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Monday, February 28, 2005

College funding

The Minnesota Daily has a good article today about Pawlenty's plan to shift funding away from higher education facilities towards students. The University of Minnesota would be damaged by such a plan, and U officials make sure everybody knows it in this article.

Such a plan would "drive reform and change the higher education marketplace," according to the governor. I do not like free market fetishism, and this is a great example of it. The free market works wonders in a lot of situations. It works great in determining what fast food restaurants I will go to, for example, or where I will buy clothes, or anything of that nature. But a free market is not a panacea, and it breaks down when there are a lot of intangibles and the investment timeframes are measured in years and decades instead of days or minutes.

The University of Minnesota is striving to be one of the best research universities in the world. This brings a lot of ancillary benefits, but not all of them are easily and immediately quantifiable in terms of money. Many students may not care as much about that fact either. What they may want, many studies say, are great gyms, nice student housing, a nightlife, etc. These are all well and good, but if universities are forced by the marketplace to put resources into these things, it will have to take away from those things that have less immediate impact, like pure research. In the long run, we will get mediocre institutes of higher education that pander to the physical and psychological needs of students, not necessarily the intellectual needs of our society.

Higher education is not a Big Mac. The goal is not to give the largest amount of short-term pleasure in the quickest manner possible. Higher education exists to educate, and yes, even undertake some research that may not be immediately cost-effective. Funding higher education through American Idol-type popularity contests is not a good idea.

February budget forecast

The February budget forecast came out today, and the state's budget deficit has shrunk slightly. But before everybody does a happy dance, it's important to figure out what this means.

The good: the budget deficit is lower. There's an extra $175 million for this fiscal year. The deficit for 06-07 is$466 million, without inflation. This is down around $250 million. Any time the deficit shrinks, it is a good thing.

The bad: It is without inflation. This Enron-style accounting trick lets the state get away with pretending that deficits are lower than they are in reality. If you count inflation, the deficit is still over $1 billion. Our schools, highway and road builders, doctors, and long-term care providers can't wish away inflation like the state can, so this is still the number to use. And forget about the new numbers saying that we will soon return to budget surpluses. Again, that is without inflation, so it doesn't matter.

The state still faces a budget problem. We cut taxes too much the last time around, and instead of rectifying this in a fair way, Governor Pawlenty wants to nickel-and-dime Minnesotans to death with "fee increases," which is weasel speak for "tax increases." Taking a look at our tax structure is the only fair way to fix this budget, so we don't have to continue putting all the pressure on our schools, transportation system, and health care systems.

Friday, February 25, 2005

From the department of "huh?"

Democrats and Republicans put forward today a plan to put $750 million into schools. Well, kind of a plan. See, there is no funding mentioned. Which makes it less of a "plan" than a fantasy. Hey, I've got a plan to put $3 trillion into schools, health care, and Social Security. Really, I do. Honest. Sure, I haven't figured out where that money will come from, but hey.

Also, Congresscritter Martin Sabo thinks that the way to save Social Security is to legislate higher bond rates. I'm no economist, but I think legislating higher bond rates, instead of letting the market decide them, would have serious economic repercussions. This is not a constructive solution.

More candidate moves

Patty Wetterling is thinking about running for Senate, and Amy Klobuchar is thinking too. House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen will not, however. Meanwhile, Rep. Phil Krinkie will run for Congress in the sixth district, adding to the Republican crowd on the far right. Talk about musical chairs.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tax reform

Growth and Justice put forward a tax reform plan that got some bipartisan support. It would raise income taxes on the top personal income earners, while reducing business taxes. To which I say, hear hear.

Minnesota tax incidence studies show that the top wage earners pay less as a percentage of their income in all taxes (state & local) than the middle class. Raising taxes on these top earners, making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year, would level out the system.

At the same time, our business taxes are comparatively high. Most of these taxes are passed on to consumers or employees through higher prices or lower wages. As long as we can ensure that people don't abuse the system by setting up phony businesses to hide their income, I would have no problem with looking at the business tax system and making reductions.

By taking these steps, we can ensure that we have enough money for education, transportation, and other important programs, while helping our businesses.

Bloomington school anti-war display nixed

In the Star Tribune today, (and brought to my attention by a reader), a student anti-war display at Bloomington Kennedy high school was taken down after the American Legion complained. They were bothered by what they thought was unclear labeling of the materials.

