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.
Continue reading “5 Reasons MN GOP Has More To Lose In Shutdown”

Blondie, Faith and Hope

Some stories, for journalists, are more than stories. In many cases, reporters are privileged to see into and share parts of people’s lives that move and enrich the reporter. Whether witnessing tragedy, joy or just everyday living, reporters sometimes get achingly liltingly close to the beating heart of life.

About 25 years ago I wrote a series of stories about the family of Mike and Jeanette Weis near Cold Spring, west of St. Cloud. The idea was to see how a farm family handled a long drought in Minnesota. The experience became an inspiration. On a farm that had been in the family for a century, these fine people worked and played and laughed and struggled and faced pain, uncertainty and tragedy with amazing grace.

Jeanette died Saturday morning. She’d had several kinds of cancer over the years, found her oldest son dead, weathered fire, crop loss and diseased dairy cattle, felt all the pain, and came back up standing again. Every time. I wrote in the StarTribune that you could hit this woman with a cannon ball and she’d still come up smiling. The final salvo was a brain tumor, and when I saw Jeanette June 14, she was smiling through the pain and drugs. Dear heart.

With Jeanette (her nickname was Blondie) and Mike, I saw a life different from my own, which is what education is all about, what good journalism helps us see. Blondie and Mike came to my previous wife’s and my house for dinner and stayed overnight, getting a neighbor to take care of “the girls” — the dairy herd — for evening and morning milking. It was the first time in over a decade the two of them had been away from the farm together overnight. That’s dedication. That’s the ability to find a whole universe in the hills and fields and lakeshore of family ground. My dad grew up on a farm, I learned a little about farming working for the Owatonna People’s Press, and I loved listening as the Weises talked about the risks and rewards of farming. One thing Mike helped me understand — how public farm work is. Everyone can see if your fields are “dirty,” meaning pocked with weeds or sprouts of last year’s crop. Everyone knows if you planted too late or too early, or if your milk is poor quality. Who you are is right out there, reflected in your work, in how you live.

The Weis fields, the Weis farm, trim and true then, trim and fine now.

When I visited the farm two weeks ago, Mike and Jeanette’s daughter, Faith, was there. Ten or so when I first met her, she is the mother of three lively cool kids now. One of them, the youngest, a girl of four, shy, has a smile of pure radiance. Her name is Hope.

Three women — one fading, one strong in her prime, one tender and new. Blondie, Faith, Hope. This family has always given me, and so many others, faith and hope. The mysteries, the sadness, the glories of life. Faith and Hope. Thank you Blondie. You continue.

Christopher Hitchens writes, in the May Vanity Fair, a story about the King James Bible. He quotes a passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians that he read at his father’s funeral: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

Every syllable fits my friend Blondie, whom I was privileged to know. And the story of Mike and Dan and Faith and Hope and all the Weis family continues.

— Bruce Benidt
(Photo of Blondie and Mike from Caringbridge.org)

Mini-Michele Steps Onto the Stage

Editor’s note: I just realized I’ve been spelling “Michele” with two “l”s today; this is why we should have copy editors.  Sorry.

Jeez, she’s tiny.  Everything else aside, are we ready for the first five-foot President?

I’m on a streak when it comes to catching GOP candidates declaring their candidacies; last week I got treated to Jon Huntsman in New Jersey.  Now, I’m watching Michele Bachmann’s coming out party in Waterloo.

So far, I’m underwhelmed:

  • Bad stagecraft – the flags and signage are poorly positioned for the cameras
  • Bad speechwriting – as with Mr. Huntsman’s announcement, I’m left wondering if Ms. Bachmann read this speech aloud before today
  • Bad delivery – She’s getting better as she gets into it, but her delivery is rushed and a little flat.

Let’s give Ms. Bachmann and her handlers a little break; this is the biggest stage they’ve ever played and in days of yore a lot of this would have been worked out in less of a glare (the first press conference I ever staged I set the camera angles to give a great shot right up the candidate’s nose but fortunately it was only covered by two stations in Hannibal, MO).

Biggest applause lines so far:

  • “I’m a social conservative.”
  • “I’m a member of the Tea Party.”
  • “Barack Obama will be a one-term president.” This one has become such a signature line for Ms. Bachmann that the audience did a sing-along with her as she spoke it.

