Supergridlock Amendment: Silent But Deadly

If you like gridlock, you'll love the Supergridlock Amendment.

Compared to the GOP-backed Marriage Ban Amendment, Voter Red Tape Amendment and Right-to-Leech Amendment, you hear much less in the news about the proposed the state constitutional amendment to restrict legislators’ future budget choices. This amendment would require a 60% legislative “super majority” approval for tax increases, limit general fund spending to 98% of forecasted income, and ban the use of budget surpluses for “non-emergency” purposes.

Compared to the Vikings stadium and the other hot button amendments, this issue is relatively wonky and boring. It doesn’t rally interest groups the way the other amendments do.

But it’s very impactful, so it deserves more news attention and scrutiny than it is getting. The problem with this issue flying below-the-radar is that it can sound reasonable at first blush, until you understand the intent and implications of the change. Minnesota needs to make this major decision with its eyes wide open.

For over 150 years, Minnesota’s representative democracy has constructed a very successful society using majority rule to govern fiscal policy. With majority rule, we built a prosperous economy, a great public school system, a solid infrastructure and a society that regularly places at or near the top of state quality-of-life rankings.

In other words, majority rule has ruled well.

But under the latest in a long series of conservative constitutional concoctions, we would scrap the historically successful majority rule approach, and make it much more difficult for future Minnesota Legislatures to reach fiscal compromises. The Supegridlock Amendment would make it “super” likely that future fiscal crises are addressed with a “cuts only” approach, since cuts only need the support of 50% of the Legislature, while tax increases would need a “super majority” of 60% of the Legislature. As we all know, it’s nearly impossible to get 60% of the Legislature to agree on something as non-controversial as designating a State Insect, much less a tax reform package.

Would you like your gridlock supersized?

This makes no sense. Dumping constitutional gravel into the already rusted and crumbling gears of Minnesota’s legislative machinery will make future gridlock and government shutdowns much more likely.

“Cuts only” and “shutdowns” are not unintended consequences of this approach. They are precisely what Republicans are hoping to achieve. The aim of the amendment is to create gridlock on all things related to taxation, and consequently force even deeper cuts hurting seniors, kids, veterans, commuters, sick people, crime victims, poor people, tne environment, small businesses, students, and middle class families.

Every legislative body has to do a taxation v. spending balancing act, and Republicans are attempting to put an iron thumb on the “cuts only” side of the scale, to make balance almost impossible.

And remember, an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans don’t want the “cuts only” approach Republicans keep trying to force feed them. By almost a 3-to-1 margin, a July 2011 MinnPost poll found that Minnesotans preferred a balanced approach to budgeting. That poll found that 66% prefer the balanced approach with tax increases in the mix, while only 23% prefer a cuts only approach.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could seriously believe that the remedy for our hopelessly dysfunctional 2011-12 Minnesota Legislature is even an more gridlock-inducing set of rules. But that is precisely what the authors of this amendment are pushing. Legislative reporters understand this better than just about anyone. They cover the process every day, and they just lived through Minnesota’s state government shutdown.

So why the relative silence?

– Loveland

Note: Gear art by McMullin Creative.

Local Journalism’s Bachmann Failure

If you have any interest in things like gay bullying and the seamless interlocking of modern conservative politics and homosexual fear-mongering, you owe it to yourself to read the Rolling Stone piece, “One Town’s War on Gay Teens”.  It’s the, well, embarrassing tale of how conservative religious zealots up in the Anoka-Hennepin school district created and inflamed a climate that may — may —  have contributed to bullying that resulted in the suicides of nine teenagers, a rate far, far beyond the national norm.

Now, I realize that judging by traffic flow, deep-inside media stories hold very little interest to the public, and even less if the story means having read a daily paper opinion page piece. But bear with me, or move on. Your choice.

The 7000-word Rolling Stone story is both vivid, detailed and unsparing in making the connection between the likes of Michele Bachmann and the atmosphere of intense intolerance in the north metro area. It is also wholly unlike anything written, or produced, by any major media outlet in the Twin Cities — Star Tribune, Pioneer Press or Minnesota Public Radio — all of whom are fully aware of both the appalling suicide rate and the fervor of anti-gay rhetoric stoked by religious conservatives.

My MinnPost colleague, David Brauer, appears to be aware of this curious under-reporting of so highly provocative a case of cause-and-effect. A couple of days ago, he took Star Tribune opinion page writer Lori Sturdevant to task for a column she wrote tut-tutting Rolling Stone for what she regarded as a hyperbolic presentation of the story of Anoke-Hennepin’s problem, specifically the way it connected Bachmann’s political strategy with the anti-gay fervor … and tragic consequences.

I encourage you to read David’s piece, “Rolling Stone didn’t slime Michele Bachmann.” He treads into a pet/obsessive fascination of mine, namely the clear editorial choice made by standard-bearers of journalistic truth-telling and context-providing in this major media market. To be more specific: The very curious way the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press and MPR have restrained their coverage of Bachmann, in particular, and the volatile, potent and routinely factually inaccurate movement inspired by her kind.

My duties at MinnPost involve aggregating stories from near and far with an impact on Minnesota. When Bachmann was in the GOP presidential hunt there was a regular torrent of reporting and commentary on her daily/hourly accusations, misstatements, flagrant falsehoods and, what else can you call them but outright lies.