I can understand the position of the Legion, but threatening to cut off funding is an overreaction. If they were concerned about the source of the materials, a call without threats would have been enough.

Campaign Finance Board clears Entenza

A while ago Republicans levied a charge against House Minority Leader Matt Entenza of improperly funding a group called 21st Century Democrats. The charges were baseless, and the board has found the same. Not being able to give up the issue, Republicans are saying that the board is "soft on Democrats."

Here's some advice to the Republicans: before you file a complaint, make sure it has merit. Just because Republicans don't like a donation, doesn't mean it is illegal. I'm not thrilled about the state of campaign finance either, but a legal donation is a legal donation, whether or not I or anybody else likes it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

House passes bonding bill

Yesterday, the House passed its bonding bill. The bill was smaller than the Senate's bill, which wasn't that unexpected, but it did pass 121-12, a huge majority.

Once again, House Republicans tried to remove funding for the Northstar commuter rail line. This year, however, with the changed makeup of the House, these efforts went nowhere fast. The bill still didn't provide the amount of funding necessary to secure full federal support, though.

It's a good start, but I think it was a little light, especially for higher education. The U of M didn't get nearly the amount it needs. When the bill comes out of conference committee, it should be better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Oh, Norm...

Via Talking Points Memo, at Forbes.com we have a story about Social Security where our own Norm Coleman in mentioned, along with several other politicians. Coleman, talking about how he weathered attacks that he was for privatizing the program, he said. "I countered it by being very clear that I supported personal accounts and opposed privatization." True Norm-speak.

If we substitute "personal accounts," that focus group-tested phrase that Republicans are flocking to, with "private account," which has pretty much been declared synonymous by the White House and everybody else involved, we have this: "
I countered it by being very clear that I supported private accounts and opposed privatization." Which is not much different than the Senator saying that he supports cars and opposes driving.

So what does this mean? I see two options. The first, more likely possibility is that prevaricatin' Norm fully supports privatizing Social Security, but like many Republicans he is hemming and hawing and insisting that he opposes it right up until he votes for a privatization bill that is "moderate" and "fiscally sound" and "makes Social Security perfect forever" even as it "creates huge deficits" and "drastically cuts guaranteed benefits." We've seen this before. A lot of Republicans seem to be taking this path, and Coleman, being a herd animal, will follow.

There is one other possibility, though. You can believe in cars but not driving if you see cars as a museum piece only. So maybe he wants to set up "personal accounts" that are just pretend portfolios that people can play with. Of course, when you retire the money isn't real and you will get the same guaranteed benefit as everybody else, but if your portfolio does especially well perhaps the Social Security Administration will send you a button or a t-shirt or something. Kinda like those fake stock portfolio projects we all did in business class. That would be fun, yes, but it is hard to see that as solving Social Security.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Smoking ban goes to Senate floor

After narrowly winning a vote in committee, the smoking ban bill will be headed to the Senate floor. Pundits say it's too close to call, and given the 9-7 vote in committee today, they're probably right. In the end, though, I think it will pass, and in my opinion it can't come soon enough. The bill still has some more hurdles to go over in the House, so this story will be with us for a while yet.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program...

...Minnesota politics.

Seems that some legislators are floating a plan to expand the state's database of DNA samples. I'm a person who is pretty consistently against Big Brother uses of technology, which is so much easier these days. I am pessimistic in that barring a catastrophe or widespread opposition, eventually we will live in a society where it will be impossible to hide from anybody, government, law enforcement agency, or business, and countless databases will track who we are, where we go, and what we do. But I prefer to be dragged kicking and screaming to that future.

The thing that concerns me most in this plan is that eventually (so the story says) the program will expand to include taking DNA from 50,000 felony arrestees each year. If I'm reading that right, it would mean that people simply arrested, not convicted, could be put on file. You could do no wrong and still be swabbed.

I'm not saying that there aren't some real law enforcement benefits to having a database of DNA; there are. What I'm worried about is feature creep. Once you have this data, there are so many things you can do with it, and when the state gets pestered to allow them, what do you think they will say? As an example, remember when your Social Security Number was just for getting Social Security benefits and was not some globally used unique identifier? Me neither.


Powerline has acknowledged that the e-mail I posted is indeed real. Thus, I believe that the matter of authenticity is settled and I see no need for doing anything like posting a screenshot or the like.

