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Monday, August 30, 2004

Sales tax holiday for school supplies

On the TV news tonight there have been stories about a proposal from DFL Representative Mindy Greiling to create a "sales tax holiday" for school supplies. From news reports, this holiday would have a limit of $25 per item that would be exempt from the state's 6.5% sales tax.

I am generally opposed to tax gimmicks like this. Limited Market Value, targeted tax breaks, and the like are all usually poor tax policy. Taxes should be consistent, easy to understand, and easy to apply. Tax holidays are not good policy.

But they may be good politics, which is why these proposals have been passed in other states and why Rep. Greiling is proposing it. I am more interested in good governance than with winning elections, which is probably why I will never be elected to any office.

Republican National Convention

Local political news this week is going to be overshadowed by what is happening out in NYC. I'll post if something interesting comes up, but in the meantime check out some of the other national blogs if you are looking for info on the convention. If not, why not head out to the State Fair for some fun? It's a nice day today, what are you doing inside?

Friday, August 27, 2004

Reagan Memorial Highway?

David Strom and those wacky Taxpayers League of Minnesota adherents want to bump off Governor Floyd B. Olson's name from the Olson Memorial Highway and name it after Ronald Reagan. They are also looking to get rid of the Olson statue at the Capitol.

History review for you, David: Floyd B. Olson was actually governor of Minnesota three times. Ronald Reagan was not from Minnesota, did not live in Minnesota, and did not win the vote in Minnesota in either 1980 or 1984. Although I am aware of the fact that for über-conservatives, intoning Reagan's name is an orgasmic pleasure (except perhaps for Tom Prichard), but wouldn't it be nice if proposals for honoring him made any sense whatsoever? Getting rid of a memorial to an important Minnesotan to build a shrine to somebody who never won a vote here is absurd.

I'll save for later the fact that I can't understand the adulation for somebody who preached fiscal responsibility but exploded the national debt, talked God but never went to church (like the current occupant of the White House), and talked responsibility but had Iran-Contra. Three letters is all I need for this question: WTF??

Minnesota Family Council: "We hate skin!"

Take a look at this picture of Senator Norm Coleman's wife. Does it make you feel a bit funny in your special place? Does it pander to your prurient interests? Or is it just another f$*!&@ picture of a woman in a dress sitting down.

If you are Tom Prichard, head of the Minnesota Family Council, the answer sure isn't the last one. Upon seeing the picture, this is what he said: "It's disappointing. It sends the wrong message to young girls. She's in a position of influence, being married to a public figure. Whether one likes it or not, there's a degree of responsibility that goes with it." I'm unsure what responsibility she has. To not be seen? To show absolutely no skin at all? To wrap herself up in drapery? The only person who knows for sure is Tom Prichard, and I'm not even sure that God wants to explore his sordid mind.

I've seen Prichard around the capitol. He often seems nervous, like he is afraid of revealing something. I'm not going to speculate on what that may be, but anybody who is that puritanical about life has, shall we say, issues.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

League of Women Voters too "liberal"

Steve Sviggum doesn't want the League of Women Voters to moderate the debates between himself and Matt Entenza because they are too "liberal." The League of Women Voters has been moderating political debates forever, and they are an institution. Nevertheless, Sviggum wants the media to moderate the debates.

Hold on a second. The media? Well, I am glad that Sviggum has finally put to rest the myth of the "liberal media," given that he would rather have the media moderate the debates. The next time I hear any Republicans rant about the "liberal media," I will make sure to point out that Sviggum would much rather be around the media than the "liberal" League of Women Voters. Kinda makes you think, doesn't it?

In any case, it sounds like the debates may not go forward at all, which would be a shame.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

1,000 visitors!

I've had a thousand visitors to this little blog. Not bad for something I started for fun and don't advertise. I'm glad that people find this interesting, and that I have given somebody over at the state Republican offices something to do during the day.

Crosstown Commons and Municipal Consent

According to published reports, the city of Minneapolis is planning on withholding its consent to the I-35W/Crosstown Commons construction project. It is holding out for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to be integrated into the construction so that a BRT line can be started between downtown Minneapolis and Lakeville along I-35.

This is a very complicated issue. Unlike some liberals, I have nothing against highway construction. You would not have seen me protesting the Highway 55 reroute, for example. Minneapolis and Saint Paul had many more highways planned than were actually built, and I think that some highways, such as I-335, should have been built instead of tabled. Furthermore, I definitely think that problem areas need to be corrected. The Crosstown Commons is one of the worst in the country (the probably apocryphal story about how it was designed is that it was drawn on a napkin in the 1960s as a solution that was acceptable to both Minneapolis and Richfield). It needs to be fixed, and the sooner the better. So do the I-35E/I-694 commons, the I-694/10/51 interchange, the I-35W/I-494 interchange, and many others. For safety, environmental, and economic reasons, we need good highways.

