Ensuring The House Prayer Never Again Offends Rep. Franson

Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson (R- Alexandria) – she who compares providing Food Stamps to low income children with feeding wild animals – is once again speaking out. But this time, I agree with her, kinda sorta.

Franson and I both find prayers in the House chamber to be offensive. The agreement ends there.

Franson has long felt that Earth Day is a Pagan holiday, which offends her Christian faith. Therefore, she was not thrilled to hear Minnesota House Chaplain Grady St. Dennis mentioning Earth Day and the BP oil spill in the prayer that recently opened House proceedings. As the Star Tribune reported, Representative Franson Tweeteth that St. Dennis’s prayer:

“may as well been dedicated to “Mother Earth”, coincidence? I think not. 2nd offensive prayer in a month.”

The prayer Franson finds offensive, I find inspired. And I can guarantee we’re never going to convince each other.

Such disagreement is the rule, not the exception. Minnesotans don’t agree on who God is, what He wants us to do, and what He thinks about the issues. It’s not just that Christians, non-Christians, doubters and non-believers don’t agree. Christians and Christians don’t agree. People sitting in the same aisle of the same church don’t even agree.

And resolving this disagreement about God is not what the Minnesota House does. It’s not their job.

So why have an official daily House prayer? Why bring any kind of religion into the chamber — Mary Franson’s brand of Christianity, John Marty’s brand of Christianity, Keith Ellison’s Islam, Frank Hornstein’s Judaism, Pete Stark’s Atheism or anyone else’s spiritual viewpoint?

Just leave it out. Let people say a silent prayer to themselves, if they so choose. But keep all officially sponsored, publicly expressed religious pronouncements out of the legislative chambers.

I presume that official government-sponsored and -organized prayer in the legislative chambers must have been determined to be legally permissible. But that doesn’t make it advisable. Heaven knows, the Legislature has enough difficult issues to resolve without adding unresolvable theological questions to their “to do” list.

This is the only way I can guarantee that Mary Franson and I won’t be offended again by what we hear in the daily House of Representatives prayer. If she and her colleagues aren’t willing to separate the work of religious institutions from the work of our democracy, I guarantee both of us will be offended on a regular basis.

- Loveland

“Vacation, Vacation, Vacation” Trumps “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” At Minnesota Legislature

Republican politicians love to cite private sector experiences as their guiding compass in legislative matters. They puff out their pin-striped draped chests and declare (feel free to use a Foghorn Leghorn voice if you’d like):

“In the private sector, we do audits and cut the fat we identify.”

“In the private sector, we know how to create jobs by golly.”

“In the private sector, we demand accountability from our investments.”

These kinds of private sector references got a lot of traction with voters in the 2010 elections. To voters, the private sector expertise seemed key to producing the “jobs, jobs, jobs” that Republican candidates were promising, promising, promsing.

For now, let’s put aside the question of whether the private sector really is more lean, efficient, and accountable than the public sector. For today, I pose a different question. Can you ever imagine private sector fans making this boast:

“In the private sector, we set a goal of punching out super early with major projects unfinished, so we have more time to be at home.”

That’s not one I hear a lot. Yet according to an article in yesterday’s Star Tribune, those in the Minnesota Legislature who are most likely to start sentences with “In the private sector” are…

…edging toward a historically early end to the legislative session, potentially ditching dozens of prized initiatives in their determination to head home and hit the campaign trail.

The tulips are up, the bushes are budding and it’s time to go home,” said Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, amid buzz that next Friday’s targeted start for spring recess could instead become a final adjournment.

Senjem has been cajoling lawmakers into adjourning by the end of the week, more than a month before the constitutionally mandated end.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, would prefer to go till the end of April. That would still be the earliest adjournment in 14 years.

No jobs bill because of...

Really? When the going gets tough, the tough gets…gardening?

I ask you, do you hear old Bill Cooper, the CEO at TCF Bank, declaring to his Carlson School cronies, “The tulips are up, boys, so let’s punch out early and head to our respective mansions?” Hell no, Bill the Bankster makes sure they all stay until every last bank fee is raised. That’s the way they do it “in the private sector!”

But among the private sector’s champions at the Capitol, it seems their goals are mighty modest.

