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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Carol Molnau getting replaced?

I haven't heard this rumor. Doesn't seem very likely to me. I don't see how Molnau can hurt Pawlenty's chances. The article also says that Hatch told a bunch of people that he is running for governor but won't announce until Labor Day; I know that he's running, and it has been a pretty poorly kept secret for a while.

The only new thing I have heard recently is that there may be unrest over leadership in the House. But that's not new, is it?

Friday, July 29, 2005

No strike for state workers

The state and its two largest worker unions, MAPE and AFSCME, has reached a tentative labor agreement. The preliminary word is a two percent raise per year and increased insurance cost for dependents. It sounds pretty average, enough so that both sides found it acceptable. It's good that an agreement was reached; we don't need a repeat of the strike four years ago.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

What's Norm been up to?

So what has Norm been up to lately? Well, he's sponsoring a stem-cell research bill that goes against the will of Bush. Good job for him, but it would be nice if he wouldn't bring "pro-life" or "pro-choice" into it. Note to wingnuts: stem-cell research has nothing to do with abortion. Also, emergency contraception has nothing to do with abortion either; please pay attention, Wisconsin.

Norm also voted for CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. However, this has pissed off sugar beet farmers in the state, and represents yet another flip-flop for him: he said that he would not vote for it unless "substantial protections" were included for farmers. Well, they weren't, but that didn't stop him from saying the bill was good enough.

Now I happen to agree with his vote. Yes to CAFTA and no to all agricultural subsidies, I say. Farmers can sink or swim in a global market like everybody else. However, I do not represent an agricultural state in the Senate, so my opinions really don't matter. He's going to get hurt politically by these actions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The more things change

I pulled out an old book to read during these September-like nights: The Boys On The Bus, a novel by Tim Crouse about how the media covers presidential campaigns, specifically the 1972 campaign between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. It's a very interesting book on the subject, but what is very scary is how very little has changed in the 30 years since it was written. To read this book is to know where the seeds of today's media were sown.

There's the completely inept White House Press Corps, who titter and play jokes and do just about anything but ask hard questions about our leaders. There's the incredibly scripted nature of political events. There's the rise of cable news and the fall of the TV networks. There's the attempt to completely bypass news media and take stories and images directly to the people. The only person asking hard questions is Helen Thomas. Robert Novak is still around shilling for Republicans. The major networks still gloss over any stories that don't have a good visual component. Reporters still don't get that if other politicians aren't asking the president hard questions about what is going on (Where did the Iraq money go? Who authorized torture? Why can't Bush simply ask Rove what happened with regards to Valerie Plame?), it's their job to do it.

It's not a terribly positive revelation: if this stuff has been going on for the past three decades, is there any hope of change? It doesn't seem likely; in fact, the people in power today learned from Nixon and his cohorts and have made the process all the more efficient. It's odd to see that although technology and culture have changed greatly in the intervening years, things really have stayed the same.

Shocking: audit dings Secretary of State

Well, surprise, surprise. Our wonderful Secretary of State, Mary Kiffmeyer, did not act completely kosher in regards to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) legislation passed by Congress, a legislative audit has found. Seems that some money was spent just a little bit unreasonably.

Kiffmeyer has been a huge disappointment in her role as Secretary of State. There have been many stories about her acts as SoS. Her job should be about increasing voter turnout regardless of political affiliation, but that seems to be a stretch for her.

Former DFL representative convicted of fraud

A former DFL representative, Loren Jennings, was today convicted of fraud for using his position as a legislator to pass a law that enriched a business that he had dealings with. His lawyer said that they will appeal.

I haven't been following this story too closely and I don't know all the details, but the information I have seen sure makes it look bad. Minnesota is a pretty clean state when it comes to these kinds of conflicts of interest, but it doesn't take much before we end up looking like Ohio. These kinds of conflicts of interest are pretty obvious, so there is no reason why legislators should not divulge them and recuse themselves from voting on these issues. We need to keep a tight lid on these kinds of shenanigans lest they quickly get out of control.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Dumbest. Law. Ever.

What were they thinking?

