The Same Rowdy Crowd

Ruminations and Fulminations on Communication


Mark Dayton

A Pox On The House (and Senate)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Loveland

Minnesota’s “Fair Share” Stare Down

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

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

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

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

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 “Dirty Job Dayton”

Occupy Arden Hills!

The high likelihood that Zygi Wilf’s dream of a taxpayer-funded stadium will go to the legislature next month amid still-growing protests against the immunities of gilded wealth is almost … almost … enough for me to feel sympathy for the guy. I interviewed him last summer for a magazine piece and — major news flash here — the development around his Arden Hills plan is everything. Zygi, who by the way does have a sense of humor and occasional flashes a side other than the highly disciplined business automaton, is first, second, third and probably fourth through twentieth a developer. After that he’s a football fan.

Wilf owns the Vikings because falling in with the loony Reggie Fowler scheme gave him access to assurances that the state’s political leaders — if that’s what you dare call Tim Pawlenty — would throw their weight behind something for the Vikings once the Twins had their deal done. Shockingly, Pawlenty kept spooning out the bullshit even as he left office, dropping the stadium ball (and everything else) in the next guy’s lap.

The next guy, Mark Dayton, may not be the slickest operator around. But like any politician with a head for the twists of history he knows with some certainty that no matter how much caterwauling and venom ricochets around prior to the deal getting done, the guy in office at the time the damned thing is built is a hero among the sports hagiographers — crusty old sports columnists, radio jocks with hundreds of hours to burn and fat cat sources to fellate with at least intermittent enthusiasm — when the gates open and the gawking public takes their $150 seats.

But this is 2011, and nothing at all like 2006. Five years post-bubble, as we see now in virtually every city of the western world, people, some maybe even pro football fans, are demonstrating that they are not only hip to the fixed game if casino-style financialization and the client-employee relationship between Wall St. and DC, but they’ve had enough of it. Damn it, and thank you.

So here’s Zygi, as I say, a pleasant enough guy who followed in his Holocaust-survivor father’s footsteps (the old man is still alive and sharp) and built quite a nice business for himself. He was thinking he’d do a bit more business in Minnesota by throwing up some shops and hotels around this football team he happens to own. Having done his savvy developer homework prior to buying in to the Vikings Wilf had every reason to believe that his Minnesota adventure would go down pretty much like every other owner’s (save a notable few), with the local fan base rallying/shaming their politicians into jacking up common rube taxes to have something as pretty from the Good Year blimp as they have in Denver and Dallas and Phoenix.

But no. Instead, Zygi has to figure out a way for an oddball DFL governor to lead the pro-tax charge … in the face of a $5 billion deficit that wasn’t really resolved last year, another deficit projected for this year, and while surrounded by Tea Party anti-tax zealots who might normally consent to a small-ish tax on the rabble if it meant protecting the plutocrats probably won’t dare pull anything like that in an election year, what with this “Occupy” crap going on and their approval ratings already in the toilet.

I loved the bit the other day from the state’s GOP leadership, demanding that Dayton guarantee X-number of DFL pro-tax votes to give the Republicans cover in exchange for them voting pro-tax. Christ. But you gotta give ’em points for their craven candor.

Dayton’s argument will of course be that a billion-dollar stadium is a hell of a lot jobs when the construction industry is in a depression. But the obvious — and certain to very loud rejoinder to that argument — is that there is no end of heavy-duty infrastructure work that needs to be done around the metro, if not the state, that would put the same crews to work and return far greater value to the broader public — small businesses, big businesses and private citizens — than (another) football stadium. Moreover, where the anti-tax zealots are forever shrieking that the government doesn’t have the assets to fund … schools, roads, bridges, you name it … the Vikings have an entity with ample resources to — at the very least — loan them the cash to build the stadium. And by that I mean of course the NFL. (One of their former Goldman Sachs suits was in town earlier this week pressuring Dayton to, you know, move the ball up the field, taxpayer-wise.)