Many people have been calling for John Hinderaker's head, for a complaint to the bar, or other such actions in response to this. I am not interested in doing any of these things. The whole purpose (to me, anyway) was to highlight what I tend to think of as the coarsening of discourse and the dehumanization of other people through technology. In an era where words can travel around the world in seconds and thousands of people can descend upon a news story in the blink of an eye, it is very easy to give in to impulse and say something that isn't respectful because you're replying to a computer screen, not a person's face. I would not characterize my e-mail to Powerline as "hate mail", and I certainly did not do anything like call him at his workplace, but I am sure that their blog receives their fair share of abuse, as does any blog of any political stripe. Easy as it may be to give into this impulse, it doesn't help to do so.

He has said that he will not make the same mistake twice. I hope that this is the case, and it is really all I want to see out of this.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hunter Thompson commits suicide

The Washington Post is reporting that Hunter S. Thompson has committed suicide. He was 67.

American journalism has lost a great pioneer. It is no exaggeration to say that Hunter Thompson is the reason why I became interested in politics. Reading his book "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" got me interested in not only the policy implementation side, but the mechanics. I would regale people with the tale of the South Carolina challenge at the Democratic Convention as he told it. Most people didn't know what the heck I was talking about. After reading that book, there was scarcely a Hunter Thompson book I didn't devour.

I hope that people will keep his family in their thoughts as they go through this tough time.

JD Guckert and Powerline

Normally, this is a MN politics-only blog. I am just as interested in national politics as the next guy, but with blogs like Eschaton, Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and all the rest (I know that most of you are smart enough to read my blogroll), anything I say would be redundant. So I stick to local stuff, and I let them eloquently deal with national issues.

I still pay attention to the bigger stuff, and so when I saw this post over at Tbogg about the Powerline blog's response to the Jeff Gannon/JD Guckert affair (for those who don't know what's up, long story short: Republican homosexual male 'escort' is journalist under a fake name and lobs softball questions to White House press secretary), I sent a note. These guys are from Minnesota, so why not? This is what I sent:
Your recent post on the JD Guckert/Jeff Gannon story has to be one of the saddest examples of conservative head-in-sand syndrome I have ever seen. You claim that there are three issues being brought up by liberals: 1) He isn't a "real" journalist, 2) He was a Bush administration plant, and 3) He had something (“God knows what) €“to do with the Valerie Plame story. Of course, you blatantly ignore the most important issue, the one that is easily found on hundreds of blogs covering the story: how did a person using a fake name get access to the White House? If I applied for a pass to the White House using the name "Max Power", I would not get in unless I had some friends high up at the top. A closely-related issue is exactly what the links are between GOPUSA and Talon News. Now, you may think it perfectly acceptable for the President and press secretary to consistently call on a reporter who is working for what is essentially an arm of the Republican Party. If so, it would be nice if you would admit it. That doesn't mean that others aren't allowed to have a problem with that arrangement, however.

You also take Americablog to task for "finding nude photos of Gannon and posting them online." He didn't "find" photos taken by some paparazzi at a secret party; he found websites where Guckert (let's use his real name, not his pretend name) posted his own photos. If you posted photos of your family on your web page and I posted a link to these photos, would that make me a low-life "outing" you? Come on. Guckert is not ashamed of these photos, otherwise he would not have put them on the web in the first place. If somebody else finds them and points them out to the world, they are doing nothing wrong.

Just one, just once, it would be nice to see a conservative with the ability to find fault with other conservatives. I won't hold my breath, though.
Not too harsh, and fairly civil IMHO. No profanity, no name calling, just my opinion from one person to another.

The reply? Well, for good or ill:
You dumb shit, he didn't get access using a fake name, he used his real name. You lefties' concern for White House security is really touching, but you know what, you stupid asshole, I think the Secret Service has it covered. Go crawl back into your hole, you stupid left-wing shithead. And don't bother us anymore. You have to have an IQ over 50 to correspond with us. You don't qualify, you stupid shit.
I must admit I was just a bit taken aback. It's not terribly unusual for people to simply refuse to address the issues, but the virulence and profanity was simply amazing to me. This is how writers from Time magazine's Blog of the Year respond to e-mail? I haven't read monkey mail like that since people sounded off to Margaret Cho. Cripes. Whatever happened to Minnesota Nice?

Friday, February 18, 2005

ATV hearing draws protests

The DNR has to classify trails in state forests as either being open or closed to motorized vehicles. In Beltrami State Forest, the DNR would allow vehicles on 590 miles of roads, while banning them on 593 miles of roads. This drew protests that this plan does not provide enough trails: only 54 miles are for ATVs only, while they would be allowed on 321 miles of roads.

