“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

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

An Absolute Total Schettino

The truly flabbergasting Susan G. Komen for the Cure fiasco, which boiled to its essence is just another in a long, relentless line of attempts by modern conservatives to politicize every imaginable aspect and service of American life, (most notoriously — the U. S. attorneys scandal)  has already claimed a victim: The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Fund.

As of today, the Fund’s Bushie BFF president, Nancy Brinker, and her board are flailing about trying to reassure everyone from working class sisters of breast cancer survivors to their truly impressive list of corporate sponsors that, A: They really, truly are restoring full funding to Planned Parenthood and not playing cute while they wait for more instructions from right-wing, witch-hunting, anti-choice crusaders, and B: That they can prove they are spending more donor money on breast cancer research and prevention than “protecting their brand”. Either way, I am hereby betting heavily that the organization will have to thoroughly air out its books, divest itself of President Brinker and its VP for Public Policy, Karen Handel, the former Georgia GOP candidate for Governor and avowed opponent of Planned Parenthood, and recalculate its budget to reflect serious declines in giving, as pissed off donors — people who thought some things, like breast cancer prevention, for chrissakes, were above political game-playing — divert their philanthropy either directly to Planned Parenthood or to any number of non-political research labs and universities.

I’ve been out in the Southwest for much of the past few weeks, road tripping through the Mojave when not repainting trim and hanging motion detector lights on my sister-in-law’s garage in Phoenix. As I left town the big news, other than the ceaseless, circling-the-drain, buffoonery du jour of this year’s GOP presidential campaign, was the sinking of the gargantuan cruise ship, Costa Concordia. Of particular fascination was the behavior, soon to be deemed officially criminal, of the ship’s captain, one Francesco Schettino.

By now the entire world knows that not only did Capt. Schettino screw up his most basic job, the piloting of his $450 million ship, mashing it into rocks while apparently showing it off for a buddy, or trying to impress chicks on shore, I’m not sure which, but then compounded his eternal ignominy by setting off in a lifeboat while (at least) hundreds of passengers and crew were still on board. In the annals of the worst examples of command, seamanship and male valor the name of Francesco Schettino will live forever, at least as infamous as, oh, I don’t know Vidkun Quisling and Steve Bartman.

To behold a person or an episode in which at every moment a decision was required the wrong decision was made, with indisputably, unequivocally disastrous results that only bring, justified, shame and disrepute on the person(s) involved is to witness An Absolutely Total Schettino.

So it is with Ms. Brinker, Ms. Handel and the board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation which allowed someone to bring a prominent ideologue like Handel into the organization. But so it also is with … you got it … today’s Republican party.

Fraudulent command and navigation, resulting in entirely predictable foundering (think de-regulated financial markets, politicized cooking of military intelligence, demanding austerity amid a pounding recession, and gridlocking the wheels of governments for months on end for transparently political reasons) followed by an astounding run of shameful, public embarrassments. It’s your modern Republicans … without the snappy captain’s hat and white shorts.

If only, like Captain Schettino, Mitt “I’m not concerned about the poor” Romney and Newt “I’m a historian for hire” Gingrich, could be confined to their home(s) and advised by their attorneys to say nothing until arraignment.

Like Capt. Schettino claiming he was supervising his destroyed ship’s evacuation … while he was either in a life boat or on shore having a cappucino, the modern Republican party, imbued with its lethal fervor of religious certainty and self-righteousness, talk radio bombast and undisclosed billionaires’ lucre (the Dems can only cop to one of that three) has flipped the company cruise liner’s credibility on its side as a consequence of saying … whatever … will save their ass … until either a better lawyer shows up, or their cousin, Fredo, throws a canvas bag over their head and runs them across the Straits of Messina to a Sicilian hill town and a new identity.

