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

‘Hits-For-Cash’ Bounty Scandal Rocks Minnesota Legislature

Saint Paul (AP) — The far-reaching investigation into a Minnesota Legislature “bounty” scandal is reverberating across the nation and threatens to tarnish the loveable image of the Minnesota GOP Party.

As many as 27 Minnesota GOP legislators were reportedly paid an undisclosed amount of Super PAC donations for vicious hits intended to knock low-income Minnesotans out of the safety net.

According to undisclosed sources, GOP-friendly Super PACs paid into a “bounty” fund, and former GOP Chair Bobby Butterball would dole out the bounty payments based on how many low income people were knocked out of the social safety net.

Especially large bounties were reportedly paid by Super PACs for a number of recent bell-ringing hits against vulnerable Minnesotans:

• Making deep budget cuts impacting the most vulnerable Minnesotans, in order to protect the wealthy from paying their fair share in taxes;
• Attacking poverty stricken children as “animals” who shouldn’t be fed;
• Blocking implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which will reduce the uninsured rate by 32 million people; and
• Pushing a photo ID law that makes it more difficult for low income people to vote bounty recipients out of office.

Facing mounting evidence, Butterball now admits carrying out the cash-for-performance scheme.

“If children were somehow upset by being called “animals” who shouldn’t be fed, we sincerely regret that they are choosing to victimize us,” Butterball said in a written apology. “Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have done a better job covering it up. For that, I am deeply, deeply sorry.”

Despite the tearful Butterball apology, many Republican legislators maintain politics has always been a violent sport built around punishing your most vulnerable constituents. And they point out that Minnesota Republicans still have 17 percent of Minnesotans who approve of their job performance.

Robert Hitman, a former GOP spokesperson and writer of the blog democratsaregravysuckingpigswhoaregoingtofryforallofeternityinhell.com, said the best legislators in the history of politics have always brought a toughness to the game.

“They want an edge mentally,” explained Hitman. “They want to break their opponent’s will to vote, and the best way to break to do that is to strip away their ability to eat, work and get health care for their loved ones. The media needs to stop whining, because that’s just how the game is played.”

Still, many political observers say the bounty program went too far.

“We really have to figure out where to draw the line,” said University of Minnesota political science professor Clarence B. Milquetoast. “And now I’m obligated to say that both parties are equally guilty.”

Representative Franson’s “Animals”

Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) recently shared a funny with her constituents:

“Last week, we worked on some welfare reform bills. And here, you know, it’s kind of ironic I’ll review this little funny clip that we got from a friend. And it says ‘Isn’t it ironic that the Food Stamp program, part of the Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of Food Stamps ever. Meanwhile, the Park Service, also part of the Department of Agriculture, asks us to please not feed the animals, (smirk) because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.‘”

My goodness, but that IS a “funny little clip,” isn’t it?!

Just as it has ignored outrageous Bachmannisms over the years, Minnesota’s mainstream newspapers ignored this gem. That’s too bad. It could have been a teachable moment. Because when you strip away the breathtakingly dehumanizing language, you learn who these “animals” are:

▪ 47% are children under age 18.
▪ 8% are age 60 or older.
▪ 94% are U.S. born citizens.
▪ 41% live in a household with earnings from a job, which is not to diminish the plight of those in an even more difficult position, because they can’t find a job.

In other words, these “animals” are the kids at your neighborhood school, the disabled senior down the street, and the women making the minimum wage to clean your public restrooms.

And they are receiving an average food stamp benefit of $1.05 per person per meal, hardly a level that would tempt anyone to intentionally linger living in poverty.

Sometimes the only upside of preposterous poitical polemics is that they serve to raise awareness about reality in America. But first, the media has to be paying attention.

- Loveland

Post Publication Note: I see that the Star Tribune DID post a story on their Hotdish Politics blog. Pretty thin coverage, but coverage. I’m not sure if it ran in the newspaper. My mistake. I didn’t see it in my initial Google.

A Pox On The House (and Senate)

In the past year, Republicans and Democrats have offered Minnesotans clear and divergent visions.

GOP leaders in the Minnesota Legislature proposed no new taxes, a cuts-only approach to budgeting, and a focus on loading up the ballots with constitutional amendments on issues that poll well for them, such as gay marriage, tax limitation and photo ID.