She’s reminding the audience of the sacrifice of the Sullivan brothers who grew up in Waterloo and who died in the sinking of the Juneau in World War II.  This set up her call to action close for sacrifice and common purpose.

And we’re done.  Ms. Bachmann is doing the waves and hugs at the lectern to the strains of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”  As an aside, I hope Mr. Petty gets residuals from all the politicians who have appropriated his music for political events.  Same for Mr. Springsteen.

We’ve now segued into Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine”. Followed by the classic “I Feel Good” by James Brown and the Stones’ “Start Me Up”  Ms. Bachmann said in her remarks that she wasn’t trying to turn back the clock, but from a musical perspective, it’s 1980 again.

Musical update.  We’ve gotten up to the 21st century – almost – with Jennifer Lopez’ “Lets Get Loud, U2’s “Beautiful Day” and Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”

This performance was quite restrained in contrast with other Bachmann outings I’ve seen – no “gangsters,” no “anti-Americanisms.”  In fact, much of the red meat one has come to expect from Ms. Bachmann was missing. All in all, however, a decent coming out, significantly better than Mr. Huntsman’s in terms of energy and excitement.  Jason Lewis, who did the introduction, will no doubt have an enjoyable second career for a while as crowd-whipper in chief.  Based on this event, the new Iowa poll and her widely praised performance in the New Hampshire debate, Ms. Bachmann has clearly been on a roll in the last couple of weeks.

Poor Tim Pawlenty.  Like the Highlander series, there can only be one Minnesotan in this race and the very early betting on who’s head will be taken is on Mr. Pawlenty.

– Austin

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.”


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

A Star That Shines Half as Bright…Jon Huntsman Enters Stage Center

I was driving around yesterday listening to POTUS (the single best thing on radio for the political junkie) during Jon Huntsman’s declaration announcement.  I had several thoughts:

  • This guy needs a new speechwriter
  • This guy needs speaker training
  • The crowd sounded like it was 20 people who wandered by
  • What a rational guy
  • The Obama team is right to worry about him in the general election
  • He’ll never make it out of the primaries

While the speech seemed awkwardly worded throughout and Governor Huntsman’s delivery verged on monotonic, I loved some of the sentiment and sensibility I heard. In particular:

Now let me say something about civility. For the sake of the younger generation, it concerns me that civility, humanity and respect are sometimes lost in our interactions as Americans.

Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country.

You know what I mean when I say that.

We will conduct this campaign on the high road. I don’t think you need to run down someone’s reputation in order to run for the Office of President.

Of course we’ll have our disagreements. That’s what campaigns are all about.

But I want you to know that I respect my fellow Republican candidates.

And I respect the President of the United States.

He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love.

But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who’s the better American.

When I got home I watched the video and thought it was beautifully staged (something that is apparently a strength of Team Huntsman) but that the flaws I heard were not diminished with the addition of visuals. The crowd was small, the phrasing was goofy and the delivery was about as inspiring as a midlevel manager (I think I heard the words “manage”, “manager” and “management” about 10 times and all in a positive context) talking about the companywide cost-cutting program he was directing.  The weird “motorcycle in the desert” video was beautifully produced and way better than the usual campaign fare (not a waving flag anywhere that I remember), but didn’t add much.

There’s a backlash meme currently making the rounds that Huntsman’s candidacy is a creation of the media that wants Huntsman to be a viable candidate and of the GOP “elite” (that presumably means the “bidness” wing of the party) who does want a reprise of the Goldwater debacle. Maybe that’s right, but unless he steps up his game pretty quickly in terms of the nuts-and-bolts of delivering his message, he’ll quickly lose the attention of both.

About that message…

As I noted, Huntsman could be a viable candidate but I really, really can’t see it selling with the conservative wing of the party.  His record is impure (Cap and trade!  Climate change! Civil unions! Obama!) and his rhetoric of moderation and civility does not resonate with anyone who’s angry about the current administration and its “gangster” ways.  In relatively short order, I think the governor will have to make the hard choice of walking back his commitment to civility or accepting permanent status as a “margin of error” candidate.

I hope he picks the latter, but won’t be shocked if he picks Door #1.

