Misinformin’ Norman

When the Deep Marine accusations against Senator Norm Coleman became public, I wrote: “I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that Texans McKim and Thomas are being reckless with the truth…(about their accusations that Coleman was having corporate gifts illegally directed to him through his wife)”

So, yesterday’s news that there would be no federal legal action taken against Coleman was not a shocker. It looks like the Texans were lying about Coleman, and I feel bad that happened to him and his wife during a delicate time in the 2008 Senate campaign. It was unfair, and that damage can’t be repaired. In a race decided by 325 votes, it may have cost him a Senate seat. That’s not right.

But before you feel too sorry for Senator Coleman, read today’s stories a little more carefully. While Coleman apparently did nothing illegal, he did tell a whopper to voters. Repeatedly.

In today’s Pioneer Press, this important point was made:

On “one or or two” occasions, (Coleman campaign donor Nasser) Kazeminy purchased dress suits for Coleman at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis before Coleman was a senator, (Kazeminy attorney Louis) Freeh affirmed under questioning from news media.

The revelation confirmed at least part of a different allegation against Coleman that dogged him through a portion of the 2008 campaign. He and his aides sought to dismiss it repeatedly –and never acknowledged it was true despite weeks of questioning. At one point, Coleman himself said, “Nobody except my wife and me buy my suits” – a statement the Pioneer Press and several other media outlets reported as a denial such purchases ever happened.”

This was very responsible reporting by the Pioneer Press’s Dave Orrick. For others, particularly those outlets that questioned Coleman’s campaign for months about the suits, it was a glaring omission.

So, the good news from the investigation: Former Senator Coleman isn’t a law breaker. The bad news: He was lying to us for months.

Both findings are relevant to Minnesotans.

Just Because Norm’s Appeal Reeks Doesn’t Mean It’s Wrong

(Guest post from Joe Loveland)

Defending an extension of the ceaseless Minnesota Senate recount is about as popular as defending an extension of the sitcom Cavemen.

But count me in. I support Senator Coleman’s appeal questioning whether absentee ballots were judged by varying standards in the counties.scales-of-justice

By the way, this is not to say that I think the appeal is wise from a PR and political standpoint. If the Senator wants to score sorely needed PR points, he obviously should pull out with a teary eyed “for the good of the state” speech. If he some day wants to run for Governor, or even Soil and Water Conservation District, he should pull out. Heck, if he just wants to avoid a stoning in the public square – and I’m not talking about the Hofstra kind of stoning, dude – he should pull out.

But if differing election law standards have been applied to the absentee ballots in the various counties, Senator Coleman certainly has the right to raise that question in the appeals court. In fact, he has a responsibility to do it.

Look, I don’t want to go all powder wiggy on you here, but there is a pretty good reason we have a Constitution. We have a Constitution to ensure that, among other things, the the laws passed by various jurisdictions are applied in a way that give us equal protection. The equal protection clause of the Constitution says that my vote gets the same protections in Ramsey County that voters in all other counties get. No less protection. No more protection. Equal protection.

If it is true, as Coleman alleges, that absentee ballots having X, Y and Z characteristics were counted in some counties, but excluded in others, that would seem to be counter to the Constitution and the principal of equality.

Those discrepancies must be corrected. Even if sorting it out means I don’t get my heaping helpin’ of Senate representation for another few months. Even if, heaven forbid, the appeal ultimately means I get the lesser of the two dweebs as my Senator.

Does my support for Coleman’s appeal mean I relish more time observing the recount’s ridiculous brand of kabuki theater? It most certainly does not. But the election must be decided based on constitutional applications of the law, not by the relative entertainment value of the proceedings, as defined by the impatient masses.

Does this mean I think that election officials in some counties stole the election from Coleman. Absolutely not. If there are differeing standards, I have no reason to believe that they aren’t honest mistakes. But honest mistakes can disenfranchise as surely as corruption.

Does this mean I see no problem with Minnesota being underrepresented in the U.S. Senate? Nope. I agree, that it’s a big problem. And if Coleman is appealing simply to truncate Franken’s term and increase the slope of Obama’s policymaking climb, he may be earning himself a non-term limited seat in Hades.

Does it mean that I think there is merit to Coleman’s equal protection argument? No. From my place in the cheap seats, I can’t know whether there is merit. I don’t have access to the evidence, and such a determination is above my pay grade. But if the possibility exists, I want the courts to sort it out, and give me maximum confidence in our election system. Because this is an issue that really matters.

Finally, does my support of Senator Coleman’s appeal mean that I think he is a righteous champion of the Constitution and fair electioneering. No way. Based on what I’ve seen from Coleman over the years, this is a guy who will do whatever it takes to cling to power. It is very likely that he is snuggling up to an equal protection defense simply because it is his last best hope for preserving his membership in the world’s most exclusive club.

But just because the appeal reeks, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.