Meanwhile, DFL Governor Dayton proposed a budget with both painful cuts and tax increases on the most powerful Minnesotans, and has tried to broker solutions on a series of contentious issues such as environmental permits, Obamacare implementation and the Vikings Stadium.

It would seem as if the GOP set the more savvy political course. After all, opposing tax increases is always popular, and “let the voters decide” is reliable crowd pleaser. Score for the Republicans, right?

At the same time, Dirty Job Dayton’s work on environmental permits and cutting social services for vulnerable Minnesotans is extremely unpopular with his liberal base. Obamacare promotion and tax increases are the two most unforgiveable sins in the eyes of conservatives. And Vikings Stadium subsidies are controversial across-the-board, including with the all-important Independents. The Governor has stepped on a lot of toes.

With those two competing policy agendas, you might expect that Governor Mark Dayton would get politically pummeled.

But so far, it’s not working out that way. According to a new Survey USA survey, Dayton’s approval rating is 50%, while the GOP Legislature’s is an astoundingly low 17%.

An approval rating of 50% for one side and 17% for the other doesn’t represent a “a pox on both of your houses” verdict. Clearly, Minnesotans are aiming their pox.

For context, Richard Nixon’s disapproval rating when he resigned in disgrace in August 1974 was 66%. The Republican Legislature’s disapproval rating is a statistically identical 65%. Even conservative Minnesotans don’t favor the GOP-controlled Legislature over Dayton (26% approval for Dayton, 25% for the GOP-led Legislature).

I know, I know. The election is still nine months away, executives tend to be more popular than institutions, and institutions can be unpopular while individuals still get reelected.

Still, these numbers are LOW, and trending in a very bad direction for Republicans. Republicans played what they felt was their best political hand in 2011, and Dayton played a very risky political hand, and somehow Dayton is getting more popular as the Legislature is getting much less popular.

You can’t chalk this up to superior communications skills. Dayton is widely considered to be a below average bully pulpeteer, while legislative leaders are pretty solid and aggressive communicators. So far, Minnesotans just seem to prefer Dirty Job Dayton’s governance approach.

- Loveland

Minnesota Media Sides With Anti-Union Forces By Adopting “Right To Work” Framing

On the abortion issue, one group of advocates says “Right to Life,” the other side says “Pro-Choice” and the news media usually opts for the more neutral term, calling it a debate over “abortion rights,” or describing the protagonists as being “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion rights.” Fair enough. On that issue, reporters have done a pretty good job of striking a balance on the language they use.

But on the top labor issue of the day, one side says “Right to Work,” the other side says “Right to Work for Less” or “union busting.” The media goes with “Right to Work.”

Pioneer Press headline: “Republicans set stage for right to work fight in Minnesota”
Star Tribune headline: “State Republicans launch right-to-work amendment”
MPR headline: “One on One: The Right to Work Amendment”

In other words, the news media is framing the issue exactly how pro-amendment spin savants want it framed.

As reporters know, there is a reason why amendment proponents deliberately chose the words “right to work” for their propaganda. Extensive market research told them swing voters felt supportive of the notion of having the “right to work,” and are opposed to someone taking that right away from them. Who wouldn’t? So, they invest in millions of dollars worth of marketing and PR trying to make that wording stick.

At the same time, amendment opponents’ market research told them that “Right to Work for Less” was helpful to their cause. Those words bring attention to the fact that the typical employees in states with this union restriction make about $5300 less per year than employees in other states, a fact that is extremely helpful in selling their point-of-view.

To be fair, perpetually PR-challenged unions don’t do themselves any favors on this front, as they continually use their opponents’ “right to work” framing in their own communications, making that label seem normalized and mutually acceptable.

Still, as with the abortion debate, reporters should avoid both side’s carefully focus grouped labels, and go with more neutral language. For instance, they could call it a “union limitation amendment,” or some such poker-faced pabulum.

Minnesotans are going to be exosed to a lot of news coverage about this amendment over the next nine months, so it’s a good time for editors to have earnest conversations about fair rules of engagement. Reporters need to get a lot better at covering the issue in a balanced way.

- Loveland

Minnesota Legislature Announces Lawmaking Partnership With Buzztime Triva™

Saint Paul, Minn., January 30, 2012 – The Minnesota Legislature announced today that it will be delegating additional lawmaking authority to non-elected citizens through a public-private partnership with Buzztime Trivia™, America’s premier provider of bar-based interactive trivia games.

