Friday, August 19, 2011

Bachmann Campaign Evangelical Dog Whistles: David Vs. Saul Edition

(For an explanation of the term "Evangelical dog whistles," please see my previous post.)

There was a reference that really caught my eye this morning that came from the Facebook page of a Bachmann staffer. The comment came from Peter Waldron, who works in faith outreach on the campaign.

At first glance, this may seem like an odd choice of metaphor to most people. When David is invoked as a political metaphor, it is usually in the context of David vs. Goliath, the well known Bible story about the underdog defeating his giant opponent thanks to his faith in and commitment to God. In fact, one may even expect such a metaphor to be used here. But it's not. And I believe the chosen metaphor is far more telling of the campaign's strategy.

Saul and David were both anointed Old Testament kings of Israel. David was Saul's successor. As Peter points out in his post, Saul had that anointing removed, but still wanted to be king. So he aggressively tried to hunt down David to ensure that he would not lose his position of prominence. But in the end, it was all in vain, as David was the Lord's newly chosen leader of Israel. (If you're interested in reading the whole story, you can find in in 1 Samuel  chapters 9-31.) But the importance of its use here lies not only in the story itself, but in what group of Americans often invokes that story.

The Evangelical Dog Whistles of 2012

Over the past few decades, election season has become a time when Conservative politicians start to court the Evangelical vote aggressively through public displays and declarations of faith. This is and of itself is nothing new. But I believe there is an aspect of this that the media isn't picking up on.

Dog Whistles. Have you ever heard one? Of course not. Dog whistles are made at a pitch out of the range of human hearing. Although dogs can hear it, to humans it sounds like nothing. As I've been watching the 2012 GOP race for the nomination unfold, there have been a lot of dog whistles, but of a different sort. These are what I refer to as "Evangelical dog whistles." In no way am I calling anyone a dog, I just mean that it is a similar phenomenon.

Evangelical dog whistles are those words, phrases, and metaphors candidates use that may mean nothing to most people but are instantly recognizable to certain aspects of American Evangelical Culture. There are especially a lot of them coming out of Rep. Bachmann's campaign, so I've decided to start documenting the more prominent ones.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Real Problem Revealed by Hoffman's Tweet

The verdict is in. The Minnesota Senate Ethics Committee  decided that Sen. Hoffman (R-Vergas) needs to apologize for  a blatantly false tweet about statements made by Sen. Goodwin (D-Columbia Heights).

In case you missed it, the complaint originated during Senate floor debate on May 18 regarding potential cuts to health and human services. Sen. Goodwin was talking about the history of the treatment of people with mental illness and how far we've come since then.

In response to this speech, Sen. Hoffman took to the Twittersphere:

Goodwin was obviously upset, and an ethics complaint was later filed. Hoffman stuck to her guns claiming that she was very sensitive to calling people those names, completely ignoring the fact that Sen Goodwin did not call people those names at all. 

This is politics at its worst. The claim Hoffman made shows her own ignorance at best and blatant deception to appease the GOP base at worst. I'm glad she needs to apologize. She should. But there's a bigger issue that is revealed by this controversy.

What do legislators think is the purpose of floor debate? To Hoffman it seems to be a time to tune out anyone you assume you will disagree with anyway and putz around online. The point of debate is to discuss the aspects of proposed legislation and their impact on constituents so that you can make the best decision for the state of Minnesota. The above tweet reveals that as Goodwin took the floor, Hoffman didn't pay attention long enough to be able to comprehend even a few simple and clear sentences. Worse than that, even if she truly believed that Goodwin had called people such awful names, isn't that why she also, as a state senator, has the opportunity to speak from the Senate floor? Debate between the two should have never ended up online. That was juvenile and unprofessional. Hoffman should have expressed her concern on the Senate floor and given Goodwin the chance to clarify.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Rep. Hackbarth

What is going on with Rep. Hackbarth? This week he has come under fire after a constituent received an email from him in which he compares unions to Hitler and Castro. The union in question has requested clarification but has so far received no response. I'm beginning to think that any congressional orientation should include the reminder that you don't always have to say everything your thinking. Why would you send such an e-mail? Even if that is your opinion, why would you treat your constituents so harshly? But there was something else about this story that bothered me.

Take a look at the final paragraph of the above link.

"He lost his committee chair in December after he was spotted carrying a loaded handgun in a Planned Parenthood parking lot in St. Paul. Hackbarth said he was checking up on a woman he was dating. Hackbarth had a permit to carry a handgun. No charges were filed."