It would of course be a terrible precedent, a fabulously profitable sports league, underwriting capital investments in its network of teams. But I suspect the NFL’s credit rating is better than Minnesota’s, and what with TV networks willing to pay virtually any figure the league lays down when it comes time for their next TV contract, collateral would hardly be a problem.

I know the Kurt Zellers and Amy Kochs of the world profess to be confused by this OccupyWall Street/Minnesota/Duluth/Berlin/London nuttiness. “Why do they hate the job creators”? But wait and see what happens in St. Paul if this stadium tax thing looks like it has legs.

Dayton’s “Dog Doe”

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” That quote, falsely attributed to Harry Truman, may be on Governor Mark Dayton’s mind as the bachelor prepares to adopt his THIRD black German Shepherd.

Dayton is in the news today inviting Minnesotans to help name his adorable new pup. To give you a sense of the Governor’s naming tastes, the first two were named Mingo and Mesabi, and Dakota recently passed away.

Some of the early nominations for Dog Doe’s new name:

• From Republican Senate Majority Amy Koch: “Marx.”
• From DFL Chair Ken Martin: “Taxable.”
• From Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken: “Smalley.”
• From accuracy challenged U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann: “Cat.”
• From Minnesota Democrats Exposed blog: “Dog of Satan.”
• From Former Governor Tim Pawlenty: “President Pawlenty.”
• From MN Independence Party Chairman Mark Jenkins: “None of the Above.”
• From GOP Chair Tony Sutton: “Target Practice.”
• From South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard: “Overtaxed.”
• From Governor’s Mansion neighbor: “ANOTHER?!”

Okay, surely you can do better. Nominations are open.

– Loveland

Visual Editorializing

I concur with the Star Tribune’s take on U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Newsweek cover photo. The Strib’s Jill Burcum wrote:

The photo isn’t just unflattering. It goes way beyond that, making the three-term Congresswoman look unbalanced. It’s the kind of photo you expect to see in a political attack ad, not on the cover of a mainstream news magazine.

After its photo shoot, Newsweek surely had a large stock of flattering proofs, along with some unflattering ones. Newsweek chose a bad one, and that constitutes a cheap shot.

Burcum also maintains that the Newsweek cover photo decision had a gender component:

Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin is also raising fair concerns about unflattering photos of other conservative women, among them Condoleeza Rice. I’d say that the many ghastly shots of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s cankles and pantsuits through the years suggest gender is the issue, not politics.

I agree that female politicians’ looks get over-analyzed. But then again, Mitt’s plastic hair and expensive suits, Newt’s girth, Huck’s weight loss, Pawlenty’s mullet, John Edwards’ dazzling dental assets, Obama’s shirtless beach shots are hardly ignored in the news media.

Moreover, Bachmann is not the first politician to be portrayed by the media in photos that are markedly less flattering their official photo. Some of the others are liberal, and men.

Visual editorializing cuts across gender and ideology. It is more insidious than verbal editorializing, because it is more subtle and subliminal. News outlets aren’t obligated to use leaders’ official glamour shots every single time. But there is no good reason to go out of the way to show them at their visual worst.

– Loveland

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 “Indies Rejecting GOP “Cuts Only” Sermon”

This is One Mark Dayton Has to Win.

As a general rule, I’m OK with compromise. Give a little to get a little and make a little progress along the way. But when the other side’s idea of compromise is you giving up on your position entirely, just throwing in the towel and letting them have their way pretty much as though you never existed, it’s time to reevaluate the game you’re playing. Maybe you’re up against something irrational, something for which the normal rules aren’t applying. In that context, maybe a zero sum victory is the only option worth your time and energy.

It’s (sort of) reassuring to see heavyweight conservatives like David Brooks of The New York Times finally concede that today’s Republican party really is something qualitatively different from the one we’ve called “Republican” most of the years of its existence. Said Brooks this past weekend, “… the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative. The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.”

I’m happy for Brook’s (very) late-dawning realization. Some of us have been saying this since the ascendancy of Bush 43, and screaming it since Barack Obama’s election and the strategy of seamless obstruction that has followed.

