Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Month After the Fact

I had the misfortune of being in the process of moving over the last month, so I really haven't had much of a chance to post anything. I just wanted to post a few post election thoughts.

Am I surprised that the GOP captured both houses of Minnesota's congress? Absolutely. Was I slightly surprised by some of the national level losses (including MN's 8th district)? Sure. Am I surprised to see another major recount? Not so much. Mid term elections are a very reactionary time and it's common for control to change from one party to the other. There are a lot of people who don't necessarily vote for a candidate or party, but against another. If this election were truly about stopping deadlock, you'd expect to see the moderates do well and those with more extreme positions struggle. That's essentially the opposite of what we saw in this election. Most moderates lost their seats and the candidates who are considered far to the left/right generally won their elections without a lot of problems. With the likely election of a DFL governor, it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I have trouble seeing how a pledge to raise revenues and pledges to not raise taxes can be compromised.

One thing remains certain. Our state has a hard road ahead. Whatever path is taken, there are people who will be hurt by the decisions. Tough choices need to be made and it will be painful. Even with GOP majorities, it looks likely that everything will need to be signed into law by a Democrat. On the national level, President Obama isn't likely to agree to repeal healthcare and bow to the GOP agenda. On  state level, Tom Emmer has a fairly large chunk of votes to make up in order to come out with a victory and it's a long shot for him to be able to do so. If Mark Dayton is certified as our governor, he's also unlikely to just agree to anything the Republicans present him.
I honestly have a hard time believing the GOP will be able to deliver on many of their promises. They have promised tax cuts and deficit reduction. They have pledged to work to elimination of entire government offices and lower unemployment. They have vowed to shrink government but ensure prosperity for more people. These are very hard goals to accomplish simultaneously and contrary to the rhetoric, tax cuts are not a magic bullet. The deficit is looming and there will be painful cuts. Even if these approaches work, they would likely need years to have any impact. And if we've learned anything from Obama's presidency it's that as a nation we have political ADD and demand instant gratification. (How many people have declared that healthcare reform doesn't work when the majority of it hasn't even taken effect yet?) Regardless of how long a plan would take to have any impact, the voters still go to the polls every two years. The tea party may have some surge of popularity among many Conservatives now, but how long can they continue to ride a wave of rallying against the establishment when they ARE the establishment?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Mislead Voters Lesson #2: What's in a Name?

With the election only two weeks away, more ads are hitting the airways every day. Needless to say, there is a lot of money changing hands this time of year. People are donating to the campaigns of candidates they support in hope that it will lead to increased ad presence and a greater chance at winning the seat. But people aren't the only ones donating. There are a number of corporations and special interest groups that are also putting money into the races. But at the same time many of these corporations or groups may not want their name publicly aired on the ads that they fund. After all, they still want to maintain their customer base regardless of consumers' political leanings. So what's a corporation to do?

Give money to other groups that will put out the ads in their own names. And boy, what names they are! Every day I turn on the TV I see ads from groups like MN Forward, Minnesota's Future, Alliance for a Better Minnesota, Americans Against Food Taxes, etc. That brings me to the first rule in naming your political organization.

1. Pick a Name That Few Would Disagree With

Who doesn't want to move forward? Who doesn't care about the future? Who doesn't want their state to be better? Who wants all their food taxed? No one! So you've won the first battle in putting forth something people can relate to.

2. Pick a Name That Sounds Far More Optimistic Than Any of Your Ads Will Ever Be

Hopefully people will be so inspired to dream about the future and how we should move forward after seeing your name that they will forget that the entire previous 30 seconds were spent trying to scare the hell out of them. After all, Minnesota's future looks bright as long as we don't elect the drunk driver, the erratic unreliable one, or the Democrat/Republican in Republican/Democrat clothing who will only enact policies that will destroy everything you hold dear.

3. Pick a Name That Sounds Like You're Just a Group of Average Americans Who Bought An Ad

Americans Against Food Taxes is a great example of name that achieves exactly that. Sounds like people are finally standing up to The Man and telling him to leave their food alone! Wait. What? What do you mean the group is primarily comprised of companies that produce/sell unhealthy high sugar content beverages with little nutritional value that would be subject to these proposed taxes? If that's the case, I'm sure they would have disclosed that in the ad. Which brings me to the next rule...

4. Make People Work to Find Out Who You Actually Are

Many people today have the attention span of a gnat. (I'll be shocked if they are still reading this post!) So most will never discover who is funding your group if finding out requires more than three steps. Hide it in a fancy website where they will be too distracted pressing other buttons telling them why you are on their side or looking at beautiful pictures of happy families that look just like theirs to notice anything else. Even better, simply leave it on your IRS disclosure form. Who looks up that? They'll never know that the Republican Governors Association is behind Minnesota's Future. They're too busy telling their neighbor about how erratic Mark Dayton is to bother looking at some stuffy old tax forms.

5. Fill Your Website With Undefined Terms

Rather than have the "about us" section of your website filled with detailed information, I would recommend you bust out your political ad thesaurus. For example, replace "Group of large corporations" with "Group of job creators." "Corporate board" becomes "Families just like yours." "Life long partisan political strategists" can be "Your neighbors and coworkers." I don't know about you, but I'm feeling better already.

6. Take Your Issues Directly From a Single Political Party While Insisting You're Non-Partisan

Feel free to cut and paste the issues section directly from the local Republican or DFL website. That won't matter as long as you don't tell people you did. Also make sure to pepper your site with the terms "non-partisan," "no political affiliation," "values," and "the state's best interest." Those terms will make people feel so good that they'll notice neither the blatant cut and paste nor the fact that all of your ads support only one political party.

7. Mention Things That Make People Feel All Warm and Fuzzy

It's even better if those things mentioned also leave visions of "Leave it to Beaver" era security and morality dancing in people's heads.  Children - Values - Our Community - Small Businesses - Freedom - Families - Prosperity. People love those things. And if they think you love those things, they will love you.

I hope that helps you get well on your way to starting your very own political group. As long you follow these guidelines it's sure to succeed.

This message has been brought to you by Americans For Children With Adorable Rescued Kittens.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Constrasting the 6th District Campaigns

Last night challengers Tarryl Clark (DFL) and Bob Anderson (I) participated in a debate in Stillwater.

Where was Michele Bachmann??

I assume this will become a major talking point in the Clark and Anderson campaigns in these last few weeks leading up to election day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Education Minnesota's Real Problem

Today's debate on MPR's Midmorning took an interesting turn. For the first time that I can recall in this election cycle, a candidate chose to call out a specific person outside of the elections as the poster child of the problems our schools face. Who was this newly appointed poster child?

Tom Dooher
courtesy Education Minnesota
This morning Tom Emmer decided to name names and in doing so publicly declared that the problem in our educational system is Tom Dooher.

Blaming the union isn't anything new. Especially during elections, pointing to an alleged source of the problem is much easier than finding solutions for extremely complex problems. But this is the first time I've heard a candidate try to pin the state's problems specifically on the president of the state's largest educators' union. Emmer literally said "I think the union boss, Tom Dooher, is the problem."