That's right, this is the same legislator who was found with a loaded gun in a Planned Parenthood parking lot in St. Paul. Obviously, this was a big story initially given the history of violence at such facilities. When it was discovered that his presence there had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood, many people dropped the story. Yet some of us, found the real reason he gave for being there even more disturbing.

"Hackbarth explained to police, as well as KSTP-TV, that he was checking up on a woman he was dating.
'I had a feeling she was lying to me about some different things, Hackbarth said. 'You meet somebody online like that, you want to find out what this person is all about.'

So, we're supposed to feel just fine about a man being out with a handgun because he was just "checking up on" a woman he's dating because he thinks she lied to him?? That's seriously disturbing. Now we have this tirade comparing unions to murderous tyrants. I don't know what is going on with Rep Hackbarth, but I find it troubling.

Good Grief!

To expand on yesterday's post, I wanted to present my theory that Tim Pawlenty is the Charlie Brown of the 2012 GOP presidential candidate field. Both are from Minnesota, usually mild mannered and seem rather likable overall. Yet they have trouble gaining close friends/support. Both are constantly trying to prove their abilities, but falling just short and every time they think they've gained some ground, something unexpected happens to undermine them. For Charlie Brown this came in the form of a kite eating tree, a dismal baseball season which he struggled to manage, and a "friend" that always yanked that football away at the last minute. For Tim Pawlenty this has come in the form of a drunk campaign staffer in a major primary state and an official campaign announcement that was greatly overshadowed here in his home state by a massive tornado that hit North Minneapolis. Now just when he has the chance to make a name for himself and set himself apart from the rest of the contenders at a CNN televised debate, his spotlight is stolen by Minnesota's most infamous Congresswoman. Pawlenty just can't win. He is the Charlie Brown of the 2012 GOP field.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Budget - Spending + Tax Cuts = Prosperity?

When this session started, there were many questions that I thought had the potential to become major themes in this years legislative story line: Will one time cuts be restored? What areas will see the most severe cuts? Are we headed for a government shut down? And so on. All of those are still valid questions facing our state throughout this session, but there is one question that's not being discussed but may be one of the most important we can consider.

When facing such a massive deficit, cuts are inevitable. But the real question lies in how these cuts are being discussed and presented to the public. Are we focusing solely on numbers or are we discussing exactly what programs will be impacted due to these subtractions?

For a great perspective on this problem, I encourage you to read Bob Collins' piece on this very issue.

I was further concerned when I saw this video of a DFL Senator trying to get permission to ask a number of Republican senators a question about what exactly is in the bill rather than simply talking numbers and vague generalities.

Can the governance of Minnesota be boiled down to a simple math equation? Or do the people directly impacted by such cuts deserve more specific debate and consideration?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Collin Peterson Joins GOP in Seeking to Redefine Rape

Is rape still rape even when it's not committed by force? If the proposed "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" (HR 3) clears the US House, the answer will be "no." 

There are already federal laws in place that restrict taxpayer funding for abortions in cases other than rape or incest. Polls have consistently show that the majority of Americans (from both camps of the abortion issue) support such exemptions. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 81% believe that abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest. This new law would seek to further such restrictions by redefining exactly what types of rape or incest are valid.

In this bill, "rape" would be changed to "forcible rape"- a term that is not clearly defined, but would likely exclude such instances as being drugged and raped, statutory rape, incapacitated to the extent that one is unable to consent, rape through coercion or threats (to the victim or their family), or being unable to consent due to developmental disabilities. I also fear that it will put greater burden on victims. In many cases, it is hard enough to prove that you were raped, now you must prove that it was done with enough force to justify the term. I guess "no" means "no" unless you don't put up enough of a fight to actually prove that you meant what you said in the first place.

Incest exemptions would only qualify for victims who are minors. If you are 18 or older, it will be treated as a consensual act between adults. Hypothetically speaking this could exclude girls who were victimized throughout their childhood as long as they didn't get pregnant until after their 18th birthday.

Mother Jones points out that this bill restricts tax benefits from being used to cover abortion services. This means your HSA money cannot be used and any expenses you incur will not be deductible. Tax credits offered to purchase healthcare plans would not be able to be used for any policy that has abortion coverage.