Political Gymnastics

backflip2Senator Norm Coleman, in possession of a narrow electoral lead the day after Election Day, November 6, 2008:

“I would step back (from challenging election results). I just think the need for the healing process is so important.”

Former Senator Norm Coleman’s attorney, facing a narrow deficit after a recount, January 5, 2008:

“I have no reason at this time … to believe we aren’t going to be contesting this thing if we’re down at the end of the day.”

– Loveland

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A Fresh Start for Al

al_franken2A keen observation from Captain Obvious: Al Franken has an image problem.

During the campaign voters heard and read the recovering comedian using naughty words, brainstorming jokes about rape, and occasionally stretching the truth in relentless criticism of his opponent. And there is residual damage. Lots of it.

Well, New Years is the season of renewal. So, today Al Franken should start his post-campaign reputation transition from campaign attack dog to thoughtful leader of all Minnesotans. He can begin that process by issuing a statement that goes something like this:

Based on my narrow lead in the recount, many of my supporters in Washington and Minnesota are calling for me to be seated in the Senate.

While I appreciate their support, I would ask them to cool their jets.

I have said from the beginning that we should be respectful of this process, and let it play out completely. I have said the integrity of this process is more important than whether I win or lose.

And I meant it. Sincerely. My concern for the integrity of our democratic processes doesn’t change just because I have a slim lead, and just because there are bad feelings left over from a brutal campaign. We still have to let this process play out completely, and that includes Senator Coleman’s legal challenges. Legal challenges are a legitimate part of this process. While I strongly dispute the content of those challenges, I strongly support the Senator’s right to make them.

So, let’s count the votes, and let the entire judicial appeal process play out. Believe me, nobody is more anxious about bringing this process to an end than me. But to bring Minnesota together, it is much more important that we have a complete and fair process that Minnesotans can believe in than whether I enter the Senate next week, the following week, or ever.

Exhibiting a little statesmanship and selflessness would go a long way for Franken right now. Frankly, I’m not sure he has it in him. Jesse Ventura never had it in him, and it cost him in the long run. Franken would be helping both himself and the state by calling off the partisan dogs for another few weeks.

Now just like the salad I’m having for lunch today won’t make up for my gluttonous sins over the past month, such a statement wouldn’t make up for all the gripes Minnesotans have with Franken. But like all New Years resolutions, it would give him a shot at a fresh start.

– Loveland

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Circumstantial Journalism

myfox-twin-cities-exclusive_-coleman_s-renovation-project-coincides-with-lawsuitWhen a Republican CEO from another state alleges that a Minnesota Republican Senator has received $75,000 in laundered money from a supporter, that allegation is newsworthy. But when the alleged event happens to have occurred in the same time period when the Senator was investing in his home, that strikes me as irrelevant information.

The local Fox affiliate sees it differently. It did a breathless story last night noting that Coleman had been remodeling his home and had encountered a cost overrun at the same time as the cash was allegedly being funneled from Texas-based Deep Marine Technologies to Coleman. Fox’s follow-up story, and the hyped versions of it on places like Huffington Post, are unfair to Coleman. Pointing out the remodeling timing tells us nothing about whether the original allegations are true or false. It is good grist for the conspiracy mongers, but this circumstantial evidence sheds more heat than light.

breaking-news-and-opinion-on-the-huffington-postIn an even bigger stretch, Fox pointed out that the interior designer who worked on the remodeling project was, gasp, a friend and supporter of Coleman. The odd inclusion of this irrelevant fact inferred there was something unsavory about that. Am I missing something? Is there something illegal or unethical about people hiring friends and supporters for home projects? If so, lots of us are guilty of the same crime.

Holy hyperventilation. The Texas CEO’s allegations are very serious, and reporting that actually helps us understand whether the allegations are true or false is welcomed. But reporters should stick to evidence directly relevant to the allegations, instead of hyping the allegations with lighter than air motive theories. This didn’t pass the smell test.

– Loveland

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The Importance of The Right Messenger

Most of the public relations around the U.S. Senate recount has come in the form of dueling flack attacks. The Franken campaign has been at least as over-the-top as the Coleman campaign, including its gratuitous mention in today’s recount briefing of the Kazeminy-Coleman FBI investigation. (Holy kitchen sink strategy, what does Kazeminy have to do with the recount??)

But I have to say the Franken campaign did some kick ass communications work yesterday when it released this video of voters who allegedly had their absentee ballots rejected illegally.

Whatever you think about the substance of the issue, this shows the importance of using the most sympathetic available messenger. When Franken’s lawyers make a legal argument about these ballots, eyes roll. But when average Minnesotans tell their personal stories around the very same issue, more eyes are opened.

Instead of using legal abstractions, this tactic uses human reactions. Instead of coming from courtrooms, it comes from livingrooms. Instead of using spreadsheets, it uses stories. Instead of coming from the head, it comes from the heart.

The messenger is the message. This is what good communications work looks like.

– Loveland

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