Dooher sent MPR the following response:

"There is no place in the debate about education for personal attacks. The futures of our students and state are at stake and all Minnesotans deserve better.
Education Minnesota has vowed repeatedly to work together with anyone who is truly interested in improving education in our state. Minnesota’s biggest challenge in education is eliminating the achievement gap. Education Minnesota proposed a detailed plan in the last legislative session that relied on research-proven methods to help struggling students learn. We proposed bringing health, nutrition and dental services directly into the schools. We proposed smaller class sizes, longer school days or longer schools years when appropriate, as well as new methods of evaluating the performance of teachers.
Personal attacks do nothing to solve the broken system of education funding in Minnesota. Our state  is now well below the national average when it comes to per pupil spending. These are the kinds of true education challenges that get masked or ignored when politicians resort to personal attacks instead of policy solutions to deal with our problems.
It is the responsibility of Education Minnesota to stand up for what teachers know will work in the classroom. We will continue to champion research-proven methods that will improve Minnesota’s many excellent public schools. And we’ll continue to speak out against meaningless policy changes and gimmicks that serve political purposes but do nothing to help children learn.”

I don't think that the union is perfect by any means, but I also don't think they are the beast that is standing in the way of improving our state's schools. And Emmer's comments do little to actually address the challenges in our educational system. Tom Dooher is correct that many of the proposed educational reforms have not shown proven results and he does well to point out the types of initiatives they've been supporting. Yet, I do think that Education Minnesota does have one major problem. A PR problem.

In the past few years, many stalemates on educational policy in the legislature have been blamed on Education Minnesota. They've been maligned in political press conferences as the roadblock to real solutions. My issue with the union is that I often don't feel that they do enough to portray the positive work they do to find new solutions to improve education in our classrooms. Their opponents have been winning the PR battle and as such many in the public now believe that the union's primary mission is to ensure that your school has bad teachers who are overpaid and don't care about students at all.

In the interest of full disclosure, I came to this belief due to my experiences growing up in a family that contained a number of public school educators including a few that also worked for Education Minnesota. Because of that, I discovered that Education Minnesota provides a number of grants to teachers in order to explore new solutions in their classrooms. Over the years they have funded 915 projects through grants totaling $2.4 million. You can find more information on these projects here. There's a great story from WCCO this past spring about how a teacher used one of these grants to design a new type of desk to help her students stay focused in the classroom. These desks have gained a lot of attention throughout the world and the story was also featured in the New York Times.

Ironically, the grants cover everything from early education intervention, classroom behavior management, student learning methods, mentoring, better engaging kids in science, and so on. Many of these are the very issues that Emmer himself suggests we need to invest in.

 In my opinion, it may be in the best interest of Education Minnesota to highlight more of these projects publicly and in doing so start to peel the target of their back.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Articles of Interest 10/8/10

MN Governor's Race

It looks like Tom Emmer is being hit with a malpractice lawsuit.

NFIB endorses Tom Emmer.

Mitt Romney is coming to town to headline an Emmer fundraiser.

Tom Emmer released his third TV ad.

KSTP releases a confidential memo about campaign strategy from Tom Emmer's campaign.

Tom Horner picks up endorsements from thirteen former Republican state legislators.

It increasingly looks like Horner and Emmer will be competing for the GOP base.

Mark Dayton is hoping to start airing a new ad featuring his sons soon.

There will be a televised debate on KMSP tomorrow night.

US House

In CD-1, Randy Demmer has released his first TV ad complete with towering images of a monstrous looking Obama, Pelosi, and Reid back lit by flashes of lightning.

CD-5: A group called "Americans Against Hate" is pushing to get Rep. Ellison removed from a committee on anti-Semitism.

CD-6: In case you missed it, you really ought to read the confusing conversation MPR's Annie Baxter has with Rep. Bachmann's  spokesman. She has since confirmed commitments to three debates.

State Races

In the state auditor's race, Pat Anderson's complaint against incumbent Rebecca Otto is tossed out. She's not happy about it.

If you live in the West Central area of the state, Pioneer Public Television has a number of local Senate & House debates available to watch online.


A coalition led by Minnesota Majority will be sending voter surveillance teams to the polls this November. Here is their watch list of what they will be looking for. I'm still not exactly sure how they plan to pull this off considering MN law requires them to keep 100' from polling places. No word on if there are specific polling places they will be targeting.

Politics in Minnesota has a look at the history of redistricting and the mess that comes with it.

The head of the MN GOP should probably make a point to be a little more familiar with the history behind the terms he uses to avoid any future Nazi references. Some of the former GOP legislators that were the subject of his statement (which also said there was a special place in hell for them) are obviously upset with his choice of words.

Three big name medical groups in Minnesota decide to send their health reform suggestions directly to Washington themselves since Pawlenty declined to do so.

The president of the Minnesota Family Council appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 to discuss their stance on LGBT bullying in schools.

Minnesota receives a $1.2 million federal grant to study the costs of tranisitoning from conventional to organic farming.

MN Supreme Court Justice Alan Page will be speaking at the University of Minnesota College of Continue Education's "Witness to History" series on October 21.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to Mislead Voters Lesson #1: The Law of Averages

Note: This is the first in what will hopefully be a recurring series of blog posts on tactics that are commonly used to mislead voters during the elections. This isn't about fact checking. These posts are about methods that use facts but present them in a way that is incorrect or deceptive.

There's an important lesson that I've learned when following politics. Whenever you hear anyone say "That's an average of..." you should probably just assume that things aren't as they seem. I rarely take the "fact" that follows that statement at face value. Let me explain why.

Averages are pretty straight forward mathematically speaking. It is simply the sum of all elements divided by the total number of elements. I've often heard it said that "numbers don't lie." It's true that you can't make 2 + 2 suddenly equal 5. But that doesn't mean that numbers can't be presented in a deceptive manner.

Let's take a look at the latest ad from MN Forward that is asking us to look at an average.

Did you catch that? $2,300 per Minnesota family is a pretty big hit for most of us. If taken at face value, it could be pretty scary to people who are barely able to pay their mortgage or rent. But campaign ads should rarely be taken at face value and this one is no exception.

How did they get to that number? Pause the video at 0:09 and 0:14 and look at the citations. They arrived at this number through some simple math. The first number they take is the fact that Mark Dayton will raise taxes by $5 billion. This number is from a June MPR story covering the DFL primary debates. Dayton claimed that he is the only candidate willing to raise $5B in taxes through his tax proposals and closing tax loopholes. The second number in their equation comes from the fact that Minnesota has 2,108,843 households. This number is taken from the State Demographic Center. So they simply took the original $5B estimate and divided it by the total number of households in the state, thus arriving at over $2,300 per family. (It ends up at $2,371 per family.)That math checks out, so what makes it misleading?

After weeding through a number of news stories and tax incidence studies, it's pretty clear that Dayton's plan falls primarily on the top 10% of earners in Minnesota. That means that 90% of Minnesotans would see no income tax increase under his taxation plans. Herein lies the fatal flaw of averages. If I walked into a room of 100 people and decided to give 50 of them $100 each and 50 of them nothing, I could honestly say that I gave everyone in the room an average of $50. I think it's fair to assume that the half who received nothing would argue with that presentation of the situation, but my math would technically be correct.

