Can Independents Keep FECES Out of the Guber Debate?

I enjoy discussing public affairs issues, but I increasingly avoid the subject with many of my friends. Too often, conversations dead-end when conflict averse friends make assertions of false equivalence, or what has been termed “Fake Equivalence Conflict Ending Strategies (FECES).”

For instance, on the subject of Republicans abusing the U.S. Senate fillibuster rules, conservative and centrist friends will shut down the conversation by saying that “both parties have done that through history.” On the subject of Democrats loading the budget with uncontrolled entitlement programs, liberal and centrist friends will stop the exhange by saying “the Medicare prescription drug benefit shows Republicans are just as guilty.”

Complete and utter FECES.

Yes, both Republicans and Democrats have filibustered. But the record shows that Republicans have recently taken the practice to dramatic depths.

Yes, Republicans also have passed entitlements financed by deficit spending, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit. But that pales in comparison to the body of entitlement work parented by Democrats over the years.

These kinds of differences are very relevant if we are to have an accountable political system. How we debate and how we think through issues matters. Before accepting A=B and B=C therefore A=C, we MUST apply facts and logic to prove or disprove those equal signs! Because when research or logic uncovers a “≠,” the logic of the assertion collapses.

In Minnesota, the Independence Party particularly seems to be built on a foundation of FECES. Their core rationale essentially is that “both major parties are equally dumb/immoral/unethical/corrupt/inept” and therefore the only choice for non- dumb/immoral/unethical/corrupt/inept people is to vote for us.”

That’s a copout. The differences between the parties are real and easily discernible. The major parties are similar in some ways, such as a shared addiction to power retention. But there are big policy and performance differences, and it is our job as voters to dig deep to understand those differences, rather than buying into the myth of sameness.

I confess that I’ve voted for Independent Party candidates for Governor, and may do it again this year. But sooner or later the Indendence Party has to have a foundation that is more substantive than their stale “we’re not them!” cheer.

Maybe this year will be different. A leading candidate for the Independence Party nomination for Governor in 2010 is a fellow named Tom Horner. Despite being a PR guy, Horner is a bright, decent and thoughtful Republican refugee. He is the kind of guy who has the potential to lead the Independents to being something more than a None-of-the-Above Party launching yet another tiresome FECES fight. It will be interesting to see if he does.

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21 thoughts on “Can Independents Keep FECES Out of the Guber Debate?

  1. Does the IP messaging really suggest Rs and Ds are equally bad, equally dumb, equally corrupt? As I interpret it, the IP is simply saying, “You’re sick of both. Neither is worthy of your vote. We are.”

    Maybe Ds are worse than Rs, the logic goes, or vice versa — but either way, neither is as good a choice as the IP.

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    The top vote getter in the history of the MN IP, Jesse Ventura:

    “the only difference between the two major political parties and street gangs are that the politicians wear Brooks Brothers suits”

    “(the two major parties have) turned the whole business of elections into panhandling and bribery,”

    “Ventura told the crowd that “none of the above” would be a better choice than Norm Coleman or Al Franken. “I may go down and file,” he added. “I will be ‘none of the above,’ and if I win, I’ll go to Washington.”

    1. Care to cite another source? I’m not saying Jesse’s rhetoric doesn’t count, but, well… Yes, I’m saying Jesse’s rhetoric doesn’t really count. 🙂

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        My other sources are people I visit with, and I wasn’t wired for sound at the time! Clearly, there are people like you, and me, who vote IP because we think they’ve put up the best candidate. No argument there. I did that with Penny and Hutchinson. But in my experience there are lots of IP voters in the mode of “they’re all equally bad, so I’m going IP as a pox on all of their houses.” I don’t hear that a little. I hear that a LOT. You really never hear that vibe when talking to folks?

      2. I suppose I have, but even then, I guess I don’t put so much stock in the actual word choice of “equally bad.” I presume that person would vote IP because they’re both “worse than the IP” more so than actually equally bad.

        The point is not the actual equality or lack thereof. The point is they see the IP as a better option. Does that make sense?

        That said, I see your point, and your fight against false equivalence is a worthy one.