The striking thing to me, as I surfed hither and yon, was how little of Bachmann’s manifest recklessness with the truth made its way in to the print (or on-air) version of any of our three primary serious news entities. To its (modest) credit the Strib did run more of Bachmann’s absurdities in its “Hot Dish Politics” blog than the other two did anywhere. But, if I had to apply a percentage, our three local journalism mainstays reported no more than 30%-40% of what Bachmann — a presidential candidate and easily the highest profile politician in the state — was saying in a given news cycle.

More to the point in the context of the Rolling Stone piece, the influence of Bachmann, and other hyper-conservative political characters on events in Anoka-Hennepin, was reported only flatly. There was no drawing of any overt lines of causation, and no story approached the depth of reporting Rolling Stone put into the piece. Put another way, our local journalistic icons, treated the over-heated Anoka-Hennepin culture war milieu with studied dispassion and no evident desire to lay out a full and complete context for their readers/listeners.

My suspicion/accusation has long been that the local news media have each separately made an economic calculation that regular and full reporting Bachmann’s misrepresentations, activities, alliances and influences becomes counter-productive after the point of perfunctory diligence. Translation: To have aggressively covered her — did I mention, a presidential candidate and the state politician with the highest profile on the national stage? — would be to risk blowback from her intensely contentious supporters, open themselves to invigorated charges of “liberal bias” and possibly/likely suffer advertising/underwriting blowback.

My attitude has always been that Bachmann was/is a disgrace to the concept of public service; that her’s is a stunningly self-serving act fired by her willingness to recklessly disregard even a minimal respect for truth, accuracy and fairness … three qualities on which serious news organizations pride and market themselves. By her contempt for those qualities and her surge into the national limelight it seemed to me she merited/required both 24/7 attention from her hometown media AND regular reminders that she was practicing a form of reckless rabble-rousing that didn’t entitle her to serious coverage.

That last part is me, largely as blogger. But all three of the news organizations I mentioned have “silos” for analysis and commentary where they could have laid out in far greater depth than they didthe roots of Bachmann’s candidacy and her influence with so potent a sub-set of today’s electorate. But, largely, they passed on that opportunity.

Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker wrote the definitive Bachmann profile, Karl Bremer at “Ripple in Stillwater”, Bill Prendergast and the rest at The Minnesota Progressive Project delivered the best day-to-day coverage and Rolling Stone laid out the most complete portrait of the pernicious effects of her rhetoric and influence.

Put bluntly, there’s no excuse for that kind of coverage not appearing in journalism entities truly committed to reporting without fear or favor.

Grading Standardized Tests

Tests effective?

The news last week about Minnesota’s standardized reading scores reminded me how much I hate standardized tests. In my considered opinion, one-size-fits all standardized tests are the absolute worst tools I have seen for improving education.

Except for all the other options available to us.

Before explaining my Churchillian verdict on standardized tests, I should mention that I was a very poor standardized test taker back in the day. When I should have been answering questions, I tended to be thinking about why they asked the question…or why they used that particular wording…or what kind of deductive mind games they were trying to play…or what kind of test scores Charlie on Charlie’s Angels got in order to land that awesome job…or what is so special about #2 pencils for chrissake…or why the cute girl three rows over would never be interested in a guy like me, or why… And then when they announced there was one minute left before our life’s course would be charted by optical mark recognition equipment, I would guess “C” on the large portion of the test that I had not yet read.

Maybe that shows that I had an attention deficit disorder. Maybe it means I was analytical, creative, intellectually curious, hormonal, or moronic.

Psychoanalysis aside, this was not a winning strategy for me. It also wasn’t a winning strategy for the institutions who wanted an honest assessment of my likelihood of success. Because I turned out to be a “late bloomer,” someone who wasn’t predicted by the optical recognition scanner to succeed in academics or a white collar career, but did.

Given my personal experience, you would think that I’d want to ban standardized tests. I’m sorely tempted. But at the same time, I do think that K-12 schools need to be intentional and disciplined about teaching the foundational skills most of us need to succeed. I do want to keep kids away from teachers and schools who can’t or won’t teach those things. I do want to measure student performance in order to incent individual and institutional improvement, empower parents to vote with their feet, and target early help to kids who are falling behind.

And I can’t figure out how to achieve those things without standardized tests. Maybe those of you who got kickass standardized test scores can figure that out, but I can’t.
Continue reading

Expecting More From News-Sponsored Polls

Last week, MinnPost released its inaugural public opinion poll, another step in it’s maturation as an increasingly central part of the Minnesota news landscape. I maintain polls are an important part of news coverage in a democracy, and Minnpost proved it last week when it was the first to tell the story of the public blaming Republicans, by a 2-to-1 margin, for the bitterly debated government shutdown. After months of wonky budget debate coverage, it was interesting to read about the public verdict, as measured by a random sample survey. Our little MinnPost is growing up.

But I have higher aspirations for MinnPost. In the future, I hope MinnPost polls will focus on more than just “approval,” “blame,” and “if the election were held today” questions. Goodness knows, that ground is already covered ad nauseum by the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnesota Public Radio, University of Minnesota Humphrey School, St. Cloud State and many others.

I hope MinnPost, or someone else in that pack, also asks questions that probe the values underpinning the opinions. For example, they could ask something like this:
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

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.

Continue reading

Half Full

THIS POST HACKED.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,894 other followers