And yes, there is a big difference between kids on bikes and kids on motorized scooters. Kids on bikes can only go as fast as their legs can take them. These scooters can go up to 30 MPH. I don't see many kids on bikes going that fast on city streets.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Legislative resignations

There is one legislative resignations up in Central Minnesota, and another possible one: Representative Joe Opatz, a Democrat who represents St. Cloud, is leaving for a higher education job. The word is that he's been looking to get out of the legislature and into higher ed administration for a while now, so this isn't too surprising. Meanwhile, Senator Dave Kleis, the Republican who represents St. Cloud, will retire if he mayor against John Ellenbecker.

This means there could be some big changes up there. St. Cloud is a college town with a lot of social conservatives. However, these religious people, mainly Catholic, also have a strong social justice streak; it's not all about tax cuts, but truly caring about the poor. It will make for an interesting dynamic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Disgust

This kind of thing really pisses me off. Instead of pulling the game, why didn't Target and Best Buy simply ensure that the only people who could buy this game were 17 or older? And is there really a difference between "Mature", for 17 and older, and "Adult Only", for 18 and older? Is one year that big a deal?

This thing doesn't make me mad because I'm a gamer; I'm not. I've never played GTA: San Andreas. I played Vice City for a while, but didn't find it to be my cup of tea really. What is pathetic is that this allows people to run around like chickens with their heads cut off about how horrible this entertainment is. I'm willing to bet that Best Buy and Target still sell movies with violence and (gasp!) even nudity in them. How is a game different, especially a game that is already rated as being appropriate only for people 17 and up?

Maybe parents should keep track of the games their kids are playing instead of ranting against those who make them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pawlenty: probably no special session

Governor Pawlenty said that it's unlikely that there will be a special session this fall, and to that, I saw good. He's right about the fact that it will be difficult to reach an agreement on the topics and stick to it. In a special session, the legislature decides when to go home, and they can talk about whatever they want. A fall special session in this environment would be too open ended.

The article also says that Pawlenty isn't going to sign a new no taxes pledge. Hopefully, this will be the end of this stupid fad everywhere.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Katherine Kersten: is this the best they can do?

I don't know if there just aren't that many intelligent conservative columnists out there, or if the Star Tribune just didn't feel like searching hard for one, but Katherine Kersten has to be one of the least intelligent Republicans writing for a daily not the Minnesota Daily. Her latest column about how gangs are the result of the 60s is a real winner. Once again, we have a poor conservative who didn't get invited to all the fun parties forty years ago, and is now petulantly bashing everybody who was. Boo hoo. You're still not one of the cool kids.

It's funny. I seem to have a movie on my shelf about how there were groups of people, "gangs" if you will, who walked around carrying firearms and engaged in criminal activity. These people even existed before the 1960s, meaning that they were around before the longhair hippies with "doobies" held parties that Kersten was not invited to, therefore creating modern day gang violence. I wonder what put those people on the wrong path, if it wasn't that "acid rock" stuff.

If I wanted to see a nice shade of blue, I think I would hold my breath until Kersten wrote a column about how easy access to guns and the ridiculous war on drugs is leading people to become pushers and bangers. Look, people aren't chumps: of course they aren't going to work a minimum wage job when government bans keeps the price of many street drugs so high. But no. What we need to do to solve our gang problem is take torches to Wal-Mart, Target, and Sam Goody and burn every Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead album until they are all gone. That should do it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Finito

The legislature is finally done. The only thing left is for Pawlenty to sign the bills. We have a cigarette tax, er, "fee", increased funding for education, and protection of adults on MnCare. Is this perfect? No. But it's good enough.

Some legislators are talking about a fall special session to deal with a Gophers/Twins stadium, among other issues. Here's some advice: don't. Legislators already went almost two months over schedule; paying themselves some more to give millions to Carl Pohlad isn't a good idea.

Norm Coleman: ├╝ber-tool

When is national news relevant to Minnesota politics? When it's a Minnesota politician acting like an idiot. Even if it was several months ago.

