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

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

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.
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