At the same time, we need transit. Yes, most people drive cars, and that's why we can't ignore our highways. At the same time, we need to do more to get people out of their cars and into other options. BRT is a good option with a relatively low level of investment. It is far cheaper to put 60 people on one bus than it is to pave enough lanes to allow those 60 people to drive individually. It's better for the environment too. I have no problem with Minneapolis demanding that BRT be a part of the construction plan. Minneapolis has the most traveled freeway segment in the state, and they have to deal with the consequences. Obviously, they are seeking to minimize the negatives.

I don't know enough about the municipal consent law to know if this will work. I am pretty sure that projects can't be stopped, just delayed. One suggested alternative is that Minneapolis give its consent with a "promise" that the legislature will deal with BRT. Given how little the legislature did this year, the city is understandably cool to that idea. I don't fault them at all for wanting something a bit more concrete, pardon the pun, than a promise that the legislature will look at it.

Construction isn't slated to start until 2006, so there is still time to figure something out. I hope that this project goes forward as soon as possible and that transit is integrated into it. That is the best solution for everybody involved.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"Angry" Democrats

I'm not going to send traffic their way by linking to the site, but the Minnesota Republicans have a website dedicated to people who protest visits by Republicans like the Bush or Cheney. It's pretty funny. Are they trying to show that only Democrats protest visits? Not exactly true, is it? Or are they trying to show that Democrats use their "potty mouths" when they do so? Why don't we ask Dick "Go F-- Yourself" Cheney about that one? Or most probably, they just think that it is funny to post pictures of so-called "Bush Haters" so the more extreme of the GOPers will froth at the mouth and get riled up to smash some heads. Actually, that may not be inaccurate, and could be scary.

I hope not, however. If anything makes me mad about the site, it is the fact that I am not in any of the pictures! Probably because my signs (like most) don't contain any f-bombs or similar profanities, so they just aren't as interesting. But still!

House Debates

Well, I have my head screwed on well enough to post something. Going through the e-mail I have accumulated, I see that House Minority Leader Matt Entenza and Speaker Steve Sviggum are going to be involved in a series of debates. I think this is very cool. The old-fashioned debate has gone by the wayside in these days of attack ads and Astroturf web campaigns, to the detriment of democracy. What would history be without the Lincoln/Douglas debates? Or JFK and Nixon? Sure, there are still debates, but not enough.

No matter what happens, I am glad to see this going forward. Sure, I'm a little late with the news, but I thought I would post anyway.

I have returned!

Just got back from a trip. It will take a while to put my head back on straight again, but posting will commence once that is done.

Monday, August 16, 2004

До свидания!

Light blogging for the next week or so as I have other things to take care of.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Minnesota House races

The Star Tribune has a story today about the prospects for change in the Minnesota House. Since the governor and senate aren't up for election this year, the house is where all energies will be focused.

Currently, the Republicans hold an advantage of 81 to 53, one of their largest ever. This came about in a lopsided election two years ago, when Republicans won nearly every close race. The story says that Republicans believe they will lose no more than three to five seats; however, I have heard that Speaker Steve Sviggum is privately saying that they could lose from seven to ten seats.

I think the higher range is practically a given, for a couple of reasons. First, this is a presidential election year, when DFLers tend to do better. Second, last election was a fluke, when Republicans won nearly every close race. This year, things will probably be more divided. There are 10 open seats that were formerly held by Republicans, compared to one open seat held by a Democrat (and that seat is in Minneapolis, so it will remain in Democratic hands). Finally, there is a lot of activism going on related to the presidential election, and that is trickling down to state elections. The DFLers should have a very motivated base this time around.

It's only August, though, and anything can happen. Barring a hugely controversial event, however, like the Wellstone memorial that had a huge impact on elections two years ago, things look good for some significant DFL pickups in the House, with retaking the majority a possibility.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Fugitives for Congress!

What's up with Republican candidates for office lately? First, we have far-right lunatic and Maryland resident Alan Keyes running for the Senate in Illinois. Now, we have a fugitive from justice running in the Republican primary for Saint Paul's congressional seat?