In this case MN Forward stacks the numbers by arriving at an average after spreading out the tax increases across all Minnesotan families rather than simply applying them to the tax brackets for which they are intended. 90% of the households included this number would actually not see an income tax increase. Those are the people who could afford such an increase least. Presenting the numbers as an overall average affecting all Minnesotan families is most likely intended to scare them into thinking that Dayton will come after what they cannot afford to lose.

This isn't a new strategy. It's been used over the years not only in this negative context but also in a positive light to sell tax cuts to a small percentage of the wealthiest Americans by making it seem like everyone will get a piece of the pie.

The moral of the story: It's pretty easy to stack the outcome when the numbers used to calculate your average include a large portion of zeros.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What happens When A Common Michele Bachmann Talking Point Is Turned Into a Rap?


This is the latest project from Minnesota Majority. The artist is the same one who also brought us "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder."

Projects like this (regardless of political ideology) often make me wonder what our country could accomplish if we spent as much time crafting good, solid, long term policy as we do trying to create the next great internet meme.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oh, Don't Worry. K-12 Can Pay For It.

In the debate over America's ever increasing deficit, the argument is often made that it is unfair to burden our children with debt. I think that's a fair statement. Yet isn't that exactly what we are doing in Minnesota every time we plug our budget hole with money that was originally intended to fund our K-12 schools?

This morning I saw a Star Tribune article announcing that the state will once again be borrowing funds from the schools. They will be borrowing $142M from some districts. That is scheduled to be paid back without interest in May. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The state's finances are in dire straights. Many would say that everyone has to take some cuts to help get us back on track. That may very well be true. But has K-12 become our go to source when we don't know what else to do? I wouldn't be as concerned with all the short term borrowing if it was the first time the state has turned to this course of action this year, if it didn't come on top of last year's funding shift, and if it weren't for the fact that K-12 funding has been frozen for two years and is likely to be frozen for another two. Since certain operating costs cannot be frozen, that essentially amounts to a decrease in funding in and of itself.

The numbers the Strib article provides should concern us. Here are a few that caught my eye:
  • Schools have seen $1.9 Billion in funding shifts
  • Chair of the House K-12 Finance committee, Rep. Mindy Geiling (DFL-Roseville) reports that this may be costing schools statewide $20 Million in borrowing interest costs.
  • The Association of Metropolitan School Districts reports that due to the shifts 33 of their member districts have incurred $5 Million in borrowing interest or lost revenue interest with Anoka-Hennepin making interest payments of $400,000 this year alone.
  • This round of short term borrowing took $9.6 Million from Hastings and the interest costs to the district will likely be $400,000 or $500,000 in the coming year.
By my own calculation, this latest round of short term borrowing will affect 40% of the state's school districts. And although it is not an ideal situation, a single round of short term borrowing, shifting funds, or freezing funding probably wouldn't hit schools as hard as the combination of all those likely will.

This is further complicated by the fact that there is no way to know when this money will actually be paid back to the districts. In the above mentioned article, Education Commissioner Alice Seagren herself is quoted as saying "I don't think anybody can anticipate or predict when it gets paid back." How do you put together a budget without knowing how much funding you will get and when it will actually be arriving?

Some would say that in that case you just need to make some cuts. There may be some cuts that can be made, but that neglects the reality that schools are already facing a number of unfunded or underfunded mandates, they are already shifting more and more supply costs to the students' fall school supply lists, they are already laying off staff, they are cutting certain programs, etc.

When the money is paid back, Rep. Greiling reports that it will be counted as new money. So in essence, the claim could be made at that time that the schools are receiving a funding increase even though it is simply a payment on previous lending.

This issue has really been on my mind lately with all the buzz that has been surrounding the newly released documentary "Waiting for Superman." (I haven't seen it yet, so I can't comment on it specifically.) Education issues are being pushed back into the forefront of society. Public schools are being labeled as failures and more people are jumping into the fray claiming that they know the solution. It's a complex issue and I don't think it has an easy answer. Given the diversity of the districts across the state, I don't think there is a one size fits all solution. But if we truly believe that education is the most important investment we can make in our children, isn't time we stop the financial gimmicks and actually get serious about investing in education?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Taking a Hard Turn to the Right

Today I came across an election report card of sorts from the Republican National Coalition For Life PAC. Yeah, I had never heard of them before either. Their primary goal is to support Republican candidates who are "pro-life without discrimination." What does that mean? In their own words, it means that they support candidates who "do not justify abortion for babies who are conceived through rape or incest, have a handicap, or a genetic defect." And although it doesn't specifically say so, the other language they use as well as their survey questions seem to indicate that they also do not support abortion in instances where the mother's life is in danger.

I grew up with a father who works with the developmentally disabled. So I can agree with them on the issue of aborting a baby who is likely to be developmentally disabled. I get that. But the part where they veer away from most people in the mainstream, even Conservatives, is their firm opposition to abortion in cases of rape or incest. This is a controversial stance even among many Republicans. Although I personally believe we should continually work to reduce the number of abortions, I can't imagine looking a teenage girl in the eye and saying "Sorry. You're just going to have to carry your father's baby to term." The thought horrifies me.

I point out this report card, because there are three candidates for congress in the state of Minnesota that received the highest mark from RNC/Life PAC by stating that they too are "pro-life without discrimination."
Those candidates are Teresa Collett who is running against DFL incumbent Betty McCollum in CD-04, CD-06 incumbent Michele Bachmann who is facing challenger Tarryl Clark this fall, and Lee Byberg who is challenging Colin Peterson for the CD-07 seat in western Minnesota. All three have been endorsed by and will receive funds from this group. (A group that also opposes the Women's Equality Amendment.)

I just thought this ranking and the subsequent endorsements would be of interest those who live in their districts.

The Curious Case of the Not So Former Campaign Chairman

I got up this morning and found an interesting story spreading like wild fire across the MN liberal blogosphere. Yesterday in the midst of all the articles I posted was one about Rep. Buesgens being arrested for DWI. I, like most people, listed him as Emmer's former campaign chairman. It turns out that may not actually be the case.

MN Publius has posted a copy of the letter the Emmer campaign sent to the Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board announcing a change in campaign chair and asking them to update the record. The big question it raises lies in the fact that the letter was sent after the arrest and asks the board to make the change effective a week prior to the date it was sent. The Emmer campaign claims that Rep. Buesgens left the campaign on September 12 and now works as a consultant for the state Republican Party.

Republicans are arguing that you have a window of time to submit that information to the Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board and that this isn't a smoking gun of any kind. I think that's a fair argument. And if that letter were the only evidence of him still working on behalf of the Emmer campaign, I might be inclined to agree with them that it is a non-issue. But that's not the only indicator that Buesgens was still working on official business for Emmer's camp.

The Minnesota Independent reports that Buesgens attended and spoke at a "We The People Rally" hosted by the Forest Lake Tea Party that afternoon. The invitation clearly shows that his title is listed as "Tom Emmer's Campaign Chairman." Those in attendence say that his speech was made in that capacity. Bluestem Prairie reports that that evening he was a speaker at a Wright County GOP hangar party. (This is likely where he was returning from when pulled over after seen driving in the ditch.) To be fair, he's not listed as an Emmer spokesperson on this event announcement. But then you realize that Wright and Meeker counties are NOT part of Buesgens' district. Considering he was representing Emmer at an event earlier in the day, the fact that he was still doing so is the most logical explanation as to why he would have been there.