I'm one of those urbanites who is so despised by ATV enthusiasts, but it seems to me that allowing vehicles on half the roads is enough, and a 54 mile trail for ATV use only is perfectly adequate. If you can't have fun tooling around on 54 miles of muddy trails, what will it take? To many irresponsible riders have damaged trails and wetlands in recent years. Complaining about getting 54 miles of trails for their own use really makes me wonder.

Pawlenty dumps turbo-charged truth-in-taxation

Governor Pawlenty has dropped his plan for reverse referenda for school levies. His original plan would have required a vote if a certain number of people sent back postcards they would receive with their property tax statements. School officials were not pleased. He is not backing down on this plan for local units of government, though. Too bad.

First, Pawlenty cuts LGA, then he tried to make it impossible for local units of government to raise money themselves. Sounds like the Grover Norquist method of drowning necessary government services. Not particularly moderate of him.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Things I don't really care about...

...but feel the need to comment on. Like the Regent selection yesterday. Four guys were elected with minimal controversy, although the fact that there were no women was criticized by Rep. Phyllis Kahn. I have to agree with her on that one. It's hard to believe that there were no qualified women available.

Another University-related issue (not necessarily politics-related) from not too long ago was a study on what the University of Minnesota wants and what the citizens of Minnesota want. The U wants to continue to strive to be one of the top research universities in the world. People want a university where anybody who has graduated from college can get in. These two goals are at cross purposes. I have to agree as an alumnus with the U. Higher standards, people, not lower.

House Republicans unveiled their bonding bill yesterday as well, and although it was well received some people criticized it for being a little on the small side. Negotiations will of course continue.

And what's with this bill to eliminate no-fault auto insurance? I don't know anything about this topic. I do know that my insurance rates are lower than the Minnesota average of $800 per year per vehicle. One thing will be certain if this bill goes to the House floor: it will be fun to watch Rep. Jim Abeler, a chiropractor, when proponents argue that we need reform because chiropractors are committing fraud under the current system.

Pawlenty for President?

Via http://mngopwatch.blogspot.com/, it appears that the web domain www.pawlentyforpresident.com has been snapped up by none other than a freshman Republican legislator, Pat Garofalo. Thanks to good old Network Solutions, this is what we have:

Domain name: pawlentyforpresident.com

Patrick Garofalo (U6ETB) pat.garofalo@charter.net
5997 193rd Street West
Farmington, MN 55024
United States
Phone: (763)7656608 x

Administrative Contact:
Patrick Garofalo (YKQLE) pat.garofalo@charter.net
5997 193rd Street West
Farmington, MN 55024
United States
Phone: (763)7656608 x

Technical Contact:
Patrick Garofalo (U6ETB) pat.garofalo@charter.net
5997 193rd Street West
Farmington, MN 55024
United States
Phone: (763)7656608 x

Billing Contact:
Patrick Garofalo (KCDK2) pat.garofalo@charter.net
5997 193rd Street West
Farmington, MN 55024
United States
Phone: (763)7656608 x

Record last updated on 2004-01-15 00:00:00
Record created on 2004-01-15 00:00:00
Record expires on 2007-01-15 00:00:00

Is this ass-kissing by a freshperson legislator or something serious? I wonder...


Republican legislator proposes castration for sex offenders.

I'm not so sure this is a great idea, at least the physical castration. I would have to see the statistics on whether chemical castration actually works in sex offenders. I bet that when this bill is heard in committee, though, people are going to be crossing their legs.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Drug reimportation

Governor Pawlenty is floating the idea that Indian tribes could import drugs from Canada and sell them if the federal government says the state can't do so anymore. Theoretically, this could work, since tribes are sovereign and the federal government has very limited say in what they do.

But aside from that, give me a break. This beating around the bush has gone on too long. Canada has lower drug prices for one reason: the government negotiates with drug companies to get huge discounts. The U.S. government is explicitly banned from doing so in the Medicare drug bill, however, a little gift the Republicans made to the drug companies. Remove this ridiculous ban and allow the government to negotiate bulk purchases at lower prices and we won't have to deal with these triple bank shots of bringing Canadian drugs through reservations and into Minnesota.