As expected, the DCCC has already posted a petition encouraging people to "denounce Republicans' extremist legislation." But it should be noted that although this bill was authored by a Republican and primarily supported by Republicans, it also currently has ten Democratic co-sponsors, including the 7th District's own Collin Peterson.

I shouldn't be surprised. I really shouldn't. These days even Tony Sutton seems to think that Collin Peterson is a Republican. But it's still frustrating. If you want to take a stand on abortion, that's fine. But don't go after victims of rape and incest in the process.

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, especially those of you in the 7th CD,  I encourage you to contact Rep. Peterson.

GOP Legislator Defends Bill By Pointing Out That It Would Eliminate Jobs

After all the talk about jobs, it's becoming abundantly clear that the only jobs the GOP cares about trying to create/preserve are private sector jobs. They have no problem throwing hard working public employees under the bus. Today I found an interesting example of this while reading an article about the proposed repeal of state firearm background checks in Session Weekly.

H.F.161 is already considered controversial for a number of other reasons, including the unexpected manner in which it was introduced, and is opposed by many in law enforcement. The bill's author Rep. Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) claims that these checks are simply redundant to the required federal checks. During a committee hearing, Bloomington Police Sgt. Mark Elliott disagreed with that assertion and pointed out that there are two provisions where Minnesota would reject a permit (those charged with a crime of violence and in a pretrial diversion program and gross misdemeanors such as stalking, child neglect, and crimes committed benefiting a gang) that would otherwise be allowed under the federal process.

But the statement that really caught my eye in the article was this one:

Drazkowski said a sheriff in a county with a population of 21,000 said this bill would save 30 minutes to one hour of staff time per week. “If you extrapolate that up to some of the metro counties, you’re looking at a full position or positions that will be able to be eliminated by the cities and counties in those jurisdictions because of the elimination of this redundant mandate.”

Drazkowski's defense of this controversial bill? It could save us money by eliminating jobs.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More Than Just a Voter ID Bill

There's been a lot of discussion over Minnesota's proposed voter ID bill (H.F.210). Yesterday the issue elicited a large number of responses as MPR's question of the day. Those for it argue that we'll never be guaranteed fair elections without it and those opposed say it's nothing but voter suppression. But we do ourselves a disservice if we are only discussing the voter ID aspect of this bill. There are many other questionable provisions it contains. The Uptake has a good summary of what is in the bill that I wanted to highlight here.

  • Changes documents allowed to register
  • Requires Department of Public Safety to provide free IDs to those that need them
  • Any voter who cannot provide a photo ID must cast a provisional ballot
  • Establishes provisional voting guidelines
  • Failure to check citizenship or age box on voter registration causes form to be deficient
  • Prohibits voters from receiving assistance at the ballot from a guardian, conservator, or any paid individual who provides health care (a big hurdle for the disabled)
  • Allows political buttons to be worn in the polling place as long as they are not designed to influence votes on a candidate/question on that ballot (a wink to the Minnesota Majority if ever there was one)
  • Repeals the designation of incumbents on judicial ballots
  • Requires at least two electronic rosters in every precinct unless it has fewer than 100 voters.
  • Any precinct needing more than two rosters would have to get them at local expense.
  • Initial costs for each precinct's two machines paid for by the state. Subsequent costs and maintenance would be covered locally (bill says this would be covered by the cost savings of using the new system)

Apart from the obvious measures that deter voters by placing additional hoops for them to jump through in order to vote, here is my biggest problem with the bill: Is it cost effective? Do the minute number of actual voter fraud cases in the state of Minnesota justify the expense that will be incurred by this bill?

A large portion of that expense comes not from having to provide free IDs (in order to avoid an illegal poll tax) but from having to purchase two electronic rosters for every precinct in the state with more than 100 voters. Overall, the cost requirements for the state, though not listed, must easily be in the millions. This bill clearly says that the state will pay for the machines but contains no appropriation lines that indicate just how they will be paid for. And for the large precincts that would need additional machines beyond the two covered by the state, what would be their cost?

The electronic rosters create a whole slew of additional problems when considering our rural districts. The bill creates minimum standards of network response times, which could be challenging for some precincts. Apart from that, think about the scene when you go to vote. What appears to be the average age of most poll workers? In all the precincts I have ever lived in, I would be comfortable saying 60-70 yrs old is probably an accurate average age of the poll workers I encounter. Many people in that generation are not nearly as comfortable with computers as younger generations are. For some, it will be a big leap to go from  flipping through a binder and asking someone to sign on a line to helping them to use electronic equipment. What will be the necessary training? Will it be above and beyond what is currently required in order to address the new technology? How will you ensure that these workers are not only able to facilitate use of this equipment, but to troubleshoot any problems they may encounter?