Sure, it's hard to find good candidates for races where you will probably lose, and CD-4 is no exception. Whoever gets the Republican nod is going to lose. And Jack Shepard isn't yet the Republican candidate, nor will he be. But this kind of negative publicity can't be helping the party.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A tale of two newspapers

I noticed something yesterday that highlights the differences between the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press. A state jobs report was released, and the headlines couldn't be more different:

Star Tribune: Minority of jobs require college, studies find
Pioneer Press: Now hiring: state job openings rise

The data is mainly the same in the two stories, but the spin certainly isn't. In particular, I find the Pioneer Press headline almost laughable, because the data indicates that while job openings are on the rise, it still means that there are two unemployed workers for every job opening, instead of the previous ratio of three to one. A "Now hiring" headline may have been appropriate five years ago, when there were more jobs than workers and employers were struggling to fill positions, but it is out of place today. Economic indicators are still very mixed. The recent national jobs report, showing only 32,000 jobs created in the country in July instead of expectations of over 200,000 is only one example.

This reminds me of a factoid I recently heard. In 1934, the growth rate was 7.7% in the country. Sounds great, right? Of course, this was in the midst of the Great Depression, and this large growth rate couldn't make up for the horrendous year before. In a similar vein, it looks like the Pioneer Press is seeing sees a tree but not the forest.

I have known people at the Pioneer Press, and the picture they have painted on the inside is not pretty: budget cutting, a surrender in the fight with the Star Tribune over which paper is the foremost regional paper, fewer in-depth investigative stories, and unhappy staff. Perhaps objectivity and analysis are being thrown by the wayside in a quest for readership.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Cranky Republicans

Some Republicans are a bit miffed at Governor Pawlenty's move to fund the Northstar Corridor unilaterally. They are threatening to be less indulgent when it comes to the governor's legislative requests in the future.

When the legislature fails to get anything accomplished through pointless squabbling, as it did this year, these threats don't mean very much. If you don't pass a bonding bill at all, for example, it's pretty hard to punish the governor any more than anybody else. Tough talk, though.


Proving that driving while drunk is a bipartisan affair, this time we have a Republican candidate for the House caught driving under the influence. No word on whether his 0.21 BAC blow, higher than DFL Representative Tom Rukavina's, means that Republicans are bigger party animals.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Light Rail a success so far

This article details the first month of service on the Hiawatha Light Rail line. Ridership was double what was expected, about 462,400 passengers. The story goes on to say that there were no light rail collisions with cars, pedestrians, or bikes, 99 percent of people pay (fares are on the honor system), and the system is 99 percent on time. On surprise, which I can vouch for, is how many people use the system on weekends. Weekends ridership is shattering expectations, and almost every time I have seen a light rail car on the weekends, it has been full. I have used the system myself to go to Twins games and the Mall of America, and many other people are doing the same thing.

The success so far of the light rail line will hopefully encourage expansion. We have the beginning of what could be a great system. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are great in many respects, with one of the few problems being its transit system. I suppose I have been spoiled by public transit during trips to New York, Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C., but it is very nice to be able to hop on a train or subway to get around and not have to worry about driving and parking. If we have the right leadership, this is a vision we can bring to this area too.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Is it 2006 already?

Governor Pawlenty continues to work on his image as a moderate by requiring state agencies to reduce air pollution. First the Northstar line, and now this. It makes one wonder if we have traveled through time to see the governor's re-election campaign in two years.

I'm all for reducing pollution and being energy efficient, and so I applaud these recommendations, even if they are somewhat less than earth-shattering. However, considering how much Pawlenty has tried to move away from his conservative beliefs since he was elected governor, I think something is going on with the former House Majority Leader. Perhaps Timmy had his brain transreversed by aliens like Steve Dallas.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Met Council wins Supreme Court case

The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld a challenge to the power of the Metropolitan Council. Basically, the story was this: the Metropolitan Council told Lake Elmo, an eastern Suburb, that its comprehensive plan was unacceptable because it did not have enough higher-density development. Lake Elmo sued, believing that the Met Council didn't have the authority to make Lake Elmo change its comprehensive plan. The Met Council has won at every stage of the court battle.

I agree with the court's ruling. There are well over a hundred local units of government in the metropolitan area. The Met Council was created to oversee the development of this area and prevent a hundred different ideas of how it should proceed. Wise leaders realized that haphazard growth would be more expensive, more damaging, and less enjoyable than planned growth. While cities should be allowed to pursue their own plans within reason, Lake Elmo wanted to stay too rural at a time when there will be a million people moving here in the next few decades. Allowing Lake Elmo to pursue a divergent path would simply make development leapfrog farther out, increasing road congestion, harming the environment, and encouraging sprawl. We don't have the money to deal with the problems we have now, so it is foolish to make things worse.