This raises a pretty obvious question. If this is the case, why did the Emmer campaign lie about it? He constantly bills himself as the "straight talking candidate" and says he's not afraid to tell the truth even on hard issues. Were they worried it would be viewed in light of the fact that Emmer himself has a couple of DWIs well into his past? Do they think they can talk about this supposed cover up the same way they discuss the looming budget deficit? "What deficit? What cover up? Only in Minnesota..." I'm far less confused by the incident itself than the Emmer campaign's response to it. But even if they are lying, they won't admit to it. Admitting you're willing to engage in a cover up for your staff is a terrible campaign strategy to say the least.

Republicans will likely say that this is a non-issue and merely distracting from what the campaign should really be about. To that I raise a single question; if this story were about Mark Dayton's campaign chairman and all signs started pointing to the fact that Dayton's campaign was trying to pull off a cover up,  would they find it fair game to use as a flashpoint to not only question his character but also pull the skeletons involving his previous struggles with alcohol out of the closet? I think we all know the answer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Articles of Interest 9/21/10

Governor's Race

The Republican Party has a new website dedicated to revealing how "liberal" Tom Horner is. (Although it should be noted that when it says that Tom Horner is a "30 Year Career Political Insider" much of that time he was working for Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger.)

Mark Dayton is planning to release an updated budget plan today.

Forum Communications says the "L" area of the state will be key to the governor's race.

There's a debate in St. Cloud today as well as one from TPT on education on Thursday and another hosted by the Minnesota Hospital Association and Aging Services of Minnesota on Friday.

A new African-American focused PAC will be working to get out the vote for Mark Dayton.

US House

Former Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger endorses Democrat Tim Walz.

President Obama and Speaker Pelosi will be in Minneapolis on October 23 to raise money for DFL House candidates.

US Senate

Did you know that back in the 90s Sen. Al Franken appeared on "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" alongside the Delaware Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell?  Part 1   Part 2

The Senate might be voting on the Dream Act this week. MPR has a story about how it could affect youth in Minnesota.

MN Congress

Currently running for re-election, MN Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) was recently arrested for DWI after he was found driving in the ditch. He is also the second former Emmer staffer to be arrested in the past few months for DWI.

Defeated in the primary, Sen. Koering (R-Brainerd) will run as a write-in candidate.

Swastika posters appear on telephone poles in Browns Valley regarding a local MN Senate candidate.

Retiring Rep. Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) will be heading the Marshall Hospital Foundation.

Gov. Pawlenty

C-SPAN has released an interview with Gov. Pawlenty.

Michele Bachmann at Values Voters Summit 2010

Below is Rep. Bachmann's speech at the Values Voters Summit this past weekend. This is obviously a very friendly group for her. It's a very religious right/tea party sort of atmosphere.

If you are unfamiliar with the Values Voters Summit, let me give you some quick background. It is primarily sponsored by FRC ActionAFA Action, American Values, The Heritage Foundation, and Liberty University. These groups' values usually primarily involve opposing abortion and virtually anything involving homosexuality. They are very much against the NY Muslim community center near Ground Zero. They believe this nation was intended by its founders to be a Christian nation and are fighting to establish that. They also fight for vouchers so that tax payer money can pay for a child to go to a private religious school or to be homeschooled. They are generally anti-public schools and often warn of the gay agenda coming for our kids. Lately their action alerts involve opposing the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

The Heritage Foundation is a Conservative think tank whose goal is to promote Conservative policy.

Liberty University is a Christian university that was founded by Jerry Falwell. (They were in the news last year for essentially disbanding their college Democrats club by claiming the the Democratic Party was directly opposed to Christian doctrine. The club was reinstated after national outcry. They also made some waves when it was revealed that the head of their seminary may have been lying about his extremist Muslim upbringing. He is no longer the head, but still employed by the University and also spoke at the Values Voters Summit.) The school has a policy called "The Liberty Way" which sets guidelines for student behavior. They have a policy of mandatory random drug testing. The dress code forbids men from having hair longer than the middle of their ear and forbids both men and women from dressing in a "counter cultural manner" however the school chooses to define that. Students cannot watch "R" rated movies, go dancing, engage in any physical contact beyond hand holding, participate in unauthorized demonstrations, or be alone with a member of the opposite sex in an off campus residence.

All that to say, these are Michele Bachmann's people. This is where she is most comfortable and it shows in her speech.

Feel free to watch if you'd like. There's not a lot of new material here. A large portion of her speech is based off a Thomas Jefferson quote that most Jefferson scholars believe he never actually said. I'm not sure that she understands what the political term "negative rights" actually means. It actually has nothing to do with negating the government's power. (And it definitely doesn't have anything to do with whether or not the president flies in a personal chef.) Rather, negative rights are those rights that involve preventing someone from infringing on another's rights.

I love that election season is the time that no government official considers themselves a part of the government or a politician. There's a lot of bad mouthing of "Washington elites." She once again equates government intervention and assistance to a Ponzi scheme. Also, she claims that in WWII we battled German "U2" boats (at about 4:30 in the second video). This is not the first time she's claimed this. She keeps saying that in her story about the Dorchester. For the record, U2 is a well known Irish rock band. U-boats were German submarines.

This is her base. These are the types of people she depends on rallying to get the vote out. (If you live in her district, you may have already seen an example this in other years when the groups of home schooled children are out campaigning door to door on her behalf.) They love her. But I would argue they are mistaken when they claim that every liberal in the country is afraid of her.

Friday, September 17, 2010

And They'll Know We Are Conservatives By Our Billboards?

I've been traveling around Minnesota this week. And from I-94 to I-35 one thing has become very clear about Minnesota Conservatives: They LOVE billboards. Throughout my travels I've been greeted by images of the US piggy bank drowning, warnings about socialism, Lady Liberty weeping over us straying from our Christian roots, and even one doozy that was hard to take in at 70mph but seemed to be an array of buzz words designed to boil the blood of the staunchest tea party members (Voter Fraud, ACORN, AFL-CIO, Pelosi, etc.).

I had no idea there were so many. In an age of social media, I didn't realize how many of these billboard campaigns there were. It first came to my attention with the now infamous "Miss Me Yet?" billboard anonymously put up near Wyoming, MN. At the time I just thought, "Yeah, no. Not at all." I had no idea that one was just the beginning. That was soon followed by Ronald Reagan (complete in cowboy attire) asking me if I remembered real hope and change up near Rogers, MN.

Recently these been a lot of discussion about this anonymous billboard that's currently up in South Minneapolis:

courtesy The Rachel Maddow Show blog submitted by Stephen Schweckendieck of Minneapolis
It was even the subject of a question during the State Fair gubernatorial debate! Although I would argue that if you still have billboard money your taxes can't be that bad.

Upon driving to and from the western part of the state this week, I saw no less than seven more conservative billboards! Many were cited to be from Freedom Boards Across America or Action4Liberty. (Be sure to check out some of their other designs that portray unions as leeches or thugs.)  Both of these are small groups of conservatives or "local patriots" in the state of Minnesota.These are no longer just the random anonymous donors like the Bush billboard. They have organized. There are multiple groups based in the state of Minnesota whose primary mission is to keep putting ads like these up. Who would have thought this would be the big trend in Conservative politics in Minnesota in 2010? Does this occur with such frequency in other states?