  3. Joe Loveland says:

    Not sure. Horner does PR for a living and Hutchinson does wonking for a living, and that may make Horner a better campaigner. And Horner has had up-front visibility through his MPR gig, which should give him a better head start than Hutchinson had.

    But then again, Penny had an entire congressional district as a base and he still only won 16% of the vote. So can any non-celebrity IP candidate win?

    The other question is if Horner loses, what kind of a spoiler will he be? The conventional wisdom is that Horner is a Republican, and therefore may give the DFL candidate an advantage by taking votes from the Republican nominee. This would seem to be particularly true if the GOP nominee is a hard core righty such as Demmer who offends moderate Republicans. But because of the MPR thing, I wonder if Horner might win more pointy headed Democrat moderates than a typical IP candidate?

    1. PM says:

      My 2 cents worth–it depends (see, you got your money’s worth that time)

      Seriously, I think that it depends on who the other candidates are. I think that there were serious problems with the R and D candidates when Ventura ran–one was a DFL perennial who had stagnated as AG, and seemed to only be the candidate because it was his turn, and the R was an import from NY of all places with a horrible accent who was never very loved in this state.

      At the moment, I have to say that the republican field for governor at the moment seems pretty weak, while the democrats seem about to engage in a classic clusterf**k.

  4. Tom Horner says:

    Provocative discussion as always, but as someone with more than a passing interest in this topic, let me offer the following:

    I never have understood the notion of a “spoiler.” Candidates have the obligation to make their case to at least a plurality of voters whether there are two, three or 12 candidates in the field. I have to win more than the other candidates, they have to win more than me. That’s democracy.

    Mine isn’t a campaign about what the DFL and GOP are or aren’t. Joe is right that the two parties have very different ideologies — and that’s exactly the problem. Their ideologies are so confining that one party may be able to solve some problems, but not others. To cite but two of countless examples: Can you imagine a DFLer leading any real solution to the looming crisis of public pension underfunding? And likewise, can you imagine a Republican leading any real solutions to the legitimate public policy challenge of tax inequities in Minnesota? Minnesota needs more than a governor who can deal with only some of the challenges and some of the opportunities.

    And, as much as I like my work in public relations, my relevant experience actually is in public policy, leadership, coalition building and the like. You would be hard-pressed to cite more than a handful of significant public policy issues over the past many years in which I and my firm haven’t had a major role — and usually driving to successful outcomes, not by building support within the legislature, but by engaging Minnesotans to convince the legislature.

    And, finally, the parallel to the politics of 2010 is not 2006. Running against an incumbent in a year in which there also was a statewide federal race — the challenges Hutchinson faced in 2006 — is a different race on every level. That’s not to say that 2010 isn’t a daunting challenge. Rather, it’s a reminder that I’ve shown a pretty good understanding of Minnesota voters. And right now, they are looking for a person who comes with a clear vision of government that is innovative and efficient, but also one that understands the importance of making investments for the future. Minnesotans wnat a leader who doesn’t work from the inside out, but can engage all Minnesotans — right, left and center — from the outside in.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      And that very thoughtful post shows why Tom Horner is such an intriguing and hopeful candidate. Unlike most candidates in this race, I promise you Tom is going to add a lot to the debate. Thanks for piping up, Tom.

      The only partial pushback I have is about the spoiler stuff. I’m not saying that anyone is intending to be a spoiler. Everyone is clearly attempting to win, and everyone has a shot. I’m just saying that whoever comes in third does end up having some net effect on the first and second place finishers. That’s just an arithmatic reality. Because the IP candidate is most often third, speculating about the effect if they do come in third is not crazy speculation. And so I speculate.

      Thanks again for the really thoughtful answer Tom.

      1. But then isn’t the second-place candidate a “spoiler” for the winner — hampering his or her shot at getting 100 percent or 90 percent of the vote? Calling the third-place candidate a spoiler simply because he or she finishes third presumes the campaign is only supposed to have two candidates.

        I would think a “spoiler” would be more like Ralph Nader, who seems to run just for the sake of running and, more important, seems to have little impact beyond simply stealing a few percentage points from other candidates.