Coleman the flip flopper

Senator Norm Coleman was going to vote against Michael Chertoff's nomination as Homeland Security chief in order to protest the fact that Saint Paul didn't get Homeland Security funding. Chertoff has some issues other than this that deserve careful scrutiny, but at least this was something. However, Coleman recently decided that this issue had been resolved to his satisfaction, and he voted for his confirmation.

Did Saint Paul get more money? Did Chertoff promise to move funds from, say, Wyoming, to a more populous state? No. Instead, the problem was "solved," according to Coleman, by allowing Saint Paul to share money with Minneapolis and Hennepin County. No more money will be allocated, of course; they will just have to share the pot, which is itself decreasing.

Norm Coleman: looking out for the interests of his constituents.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A fair gambling bill

Iron range legislators are pushing a bill that would allow video slots in bars. This would supposedly add $350 million a year to the state's budget, while helping small bar owners too.

I am not gung-ho about this bill, but I think it is refreshingly honest, something many gambling proposals have not been. This bill would expand gambling, no doubt about it, and everybody knows it. This bill would also treat everybody fairly, instead of helping one group as opposed to another. Like it or not, at least this isn't some stealth attempt to change how gambling works in the state of Minnesota: everything is plain as day. Now, if other gambling proposals looked like this, we could have an honest debate.

Jeff Johnson running for Attorney General

State Representative Jeff Johnson, a Republican from Plymouth, is running for Attorney General in 2006. The reason he has announced so early is because nobody knows who he is.

Another mostly invisible House Republican, he is pretty far right in the House Republican caucus, and that is saying a lot considering who else is in there. If he wins, he will protect "children, consumers, and vulnerable adults" (is he sure he is willing to take such a controversial stand?). He also trots out the Republican canard of fighting medical lawsuit abuse, as if eliminating the 2% of health care spending currently taken up by malpractice will magically wipe out double-digit per-year premium increases. All in all, this isn't groundbreaking stuff.

I don't know who the Republican nominee for AG will be in 2006, but I don't think it will be him.

Stadium thoughts

Red McCombs paid $246 million for the Vikings in 1998. He is selling the team for $625 million in 2005, a gain of 154% in seven years, or about 14% compounded per year. He has also made money every from owning the team, and made $20 million selling Viking Food Service. All in all, he probably made half a billion dollars off this team.

And these people want the taxpayers of Minnesota to foot the bill for a new stadium?

Fast food lawsuits

A bill was heard today in the House that would ban lawsuits against the food industry for obesity. Such a lawsuit has never been filed in Minnesota, but that's not stopping a largely Republican group of legislators from introducing the bill.

All I can say is, huh? The bill would exempt lawsuits brought against the food industry for false nutrition claims or in cases where food was tainted. In other words, it will still allow lawsuits that people file for good reasons. As far as I can tell, the bill would only ban lawsuits along the lines of "I'm suing McDonald's because I'm fat and they sell food." Such a lawsuit wouldn't get anywhere anyway and it wouldn't cost the food industry money to defend, as the bill's author says, because anybody idiotic enough to file such a baseless lawsuit would end up paying all court costs anyway.

Minnesota's statute books are too long already. This would add yet another feel-good law that does nothing. Aren't Republicans supposed to be against that?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Casino gambling?

The Pioneer Press has a good article today on the legal hurdles facing legalized gambling. Governor Pawlenty and other supporters of a state-run casino talk as if they can start construction the day after the legislature passes the bill. In reality, there is no guarantee that it would even be legal under our state constitution. I am willing to bet that it would not. This is a real issue that supporters are going to have to address.

CD-6 candidates

Like ripples spreading out on a lake from a dropped stone, the withdrawal of Mark Dayton is having an impact on offices beyond the Senate. Mark Kennedy's district is now empty, and people are jumping into that fray as well. Crazy State Senator Michelle Bachmann is running, as everybody already knew, but so is State Representative Jim Knoblach, a Republican from Saint Cloud.

Although I know the area that he represents fairly well, having lived there for a time, there really isn't much that is extraordinary about Knoblach. He is your typical conservative Republican, not quite as right-wing as many members of his caucus, but definitely no moderate. He has been chair of a couple of powerful committees recently, such as Capital Investment and now Ways and Means, which means he does get some power and airtime. What I find to be most telling about his character is how he voted against funding for the Northstar commuter rail line, even though the endpoint is Saint Cloud and his district would greatly benefit. He is, after all, willing to take orders from above even when it conflicts with his district.