“When we learned that Buzztime Trivia™ could cover 10 trivia questions every 15 minutes, we created Buzztime Lawmaking™ to allow Real People to pass Constitutional Amendments at a more efficient clip than the outdated ballot box system allowed,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers.

In a beta test of Buzztime Lawmaking™, bar patrons were able to eliminate seven constitutional rights, punish three minority groups, strike the impaired driving law, and exclude bar patrons from taxation, all before the conclusion of Happy Hour.

“Sh*t, most of them questions didn’t take more than a second or two to answer,” said Sparky Franklin, a freshly minted Buzztime Lawmaker. “Them trivia questions are way harder than them lawmaking questions.”

Minnesota lawmakers tout the efficiency and convenience of the new ballot initiative system, which is financed by a fee on shots sold during bar-based lawmaking sessions.

“This is how old Tom Jefferson would have done it if the interwebs had been around back in the 1800s,” McNeely said.

- Loveland

One Minnesota Ballot Initiative I Could Support

As we all know, we have a representative democracy, where we elect leaders to represent us in matters of governance. Depending on how we feel about how they represent us, we either vote them in or out. We don’t have a direct democracy, where the masses directly decide detailed governance issues. No nation on the planet has such a system, unless you consider California a nation.

Representative democracy has worked out well for us. Thanks to in large part to a series of difficult compromises crafted in our legislative bodies, we have one of the most successful states in the nation, and one of the most successful nations in the world.

Tell this to the Minnesota Legislature. Because it is utterly unwilling to compromise, it has not been able to pass much of anything. Therefore, they are passing the buck to voters to do their work for them. The following ballot initiatives may be in front of voters this fall:

Ban thousands of Minnesotans’ right to marry.
• Ban voting for those lacking a photo ID, disproportionately elderly, disabled, poor, and minority Minnesotans.
• Make it almost impossible to reach legislative compromises involving taxation.

I don’t think much of these ideas. But I think even less of the underlying process that increasingly undercuts our heretofore successful system of representative democracy.

However, there is one ballot initiative I could support. I wrote it this morning in in my parlor with a feather quill, but I have faithfully transferred it to typeface for you:

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require an affirmative vote of seven-eighths of the State Legislature before more Constitutional amendments can clutter voters’ ballots?

Please sign the petition and consider making a donation at makethemdotheirjobs.com.

- Loveland

Minnesota’s “Fair Share” Stare Down

In a Star Tribune interview last week, Governor Mark Dayton said he would continue to fight to make Minnesota’s tax code more progressive, to ensure the wealthy pay their “fair share.”

Since the mainstream media often limits itself to journaling the predictable partisan ping ponging – “Democrats cheered, Republicans jeered” — it’s worth a quick look at the substance behind Dayton’s assertion.

Of course, “fair share” depends on individual values. To me, “fair share” means wealthy Minnesotans should pay a slightly higher percentage of their income to support their community than middle and lower income citizens. Not 50% more than the poor and middle class, but something like 5% more.

I realize not all of my fellow Minnesotans share that viewpoint. But judging from the polls finding overwhelming support for increasing income taxes on the wealthy, I’m assuming that for the majority of Minnesotans “fair share” means the wealthy should at least pay a proportion of their income in taxes that matches what the non-wealthy pay. As this chart shows, even that minimum fairness threshold is not being met in Minnesota: Continue reading

Shutdown Priorities

Today’s news coverage on Minnesota’s government shutdown…

<The bad news, from the Star Tribune:

Child-care assistance, services for the deaf, Senior and Disability linkage lines, criminal background checks and food shelf distributions will stop.

The good news, from MPR:

“Regardless of any of the outcomes [at the Capitol] the animals in our care will continue to be cared for at very high levels,” (Minnesota Zoo Director Lee) Ehmke said. “People don’t need to worry about the animals at the zoo.”

- Loveland

5 Reasons MN GOP Has More To Lose In Shutdown

Tough sell: Shutdown govt to protect wealthiest 0.3% from sharing in budget pain.

“They’re all to blame!” That will be the dominant public outcry if state government shuts down tonight at midnight. Politically speaking, both Governor Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature will lose public support. But here is why Republicans have more to lose:

NUMBERS. In Minnesota right now, there are more GOP legislators than DFL legislators. So if incumbents are voted out in 2012 because of frustration over the shutdown, Republicans simply have more seats to lose. It’s a numbers game, working against Republicans.
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Minnesota GOP To Bring Back Fiscal Mullet?