Some say it's worth it to prevent fraud. I would encourage you to read MinnPost's article on that issue from last session. In that article David Schultz, professor of government ethics and election law at Hamline University, discusses studies that he and other organizations have done. The conclusion? "There is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem that has affected any recent elections, including in Minnesota."

The article goes on to say, "The most comprehensive study so far on voter fraud largely dismisses its existence. A report by the bipartisan United States Election Commission concluded there was "little polling place fraud," including voter impersonation, "dead" voters, noncitizen voting, and felon voters. The main abuses were absentee-ballot fraud and efforts to intimidate voters on Election Day. None of this will be cured by photo IDs when voting."

So, what are we really paying for? Is it worth it?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Jobs! Jobs! Culture Wars?

This last campaign season was all about jobs and the economy. This legislative session? Not so much. As I've been following the introduced bills, I'm struck by the number that address culture wars and seek to appease the Republican base with little or no consideration of the cost or economic impact of such legislation.

I came across yet another example of this today in H.F. 7.  H.F. 7 is actually pretty interesting in content, although the text is rather dry. Basically, it addresses the repeal of a number of local government mandates. There's a lot of stuff buried in there. Much of it is expected (though some is controversial) and previously publicized targets for repeal such as mandates that address funds to be used for staff development in public schools, requirements that schools reach contract agreements by January 15 or pay a penalty, municipality reporting requirements, requirements that benefits agreed to through collective bargaining need approval of employee representative in order to be reduced, etc.

But tucked away in the midst of it all is a repeal of laws that established standards to eliminate sex based pay disparities among public employees. They are seeking to repeal Minnesota's Local Government Pay Equity Act (LGPEA) which was adopted in 1991 in order to guarantee equal pay for equal work regardless of gender. Some argue that such laws are outdated and no longer needed. However, the Pay Equity Coalition of Minnesota rightly points out that the Minnesota Management & Budget Department's January 2011 report notes pay raises given in order to eliminate disparities in wages across the state increased women's pay from $16.27/hr to $17.86/hr. Based on a 40 hour work week, by my calculations that amounts to an additional $63.60 every week or $3307.20 every year.

How exactly does stripping women's right to equal pay create jobs or strengthen our economy?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The K-12 Shift Comes Back to Haunt Us

As this legislative session gets underway, the GOP has come out swinging and they've got Minnesota's public K-12 schools squarely in their sights.

H.R. 2 authored by Rep. Buesgens (R-Jordan) puts out a proposal as to where K-12 spending levels should be set for this biennium. He fiercely defends these numbers by claiming that this is not a cut in funding, but rather simply a freeze to previous spending levels. I would disagree with that assertion for a number of reasons. (Many of these are based on issues I've previously discussed here.) For one, under this bill the legislature will NOT repay the funding shift that diverted allotted money from our schools in order to temporarily balance the budget.

This was a major concern at the time this shift was enacted by then Gov. Pawlenty, with many in public education opposing such a move mainly because they knew that there was absolutely no guarantee that the future legislature would pay it back. I also suspected this may be part of the plan proposed by the Republicans. That suspicion was largely confirmed by the non-committal answers I received from candidate Tom Emmer when I asked him about this issue at the state fair. As Rep. Buesgens asserts in his defense of the proposal, previous legislatures cannot tie the hands of future legislatures. Which is exactly why so many opposed funding shifts to start with. They knew that in all likelihood it was merely a cut disguised as a delay.

Many Conservatives rightly point out that the DFL controlled House at the time also proposed a K-12 funding shift. They argue that it is hypocritical to be opposed to Pawlenty's shift but in favor of the one proposed by the DFL. What that argument missed what that there is a substantial legal difference in a legislative shift and a unilateral shift implemented by the Governor. MinnPost addressed just that in an article at the time.  As they noted:

"Some schools worry that if this remains Pawlenty's unilateral shift, there will be no legal authority mandating that the schools ever receive the $1.8 billion. If it becomes a legislative shift, state law requires that the schools be second in line to be paid back, right after rainy-day funds are restocked. Payback might take 10 or 20 years, but eventually there would be a payback. ... Though school funding shifts have become an almost routine part of the biennial state budget balancing act, the governor's unilateral action was unique. There is concern among some legislators, school superintendents and, perhaps, even the governor about no payback requirement tied to the governor's action. And some school officials fear that at the end of the biennium in 2011, the $1.8 billion will simply disappear into thin air."