The whole party has made a laughingstock of itself. Vain, incompetent and craven. Utterly Schettino. From Mittens and Newt (and Michele and Rick and The Donald and Herman) to Kurt Zellers, Warren Limmer, Steve “The Draz” Drazkowski, Dave Thompson, Amy Koch and Michael Brodkorb here in Minnesota

If there was another word better and more accurate than “disgraceful” for the way Romney and Gingrich have campaigned to date, I’d use it. But the word doesn’t exist. Although, “farcical” would come close if it weren’t for the fact a fat chunk of the general public, like the Costa Concordia passengers trapped below the water line, are prepared to follow Capt. Schettino to their cold, watery grave … if it means never having to call a black guy, “Captain”.

Not that I’m hoping the GOP’s Absolute Total Schettino episode ends any time soon. The whole, gaseous, brawling, whining, prevaricating spectacle makes me feel kind of Italian. Well, Roman anyway. Like at the Colosseum, watching a motley pack of doltish buffoons warm up the lions’ teeth before the real gladiators get down to business.

Minnesotans Shouldering Hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax

This week the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) announced that its member hospitals paid $226 million in “charity care” last year. The MHA is referring to instances when uninsured and underinsured patients are unable to pay their hospital bills, and the hospitals get stuck with the expenses.

While the term “charity care” is used by hospitals, hospitals don’t end up bearing the whole burden. They make up for the bills substantially by charging more to their insured patients, and insurance companies subsequently shift these higher costs to insurance premium payers.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either the hospitals or the insurers. They would go out of business if they couldn’t shift costs.

Supporters of preserving the Anti-Obamacare Tax.

But it is meant to be a criticism of Obamacare obstructionists. The MHA numbers are a reminder that those who have been aggressively blocking efforts to reduce the number of uninsured and underinsured through Obamacare are responsible for maintaining what is akin to an enormous annual tax on premium payers. An Anti-Obamacare Tax.

Given that a fully implemented Obamacare is predicted to reduce the uninsured rate from today’s 50.7 million people to about 18.7 million, and the number of underinsured people by about 70%, leaders opposing Obamacare in Congress, state legislatures and federal courts are effectively blocking the elimination of a huge annual burden on American households. If the anti-Obamacare obstructionists win, we all keep paying this Anti-Obamacare Tax.

And it’s not a small tax. In Ramsey County, taxpayers are up in arms over a proposed $10 million per year tax for the Vikings stadium. This hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax is much more painful. The Center for American Progress finds “on average, 8 percent of families’ 2009 health care premiums—approximately $1,100 a year—is due to our broken system that fails to cover the uninsured.”

- Loveland

Dirty Job Dayton

So far in his tenure, Governor Mark Dayton has scarely met a controversial issue that he has not embraced. Think about the hallmarks of his tenure so far:

• He is attempting to sell the extremely unpopular taxpayer subsidies for professional sports owners, in the middle of a difficult economy.

• He has tenaciously advocated for an income tax increase on the state’s most powerful individuals.

• He has cut billions of dollars in safety net programs that are near and dear to him and his political base.

• He crossed the environmentalists on environmental permit streamlining and the teacher’s union on alternative teacher licensure, and these are both very powerful constituencies in his own party.

• He has taken on Native American gaming interests, perhaps the most financially powerful interest group that supports his party, by supporting a variety of ideas for expanding gambling.

• He has very aggressively championed the implementation of the much vilified Obamacare.

Nobody could ever accuse this guy of only choosing issues that are politically easy. Dayton’s tenure so far reminds me of a marathon showing of the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, where the host engages in a variety of revolting vocations that very few of us are willing to enter.

But maybe he’s on to something. After all, today we learned in the Star Tribune’s poll that Dirty Job Dayton’s approval rating is a respectable 52%, much higher than midwest GOP Governors in Wisconsin (37% approve) and Ohio (36% approve). Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had a 42% approval rating in his last year of office.