George Orwell called it “Newspeak,” the restriction of disapproved language by a powerful entity. You may also recall that in his dystopian novel 1984, “goodthink” was used to describe an officially sanctioned viewpoint, and “thoughtcrime” was used to describe an illegal type of thought.

So finally I understand why Mrs. Stolles made me read that creepy book. For now I know what is truly going on in the budget negotiations between the GOP-controlled Legislature and DFL Governor Dayton. The biggest sticking point in these negotiations is not really whether DFL legislators can participate in the negotiations, or whether supplying respirators constitutes an essential government service.

No, the show-stopping sticking point is that GOP Newspeak dictates that use of the word “taxes” is a thoughtcrime, because it is not goodthink. No can do. Dayton may as well be requesting Speaker Zellers to commit serial murders on the House floor. Just ask GOP Chair Tony Sutton.

And this presents the Mother of All Sticking Points for budget negotiators.

But have no fear, State Rep. Joe Gimse is here. This clever GOP legislator from Willmar knows that someone who raises revenue but doesn’t call it a “tax” is not technically guilty of a GOP thoughtcrime. Kind of like a robber who only points a fake finger gun through a coat is not guilty of armed robbery, at least on the TV shows I watch.

The PiPress reports today that:

…(Grimes) said he would consider voting for proposals to raise revenue as long as the money doesn’t come from taxes. He said he would consider money from gambling, surcharges or fees.”

Fiscal mullet, Pawlenty style.

Mr. Gimse may be onto something. This looks to be a nifty little thoughtcrime dodge, though far from an unprecedented one. Those of you who hold grudges will recall that then-Governor Tim Pawlenty raised “fees” by 21%, while still aggressively marketing his fidelity to the No New Taxes gods. One cheeky blogger of the day dubbed the maneuver a fiscal mullet — “cosmetic constraint in the front, unrestrained growth in the back.”

So now we have something to negotiate, though we must choose our words very, very carefully. But since I am an infidel who is not governed by GOP Newspeak, I have my own word to describe the potential consideration of, well, you know, “new contributions for the support of a government required of persons, groups, or businesses within the doman of that government.”

I call it “hope.”

Loveland

Fiscal Frankness

Let’s say a family’s household income stays flat year-to-year. Not even a cost-of-living adjustment. At the same time, household bills for food, housing, insurance (premiums, deductibles and co-pays), utilities, transportation, child care, clothing, out-of-pocket health care and higher education increase. On top of that, the family takes on a new household member, such as a newborn, an adopted child, a foster child, a vulnerable adult relative or an elderly parent. That new household member consumes goods and services that the family didn’t consume the year before.

Under those circumstances, the family would be less well off economically than it was the year before, correct?

And so it goes with the state budget. Republican legislative leaders are holding out for a budget total of $34 billion, and they assure us that it is The Largest Minnesota Budget Ever.

But here’s the problem. That level doesn’t keep up with the year-to-year increase in expenses. Therefore, as with the hypothetical family example, Minnesotans will have significantly less than the year before.

GOP leaders aren’t shooting it straight on this issue. For instance, Mower County Republican Chair Dennis Schminke recently opined in the Austin Daily Herald:

“…the $34 billion-plus budget (that Republican legislators support) is not a cut — in fact, it is the largest budget, and largest tax burden, ever presented to Minnesota citizens and taxpayers.”

This ubiquitous Republican talking point is used to create an illusion that a $34 billion budget provides more services than ever.

It doesn’t. Again, it doesn’t keep up with the rising costs of things governments buy. Medical inflation alone — probably the biggest cost driver in the state budget — is expected to be 8.5% in 2012. Because these bills are going up, the Republican $34 billion budget will eliminate 140,000 poor people’s health coverage (shifting costs to the rest of us), hand a 12.5% tuition increase to college students and their families, and result in local governments raising property taxes on homeowners and business owners by a projected $1 billion dollars.

I could respect Republicans like Schminke if they shot it straight to Minnesotans: “Our $34 billion budget means Minnesotans will have a significantly lower service level next year, but we believe less government services is in our state’s best interest long-term.” That would be honest. But I can’t respect the persistent spin that a $34 billion 2012-13 budget does not represent a reduction in the level of service. Whether or not you support government service cuts, let’s just be honest with each other about the true implications of this debate for ordinary Minnesotans.