The Met Council isn't perfect, but it is better than a lack of oversight. Hopefully, communities will continue to work with the Met Council to ensure orderly development.

The Politics of Hate

Sparks flew at FarmFest when House Speaker Steve Sviggum and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson shared the stage at an agricultural forum. At one point, according to the story Sviggum "became red with anger" and said "I'm pretty sick of the politics of hate in this country."

The politics of hate? Like the anti-gay marriage amendment that Republicans relentlessly push to the detriment of everything else? A measure with many backers whose hatred for homosexuals is barely veiled? That sounds like a pretty good example of hate he is talking about.

I'm all for the end of the politics of hate. A good start would be to get the Republicans to drop this silly amendment so we can get on with a special session. Taking an issue that is nothing more than election year social wedge politics and trying to change our state's constitution is not good governance. Let's end the politics of hate and start governing for the good of the state.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Johnson orders some pants

This isn't a Minnesota topic, but I couldn't pass this up. Via August, we have a transcription (and better yet, audio) of President Lyndon Johnson ordering some pants. If you need an anatomy refresher, this is for you. It's probably for you anyway.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Rep. Rukavina arrested for drunk driving

DFL Representative Tom Rukavina was recently cited for drunk driving. As a state legislator, he has consistently opposed tightening drunk driving standards, such as lowering the drunk driving threshold to 0.08 from 0.10. While it may be true that drunk driving is more common and more socially acceptable in rural areas, this does not make it right. He has already apologized, and will suffer the legal consequences. There is simply no excuse for drunk driving.

Funding for Northstar Corridor found

Governor Pawlenty has found funding for the Northstar Corridor. Minnesota was once again in danger of losing out on free federal money because it couldn't kick in the state match for a transportation project, but this new plan seems to save us from ourselves. The governor had to do it himself, since the legislature was unable to come to an agreement on it this year, another one of the millions of things they dropped the ball on.

This is excellent news. The success of the Hiawatha Line, which is already exceeding ridership projections even though it isn't completed, shows that people are hungry for transit alternatives. Although I would prefer the line to go all the way to Saint Cloud instead of Big Lake, something is definitely better than nothing. Furthermore, Minnesota already receives far less money back from the federal government than we pay in. To pass on federal funding is completely idiotic. There are plenty of other states that would be happy to get the money that would be for the Northstar Corridor, so if we don't grab it we are truly missing out.

It is also interesting to see the politics in action here. As a state legislator, Pawlenty was hardly a proponent of this line. As governor, however, he seems to be trying to move towards the center, and supporting this transit line is one example of that. I can't say that I agree with him on most issues, but I am happy to see him on the right side of this one.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Random thoughts about Republicans and conservatives

Somewhat bored earlier, I was checking site statistics today and came upon the fact that some people were visiting this site coming from this post at Fraters Libertas. I was somewhat amused to find that this blog, which is purely an exercise in self-centeredness, has met anybody's standards, but as they say, if it is on the Web, it must be true. Further down, I saw the commentary that many of the lefty blogs listed seem to be written by younger people, and that they may turn conservative when they are older, and by implication, wiser. That started the hamster turning in the brain...

I then reflected a bit more about Randy Kelly's endorsement of Bush, as told in the Pioneer Press story. Some things in that article, which I will get to in a moment, also got me thinking.

I really don't do much to advertise this blog, because for me it's just an enjoyable pastime, and I'm not driven by visit numbers or any ego-stroking things. So it is interesting to see who is visiting this site, and where it is mentioned. The World Wide Web works in mysterious ways, as they say. In any case, in response to the observation over at Fraters Libertas, I can say that I don't see my beliefs changing in any appreciable way as I grow older. I am mainly pragmatic, liberal on some issues, conservative on others, but I am mainly interested in good government and things that work. Government has an important role in many circumstances, but so does the market, families, social institutions, and so on. Nobody has a monopoly on what works best.

Examining the issue further, however, brings up an important distinction: does change mean changing positions on an issue, or changing political parties? I can and certainly will do the former, but I don't see myself ever doing the latter. The Republican Party today stands for so little, I can never see myself voting for its members. Since I believe that a good democracy needs functioning political parties that stand for something, I am honestly disappointed that the Republicans have become the party that they are now.