On a related note, I'm going for a long weekend vacation. I'm sure I'll see even more of these along my way. I won't be posting while I'm gone, but will be back at it either Monday or Tuesday. There should be a lot going on this weekend. Both Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty will be making appearances at the Values Voters Summit and there are two more gubernatorial debates coming up in the next 5 days. Tom Emmer's interview with the Humphrey Institute will air on MPR at noon today. More ads are being released daily. I'm sure there will be no shortage of things to discuss. Just remember to clear your head by getting out and enjoying the fresh Minnesota autumn air. Have a great weekend!

*Update: On vacation I saw another 4 of these billboards, including one that showed an anonymous black man (his face was cropped out of the image) putting the U.S. Constitution into a paper shredder. I also stumbled upon what may be my new favorite campaign TV ad. I don't know why, but it just cracked me up.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Emmer Goes All In

Today Tom Emmer released the final part of his budget proposal. I've been wondering for some time now about previous claims he's made to cut anywhere from 10-20% of state spending without doing major damage to programs that many people hold dear such as education and health & human services. Today I got my answer. He's not. He's deemed himself the "only straight talking candidate" and today that straight talk included straight up telling people that if he is elected, they will see major funding cuts in higher education (-$300M), local government aid (-$550M), and state agencies (-$550M) as well as big reduction in the amount of growth allowed in health and human services.

I'm not going to lie. It took me awhile to pick my jaw up off the floor upon seeing his plan. Even though the numbers are there, it is still lacking in specifics as to how exactly he is going to reach those numbers. And as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details."

Although he promises to hold K-12 education funding "harmless" by providing them the same amount of money they are currently getting, I don't know if doing so would really qualify as harmless. Schools are currently faced with underfunded mandates as well as increasing costs for transportation, maintenance, etc. It's questionable to say that failing to keep up with the cost of inflation is harmless. Also, some schools have had to borrow funds to make up for the funding shift they experienced last session. Emmer won't begin to pay that back until 2014.

Higher Education
 The funding for higher education will decrease by $300 million under Emmer's plan. He says they will focus on redesigning and reforming the system but gives no specifics to what those reforms will be. Based on previous claims he made, one option may be making some community college locations industry specific (i.e. a nursing school, a teaching school, etc.) but I don't know what else he would include.

Health and Human Services
The amount of allowed growth is greatly reduced. (Will that mean enrollment caps?) He will "refocus spending" (aka take it from other programs) to nursing homes and children's mental health. He promises to redesign GAMC and Minnesota Care and ultimately find private market alternatives for those programs. (I wonder how this will work because many people on these programs are not eligible for others and most cannot afford current private market options.)

Local Government Aid
LGA will see a $550M reduction in funding and what it does get will be solely for public safety and infrastructure. (Many believe the natural result of such drastic cuts will be rising property taxes since small rural cities have few other options to try to recoup such losses.) There is a mention of reforms to lessen the burden these communities have from the state government but again offers no specifics as to what those reforms would be.

State Agencies and Spending
One more area that will see a $550M reduction in funding. The plan says "An Emmer administration will focus on reorganizing bureaucracies and programs which are not fundamental to state government’s mission; merging agencies to streamline decision making and reduce costs; reduce the government workforce through attrition and early-retirement." Loosely translated, he will merge departments, eliminate departments, and get rid of state employees by declining to replace those that leave and pushing others into early retirement.

Bonding Bills
Bonding bills will be only for critical issues like floods or infrastructure.

It's hard to say exactly what some of these cuts will look like until he releases further details on exactly what programs will be affected in some of these areas (other than to say they will be extremely painful for many Minnesotans.) But looking at this my first impression is that for a candidate that is promising a "new direction" it certainly looks to me like he is following Gov. Pawlenty's lead of preventing any potential tax hikes on the wealthy by eliminating funds from programs that serve mainly the poor, middle class, and sick in our state.

Is There Anyone Out There Who Believes Governor Pawlenty is NOT Running for President??

If there is, I think they are definitely in the minority. Every day I find more reasons to believe that  Gov. Pawlenty's presidential run in the 2012 primaries is pretty much a done deal. Today's proof?

He's put a full time staffer in Iowa. And when is the one time every four years that the rest of the country actually pays attention to Iowa? Presidential caucus time. WCCO is also reporting that he has sent six of his PAC staffers to New Hampshire (another important state come primary time) to help get out the vote for Republicans.

Combine that with his abundance of personal travel throughout the country recently and I'd say that if he's not gearing up for a presidential run, he's got some strange hobbies.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tom Horner: Just Another Spoiler or Viable Candidate?

This Sunday's Star Tribune had two very interesting articles that pose larger questions about exactly what role Tom Horner will play in the upcoming election and the viability of a third party candidate in the state of Minnesota.

The first looks at the fact that some in the business community, a community that usually loyally lines up behind Republican candidates, have been showing support for Horner. Reasons cited include the fact that Tom Horner works in PR and has good relationships with many businesses, the fact that he used to work in the GOP, and most pointedly, the fact that unlike Tom Emmer, he has released a comprehensive budget plan. Some business owners quoted in the article state that that is what a good CEO would do and they can't throw their support behind Emmer without those details.

Obviously this is no done deal. Emmer still holds a 100% rating on voting with the interests of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. And regardless of how much people may like Tom Horner and his plans there is always that lingering fear that a vote for a third party candidate will actually help to elect the candidate you prefer least. Horner himself alluded to that fear during the MPR State Fair debate in his closing statements when he said that "bold leadership starts with bold voters." So when it comes to that issue, the question is whether they like Horner more than they fear Mark Dayton and his plans. That is likely to factor into many people's votes. It always has when consideration of a third party is in play. It's the nature of a "two party system."

In other years and in other states this may not be much of a concern. But there are valid reasons that this is garnering so much attention this election. The first is that recent Minnesota history includes the election of Jesse Ventura. His unexpected and narrow victory on the gubernatorial ticket in 1998 in many ways changed how we view third party candidates. While they still don't usually gain a very large portion of support, they are definitely not overlooked.

The other reason is that this year seems to be the year of third party candidates. Due to the growing discontent with legislative deadlock, the rise of the Tea Party, and the ease of reaching out to voters with less funds via social networking and other online options, third party candidates are getting buzz all over the country. Smart Politics recently reported that their analysis shows that third party candidates are on track to have their strongest showing in the past 75 years since the Great Depression. Many, including Horner, are polling in the double digits. If they can maintain their current level of support they are sure to have a strong showing at the polls.

The second Star Tribune article that caught my eye was in the opinion pages. Although they are not yet ready to make an endorsement, the section featured a front page editorial about why Tom Horner deserves a closer look and the Minnesota gubernatorial race should be considered a true three candidate race.