If he were elected to Congress, he would presumably have to vote on federal transportation projects, such as Northstar. I wonder if he would vote the right way then, or if he would roll over and do what DeLay et al want.

Buck Humphrey out

Buck Humphrey is not running for Senate. Thank God. I've never been impressed with him. I met him a long time ago when he was working for the Mayor's office in Minneapolis, and I didn't think very much of him. When he ran for Secretary of State in 2002, even though I detest Mary Kiffmeyer I couldn't bring myself to vote for him. He shouldn't be running for Senate.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Pawlenty and cigarettes

Republican Tim Pawlenty, so often a proponent of smaller government when he was a legislator, now loves big government. He is now proposing a ban on candy-flavored cigarettes. He saw ads for these in a magazine, he says, and he was "irritated." I guess he was pretty irritated if he decided that these warranted a complete ban.

Candy-flavored cigarettes probably aren't such a hot idea, but why should he stop there? Why not a ban on alcopops, those candy-flavored alcoholic beverages? Teen drinking arguably causes far more problems than teen smoking, and teens are drinking more of these sweet fruity alcoholic drinks than ever. If Pawlenty's in the banning mood, why doesn't he ban something worth it?

Kennedy in

Unsurprisingly, Rep. Mark Kennedy announced today that he is running for the Senate. Pundits are saying that he is the Republican frontrunner at this time, something that I agree with. I don't see any other Republicans that are currently thinking about running who can knock him out of his front spot. That doesn't mean Kennedy is a particularly strong candidate, in my opinion. I still think he is an empty suit, and if he backs Bush's agenda, including Social Security privatization and cuts in farm subsidies, he is going to have a hard time defending his record here.

If he runs for Senate, that means his congressional seat will be open. And politics does abhor a vacuum as much as nature. Several people are running for his spot, including crazy Michelle Bachmann. I would still rather see her run for Senate, but no matter where she runs, she is sure to be a lightning rod.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The O'Franken Factor

I didn't mention Al Franken yesterday as a possible candidate for Senate because frankly I didn't think about it. Today, he announced that he will not be running, which is a good thing in my opinion. Sure, I think he's a very funny guy, and I agree with his politics, but I could not vote for him. I don't think Minnesotans appreciate the carpetbagging. He admitted as much.

There is a list of possible candidates at the Star Tribune. Of the list right now, I think Amy Klobuchar could be a very good candidate. Although she isn't widely known outside of the metro area, she is a very good speaker and I think she could energize Democrats. Mike Hatch is supposedly off the list. The others, like Jerry Janezich, Tom Rukavina, and Buck Humphrey, are longshots right now.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Who will run now?

Well, the cat's outta the bag: Senator Dayton will not run for re-election. From the whispers at the Capitol, this was rather unexpected. All day people have been going up to each other saying, "Did you hear? Did you hear?"

Right now, I think people are trying to make sense of what is going to happen. Personally, I have mixed feelings. I thought Dayton was a decent Senator in terms of his politics. He could definitely use some help in the PR side of things, but his recent low approval ratings were nothing to be afraid of, especially since Senator Coleman also has low ratings. With some work, he could have gone to the citizens of Minnesota in a more effective manner and brought those approval ratings up. He still would have been vulnerable, but I think he could have won even against Mark Kennedy. Lame-duck Bush is not acting as if he cares about helping Republicans win in 2006. Congressional Republicans who go along with the president are going to have several albatrosses around their neck: Social Security privatization that nobody wants, cuts to farm subsidies in his budget, a guest-worker program, a ballooning deficit, and the exploding costs of the Medicare prescription drug plan. Besides, incumbency has its advantages no matter who it is.

So now who will run? The DFL doesn't have very many up-and-coming candidates with statewide recognition. The highest officer holder in the state who is a Democrat is Mike Hatch, and he could possibly run, although he has his eye on the governor's mansion. From there, the field is pretty thin. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson has been mentioned as a possibility, but I don't think he's thought much about it. Representative Betty McCollum is apparently interested, but I don't think she is well known. Ditto for Senator Steve Kelley of Hopkins. The Star Tribune mentions Bill Luther, but the loser image will be hard to shake. The DFL needs some fresh blood, not reruns.

The next year or so is going to be much more interesting than it was already shaping up to be. Everybody is up for re-election in 2006, and a wide-open Senate race is just the cherry on top.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Senate has been busy

...hearing bills left and right. They passed a bill raising the minimum wage, they have passed a bill that increases the amount of ethanol that must be in gasoline sold in this state, and now a committee has passed a smoking ban bill. This is a far cry from the "do nothing" legislature of last year.