“As far as I am concerned, if we can block a whole bunch of spending in a bonding bill and get the photo ID bill done, that’s enough,” said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who faces his first re-election.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see them stay in session into the summer, like last year. As Will Rogers said, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.”

But I have to say, with all the issues Minnesota faces — schools that need to be paid back, chronically unemployed workers who need jobs, structural deficits that need fixing — the earliest adjourment in 14 years seems pretty lame to many of us “in the private sector.”

- Loveland

Minnesota GOP Legislators Announce Full Blockade of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Friday near Raspberry Island.

Saint Paul (AP) — Minnesota Republican legislative leaders said today that their decision to defund nearly all bonding projects in Minnesota’s two largest cities was just the beginning, as they began preparation for a full blockade reminiscent of the U.S. blockade of communist Cuba in the 1960s.

Earlier this week, the Republican majority in the Legislature refused to approve most bonding requests from Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the two cities that are Minnesota’s most reliable Democratic political strongholds. Longtime observers of the Legislature characterized this year’s bonding bill as the most partisan in Minnesota history. But Republican leaders maintain that further pressure is needed to break the core cities’ will.

“Killing their dream of a sub-minor league baseball field was a start, but more government reform is needed,” said Senate Capital Investment Chairman Ronnie Wright (R-Bunker Hills). “So we’re going to blockade the metrosexual candy asses.”

In anticipation of the blockade, Republican legislators were reported to be hording legislators’ favorite urban delicacies before they become unavailable during a blockade, such as Fabulous Fern’s ‘Fern Burgers,’ mini soap bars from the Kelly Inn Best Western, and tassles from Augie’s Cabaret.

“Hey Jack Kennedy smuggled 1,000 cigars out of Cuba, so you can’t expect us go cold turkey,” said Rep. Richard Dick (R-Sticks). “And I’m just telling you, they don’t call it the ‘Best Western’ for nothin.”

The blockade leaders rejected charges that they had lost their promised focus on producing “jobs, jobs, jobs” during a sluggish economic recovery.

“Those in the liberal media who charge that this is just about a raw political power grab are dead wrong,” said Rep. Wy Kayer (R- Stillwhiter). “It’s simply about raining the Creator’s righteous wrath down upon those in Sodom and Gomorrah who insist on voting for unconstitutional sinning, that’s all.”

But legislators acknowledge that even a full commercial, economic and financial embargo may not be sufficient to keep their Tea Party supporters sufficiently aroused.

“If the blockade doesn’t work, we are not ruling out a full Bay of Pig’s Eye invasion,” said Kayer.

Supergridlock Amendment: Silent But Deadly

If you like gridlock, you'll love the Supergridlock Amendment.

Compared to the GOP-backed Marriage Ban Amendment, Voter Red Tape Amendment and Right-to-Leech Amendment, you hear much less in the news about the proposed the state constitutional amendment to restrict legislators’ future budget choices. This amendment would require a 60% legislative “super majority” approval for tax increases, limit general fund spending to 98% of forecasted income, and ban the use of budget surpluses for “non-emergency” purposes.

Compared to the Vikings stadium and the other hot button amendments, this issue is relatively wonky and boring. It doesn’t rally interest groups the way the other amendments do.

But it’s very impactful, so it deserves more news attention and scrutiny than it is getting. The problem with this issue flying below-the-radar is that it can sound reasonable at first blush, until you understand the intent and implications of the change. Minnesota needs to make this major decision with its eyes wide open.

For over 150 years, Minnesota’s representative democracy has constructed a very successful society using majority rule to govern fiscal policy. With majority rule, we built a prosperous economy, a great public school system, a solid infrastructure and a society that regularly places at or near the top of state quality-of-life rankings.

In other words, majority rule has ruled well.

But under the latest in a long series of conservative constitutional concoctions, we would scrap the historically successful majority rule approach, and make it much more difficult for future Minnesota Legislatures to reach fiscal compromises. The Supegridlock Amendment would make it “super” likely that future fiscal crises are addressed with a “cuts only” approach, since cuts only need the support of 50% of the Legislature, while tax increases would need a “super majority” of 60% of the Legislature. As we all know, it’s nearly impossible to get 60% of the Legislature to agree on something as non-controversial as designating a State Insect, much less a tax reform package.

Would you like your gridlock supersized?