The Emmer camp claims they have no concerns about Horner gaining supporters that would have usually been theirs. (Not that it would be good campaign strategy to admit if they did.) "Spoiler" candidates from third parties have generally been viewed as a vote that helped the Republicans win. Many third party platforms focus on the environment, social services, and other issues that are generally considered more liberal and thus seen as taking some of their votes. That has shifted with the surge of Libertarian and Tea Party movements. This year has many wondering if Horner would play out as a spoiler for the Repulicans. The Star Tribune article about the business vote points to the fact that this is already happening on a small scale. But can it grow to the point that it will not only erase any chances of an Emmer victory but see Tom Horner walk away with one? Large questions still linger about that. But regardless of how it plays out, it's adding a very interesting dynamic to the Governor's race.

**Update: This morning former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson announced his endorsement of Tom Horner.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Recommended Reading

Governor's Race

Tom Emmer releases his K-12 Education plan. Most notably, he won't start paying back the K-12 funding shift until 2014 and no mention of the claims he made at the State Fair to tie that money to his reform proposals. (For the record, Tom Horner's plan would delay paying that money back until 2013 and Mark Dayton is the only candidate promising to repay it in his first budget.)

The candidates squared off on education issues this morning in front of a crowd of school administrators. MinnPost and MPR both have coverage.

The Star Tribune looks at the candidates' differing theories about school funding.

Bobby Jindal will be in Minneapolis on Monday to raise money for Tom Emmer's campaign. The event is closed to the press.

Bill Clinton will be in Minneapolis on Tuesday for a Mark Dayton fundraiser.

The Human Rights Campaign is making political donations to offset the controversial Target/Best Buy/etc donation to a pro-Emmer PAC

US Congress

Politico has a post about Democrats (mostly Blue Dogs) who have received money from the Kochs (the big spenders in the Libertarian and Tea Party movements) including the 7th CD's very own Collin Peterson.

Speaking of the 7th District, have you seen Lee Byberg's Collin Peterson 101 video? It's a page straight out of Glenn Beck's playbook complete with constant references to socialism, scrawling notes and connections on a board, and coins the term "Pelosified." (But just for the record, contrary to what Byberg keeps alluding to, Rep. Peterson voted against the healthcare reform bill.)

In the 3rd CD, Erik Paulsen has released his first TV ad.

In the 6th CD, Friends of Tarryl Clark has launched a new website where you can have Michele Bachmann's "Fake Jim" launch outlandish attacks against you, your friends, and your family members.

Michele Bachmann will be a speaker at the Values Voters Summit. According to the schedule, Gov. Pawlenty will also be making an appearance via video from his current trade mission in Asia.

John Boehner cites Rep. John Kline (R-2nd CD) in an op-ed on repealing "Obamacare"

In the 4th CD, Betty McCollum declines to participate in a TV debate after learning that one of the hosts of the debate (KSTP) made contributions to her opponent. Her staff cites a policy the campaign has had for the past few cycles to avoid such situations. The McCollum camp says Betty would likely accept another televised debate if it is hosted by another station. Republican challenger Teresa Collett claims Rep. McCollum is trying to hide her record. (If you're wondering how so many Republicans ended up on an MPR blog, Teresa Collett posted the link on her campaign's facebook page. It caught my eye, because it is honestly the most right wing and rhetoric filled comments I've ever seen on an MPR post.)

Perhaps in response to Collett's accusations, today Betty McCollum announced a series of DFL rallies as well as her intent to participate in a radio broadcast MPR debate.


A recent national security report once again puts the focus on Minnesotan Somali youth being recruited by extremists.

An interesting look at elections in townships and small cities when no one wants to run for the office.

Will the Anoka County Board be the first in the metro to have a majority of female commissioners after this fall's elections?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jim the Election Guy Revealed!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a fan of Jim the Election Guy. I was baffled by that ad strategy from the first time I saw him appear in Michele Bachmann's first ad of the election season. I mean, what type of credentials does it take to become an election guy? Frankly, it sounds like one of those programs where you can print your degree and license right off the internet.

Thanks to MinnPost's Derek Wallbank, we now know exactly what type of credentials you need in order for Michele Bachmann to knight you "the Election Guy." Because who would know better about Minnesota elections and the needs of the 6th district than an actor from Maryland now living in California?

I found a video of one item on Beau Peregino's acting resume. Check out this episode of "A Haunting." Recognize that stranger with a wide stance who enters the picture at about 5:40? Yep, that's our 6th district election expert.

Michele Bachmann's camp has been quick to defend the use of the actor stating that who he is isn't important but rather his message. But Bachmann's camp should have bigger concerns. It's true that in the state of Minnesota for a candidate to use a paid actor in his/her commericals is rare. (The last instance I can think of offhand would likely be Mark Kennedy. He lost that race to Sen. Amy Klobuchar.) However, what is even more rare is for a candidate to use an actor who does not live in Minnesota and has no known ties to our state. The reason that should concern the Bachmann campaign is because one of the most frequent attacks on her is that she is out of touch with her district and prefers to spend her time on a national stage courting Fox News and the Tea Party rather than more frequently be seen around the 6th district. This only reinforces that argument.

It looks like Tarryl Clark hit the nail on the head when she assumed that this "Jim" was likely an actor without ties to the district. Her "Real Jim" ads have proved to be one of my favorite political responses of the season:

Minnesotans don't take kindly to outsiders telling us what to do. If you consider us to be "fly over country" we don't believe that you know what is best for our state. We like to hear real stories from real people about the people seeking to represent us. This is reflected in the latest ad from Tim Walz, Tom Emmer's first ad, and the ads Amy Klobuchar ran during her Senate campaign. It's a strategy that is generally well received in a state where we still expect to know our neighbors and help one another out.

I'm curious to see if the "Jim the Election Guy" ads keep coming or if Bachmann will seek out a new strategy. I'm wondering if this ad choice will backfire at all. The question is, does she think that she is politically invincible enough to further the perception of being so far out of touch with her district and still think a win is in the bag? The even bigger question is, will the voters of the 6th district continue to be willing to reelect someone who seems to keep putting her national agenda ahead of their local one?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tightrope Walking

Earlier this election season, I heard a number of Republican attacks that referred to Mark Dayton as a "trust fund baby." It wouldn't have caught my eye so much if not for the fact that I'd also just seen an official GOP video warning people of Mark Dayton's intentions to "empty the trust fund."

It made me wonder how they'd be able to balance trying to appeal to the most wealthy citizens of Minnesota while denouncing Dayton's wealth. It seemed like a tightrope act that I wouldn't be eager to attempt.

Here's where it gets tricky: how do you maintain an argument that simultaneously defends one's right to a trust fund and demonizes another for possessing one?

It continued today with accusations that Dayton is holding out of state trust funds in order to avoid state taxes. Dayton says they are using old data and that he currently has no offshore accounts. He points to his 2009 income tax forms as proof. (For the record he is the only major party candidate to release his income tax forms so far.)

Which, using current Republican claims, may raise an even more interesting question...I've attended/watched/listened to a number of debates so far this season and on more than one occasion I've heard Tom Emmer specifically state that when Dayton is talking about taxing people who make $150,000 or $170,000 in taxable income, he's talking about the middle class. (An interesting claim in a state where the median household income tends to be about $50,000.) So since Mark Dayton's adjusted gross income last year was $172,475, does that mean that the "trust fund baby" is actually just a middle class Minnesotan?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Taxing Your Corndogs (Posted by Request)

Recently someone requested that I write a post to  address the latest claims by Michele Bachmann (via "Jim the Election Guy") that Tarryl Clark voted to "tax your corndog." This has already been addressed by a number of sources, but I'll give a quick run down here.