Right now, the question is what the House will do with these issues. They will probably stall on the minimum wage yet again, and their smoking ban bill is not as sweeping as the one the Senate is working on. Ethanol may be an issue where everybody can agree, though I'm not completely sold on the need for it. We'll be hearing more from both sides on this issue.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Crazy train in CD 6

It looks like everybody's favorite right-wing wacko is planning on running for Congress. That's right, Senator Michelle Bachmann of the homo-marriage hatin', Ronnie-lustin', pro-life panderin' wing of the Republican Party wants to run for Congress in the 6th District. This is the seat currently held by Mark Kennedy, who is presumably going to challenge Mark Dayton for Senate in 2006.

I think that's just swell. In fact, I hope she wins the Republican nomination. When people start hearing about her black-helicopter conspiracy theories and far-right social positions, they won't exactly be lining up to vote for her. She's like a female Allen Quist. If she is the Republican candidate, the Democrat should win, especially if that Democrat is Patty Wetterling.


The Pioneer Press has an article today about Minnesota political blogs. They also have a list up.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Minnesotans back expanded gambling

So says a Minnesota poll. I don't have much to add, since I have already written at length on the subject. I do agree with Rep. Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington, who would like to allow cities to be able to say no to locating casinos in their town. She said, "There may be general support for a metro casino but what if you added 'for a metro casino in your town' at the end of the question? I bet the answer would be different." I'm sure it would.

Taxes and Education

Many Republicans like to talk about how our allegedly high taxes in this state cause businesses to look elsewhere to locate. People talk about how businesses are leaving Minnesota for South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, or other low-tax havens. Whether this is true or not is only part of the story, as an article in the Star Tribune points out today. Iowa, supposedly a destination for employers seeking lower taxes, is losing many of its college-educated citizens and is looking to desperate measure to retain them.

Reading that article shows that of all the states in the upper Midwest, only Minnesota is able to retain young college-educated people. All of the so-called tax haven states are losing them. Apparently, high-tax Minnesota is doing something right, despite the climate.

People who know their stuff realize that Minnesota's highly educated citizenry, not its tax rates, are what power the state's economy. If businesses do leave for other states, the jobs that disappear are typically lower-wage, less-skilled jobs, and higher-wage jobs in many cases take their place.

If Republicans get their way and cut taxes to the detriment of education, they will be in for a shock. Instead of helping the economy here generate more high-wage jobs, these jobs will disappear. Whatever jobs we create will be low-skill and low-wage. Total employment may increase, but it's hard to see how productivity or median wages will do so in these circumstances. If our leaders in the legislature don't realize that education and health care is what attracts workers and businesses to this state, we are going to become exactly like our neighbors.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Minnesotans to governor: raise taxes, cut spending

A new Minnesota Poll shows that 57% of Minnesotans want the budget balanced by a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Only 30 percent say that taxes should not be raised. More than one third of people say that they have been hurt by budget cuts.

What is interesting to me is the crosstabs on the data. Contrary to what may be expected, people with higher incomes were more likely to support increasing taxes, and those with incomes less than $30,000 were the most opposed to increasing taxes. I don't know what to make of that. Perhaps recent talk of a gas tax increase, which hits people at lower incomes hardest, has affected that. Or, people have seen that in recent years, taxes have gone up, especially property taxes, and they assume that "increasing taxes" means increasing these regressive taxes that much more, instead of income taxes on the highest earners.

As always, individual comments are best, showcasing endemic ignorance. From Frank Weber, who leans Republican: "Light rail, for instance, costs an arm and a leg. It's not profitable and probably never will be." Hmmm. I don't know how anybody could get the impression that light rail or any transit system would actually turn a profit.

Diane Peterson, who considers herself to be a Democrat, isn't much better: "We give too many people a free ride in this state. All the homeless people come here because the benefits are so great. I know people who won't work full time because they'd lose medical assistance for the four children they had by four different fathers. Minnesota takes care of them all, because we're a bunch of idiots. We've got a handout for everyone."

Ask people who have been affected by budget cuts in recent years and they will tell you that Minnesota definitely does not have a handout for everybody. As for the health care issue, it's a no brainer: if you have four kids, are you going ot work a minimum-wage job with no benefits and pay 70% of your salary for daycare, or are you going to keep your health insurance? The problem isn't that we have a "handout" for people in this situation, the problem is that we don't have universal health care so people don't have to make job decisions based on whether they will get health insurance or not.