It is more than just ironical that Mark Dayton’s dilemma in Minnesota is a micro-foreshadowing of Obama’s in DC. I never thought the former would be in a position to lead the latter into essentially the same pitched battle. But so it is. Dayton of course has a personal immunity that Obama lacks, since he has stated he’s not much interested in reelection (or at least any other elected job after this one.) By this time next year, the country will need Obama in the White House (notice how I didn’t say “in charge”) even more than it does now. If the nation defaults as a result of the modern GOP’s nihilistic governance we’re in for a far worse episode of financial Armageddon than 23,000 unemployed state workers, battered women with nowhere to go, etc.

(Actually, “nihilism” is being generous. Elected Republicans do most definitely believe in something: Staying connected to the money lines that got them where they are.)

Dayton though is a unique moral situation. He is a guy with a conscience. He does grasp the connection between ethics and social liberalism. It is the anti-thesis of Ayn Rand for a reason. But he is also a guy who essentially bought himself this job. He ignored his party’s admittedly ossified candidate selection process, and (once again) invested millions out of his own checkbook, held up under a Tea Party wavelet and claimed victory all the while saying his plan for correcting the disastrous malfeasance of the Pawlenty era was to “tax the rich”.

Some of us found this implausible to the point of preposterous. A year ago any consumer of political news could tell you there was no way even one Tax Oath-signing Republican was going to support such a plan. Likewise, the chance of more than a handful of the DFL caucus showing spine enough to vote “yea” on new taxes, even on “just the wealthy”, was going to be exceedingly small. But that was Dayton’s bold promise.

So now he has to win this thing. A “compromise”, where the wealthy, the percentage of 1% who have not only not suffered since 2008 but greatly enhanced their fortunes via the “increased productivity” of their (fewer) employees, the canniness of their tax accountants and their access to the guys who ran the casinos that melted down, escape any additional sharing of their impressive good fortune is not going to cut it. A “compromise” built around expanding the sales tax, paid by unemployed bricklayer and Minnetonka hedge fund manager alike, is not going to cut it. A “compromise” that further “de-contents” schools of teachers and curriculum isn’t going to cut it.

Dayton’s campaign position was $4 billion in new revenue out of the wealthy. That number, via reevaluation and compromise is now down to around $1.4 or $1.2.

I accept that his strategy was to start at $4 billion and bargain down to something less, while lifting the base line definition of “wealthy” up higher and higher. (The bottom end has risen from $150,000/year — the GOP’s “every cop and nurse” scenario — to $1 million). That seemed fairly standard, except that everyone knew there was no way the GOP was going to accept … anything. The new GOP is imbued with religious authority. They hand out copies of the Constitution at 4th of July parades. God and Grover Norquist hear their prayers every evening, (and then Bradlee Dean leads them in new ones in the morning, before what they straight-facedly refer to as “work”.)

Dayton can not be “stunned” or “surprised” or “disappointed” by the situation he finds himself in. It is the only situation that was ever possible given an opponent for whom childlike (or religious, or alcoholic) delusion is the first, last and only response. Put another way, Dayton has had well over a year to contemplate a strategy to defeat this position. If it is an elegant, witty, cri de couer for sanity and respect for the common good slathered across every TV screen and billboard in the state … well, it’s a little on the late side, but I’d get that going tonight.

Improbably, Minnesota and Mark Dayton are, for a moment, the vanguard of a battle for the primary goal of our era — the protection and resurrection of the American middle class — the “customer class” to the wealthy if you prefer.

Losing this one is not an option.

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”

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

Disaggregating “Government”

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

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

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

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

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

Big difference. Big mindshift.

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

– Loveland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Loveland

Dayton’s Mediation Maneuver: Deft PR, But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Loveland

A Full Line Up of Fiscal Football This Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Loveland

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Loveland

Dayton’s PR Hand In Budget Negotiations Is Strong

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

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

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

Dayton proposal in blue, GOP Legislature proposal in red.

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

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

– Loveland

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