If you haven't seen the ad in question, this is it:

Lucky for us, we don't even need to speculate exactly what tax vote the Bachmann campaign is referring to when they mention bacon and corndogs. They provide us the source on their website. The main source listed says that Tarryl "Voted FOR a constitutional amendment which raised the state sales tax by 3/8 of one percent. (Minnesota Senate, S.F. 2734, SJ4525, April 3, 2006)" I know what you must be thinking..."Huh, I don't remember a constitutional amendment about corndogs ever being on my ballot." The constitutional amendment cited here is actually the legacy amendment. It was a constitutional amendment that was on the ballot to let Minnesotans vote to decide whether or not to approve a 3/8 of one percent tax increase to go towards dedicated funding for the Minnesota environment, arts, and culture. Tarryl Clark did not vote implement this tax. She voted to allow Minnesotans to decide whether or not they wanted to approve such an amendment. They did. The amendment passed and taxes went up because the majority of Minnesotans decided to raise them. It was the voters' final decision and not a decision of congress.

The bottom line is that Bachmann's ad could have just as well said "While you're the fair, ask yourself: 'What's up with taxing my own corndog?'"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The MPR State Fair Debate Recap

On Friday MPR hosted a gubernatorial debate with Mark Dayton, Tom Emmer, and Tom Horner. Let me just say first of all, that if we could only start taxing not answering questions Minnesota would be looking at a budget surplus.

I attended the debate, but don't feel like I gained a lot of new information. I just listened to the radio broadcast again to make sure I didn't miss anything, but still feel like it was a bit of a chaotic debate that didn't do much to provide voters with more specifics. (If you'd like to listen to the debate yourself, you can do so here.) I was surprised at the number of very vocal Tom Emmer supporters in the crowd, complete with "Emmer for Governor" hockey jerseys. (That apparently will set you back $200 each.) They had held an anti-tax rally at the Fair that morning prior to the debate and moved to Carousel Park for the 11am debate. I wonder if that is part of the reason why Tom Emmer seemed to try to tie every answer he gave back to taxes or smaller government.

This wasn't a great debate. I usually like Gary Eichten and think he does a good job with interviews. However, as the moderator, the candidates walked all over him. They took jabs at each other, got way off topic, avoided answering certain questions, and just asked each other questions rather than further discussing the topics on hand.

In case anyone is interested or you missed it, let me just give you a quick rundown of the debate and my impressions.

The Deficit
It started off with a discussion of Minnesota's budget deficit. Emmer quickly answered that we don't have a deficit. He cited that the state spent $30B and coming revenues are expected to be $3B  higher. His numbers here are not wrong. That being said, they are quite misleading. I won't go into all the specifics here. Lori Sturdevant did a great break down of this issue in last week's Sunday Star Tribune that would highly encourage you to read. Basically, the state did spend around $30B, but due to one time discounts in play they actually bought around $34B worth of services. Horner pointed this out and reminded Emmer that he's not accounting for the money that the state borrowed that will need to be paid back. From there it simply became an argument in which Dayton and Horner both defended the need for new revenues and Emmer saying that wasn't the answer and his plan would work for all Minnesotans. The only problem is that the Emmer campaign hasn't released a specific plan. Horner was quick to remind him of that and at that point, less than 10 minutes into the debate, it digressed into bickering between the two that included some wild accusations about taxing garage sales and kids who mow lawns. That pretty much set the tone. I'll try to sum up the major points.Most answers dealt with taxes and the economy (even when the question itself really didn't).

Federal Healthcare Reform Grants
Dayton and Horner both agreed that Pawlenty shouldn't just flat out reject all federal healthcare grants and doing so can hurt Minnesota. Emmer declined to directly answer and instead said he hadn't read it and what Pawlenty does is for Pawlenty.

Clean Water
Horner said the governor needs to listen to the DNR about clean water issues. Dayton says the agencies need better commissioners so they do their job. Emmer says the problem is "too much government."

Minnesota's Economic Woes
To help the economy, Dayton said it would be a challenge but proposed a strategy that could include a bonding bill, an energy plan to retrofit old buildings, educational investments, and a Vikings stadium to create jobs. He also proposed lowering property taxes and streamlining government (without specifics on that). Emmer says that government is "literally suffocating the private economy." He proposes reducing government, taxes, and regulations (didn't say which ones) and streamlining government to allow people to grow. Horner says he is the only one with an actual plan that includes eliminating taxes on business equipment, integrating higher education programs with local economies, streamlining government, expediting permit processes, expanding broadband, investing in higher education institutions' research, and providing resources to local communities.

Closing Higher Education Institutions
When asked if they think some higher education institutions should be closed, Dayton said "no" and that they are a great asset to their local communities in greater Minnesota. Horner said that a year that will bring a new University president, a new MNSCU chancellor, and a new governor would be a great opportunity to sit down and evaluate what we need from our schools and how to get it. Everything would be on the table. Emmer said the question should really be whether we need all the programs each campus offers and suggested specialized campuses to certain programs. He also said we should work to lower administration costs. A rare agreement for him and Dayton.

When asked if they would sign anti-bullying legislation, Horner and Dayton both said that they would. Dayton said "We need to make it clear. Not in our schools. Not in our city. Not in our state." Emmer said he'd "have to see it first." (There have been a number of proposed anti-bullying bills in the MN Legislature in recent years. Since Rep. Emmer has been serving there I assume he has some familiarity with them.) He said it was an issue for parents, not government.

School Referendums and a Whole Bunch of Unrelated Issues
Of all the questions in the debate, this one went the furthest off track and I think this is a prime example of where the moderator needed to step in. An audience member asked if the candidates would allow school boards to renew operating levy referendums without voter approval. Horner said yes with some limitations, as long as it is a straight renewal. Dayton said yes as long as it was renewal of a previously voter approved referendum and pointed out that we need to improve our school funding so that they don't need to keep relying on referendums. That is when the train went off the track. Rather than answering the question, Tom Emmer told the audience that Mark Dayton was going to raise their taxes to 17 or 18%. Dayton said Emmer needed a plan. Emmer said raising taxes on those with a taxable income of over $150,000 would "hammer the middle class" and demanded to know what the limit would be as to how high Dayton would go. Dayton said he'd keep it under 11% and then pointed out that Emmer would reduce funding for LGA and K-12. Emmer denied that and said that he is fine with local government aid as long as it only goes for essential services which he defined as police, fire, water, and sewer. Horner then chimed in saying that his tax plan has guards against "regressivity." Dayton joined in the childish games and then wanted to know why people making a half a million or a million dollars shouldn't pay even one dollar more in taxes, stating the question repeatedly when the others didn't answer him. That was the point where Tom Horner's patience ran out and he exclaimed frustratedly "That's not  your plan!" followed by the claim that a nurse and a teacher make $150,000 (Many in the crowd booed that.)  and that $150,000 in income is not $150,000 in wealth. Emmer than made what I think will be the hardest campaign promise to keep that if he is elected, no one's taxes will go up and he'd actually reduce taxes for everyone. There was little order to that part of the debate. It was like a bunch of ideological clowns piling out of the political car.