How does Dayton do it? He is not considered particularly glib or politically skilled. He has almost no electoral mandate. He certainly hasn’t been able to ride an economic boom to popularity. Continue reading

Indies Rejecting GOP “Cuts Only” Sermon

At some point, Republicans will have to leave the cozy confines of the Tea Party rallies, Lincoln Day dinners, right wing blogs, and conservative talk radio echo chambers. At some point, they have to listen to independent voters. After all, rare is the candidate who can win a general election without earning a sizeable proportion of the 51% of Minnesotans who call themselves “independents.”

When Republicans do start listening to the indies, they’re not going to like what they hear.

Do I hear an "amen?"

“Cuts only” is what the GOP is prosletyzing these days. In Minnesota, their insistence on filling a budget shortfall without new revenue led to a government shutdown and another Republican borrowing binge. So Republicans mostly won the policy fight, but will they win the 2012 electoral fight?

A MinnPost poll published yesterday found that very few Minnesota independents are shouting “amen” to the “cuts only” sermons that conservatives have been so vigorously preaching. While 22% of independents support the cuts only Republican approach, more than three times as many (72%) support using a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, the approach DFL Governor Dayton advocated. That’s a 50-point spread, and other recent polls have had similar findings.
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A Fond Farewell for The MN GOP “Jobs” Message

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to bid a fond farewell to a special friend who was taken from our loving embrace too soon, due to a senseless act of self-destruction that none of us will ever be able to understand.

In the dark days of the campaign of 2010, her birth lit up the lives of every gullible Minnesotan she touched.

Yes, it seems like only yesterday when a buoyant Republican House Speaker in waiting Kurt Zellers prophesied her destiny:

If it isn’t about jobs, improving the business climate, it’s not a priority.”

The “jobs, jobs, jobs” message was born. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a party like GOP.

But alas, the prophet Zellers’ sweet music of November 3, 2010 was all too soon drowned out by a harsher Capitol cacophony. In her final days, the “jobs, jobs, jobs” message barely resembled the plucky message swing voters came to know and love during the 2010 campaign. During the 2011 legislative session, the dominant GOP message evolved into something hardly recognizable to her loved ones.

If it isn’t about banning gay marriage, abortion or stem cell research, it’s not a priority, Republican legislators effectively told Minnesotans in the Spring of 2011.”

Indeed, in the end the marriage ban was the GOP’s loudest, proudest victory of the legislative session, and the abortion and stem cell research bans were held up as their most important priorities at the climactic moment of the budget negotiations. And tens of thousands of jobs were ultimately shutdown, not created.

The cruel disease that ravaged the beloved GOP “jobs, jobs, jobs” message is known in professional circles as “message creep.” Little by little what you oughta say and do is replaced by what special interests demand you say and do, until suddenly you wake up, and your previously successful message has been completely drowned out, by you. It’s what is known as an autoimmune disease, where the body actually attacks its own cells. The results obviously aren’t pretty.

So rest in peace “jobs, jobs, jobs” message. Only the good die young.

-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

“$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

Kurt Zellers: Last of the Grown-Ups*.

No publication is as attune to the zeitgeist of our times as The Onion. We can agree on that. Considering the quality of the characters “leading” discussions of “big” and “important” issues like finance, war and mortality there’s really no reason to muddle your thinking with blah, blah, blah “fact-y” grey bilge from The Economist and The New York Times. The Onion is on to more vital truths. Like the current headline, “Nation Down to Last Hundred Grown-Ups: Mature Adults Could Be Gone in Next 50 Years, Experts Say.”