      2. PM says:

        Another spoiler–Leslie Davis running as a Republican?

        I remember a Missouri House election–the republicans recruited a third party candidate (Richard Gephart) with almost exactly the same name as the democratic candidate (Richard Gephardt–who changed his name as it would appear on the ballot to Dick Gephardt)–and still lost.

        Would that be a spoiler or a dirty trick?

        Or something clever, like sending in a midget as a pinch hitter?

  5. Joe Loveland says:

    Horner’s pitch looks to be A will never get along with B, and vice versa, and that leads to legislative stalemates. To break the stalemates you need C to broker an AB coalition.

    The idea is intriguing. Just because Governor Ventura couldn’t pull it off doesn’t mean nobody can. But it is easier said than done. With a Governor Horner around, the two major parties would still be trying to trump and embarrass each other, making the building of an AB coalition extremely challenging. But it would sure be nice to have a reasonable idea broker in the Governor’s office.

  6. Sorry for the gap in responses…caucuses kept me busy, but time well spent, winning nearly 50% of the vote in a crowded field and having only been in this for a bit more than a week. But, I did want to respond to Joe’s last post. My pitch isn’t quite C brokering A and B. In fact, it’s three points:

    1. We have shared government in MN and one-party government in Washington. Neither is working. There is only one alternative left.

    2. It’s not so much brokering coalitions with Dems and GOP, as it is calling on the best ideas from wherever they come from (consistent with a philosophy of efficient government, investing for the future, etc.), then broker the coaliton with the public. That is, use my 30 years of public policy experience to engage Minnesotans, building the consensus from the outside in — moving the Legislature to act because the public is demanding it.

    3. Don’t start conversations with higher taxes or lower spending. Start with the desired outcome. What is it MN needs to achieve, then build public involvement around the goal.

    Is it a tougher pitch than tax the wealthy or cut spending? Absolutely. Can it be done…we shall see, but in the meantime, it’s great fun building the effort.

  7. PM says:

    I think this would work with individual politicians–whether D’s or R’s or I’s. All, individually, want the best for Mn, and generally want to help all of the people in the state do well.

    The problem is that all politicians are also ambitious. They, like the rest of us, are motivated to achieve success. That means higher office (like you, Tom, they all want to be Governor first, then President–like our current gov.) The problem is that for them to do this, they need to be endorsed by their party. And their party will not endorse them for cooperating with the enemy.

    In the past, this hasn’t really been an issue, because the parties have been so ineffectual–parties really have not been good about supplying candidates with cash, nor have they been able to deny individuals endorsement, etc. But all of that is changing now.

    James Fallows has had a couple of pieces that lay this process out with great clarity, which I urge all of you to read (read the 2 posts on the impossibility of bipartisanship: ).

    In a nutshell, the argument is that the US political system is becoming more and more like a parliamentary system, where the parties, through their ability to enforce party discipline, make bipartisanship impossible.

    Tom, I’d love to hear how you think you can change this dynamic. Frankly, i think that this development means that a vote for a third party governor, with no hope of controlling the legislature, leads at most to a wasted 4 years. Please, show me the error of my ways!

    1. While it seems to be a reasonable question to ask an IP candidate how he can accomplish an agenda with no legislative caucus, it’s based on the premise that the other parties have succeeded in moving issues forward. In fact, when we have shared government in Minnesota and it’s not working and single-party government in Washington and it’s not working, the question of how to advance policy is the most relevant question for every candidate.

      And my answer is two-fold. First, you have to change the dynamic. The other parties can’t get innovative policy through because the driving factor always is not what they can accomplish, but where can they can political leverage. They push solutions to the extreme to rally their bases, then wonder why they can’t pull back to the center to find solutions. Raisng income taxes to the levels Mark Dayton and some others propose won’t get enough Democratic votes — much less Republican votes — to be a viable policy. Likewise, the Republican claim that the entire shortfall going forward can be resolved through spending cuts wouldn’t win Republican majorities on many of the votes that actually would be required. But these stakes in the ground rally the bases and get the parties’ respective allies invested in extreme positions. And at that point, policy is stuck in neutral because the office holders can’t move beyond the political dynamic they’ve created.