Via Talking Points Memo, we see Senator Norm Coleman's take on the whole Valerie Plame issue:

My Democratic friends would be doing the nation a great service if they spent half as much time getting legislation passed that will benefit the country as they do in attacking Karl Rove. When you're out of ideas and lack vision, you are left with nothing but personal attacks and negativity. We have enough to do in the Senate in minding our own business than to be sticking our noses into someone else's business. Everyone needs to cool the rhetoric, focus on the business of the people, and allow the investigation to run its course.
Yes, it is none of the Senate's business to poke their nose into an incident where a high ranking member of the President's administration blew the cover of a secret CIA operative for political payback. Just to make this perfectly clear: it is now almost certain that Karl Rove, in an attempt to score political points, outed a covert CIA agent, putting not only the agent at risk, but all of her contacts, her assets, and the country at large. The CIA. The organization that is supposed to be protecting us from future terrorist attacks.

If Norm doesn't care to fulfill the role of a senator and defend this country, there are plenty of good people who would.

D'oh!

A strange coalition of politicians didn't upset the final day of work today, but a power outage did. Work has resumed, but it sure did royally screw things up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Blah

It's hot. I'm tired. Hopefully, tomorrow will be the last day of session. Maybe I'll have something to say then (I hope it's along the lines of "They are done." If I have to say, "Due to an unprecedented alliance between certain Republicans and Democrats, the budget deal was blown apart in extraordinary fashion," I'm going to be pissed).

So, maybe you can give some advice on keeping cool without an air conditioner.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The shutdown is over

It's over. This morning, shortly before 3 A.M., a budget deal was reached, and a "lights on" bill sending furloughed workers back to work was finally passed. The legislature has until Wednesday to pass the real bills, given staff enough time to put them together. They should pass then, barring any extremely extraordinary events.

The deal includes a 75 cent cigarette tax (still called a "fee" so Pawlenty can save face, although it's debatable how well that will work). Nobody on MnCare right now will be thrown off, and the benefits caps are repealed, a major win. Education spending goes up four percent a year, and Pawlenty got his performance pay, which is not a big deal in my opinion.

Even though the Senate Democrats were opposed by both Pawlenty and the Republican House, they got almost all of what they wanted, from a practical point of view. The income tax increase was nothing more than a means to an end, I think. The important thing was the health care, and they got what they wanted. I don't see anything that the House Republican leadership will like in this bill, aside from education increases and performance pay, but for once their influence didn't matter.

It took far too long to come to this point, but I think the citizens of Minnesota will be well served by this outcome.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Still rainin', still dreamin'

Closer, closer...they are still hanging around, waiting to see if the three leaders can play a game of "rock, paper, scissors" to take care of the minute details...

Close, so very close

They're close, close, close...but still not there. I've heard that the difference is now $40 million, chump change in a $30 billion budget. The bipartisan working group trying to put together their own plan is also close, just needing some more work on the numbers. Presumably, everybody is still negotiating, as they keep on delaying floor sessions into the night. Hopefully, this will be over soon.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

You better run

I guess it's official now: Colleen Rowley is running for Congress.

More chaos

Attempts to reach a deal were dealt a blow today as Rep. Phil Krinkie gave up on the taxes working group, the group that was charged with finding an agreement on the revenue side of the budget. Rep. Krinkie is resolutely against tax increases, and I have to say that at least he is consistent (unlike flip-floppers like Sviggum). He just got sick of cheerleading tax plans that he can't support. There was also a pretty big argument at the meeting today, which the Star Tribune didn't report on, which ended in a shouting match and adjournment.

The breakup of the tax group is going to throw a wrench into the works. They don't even seem that far apart anymore, but the anti-tax far right conservatives are going to revolt if taxes go up. These people won't be satisfied until the government is drowned in a bathtub. Will there be enough people on both sides to pass something?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Messianic zeal against schools

I've heard of this guy before, but this week City Pages did a full write up on his antics. The jist is that Paul Dorr, an extremely fundamentalist Christian who wants to destroy public schools and return to sectarian schools segregated by race, religion, and just about anything else, is injecting himself into school bond referenda all over the Midwest. He leaves sharply divided communities in his wake, but this is of no consequence to him.

Where do these people come from? Like most rabid fundies, he rants about homosexuality, and even claimed once that Budweiser promoted bestiality. I grew up in a pretty rural area, but I still don't know how these people are formed. When they keep to themselves, it's no big deal; live and let live and all that. But when it comes to this...well, it's pretty scary.

Deadline for a deal?