If you doubt me, and some of you are programmed to do nothing but, consider, oh, 97% of the modern Republican party. Or, for a tighter focus, consider just Kurt Zellers, Speaker of the Minnesota House. Mr. Zellers, who prefers a kind of faux-Praetorian hair-style, has guided his colleagues through what can only rank as the single silliest, most adolescent-minded session in the history of the Minnesota legislature … and that I do not believe is hyperbole. Somewhere after a sweeping mandate last November to cut spending and create “jobs, jobs, jobs” Mr. Zellers apparently decided that what the pissed off Minnesota voter really meant to demand was 12 or 13 variations on new anti-abortion bills, a Voter ID bill to stop rampant corruption and abuse of our most precious liberty (though none has been detected), and an expansion of the right to gun down anyone for any reason you think at some point now or in the future might threaten your physical being or the snowblower in the garage you forgot to close last night. If the threat comes from the substitute paperboy wandering too close to the front door, well them is the breaks in the hyper-violent Seal Team 6 video game world perpetually playing in the heads of Mr. Zellers’ troops.

Then of course there is the sine qua non of Mr. Zellers’ guidance this session, the election year standard the GOP always tries to drag out when they fear the polls aren’t trending their way: A real ban on gay marriage … on top of the ban that already exists. I don’t know about you, but everywhere I went last fall I remember hearing thousands of massed, angry Minnesotans — torches and pitchforks held aloft — roaring their demand that Steve and Greg, the two gay guys with the terraced, variegated hosta garden and the Tiki lights over the patio not be allowed to file papers saying they are as married as Peter and Gretchen across the street … or at least as married as Peter and Gretchen were until Peter met Sue the divorcee from Eau Claire at a Trempeleau County Tea Party gun show and got caught flagrante delicta in the Hatari! Suite at the Kalahari theme park hotel.

Whatever else we might say, let’s give Mr. Zellers credit for delivering on that explicit promise to the recession-strapped voters of Minnesota. Moreover, let’s give him credit for his rapid response to the now legendary Pastor Bradlee Dean “invocation” at the very same House session where Mr. Zellers had scheduled a vote on that gay marriage business. In case you’ve forgotten, Pastor Dean, a minister who has paid roughly $40,000 in the past two years to rent air time at a low-power radio station in Eagan to advance the word of God (the word that mostly says Barack Obama is a terrorist and gays should be arrested and executed), was “accidentally” invited … on that day … by some otherwise obscure lieutenant in Mr. Zellers’ ranks … and all hell broke loose. No one of course, not even Mr. Zellers, who is astonishingly well-informed on every other matter (mostly rampant voter fraud) claims to have known anything at all about the Rev. Dean, even though Michele Bachmann has embraced him (her husband “de-gayifies” gays as a business, you know, counseling them on the poor “lifestyle choice” they’ve made) and other Republican legislators have appeared on his radio show.

Because he was so buffaloed by the appearance of and reaction to Monsignor Dean — who sported a pony tail and wore a track suit to deliver his prayer — Mr. Zellers issued a swift apology and condemnation. Think: Homer Simpson apologizing to Marge. “Marge, I am SO SORRY … I got caught.” Better yet, Mr. Zellers reached for the button all of us — especially children — wished we had whenever we screw up. The re-set button. Press. All gone. Never happened. Scrubbed from the record. And like magic, all the silliness is over, behind us, so as serious adults always do, we can … “move on”, usually to our next gaffe and blunder.

With the Bishop Dean hiccup behind him, locked away and forgotten, Mr. Zellers arranged to delay the vote on his gay marriage bill until the next day, Saturday, when most of the Capitol press at least were weed-popping dandelions and grilling burgers at home.

Finally then, Mr. Zellers had an uncluttered battlefield before him on which to confront Mark Dayton, “the radical” determined to drop the most massive goddam tax increase on innocent Minnesotans the world has ever seen — but mostly on small businessmen. Simple, salty and earthy folks already oppressed by burdensome government regulations that don’t allow them to pour toxic chemicals out their back doors and things like that. If a few hundred Lake Minnetonka billionaires who pour gobs of money into MnForward and other opaque GOP funding operations happen to also benefit from Mr. Zellers’ principled resistance to this kind of hyper-liberal looting, well, sometimes there is also collateral advantage.

But at least the last of the most endangered species, actual grown-ups, are standing their ground. And defending your Constitutional right to pretend to be mature.

* Not intended as a factual statement.

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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