues that news anchors will adore.  “Well, Frank, I hope you washed your hands after that Deep Fried Truffled Pigs Foot, because…”  “Well, Dr. Osterholm, to me this Swine Lard Mud Puppy Pickle they just brought me is to-die-for, and well worth risking a bloody worldwide pandemic…” Continue reading

Pawlenty and Romney Both Benefit from Third Party-Related Luck

In Minnesota, we know a little bit about the power of a third party to swing an election, even when the third party doesn’t reach double digits in electoral support.

After all, Tim Pawlenty never would have been a two-term Governor, and subsequently on the verge of being nominated to be a heartbeat away from being the leader of the free world, without a lot of help from third parties.

In 2002, prominent DFL career politician Tim Penny won 16% of the electorate and Green Party Ken Pentel took another 2%.  That may be why Pawlenty was able to defeat DFLer Roger Moe 44% to 36%.   I’m not completely convinced about that, because Penny had more Republican appeal than a typical Democrat, but a former Democratic and Green candidate siphoning off 18% of the vote did look to be a net positive for Pawlenty.

In 2006, however, I’m convinced.  Third parties clearly prevented Pawlenty from being swept out of office.  Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson, who had served for years in prominent roles in DFL administrations, and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel combined to win 7% of the vote.  With DFLer Mike Hatch only losing to Pawlenty by 1%, 46% to 45%, Pawlenty clearly would have lost the 2006 race without Hutchinson and Pentel on the ballot.

University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs concurs with this conclusion in a recent Nation article:

“Both elections featured Independent candidates, which exit polls showed drew more votes from Democrats in close races,” says Jacobs. “I looked closely at the data and there’s no doubt that Independence Party candidates accounted for Pawlenty’s margin, particularly in his re-election (in 2006).”

All of which leads me to one of the most significant, and underreported, political developments of 2012, the quiet demise of the potentially game-changing third party Americans Elect.

Americans Elect was the national third party movement that was to choose its nominee via an Internet-based “convention” this June and place them on the ballot nationally.  It burst onto the political scene with fanfare, and the reform halo the news media tends to bestow upon third party movements.  As New York Times columnist and bestselling author Thomas Friedman breathlessly described Americans Elect:

              Make Way for the Radical Center

“What did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in.”

Such hyperbole aside, the Americans Elect movement was gaining momentum.  It was on the ballot in 28 states, including several swing states, such as Florida, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada and Ohio.  The party-hating party was starting to look like a serious force in American presidential politics.

But the Americans Elect revolution crumbled before it formally began.  Under Americans Elect rules, to win the nomination candidates had to first prove their viability by winning a minimum number of preliminary votes of support via a complex Internet voting system.  As it turned out, no candidate met the viability threshold.  So on May 15th, Americans Elect unceremoniously folded its e-tent, and will not have a nominee on any ballots after all.

Meaning, May 15th may turn out to be the luckiest day of Mitt Romney’s political life.

Here is why:  The candidates who were leading contenders to get the Americans Elect nomination were Republican Congressman Ron Paul and Republican Governor Buddy Roemer.  As I understand it, both Paul and Roemer supporters were fairly close to achieving the Americans Elect qualification requirements.  (The Roemer campaign maintains that website irregularities held him back.)

If either of those Republicans had gotten on the ballots as Americans Elect candidates in key swing states, it’s not hard to imagine that they could have impacted the outcome of the General Election in President Obama’s favor, even if the Americans Elect nominee’s level of support stalled in the single digits.

Both because Roemer and Paul are Republicans, and because the polls show that Republican Romney is not generating as much enthusiasm among his supporters as President Obama is, it would have been very bad news for Romney if Paul or Roemer had gotten their names on 28 state ballots.  Unenthusiastic Romney supporters would be tempted by a Republican-leaning third party alternative right now, and it wouldn’t take very many defectors to impact what is expected to be a razor thin race.

Because third parties are rarely a threat to win elections outright, it’s easy for pundits and political reporters to cavalierly dismiss their relevance.  But if you want to understand what a difference a third party winning “only 7%” of the vote can make, and what a huge bullet Mitt Romney dodged on May 15th, Minnesota’s Mike Hatch could explain it to you.


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