- Loveland

Disaggregating “Government”

As we’ve discussed here before, public opinion research shows big support levels for “smaller government,” but, on a service-by-service basis, citizens don’t want to cut much of anything government does, particularly the most expensive government services.

That’s why this TV ad by the public employees union is a good one. Yes, it has a cookie cutter feel that makes it look like thousands of look-alike ads you’ve seen before. But the ad succeeds in making the government shutdown less abstract, and more about the loss of tangible services that Minnesotans value and strongly support. That’s critically important message framing for the left. While the ad is executionally predictable and uninteresting, it is strategically spot-on.

Here ordinary Minnesotans who look like our family, friends and neighbors are being fired, not faceless, soul-less bureaucrats.

Here there are lives and emotions in front of us, not just numbers and spreadsheets.

Here critical care for vulnerable citizens, education, public safety and bridge maintenance are being shut down, not just the abstract notion of “government.”

Big difference. Big mindshift.

Anti-government legislators dismiss ads like this at their peril. If this ad airs a great deal, it will make a difference. The more “government” is humanized and disaggregated in Minnesotans’ minds, the less popular government cutters will be.

- Loveland

“$110M Closer?” Dayton Loses Headline War of the Day

Your move, Mr. Dayton.

Today’s Star Tribune has headlines on the front page and after the jump declaring that Governor Dayton and Republican Legislature are “$110M Closer,” due to a compromise offer from the GOP yesterday.

Winning this headline is a big PR win for Republicans. For months, they’ve struggled to find a way to look like they’re compromising without actually, well, you know, compromising. Amazingly, they talked yesterday’s headline writers into it.

But does the headline carry the truth to newspaper scanners? The Republicans offer yesterday was that they would increase spending in part of the budget – education and courts – and decrease spending in yet-to-be-determined other areas of the budget. Now, that’s movement. But it’s movement on the budget recipe rather than the budget overall. What the Republicans did yesterday is like increasing the amount of chocolate chips in a cookie recipe and decreasing an equal amount of sugar, and then claiming they’ve made more cookies.

This headline would be accurate if the months-long debate at the State Capitol had been about the size of the education and courts budgets (i.e. more sugar or more chocolate chips?). But that obviously hasn’t been the source of the stalemate. The lengthy debate has been about the size of the overall budget (i.e. How many cookies?). For months, Dayton has said there needs to be bicameral agreement on an overall budget target, and that the compromise needs to be between his preferred target and the Republicans’ preferred target. There was absolutely no new movement on that sticking point yesterday, making it truly remarkable that the Zellers won the headline.

Think of it this way: If Governor Dayton holds a news conference today and offers to cut his income tax increase by $110M, while increasing a different tax on the wealthy by $110M, would this new “compromise” have brought the two sides “$110M Closer”?

I’m floored that they pulled this off. PR wizardry.

- Loveland

Dayton’s Mediation Maneuver: Deft PR, But…

Your move, Mr. Zellers.

Nifty PR chess move, but substantively silly. That’s how I’d grade out Governor Dayton’s suggestion yesterday that a mediator be brought in to help facilitate a solution to the state’s budget crisis.

PR-wise, the move is another brilliant move from a fellow who long seemed to have a bit of a tin ear when it came to public relations. A new public opinion poll this week is confirming what a Star Tribune poll recently found — that Dayton is fairing much better than Republican legislators in the Capitol cage match. His tax increase is polling 31 percentage points ahead of the Republican Legislature’s cuts only approach, and Dayton’s job approval rating is 32 points ahead of the Legislature’s. Who woulda thunk it, but the Tax Increaser In Chief is kicking ass just a few months after the Tea Party’s Great Shellacking of 2010.

And this move probably won’t hurt those numbers. Suggesting a mediator is so reflective of Minnesota Nice values. It plays into Minnesotans’ conflict adverse, middle-of-the-road instincts: “Oh geez, Ole, why can’t dem guys up der just get someone to help them figure it out then?”

Anyway, the maneuver seemed to work. The Republicans’ rejection of the mediator offer further cemented the public perception that Republican legislative leaders are refusing to compromise.