This brings me back to Randy Kelly. In the story, he says that his "turning point" as it were came when he saw an "I Hate Bush" bumper sticker on a car, and he realized that the politics of hate must stop. This is indeed laughable, as Republicans started the politics of hatred with their never-ending Clinton obsession. Who can forget Rush Limbaugh calling a teenage Chelsea Clinton the "White House dog?" Or Ann Coulter arguing that Democrats are the Spawn of Satan (as she did in the column that was axed by USA Today), or saying that liberals are guilty of treason, or wishing that Timothy McVeigh had blown up the New York Times too? Visit some of the bigger conservative web sites, like Free Republic, Lucianne.com, or Little Green Footballs, and you will see a wrath directed at liberals and Democrats that is psychopathic, such as constant references to "Hitlery Clinton". That's not to say that the left has no crazy people, but I can think of only one website that is even comparable, Democratic Underground, and as I never visit there I can't say what it is truly like. I think that if you compared these sites side by side, though, it would be clear who has more hatred.

Kelly also said that he thinks it is unwise to change leaders during a war, but if Bush has a plan for extricating the U.S. from Iraq, I would like to see it. Iraq has become a mess, caused by the very people who are in the current administration, who seriously botched pre-war planning by ignoring any reports that were less than rosy. Apparently, if people screw up, it is bad to replace them because it would interrupt their continuing to screw up. Well, isn't that the point?

Finally, Kelly said that Kerry would jeopardize the economic expansion that we are experiencing. First, the "expansion" is far from being just that; economic indicators are mixed, and this country still isn't creating nearly as many jobs as are necessary. Second, as the mayor of a large city, Kelly should know what the Republican answer is to everything: cut taxes and spending, no matter what. Saint Paul, like almost all cities in Minnesota, has lost Local Government Aid funding as a result of Republican budget priorities. No, Bush is not responsible for the state budget, but it isn't as if the federal budget is any better. It is inconceivable to argue that city finances would be better under Republicans than Democrats, especially if you are talking about urban core cities.

Obviously, I'm no fan of Bush and I don't think very highly of Kelly's endorsement of him. However, what bears closer attention is that Kelly gives no policy reasons to throw his support behind Bush. His reasons are more along the lines of "I feel bad about what Kerry will do and good about what Bush will do" instead of being able to point to specific candidate policies and proposals that he either supports or opposes. Gut feelings about a politician's character are a part of the electoral process, but I would argue that actual policies are more important.

To me, the fact that Kelly can't point to specific Bush proposals that he supports isn't very surprising, because I am hard pressed to understand what the Republican party stands for these days other than continual tax cuts. Conservatives used to be the party of balanced budgets, but this has been thrown out the window. The party of limited government found that the most important thing the legislature had to deal with this year was a constitutional amendment on gay marriage. Reasoned policy differences have turned into social wedge issues that are designed to simply get voters to the polling places. It's a sad state of affairs.

For me, the ideal is this: a back and forth where one party tries some things, then the other party does so, then back again, always balanced around the center, no one party running things for too long. I think this is the best way to get policies and programs that actually work. However, this balance has been askew for quite some time. Republicans these days aren't terribly interested in using government effectively to better the populace. They are for cutting taxes, spending money on their supporters, cutting funding for everything else, running up huge deficits, and using social wedge issues to whip their voting base into a frenzy. As it has been pointed out, they aren't very interested in governing, they just want to rule. Our country isn't served by this dynamic.

My religious upbringing taught me to value the community, to help our neighbors, to seek justice and liberty, and that the common good needs to be protected. I think that the government has a role in all of this, providing a helping hand to people to better themselves (but always expecting something in return so it's not a handout), getting involved where the market fails (because the free market is good for many things but not everything), and ensuring that we all can enjoy basically rights and responsibilities. Right now, these beliefs would put me in the Democratic party. I don't know what beliefs would put me in the Republican party aside from tax cuts at all times no matter what the cost. That is really too bad. It would be nice to have a real conservative party again.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Saint Paul Mayor supports Bush for re-election

The Democratic mayor of Saint Paul, Randy Kelly, announced today that he is supporting Bush this year. He says he remains a Democrat, however.

I'm at a loss to explain this. It has often been pointed out that Kelly's predecessor, Norm Coleman, also left his Democratic roots and changed to the Republican party. Kelly remains a Democrat for now, so it is unclear whether he is going to completely follow Coleman's path. Should he do so, however, he is not likely to repeat Coleman's success, who is now a U.S. Senator. While Coleman was likeable, Kelly by and large is not. Even though he remains a Democrat, the fact that he doesn't have a lot of goodwill with the rank and file in the city means that he is going to face a lot more anger at this decision than Coleman did for switching parties.

Is he expecting to be appointed to some high-ranking post if Bush wins? Who knows. If Bush loses, however, it seems certain that Kelly will go down with him. Switching sides in politics is bad enough, but switching to the losing side is a sure recipe for disaster.