Both leaders in the legislature say that midnight tonight is the deadline for a budget deal, although I don't know if I see much to believe it. The Senate made an offer that sounds pretty reasonable, so we will see what happens.

I'm still not optimistic. The tax working group, made up of House and Senate members, has been charged with reaching a compromise on the revenue side of things, and they don't seem to be getting anywhere. Recently, the House offered to increase cigarette taxes (below a level supported by the governor), but later withdrew that and put forward racino again. Since everybody but Phil Krinkie seem to think that raising cigarette taxes is okay, this looks like a move away from compromise on the part of the House.

However, there is a bipartisan group of legislators trying to reach an agreement. This group sounds like it has almost have the members of the House as participants, people who are obviously tired of the fact that only three people are making the decisions. If they can come up with a compromise that they can support, the shutdown could end, and in an interesting way to boot: bypassing leadership to get the job done.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sharp learning curve ahead

There's a pretty light but illuminating piece in the Star Tribune today on three freshwoman legislators and what they think of the legislative process. It reflects some pretty common frustrations that new legislators have. The biggest is probably the realization that the legislature is not like the real world: you don't simply sit down and compromise when you have to (as we are all seeing). This can be a good thing, if it prevents stupid laws from being enacted. But when it is necessary to actually get things done, like with the budget, it kind of falls apart. No business would delay setting its budget for purely political reasons, and for those people who come from that kind of background, it's absurd how the legislature works.

Another myth is that you are going to be an independent person, always voting in the best interests of your district. A lot of times, you are going to be following the orders of your party leadership. Of course, there are a lot of people who are willing to buck leadership, such as the legislators in the article on the DFL side, or Republicans like Ron Erhardt and Dan Dorman. But in the end, the legislature is a political place.

On the Minnesota Politics Discuss list, some people have said that part of the reason compromise is a dirty word these days is because legislators don't socialize in their free time like they used too. To a certain extent, there's truth to this statement. That's not to say that we should go back to the lobbyist-funded junkets of yesteryear, which did provide plenty of conflicts of interest. Instead, one crazy idea could be for the legislature to pay for these kinds of social gatherings where people from different parties can mingle. At least the taxpayers would know who was paying for these events, and it could help these situations.

Idiots

Another day, and the legislature still hasn't gotten their work done. No new deals, no sign of any movement towards one. Instead, just mindless rambling and sniping. The citizens of the state sure are being served well by these jokers.

At this point, it's ridiculous, and everybody should just focus on one thing they want, and split the rest. The Senate can get a plan that doesn't throw anybody off of MnCare and does away with the benefit caps. The governor and the House can get some kind of school choice program and/or referendum. Since the Minnesota Constitution bans aid to sectarian schools, any school choice program we get is either going to be benign or unconstitutional. And while I don't like initiative, which allows rich yahoos to put forward laws to be voted upon by the population, bypassing the legislature, I do like repealing laws, so a limited referendum process allowing laws to be repealed would be acceptable. Spending is split down the middle, the cigarette tax is raised enough to be able to afford this, and we're done.

On another issue, the Senate keeps trying to pass a continuing resolution to temporarily fund state government and allow state workers to get back and do their work, but a group of mainly House Republicans keeps blocking it. A week or ten day extension, with a promise not to keep extending that deadline, seems perfectly reasonable to me, but some of the bigger blowhards in the House argue that without the "pressure" of a partial government shutdown, things will never get resolved. Wow. That's like designing a new electronic gizmo and when it starts on fire, saying that you shouldn't put the fire out because doing so will remove the pressure to fix the design flaw. Nice.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Transit fares increase

Today is July 1st, and that means transit fees went up today by a quarter. This morning, there were many people who were surprised at having to pay two bucks to get on the bus.

Of course, this was necessitated by a lack of money from the state for transit. The bipartisan transportation bill passed by the legislature would have been a start, but as we all remember Pawlenty vetoed it.

First day of the shutdown

Today's the first day of the shutdown, and nothing happened. Nothing at all. The House and Senate met for about five minutes, then delayed coming back and working all day until they decided to go home. When are they going to meet next? Who knows? When will this be over? Well, I'm growing less optimistic every day. They just keep right on blowing past every stop sign imaginable.