But beyond PR, come on Governor. I suspect Dayton knows this, but he, Zellers and the gang are the mediators we hired for this job. The Founding Dads designed a representative democracy, rather than a pure democracy, which means voters hire people, through elections, to mediate public disputes, rather than 5.3 million of us trying to resolve disputes mediator-less. Given that, it’s silly for our appointed mediators to appoint mediators who aren’t electorally accoutable to the citizenry.

So, Dayton’s mediation maneuver was a deft PR chess move, but the Republicans did Minnesotans a favor by quickly shutting that idea down.

- Loveland

A Full Line Up of Fiscal Football This Weekend

Get in your three-point stance to prepare for a safety blitz of football analogies this weekend. Anyone who has followed budget negotiations even casually knows that Governor Dayton’s budget communications playbook is heavy with fiscal football framing.

“We both need to come to the 50 yard line,” Coach Dayton has barked since training camp.


Taking that cue, imagine the sports analogy possibilities for bleary eyed reporters covering the gridiron gridlock at the CapiDome this weekend…

Will DFL Governor Dayton use his veto pen to stuff the aggressive Republican offensive gameplan to go right on every play?

Will the GOP team’s large rookie class “win one for the Gipper” by completing their trickle down economics Hail Mary?

Will the homefield advantage (reflected in recent pro-Dayton approach polls) make the difference for Dayton?

If the Management and Budget Office referees throw a flag, will anyone follow the rules?

As we enter the two minute drill of the fourth quarter, will the Republican-controlled Legislature finally leave it’s 20 yard line and move to midfield and declare it a draw? Or will they take a knee, run out the clock to take their chances in an overtime, or three?

And, of course, will the Vikings’ game once again get cancelled due to multiple overtimes in the previous game?

Personally, I can’t wait. As far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty much impossible to overdo sports analogies.

- Loveland

Capitol Math: Fiscal Note Numbers + GOP Numbers = Summer in St. Paul

Yesterday, DFL Governor Dayton reminded us that there is a lot of budget negotiating that needs to happen before the May 23rd statutory adjournment date. After all, at this stage, the Republican-controlled Legislature has passed no overall budget, has sent Dayton only one appropriations bill, and hasn’t suggested a single option to meet the Governor half way towards his position that both cuts and revenue be on the negotiating table.

All of which means that the Kelly Inn looks to be selling a lot of hooch this summer.

But those aren’t the most fundamental barriers the Legislature and Governor face. The aforementioned items eventually can be negotiated. They aren’t easy or happy negotiations, mind you. But once folks start negotiating in good faith, in the wee hours before the deadline, a resolution to those issues is not difficult to imagine.

But here is the more fundamental and unique problem that Minnesota’s negotiators face in 2011. Negotiations are not even possible until the two sides have agreed upon budget numbers. The insiders’ argument about the validity of the “fiscal notes” calculated by state government’s non-partisan fiscal referee, the Minnesota Management and Budget Office, is not the sexiest of issues. But it may just be the most consequential issue to resolve in the coming weeks.

Think I’m overstating the problem? Ever tried to negotiate with someone with a different understanding of numbers than you do?

- Loveland

Who Let The Sane Guy In?

In the din of mindless sloganeering that marks most hearings at 75 Reverend Martin Luther King Boulevard, you sometimes stumble upon the rare “holy crap, that was actually thoughtful” moments. Like the sighting of an endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, those precious moments must be treasured.

Simon says:

- Loveland

Dayton’s PR Hand In Budget Negotiations Is Strong

Unless Minnesota’s political climate has changed dramatically from two years ago, Governor Dayton looks to have a much stronger public relations hand to play in upcoming budget negotiations than the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Dayton supports fixing the budget shortfall with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, a combo platter approach that was supported by the largest group of Minnesotans in an April 2009 Star Tribune poll (look for a simlar Star Tribune poll any day now). Meanwhile, Republicans support fixing the shortfall with spending cuts only, an approach supported by a smaller 40% segment of the population.

When you get down to the level of the two parties’ specific centerpiece proposals, Dayton’s hand gets stronger and the Republican legislators’ hand gets weaker. Republican legislators’ cuts are leaning heavily in the direction of cutting health care for poor people, a position supported by just 22% of Minnesotans. At the same time, Dayton’s much maligned proposal to tax the wealthiest Minnesotans was supported by 67% of Minnesotans in 2009. That’s a 55 point advantage for Dayton.

