“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.
Continue reading

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

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