Vision for Minnesota
Dayton's vision for Minnesota included making taxes fair, balancing the budget, cutting spending, and investing in education which he said is key to the future. He said that investing in education, keeping tuition affordable, and investing in early education would help lead our state to greater job growth. Emmer said that Minnesotans are sick of people pointing the finger at others. He said "We're about articulating the vision we have for this state." (An odd argument in a debate in which he often used the phrase "When we release our plan") In response to Dayton's answer of investing in key areas, he said that we can't invest what we don't have and said we need to bring back jobs to Minnesota. Horner said that the governor sets the tone. He must be honest and build consensus, not drive wedges. He said he's willing to be a lightning rod and take the hit for decisions on tough issues. In a veiled swipe at Pawlenty he said that for him to be governor is not a stepping stone, but a capstone in his career.

"More Taxes =Less Freedom"
A online question said that that was on a billboard near her house and wanted to know what that meant to each candidate. Horner used it as a chance to defend his plan saying that although no one likes taxes, we need reform. He said that everyone should pay their fair share and we should invest in Minnesotans from the "cradle to the grave." He proclaimed "We are a great state. We need to build to be an even greater state." Tom Emmer said that the more government takes out of our pockets, the less opportunity we create for ourselves and that a "rising tide lifts all boats." He says we need people with resources to create jobs. Mark Dayton said that government should only take what's necessary to provide services that people cannot provide for themselves and that he was endorsed by the police and fire fighters for that reason.

Playing Well With Others and the Power of the Governor
When asked if they would be able to compromise with other parties, Dayton replied, "Absolutely." He spoke of a sign that hung in Rudy Perpich's office that read "None of us is as smart as all of us" and said he'd put that sign back in his office. He cited the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign as an example of how he did that in the US Senate. Emmer elicited some laughter from the crowd when he responded "Oh, yeah." without hesitation. He said he has good relationships with people across the aisle in the MN Legislature and then took a turn off topic by claiming that if elected he would use a power beyond unallotment. He said that the "First things first legislation should be passed first thing. Then in January, the governor could declare a "fiscal emergency" at which point the legislature would have 45 days to produce a balanced budget. Tom Horner cited Jesse Ventura and his cabinet as an example of doing that. He said that you can't find common ground when you insist on only doing things your way. He said that we need to focus on equality, education, and the most vulnerable Minnesotans and that "bold leadership starts with bold voters."

Funding the Court System
Horner says he will and that he has a proposal. Emmer said that it is a priority. Dayton promised to pass on their proposed budget to the legislature exactly as it is submitted.

Final Pleas
Dayton said this election is about our future-education transportation, jobs. He cited his experience and said he can make the government work better when we work together. Emmer thanked a lot of people and said that this election offers a clear choice to do things how we've always done them or go a new way. He said you can choose between "Someone who will take ALL of your money out of you pocket." (A reference to Dayton. Emphasis Emmer's) and someone "who wants to tax the shirt right off your back." (a reference to Horner's proposal to extend sales taxe to clothing) He then said that "We offer a new way." Horner once again said it is about leadership and who you trust. He said he has a clear plan, but needs voters to "be leaders" this November (a reference to the uphill battle of being an Independence party candidate).

That's the debate. Sorry for the length of the post, but I didn't know how else to sum up the chaos. I hope that in the future the debates cover more issues more specifically. I'd like to here more specifics about healthcare, educational funding, how to ensure we have enough public defenders, etc. I am also anxiously waiting for Tom Emmer's campaign to release an actual comprehensive budget plan. With less than two months to go, I'm cautiously optimistic that some of those things will be discussed. You can only listen to the same rhetoric over and over for so long. I hope that we delve into more specifics soon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Will Tom Emmer Pay Back the K-12 Funding Shift From Last Session?

In the words of the mighty magic 8 ball, "Outlook not so good."

Today I headed out to the MN State Fair for the MPR Gubernatorial debate. I was hoping to be able to get a question in, but it was packed and due to some unforeseen circumstances, I arrived a little late. Even though there have been a good number of debates, so far they have nearly exclusively focused on the economy, jobs, and taxes. Those are all important issues, but there are other things concerning Minnesotans that are not being discussed such as education, clean water, healthcare, the desperate need for more public defenders, etc. Once again, this debate spoke primarily about taxes and jobs. It was a lot of what we've already heard with the exception of a few audience questions about protecting our water, bullying, and whether to close some state higher ed institutions. There wasn't a lot of new information.

After the debate ended, I was leaving when I noticed Tom Emmer departing off to the side of the stage. He was exuberantly shaking hands with a crowd of people in "Emmer for Governor" hockey jerseys and buttons and stopping to pose for photos with them. This went on for about ten minutes, when an older lady walked up to him and introduced herself as a teacher and asked him about his plans for K-12 education. I was curious to hear his answer so I stopped to listen. He put his hand on her arm and talked about how important our schools are and the need to make sure "more money gets to the classrooms." (Although, no specifics were explained as to how he would do that.) I saw my window of opportunity and decided to take it.

As he shook her hand and thanked her, I asked if I could ask a related question. He looked me up and down suspiciously and curtly said "We really don't have time. I need to get going." (I'm pretty certain that he suspected me of being a DFL tracker because I had been filming a few things on my cell phone, which was still in my hand, but not being used.)

"You don't have time for just a single question?" I replied.

He sighed and said "Okay, what is it?"

I told him that I am from a family of educators and that I myself had worked with middle schoolers and that my family was very concerned about educational issues. After that, I point blank asked him, "Are you willing to guarantee that if you are elected governor, the K-12 funding shift will be paid back?"

*Side note: For those who don't know what the K-12 funding shift is, last session the MN state budget was balanced in part on one time gimmicks. One of these was to delay paying out money that was allocated for funding our K-12 public schools in order to balance the budget. Essentially, we took a loan from our schools to balance the books. Schools were told that it would be paid back next session, but due to the coming changing of the guard in the governor's office, there is no real guarantee that that money will be paid back. Although Governor Pawlenty said it would be, the decision to ultimately do so will rest with his successor. I haven't heard anyone yet ask the candidates about it, so I've been curious to try to get some answers from them.*

This was Tom Emmer's response:

"We're going to pay it....well....We can't guarantee anything. [Emphasis his] We're planning on paying it back, but it will be tied to our educational reforms."

"You mean that if the schools want the money that was allocated for them last year, they'll have to agree to whatever reforms you put in place?" I inquired.

"Essentially, yes. It will be tied to our proposed educational reforms." He stated.

At that point he kept moving. I didn't get the "Thank you" or the handshake, but I got my question answered. So for those of you who work in education and have been wondering what Tom Emmer will do about the K-12 shift, under his plan you will get your money back as long as you implement whatever reforms he decides are necessary. I don't know what those would be and am anxious to hear more. To clarify, if he decides that schools need to adopt performance pay, alternative licensure, vouchers, (all items he supports on his campaign website) etc, the schools will not receive the money that the state borrowed back after its allocation unless they agree to abide by those reforms.