Dayton proposal in blue, GOP Legislature proposal in red.


So how is it that the Dayton position supported by two-thirds of Minnesotans is consistently declared by the news media to be politically untenable and therefore unfit for serious consideration in budget negotiations?

If the budget debate were a poker game — and it obviously is a higher stakes contest than that –I’d much rather have Dayton’s hand than the Republican Legislature’s hand.

- Loveland

Do ‘Real Minnesotans’ Get Waivers?

“When real Minnesotans have financial troubles, they sit down at the kitchen table to cut their household budget. So it’s time government does the same!”

If they gave Politicians’ Bromide of the Year Awards, this might beat out a crowded field. Ex-Governor Pawlenty particularly loved it. He always made himself the stern but fair daddy figure in the tale, scolding legislators to live within their means.

The anecdote is not only overused, it isn’t based in reality. Many real Minnesota families do more than just cut spending when under financial stress. They also pick up overtime hours, add additional jobs, seek higher paying jobs, have a stay-at-home parent return to work, and/or sell products and services from home.

They do those things on the income side of the ledger to mitigate the need for unacceptable spending cuts in food, shelter, education, training, transportation, health care, retirement, and keeping their kids off the streets. You know, the things that build long-term safety, stability and prosperity.

The truth is that not all Real Minnesotans at their kitchen tables embrace the “cut only” approach to budgeting that is being stubbornly promoted by Minnesota’s current legislative leadership as the only possible solution. We not only use a more balanced approach at our kitchen tables, most Minnesotans also vote for candidates promoting a balanced approach. Remember, 56% of Minnesotans voted in the most recent election for the two gubernatorial candidates who made no secret of their plans to increase taxes.

And then there is the Minnesota Legislature’s proposal to “cut” $750 million by declaring itself waived from federal health and human services requirements. How does that fit into this little kitchen table scenario?

If the State Legislature is all about emulating Real Minnesotans at their real kitchen tables balancing their real budgets, let’s get real. Real Minnesotans don’t say this:

“I know, honey, let’s stop caring for the most vulnerable people in our household jurisdiction, our kids. The bureacrats claim we have an obligation to obey child neglect laws. But I hereby declare their overly burdensome care and feeding requirements waived. Congratulations sweety, we balanced our budget. We certainly are courageous, innovative, and responsible financial managers!”

If Real Minnesotans sought such a waiver, the State obviously would tell them that their waiver is unobtainable. “Those are YOUR financial obligations,” the government would say. If government didn’t deny the waiver, the masses would demand that it do so, so the public didn’t have to pay to care for Mr. and Mrs. Deadbeat’s homeless kids.

The waiver game playing out at the State Capitol is almost as silly. The Minnesota Office of Management and Budget, the non-partisan fiscal referee in budget debates, has declared such a waiver “unobtainable.” “Unobtainable” is a diplomatic term of art for “delusional.” At any rate, how about we at least seek the waiver first, but not count on the savings in our spreadsheet until we learn whether the waiver is granted?

I would be overjoyed to forever retire the hackneyed kitchen table budget balancing anecdote. But if it is going to live on in political parlance, maybe legislative leaders could be a little more realistic about what actually happens at real kitchen tables.

- Loveland

March Madness At the State Capitol

As any sports fan knows, coaches routinely “work the refs” by whining to them about their rulings. They don’t do this because the refs change the calls – they almost never do — but because they hope it makes the refs feel guilty or self-conscious enough that they give you a “make up call(s)” in the future.

Politicians do this same dance. Often because they aren’t objective enough to recognize a fair call when they see it, and often because they are executing a planned strategy to leverage future “make up calls,” politicians are also constantly whining to the non-partisan referees –- reporters, pundits, and budget analysts — of their political and policy “games”.

In the last couple of decades, conservatives have particularly spent huge amounts of time, energy and resources complaining about reporters. In my opinion, they’ve made substantial headway, a discussion for another day.

Working the refs doesn’t bother me. I wish that we could give Americans the functional equivalent of instant replay to analyse the rulings at hand, but working the refs is just good old-fashioned free speech. I like free speech.

But over the last few years, politicians have taken the act of working the non-partisan refs a step further. Now they not only work the refs, they replace the refs.

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A Chicken in Every Pot, A Glock in Every Nightstand

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ln Defense of Can Kicking

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Last Dance?

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