– Austin

The GOP’s “Boiled Noodle” Problem

It took ’em long enough. But the national news punditocracy seems to have gotten up to speed on our guy, Tim Pawlenty. Among the more aptly descriptive impressions of T-Paw on a competitive national stage was Chuck Todd of NBC describing Mr. Courage to Stand as, “a boiled noodle”. To that any Minnesotan can add: Soft, mushy and flavorless.

Why it took six months of political barn-storming to achieve a perspective on a guy so transparently calculated and self-serving, I don’t know. But hell, like George W., he got himself reelected. (In Pawlenty’s case I hope he is still sending Christmas cards to Peter Hutchinson and all the purist liberals who couldn’t hold their nose for Mike Hatch. BTW: How are your property taxes and the health of your schools?)

Not to play seer here, but Pawlenty’s act always struck me as far (far) more cornball pose than retail-level legislative skill. Reliably, he said what a tough, titanium-spined conservative would say. But invariably his closing move was some ridiculous sleight-of-hand … “shifting” education appropriations, “unallotting”, taking Barack Obama’s big fat stimulus check he had been righteously denigrating only days earlier. Transparently weasley stuff. Spit-take cynical stuff. Which led many of us to look upon T-Paw long ago and paraphrase Gertrude Stein: “There’s no there, there.”

But it worked in the shallow pot that matters most to him, the GOP base that has gotten itself so drugged/drunk/delusional on the myth of Ronald Reagan — Marlboro man, John Wayne-ish Western icon, rock-ribbed Cold Warrior, tax cutter supreme — that it appears to have lost the ability to recognize what the vast majority sees quite easily, given time and exposure. And that would be … not steely determination mated to the ability to bind the country together to face some harsh truth, or foe … but a boiled noodle. Something weak and slippery. Something you can digest if you wanted, but given any other choice at all, why would you … really?

And it isn’t just Pawlenty. The “boiled noodle” problem, the manifestly less nutritious than they claim issue afflicts nearly every … single … one … of … them. Each has hollowness on a vital issue, a matter of fundamental credibility, that renders them a preposterous absurdity to everyone outside the zealot core. And while people like Sarah Palin have proven that you absolutely can exploit the untempered credulity of the base and gain national prominence, literally everyone else sees you for the clownish twit you are.

Mitt Romney? The Obama team has to be salivating at the opportunity to make Romney defend his actions as head, or leading beneficiary, of Bain Capital, essentially a corporate raider investment scheme indistinguishable from marauding Wall St. banks — that is also directly responsible for literally thousands of lay-offs as it moved about “right-sizing” companies in pursuit of (Mitt’s) shareholder value.

The freshly arrived Jon Huntsman? The guy may be coherent on foreign policy, (which is more liability than asset with the GOP base), but … really … another billionaire’s son who’s going to talk to Main Street about sucking it up and “trusting us” on trickle down economics?

And lets discuss: Two multi-millionaire Mormons among the GOP’s “credible three”? With evangelicals and Rapture types controlling caucuses and house parties?

Then after them … the whole self-aggrandizing Bachmann, Gingrich (Gingrich! Good lord man, sneak away before even the Wall Street Journal opinion page is too embarrassed to run your deep-thinking commentaries), Santorum, Herman Cain and Rand Paul parade … please. This isn’t even an attempt at serious competition.

Even locally, the scent of flop sweat among Minnesota Republicans has gotten pretty dense as we grind toward the shutdown, the lay-offs of tens of thousands of state workers, a resulting mini-recession and the public’s full realization that this — collapse of order — was the only outcome of the GOP’s delusional ideologies ever truly possible, given a DFL governor. There is no poll in the land, (not by a wide margin), and not a single large or small town paper that I’ve read that offers the GOP anything approaching unconditional support. Everyone knows who to blame.

The local GOP’s wall-to-wall investment in “boiled noodle” candidates hyping base-inciting “boiled noodle” logic and making transparently pathetic assertions that they are the compromisers has already fallen like a millstone into a deep lake.

Secretly, I suspect, as I’ve said before, traditional Republicans/traditional conservatives (not the “I’m above everything” Libertarian weenies) probably see a kind of apocalyptic crashing, clearly as a result of the lack of depth and serious thinking of “boiled noodle” theatrics, as a cleansing opportunity for the party.

The problem is that rest of us, who recognized this retrograde nonsense from the get-go, are collateral damage … again.