      The second part of the answer is to stop looking to the legislature to forge consensus. The legislature in this environment responds to consensus. There was no consensus in the legislature to build Northstar Corridor, increase taxes on tobacco, create smoke-free environments and many other public policy successes in recent years. Yet, they passed because coalitions were created to impose a public will on the public’s representatives.

      Engaging Minnesotans, having honest discussions with them, then involving them in the solutions is what I’ve been doing for the past 30 years.

      We won’t break the gridlock by simply moving some of the players around. It’s the institutional gridlock that needs to be broken. And that takes a fundamentally different way of thinking about how to achieve public policy success — at least fundamentally different for most candidates.

      My challenge isn’t to build what is necessary to achieve success when I’m governor. I’ve demonstrated that ability. My challenge is to convince people like those who read this blog that we have reached a point where bold action isn’t needed from policy makers as much as it is needed from you, the voters. You have to make the decision that in one year, one race and for one candidate, you will cast a bold vote.

      And, by the way, that’s the long version…the short version — Minnesota can be a better state if you vote for a better way.

      1. PM says:

        I’m not trying to tar you with the same brush, but was a vote for Jesse Ventura bold or foolhardy?

        So a large part of your argument is that the legislative system (gov and house and senate) respond to a consensus among the voters, and you cite tobacco, smoking and light rail. But a consensus like any of those is not created FROM the Governor’s office, not is it created in a short time period. If you were elected Governor, and were to pass any initiatives like these, that consensus would have to be already present, already created, right? And, in effect, ANY governor could/would do so–because the consensus already existed.

        Leadership is about getting things done that are both necessary and would not happen otherwise. If you were to become Governor, what kinds of things could you get done that you think are necessary and would not happen under a Governor Rukavina (for example)?

      2. Newt says:

        First, do no harm.

        And the legislature isn’t capable of doing no harm.

        Tom Horner represents an establishment point of view that emphasizes legislative productivity over the substance and effect of legislation.

        If we pass zero bills that do less harm than passage of 150 bills that drag down Minnesota’s economy further, the citizenry wins.

        To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a lobbyist, everything looks like an appropriations bill.

        Gridlock is just fine.

  8. I disagree that gridlock is just fine, not because I’m a lobbyist (in fact, I am not a lobbyist), but because it is hurting MN in very real and tangible ways. Gridlock not only is harming the people who will be kicked off oGAMC, but will cost every Minnesotan money through higher property taxes and higher insurance premiums as the responsibility for indigent care gets shifted to emergency rooms. And gridlock isn’t fine when it costs MN the opportunity to become a world leader in biosciences because policy makers can’t/won’t fund research investments, angel investor incentives or other relatively low-cost, high-return policies.

    To the question of moving the public, I disagree that consenus isn’t created by the Governor. The defining policy of Minnesota for the past 8 years has been “no new taxes,” a political consensus shaped by Gov. Pawlenty. In fact, there is broad consensus among Minnesotans on the need for investing in education, infrastructure and other priorities. The public buys “no new taxes” because they don’t trust the current government to spend the money wisely. And most gubernatorial politics reinforce that mistrust and erode the consensus that does exist. A Gov. Rukavina (or Dayton or Rybak et al) or a Gov. Emmer (or Seifert) start with a polarizing position — tax the wealthy or cut spending. Those positions serve only to divide. Those are means to an end, not the end. I would start with the goals, then rally people behind the tactics to get there. It is that strategy that saw two constitutional amendments — one a real tax increase, the other perceived to be a tax increase — not only pass in the past four years, but be among the top vote getters. There is public consensus on critical issues. But a GOP governor can’t get there because his allies won’t let him even do tax REFORM because even revenue-neutral reform will mean some tax will have to be increased to accommodate reductions elsewhere. And a DFL governor can’t get there because his/her allies won’t allow spending reform in programs that aren’t delivering value, but serve one of their constituencies.

    So here’s the summary — Minnesotans want government reform. The consensus exists and is ready to be mobilized. But the public won’t trust one party that is fundamentally anti-government and the other party that refuses to hold government accountable. That’s the opportunity for new leadership.

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