As I was riding the bus home yesterday (I am sure that Metro Transit does not turn a profit, BTW), I overheard a couple of people talking about this very issue. One person apparently works in a day-care facility taking care of children but does not get health insurance. She applied for Minnesota Care, but since she is single and without kids, she isn't sure she can get it, especially if Pawlenty gets his way with changing eligibility requirements. Her friend didn't bother applying because he made too much money for the program, though this "high-paying" job didn't provide any benefits either.

Minnesotans have consistently said over the past few years that they want a balanced approach to the budget. Pawlenty and House Republicans have so far kept this from happening. Will they do so again?

Friday, February 04, 2005


Conservatives sure love Ronald Reagan. Now they want to rename the 494/694 beltway after him. They also passed a resolution honoring his birthday, but not before Senate Democrats amended it to point out that he never won Minnesota.

If they want to name a highway after Reagan, let's name it after Highway 100 in St. Louis Park. Since it's going to be congested for the next 10 years, it can be a testament to the Reagan theory of huge deficits and reducing revenue.

Local Control

Republicans just keep on throwing away their supposed "core values," starting with local control. Two suburban Republicans have introduced a bill to start a private school voucher system. For their own districts? No. For the entire state? No. For some reason, these two people think that Minneapolis and Saint Paul need the vouchers, despite the fact that they don't represent a single person living in either of those two cities.

I can't believe that any legislators would have the gall to do that. It would be one thing to do a project statewide, or for their own districts if their constituents asked for it. But I don't think Minneapolis or Saint Paul school officials and residents are clamoring for school vouchers. I'm not telling Shakopee how they should run their schools or local government.

It's sad to see how transparent Republicans have become in their quest to hold onto power. At least with a principled Republican you know what you are getting.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bad Media

KSTP sank to a new low yesterday. Teasers for their news said that "40% of state tax revenue is disappearing," implying that almost half of all taxes are disappearing into a black hole of waste and mismanagement. Those darn Republicans who think we can cut spending by eliminating waste are right! Except their story doesn't say anything of the sort. 40% of revenue doesn't go to the General Fund, instead going to other funds. It's not wasted, it's not disappearing, it's just not in the General Fund. As a slightly more factual story points out, some of those other funds are huge, like the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund, which gets gas tax money and license fees, and the fund that pays for Minnesota Care, the Health Care Access Fund, which is funded by the provider tax.

My first thought when I heard this teaser was that it was over-the-top lying typical of the new KSTP. Of course, I was right. If there is a scandal anywhere, it's not that money goes to funds other than the General Fund, it's that people don't understand how our government is funded. You can go to http://www.budget.state.mn.us and on the first page see a report listing all these funds. These aren't funds hidden away by legislators who use them as slush funds.

If KSTP wants to educate the public, they can do without the anti-government rhetoric.

Another Republicans falls off the Taxpayer's League wagon

Senate Minority Leader Dick Day now supports increasing the gas tax. He's just the latest Republican to admit that we need more revenue. It is looking more and more like Pawlenty is sitting on his "no new taxes" raft by himself. Let's hope he doesn't get lost in the current!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Evolution in schools

The current issue of Newsweek has a story on evolution in schools and the push by conservatives to teach so-called "Intelligent Design." So far, schools in Minnesota haven't really been subject to this controversy, but far-right groups like EdWatch are probably just waiting to do so.

Scientists say that Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory, and they are right. It belongs in philosophy classes, not biology. Proponents of this theory don't seem to care. Their singular focus is puzzling. The Bible says a lot of things, including that the Earth is the center of the universe. However, I don't see many people pushing schools to say that "Gravity is a controversial theory" and offering a competing "theory" that the Sun goes around the Earth and some "intelligent creator" uses invisible lassos to do this. This theory has as much scientific worth as Intelligent Design.

I have no problems with people's personal beliefs, but science is science. American students are ignorant enough when it comes to science; we don't need to add to it by pushing nonsense as a scientific theory, thus making the term meaningless. I have some questions for people who insist on teaching this. Why do you do this? What benefits do you get from believing that Intelligent Design is science? Do you sit around and gloat about how all of us evolutionists are going to Hell? I just don't get it, and I would really like to get some answers. Unfortunately, so far no creationists have ever explained these things to me.