This makes no sense. Dumping constitutional gravel into the already rusted and crumbling gears of Minnesota’s legislative machinery will make future gridlock and government shutdowns much more likely.

“Cuts only” and “shutdowns” are not unintended consequences of this approach. They are precisely what Republicans are hoping to achieve. The aim of the amendment is to create gridlock on all things related to taxation, and consequently force even deeper cuts hurting seniors, kids, veterans, commuters, sick people, crime victims, poor people, tne environment, small businesses, students, and middle class families.

Every legislative body has to do a taxation v. spending balancing act, and Republicans are attempting to put an iron thumb on the “cuts only” side of the scale, to make balance almost impossible.

And remember, an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans don’t want the “cuts only” approach Republicans keep trying to force feed them. By almost a 3-to-1 margin, a July 2011 MinnPost poll found that Minnesotans preferred a balanced approach to budgeting. That poll found that 66% prefer the balanced approach with tax increases in the mix, while only 23% prefer a cuts only approach.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could seriously believe that the remedy for our hopelessly dysfunctional 2011-12 Minnesota Legislature is even an more gridlock-inducing set of rules. But that is precisely what the authors of this amendment are pushing. Legislative reporters understand this better than just about anyone. They cover the process every day, and they just lived through Minnesota’s state government shutdown.

So why the relative silence?

- Loveland

Note: Gear art by McMullin Creative.

Subpoena Day at the Minnesota Legislature!

In my high school, we had a Valentines Day ritual that non-popular kids like me dreaded. The Spanish Club came up with the brilliant idea of selling carnations for students to give to each other. Red was for “love,” white was for “hope,” and blue was for “friendship.” And, of course, nothing signified, alas, nothingness.

Needless to say the jocks and foxes looked like Rose Bowl Parade floats all day long, while I was as unadorned as a devout Amish elder. No love. No hope. No friendship. It was botanical bullying, pure and simple. There are scars. Oh yes, there are scars.

Will he or won't he?

Similarly, a litigious version of Carnation Day appears to be brewing at the Minnesota State Capitol. Like the Spanish Club, former GOP spokesperson Michael Brodkorb, who was fired from his job after having an affair with Senate leader Amy Koch, is looking for a good fundraising idea. So he is launching a half million dollar lawsuit, and will be issuing subpoenas to former colleagues who, Brodkorb alleges, have had red carnation style carnal relations with each other.

Therefore, the State Capitol, whose petty, insular culture has always been a whole lot like high school culture, is all atwitter about this critical question: “Who will get a Shaboink Subpoena??”

However, given my history of floral abuse, I’m obsessed with the question “Who won’t get a subpoena?” After all, imagine the humiliation if it is revealed that, with all the political porking that apparently has been going on, you DIDN’T have what it takes to have had a ball in the Great Hall, or fun-da in the Rotunda?

The funny thing is, when you think about the Minnesota Legislature, attraction is about the last thing that comes to mind. The way they go at each other verbally, it’s difficult to imagine anyone doing the wild thing with anyone else. Plus, they’re so busy defending marriage and all.

But as with prison cells, there are apparently two basic interpersonal challenges associated with life in the tight confines of the State Capitol: The inmates either hate each other too much, or love each other too much.

At any rate, this is just a long way of saying if I were a legislator, I’m pretty sure I’d have my mom call in sick for me on Shaboink Subpoena Day.

- Loveland

Recall Wisconsin’s Recall

But what about the sequels?

Well, I see Wisconsin is starting to set dates for its recall elections. The news doesn’t thrill me. In fact, if I were a Wisconsin citizen, I would have to take a barf bag to the ballot box, and vote for Governor Scott Walker and his legislative supporters to keep their jobs.

I disagree with Governor Walker on just about every issue. I think he badly overstepped last year when he led his state like it was a flaming red Mississippi, instead of a moderate purple Wisconsin.

And I think he should keep his job, until his term is up.

Don’t get me wrong. It would feel very satisfying to watch Scott Walker wheeling file boxes full of Koch Brothers’ playbooks out of Wisconsin’s beautiful Capitol Building. But taking the long view, holding recalls over policy disagreements is a very bad idea.

Look, the guy didn’t commit a felony. He didn’t even commit a misdemeanor. He disagreed with me, and lots of his fellow Wisconites. And you know what? Disagreement is allowed in democracies.