It looks like their fears are coming true. In short, Minnesota law contains guarantees that any legislative shift be repaid. It has no such provisions that apply to a governor's unilateral cuts through unallotment.

MNpublius breaks down why they view this not as a simple freeze in funding levels, but actually a 20% cut. This is in large part because it views the spending levels at the amount of money the schools actually received, not considering the amount taken away in the shift. Because that was proclaimed a temporary measure, many schools that saw little benefit in further slashing their services, took out loans to cover the missing funding until it was repaid. They factor in that combined with the fact that because funding is determined on a per pupil basis and schools are expecting increased enrollment, under long used funding calculations they were actually anticipating an increase in funds to accommodate the additional students.

Instead our schools are left with broken promises, further public demonization, and the challenge of continuing to serve more students with fewer resources.

Update: Speaking of education proposals, it's also worth noting that there is another proposal in the works in the Senate that would freeze wages for ALL public school employees.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Blogging: The Cause is Mankind

When I was visiting my parents over the holidays, I came across a copy of Hubert H. Humphrey's 1964 book "The Cause is Mankind: A Liberal Program for Modern America." In case you haven't figured it out, Humphrey is a political hero of mine. In my quest to take a look at more political history, I thought this would be a great place to start.

I just started reading it, so I'm only a few chapters in, but already there's one passage that really caught my attention.

"I do believe, however, that freedom has grown enormously in the past half-century. This is an astonishing fact, a tribute to the vitality of our institutions, when you look at the outlines of the history of the era. In those fifty years, we've gone through two World Wars and several minor but deadly ones; a Depression that lasted the better part of a decade; a proliferation of extremist views of the right and left, here and abroad; the rise of totalitarian systems of unprecedented strength and horror; the Cold War of the nuclear age; such phenomena as the Ku Klux Klan, McCarthyism, and black-lists; the murder of a beloved President.

And yet, democracy has weathered all these threats to freedom. On the balance, today, our civil liberties and civil rights appear to be at least as secure as they ever have been-and, in some conspicuous cases, much more secure."

Each generation seems to have a romantically misleading view of the previous generations. Each thinks of itself as the most troublesome generation and longs for the assumed security of the past. I see that currently in our own nation. So many people lament at the situation they see in our society and how it may be the very thing that will rob us of our freedom. Yet, here Humphrey points out all the turmoil that the US has faced in his lifetime alone (up to that point-1964). When each event is laid out side by side, it certainly seems like enough to be the undoing of many of America's liberties. Yet, Humphrey proclaims that in spite of all of this democracy has not only weathered the storm, but come out better for it. It's an interesting contrast to the rhetoric we hear today.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Political Fatigue

I'm a little burnt out on politics these days. It's not because I don't enjoy following the political process and monitoring what is going on in St. Paul and Washington, D.C. I do. It's not that I don't find the ridiculously exaggerated claims during policy debate amusing.  I do.  I think my fatigue comes from the division of the potential that I see in the political process and the reality of how it is currently playing out.

My interest in politics is rooted deeply in my passion for social justice. In it I see the vast potential for our nation to band together for the betterment of our society. At it's best it is a catalyst for justice.  A great example of this (and the major reason for the name of this blog) is the 1948 Democratic National Convention speech of then Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey.

In my opinion, this is an example of politics at its best. A moment when our leaders stand up and fight for what is right, even in the face of opposition. A moment when the fight isn't about what will get you elected next cycle, but about what will make our country better. Growing up, a teacher of mine had a sign on her desk that read "What is popular is not always right. What is right is not always popular." That's the spirit I'd like to see more of in politics. I'd like to see more concern over what is the right thing to do and less about what will boost approval ratings.

Today ushered in a new governor for the state of Minnesota. Soon we will see a new crop of legislators both locally and nationally. I hold out hope and keep looking for elected officials who will walk in the example of Hubert Humphrey and fight for what they believe is the right thing to do. We need to stop seeing government merely as a ledger sheet of expenses and start seeing it as what it was intended to be, an entity that seeks to serve the best interest of its citizens in order to make this a nation that lives up to its reputation as a land of freedom and opportunity.