As encouraging as it has been to see a million cheese heads rise up against naked corporate cronyism, I hate the precedent here. If we start recalling politicians every time the majority has a mid-term policy disagreement with a leader, two things are likely to happen. First, our democracy will get even more unstable and chaotic than it is today. Second, our leaders will get even more cautious and incremental than they already are, for fear that policy boldness will land them in an $80 million recall election.

To my friends on the left, how would you feel about President Obama being recalled for passing the Affordable Care Act, or Governor Dayton being recalled for pushing for higher taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans? Those policies are as unpopular on the right as banning collective bargaining is on the left. But shouldn’t Obama and Dayton be able to move forward if they can assemble enough supportive votes in the duly elected legislative body? Well then, shouldn’t Governor Walker too?

Consider this: In the middle of the 2008-2009 economic meltdown, President Obama and his congressional supporters made an extremely unpopular decision to give financial assistance to automakers. At that time, 54% of Americans said this policy was “bad for the economy,” and many felt it was an alarming move toward socialism. But since Obama was allowed to serve a whole term, the policy was implemented. After seeing the policy play out, today 56% of Americans now believe it was “good for the economy.”

Fortunately, we Americans have a built-in means of expressing disapproval over policy disagreements. It’s called regular elections. It’s called making judgements based on an entire term’s body of work, rather than on snap judgements about single issues. I understand that means Badgers would have to suffer through an entire four-year term of Governor Walker and his legislative supporters. But that’s the way this representative democracy gig is supposed to work.

So enough with the constant calls for mid-term recalls, and resignations, as we have recently seen in Minnesota in the case of Representative Mary Franson. In a democracy, an honest policy disagreement in the middle of a term is cause for us to vigorously rebut, organize, and protest. But in a healthy representative democracy, an honest mid-term policy disagreement should not be a fireable offense.

- Loveland

Reframing Minnesota’s Moronic Ballot Questions

Reframing.

The good news is that the Minnesota Legislature pledges to adjourn earlier this year than they did last year. The bad news is that they are pushing their lawmaking responsibilities off to voters. Legislators are passing the buck on policy decisions about legislative rules, labor law, voting limitations, and marriage law.

And so now, we’re going to have a little taste of California coming our way. Not balmy weather and trend-setting, but endless ballot initiative campaigns.

Because Republicans are controlling the Minnesota Legislature, they get to write the bills that put these amendments on the ballot. As such, they get the first crack at framing the issue, and reporters largely mimick their framing (though the Star Tribune does now put quotation marks on the term “right-to-work”).

Then, the job of opponents will be to try to reframe the issue. Overwhelmed voters facing a lengthy ballot aren’t likely to dedicate a lot of frontal lobe bandwidth to these decisions, so the battle will be over what soundbite voters are hearing in their heads as they read the amendments on Election Day.

One bloggers’ lightly informed thoughts about reframing:

Supermajority Amendment” should be reframed as “Supergridlock Amendment.” Tagline: “If you like gridlock, you’ll love the Supergridlock Amendment.”

Strategy: Tap into the powerful post-government shutdown sentiment that is driving the 72% disapproval rating for the Minnesota Legislature among Independent voters.

Right-to-Work Amendment” should be reframed as “Right-to-Leech Amendment.” Tagline: “Because we all love That Guy who drinks the beer, but is nowhere to be found when the bill arrives.”

Strategy: Make the argument personal instead of about abstract notions of “pro- or anti-union.” That is, make it about the fundamental unfairness of some benefiting, but expecting others to pay for their benefits.

Photo ID Amendment” should be reframed as “Voter Red Tape Amendment.” Tagline: “A bureaucratic solution in search of a problem.”

Strategy: Frame this as something independent voters are very wary of – more unnecessary bureaucratic red tape making life more complex. About half (47%) of independent voters say regulation usually does more harm than good.

Same Sex Marriage Amendment” should be reframed as “Marriage Ban Amendment.” Tagline: “Who is government to say who someone can and can’t love?

Strategy: Frame it as the government overreaching by appointing itself The Love Police.

As is my custom, I’m operating 100% fact free here. I haven’t seen any of the relevant voter research, or findings from other states. But right now, all of these amendments look like they could pass, so even ignorant brainstorming from the peanut gallery probably can’t hurt.

- Loveland

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