Monday, November 03, 2014

Majority rules

As Scott, my old political mentor and impetus for this blog, always used to tell me, "It's all about the gavels." Put another way, "the majority rules."

The partisan split in the 134-seat Minnesota House of Representatives is currently 73 DFL to 61 Republican. This makes the DFL the "majority party" by twelve members. Because an even split would be 67 members each, the Republican Party is seven seats from gaining majority status in the upcoming election.

The majority party gets the better offices, establishes the session rules, appoints the committee chairs, sets the agendas, schedules the hearings, determines which bills get heard in committee and how fast they pass out of committee (if at all), decides which bills are heard on the floor, and generally determines the political realities at the Legislature.

It's much more fun to be in the majority. The majority party gets the gavels. When one party has the majority in the House, Senate, and Governor's office, it's called "single-party rule." The DFL is the single-party ruler now, which has given Minnesota the MNSure debacle, a $77 million Senate Legislative Office Building, the controversial $1.6 billion special-interest Southwest LRT train, crumbling roads and bridges, and a persistent education achievement gap.

When vetting candidates, local parties must weigh "electability" against ideology. Both are important, but if you don't have the gavels, as Scott would say, your caucus gets to spend much of the session keeping its agenda on life support until the next election.

Our candidate for House in District 44B, Ryan Rutzick, is the most "electable" candidate we have endorsed in years. Rutzick is young, energetic, photogenic, and charismatic. He can work a parade crowd and deliver a stump speech like few I have ever seen in my ten-plus years of campaign volunteering.

Ryan Rutzick for House
Ryan Rutzick (source: campaign)
Rutzick is running for a rare open seat, which is being vacated by the retiring four-term Rep. John Benson (DFL). The conservative Republicans on the "B-side" of 44 have been trying to elect a conservative Republican to unseat the incumbent ever since Republican Rep. Ron Abrams, a moderate, left the House for the Hennepin County bench in 2006.

Various political organizations and pundits have included 44B as a competitive and therefore crucial election. If seven seats flip to the "R" side of the aisle, the House Republican caucus will be the majority caucus. (The Senate is not up for election this year, and the governor's race is being called a matter of turnout by both parties.)

Judging by his endorsements, Ryan Rutzick is a moderate Republican, in the mold of moderates like Abrams and others who were swept out of office in the conservative wave of the early 2000s:
  • Senate District 44 Republicans
  • Rep. Erik Paulsen, U.S. Congressman (MN-3), who previously represented Eden Prairie in the Minnesota House
  • Former U.S. Congressman Jim Ramstad
  • Tom Horner, former Independence Party candidate for governor
  • Arne Carlson, former Republican Governor of Minnesota
  • Star Tribune editorial board
  • Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
  • TwinWest Chamber of Commerce
  • National Federation of Independent Businesses
  • Minnesota Medical Association MEDPAC
Rutzick's campaign has also attracted independent expenditures from the state GOP (not a given) and the Minnesota Jobs Coalition.

To put the brakes on the runaway train of liberal one-party rule in Saint Paul, first we have to get elected.
In this district, a pragmatic problem-solver like Rutzick may be what the House Republicans need to get elected, get the majority, get the gavels.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Do something

2012 Minnesota Presidential election results by county
Source: Wikimedia Commons, By Inqvisitor (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0
With about a week-and-a-half to go to Election Day, both parties are hoping to amp up voter enthusiasm and get out the vote. The Democrats are trotting out every prominent member of their party, except for the President, to stump for the DFL. Republicans are also working to increase voter turnout, always a challenge in a non-Presidential election year.

To all those enthusiastic party faithful whom I met at our precinct caucus, I have just one last request.

Do something.

There are still many folks who dutifully filled the seats at caucus and convention whom I have not yet seen at a parade or phone bank shift. I have not seen their by-lines in the letters to the editor. I am not seeing them in Facebook photos of candidate events. Granted, I was not able to attend my Senate District gala this year, so maybe they were all there and I just missed them.

If everyone who attended their precinct caucus would just work one get-out-the-vote phone bank shift, stood on a corner waving a candidate sign for one hour on election day, wrote one letter to the editor, posted or shared one party or candidate post on their Facebook page, brought one friend to the polls, if everyone did something, it could tip a close election the "right" way.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vote what I say, not what I do

Source: Wikimedia Commons (John Snape) CC BY-SA 3.0
Republicans face an uphill battle in a state like Minnesota, where words matter more than deeds. As long as the majority of voters like what they hear, that's who gets their vote.

The KSTP/SurveyUSA Poll results announced at the beginning of October revealed an interesting dichotomy among the voters questioned by the survey:

52% of respondents disapprove of the performance of Minnesota's government health insurance exchange, MNSure, which in the wake of scandal and mismanagement has made healthcare less affordable and resulted in less choice for consumers.

66% of respondents disapprove of the new $77 million Senate Legislative Office Building (SLOB), passed by the DFL-controlled legislature in a classic dead-of-night, end-of-session, buried-in-a-tax-bill gambit.

61% of respondents rate Minnesota's roads, highways, and bridges as "Fair" or "Poor," compared to 38% who rate them "Excellent" or "Good." But at least we have trains and bike paths that are useless for commerce or for hauling the fishing boat up to Brainerd.

The survey didn't need to ask whether Minnesotans are satisfied or dissatisfied with the educational achievement gap in the school districts with the highest per-pupil state funding (Minneapolis and Saint Paul).

And now for the bad news for Republicans:

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Mark Dayton is doing as Governor?

53% Approve
37% Disapprove
10% Not Sure

Minnesotans elected a state auditor (twice) without a background in accounting or auditing, a governor who was "unaware" of certain key provisions in major legislation until after he signed them into law, and a United States Senator who votes with his party 97% of the time.

There is a saying, "I hear what you say, but I believe what you do." On Election Day, many Minnesota voters seem to be saying, "Hear no evil," or perhaps they are too enamored with bread and circuses to care.

There was a glimmer of hope for Republican candidate for governor, Jeff Johnson, in a more recent KSTP/SurveyUSA poll. Johnson's support among independent voters has increased, with Gov. Dayton's lead in that demographic now in the single digits. Independents are by definition less ideological than the party faithful, which should favor the more pragmatic, results-oriented candidate. If Republicans can get out the vote, that may be just enough.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Education funding vs. education outcomes

Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson at Global Academy, Oct. 13

Jeff Johnson needs to steer the focus of the K-12 education conversation away from "cutting funding" to improving outcomes.

The Minneapolis and Saint Paul school districts receive the most money per pupil, thanks to Minnesota's highly political school funding "formula," yet the Gopher State's achievement gap remains among the highest in the country. It doesn't matter much how Representative Johnson voted on this or that education finance bill back in the day. Why? Because Minnesota funds schools, instead of each child.

For decades, the cards at the Capitol have been stacked in favor of the teacher's union and big city school districts. Education Minnesota has the slick TV ads, a huge permanent presence in the Education Building at the State Fair, and a forward operating base across the street from the Capitol. Make no mistake, in spite of the cheerful public relations and your fondness for your child's teacher, the union exists to act in the best interests of its members.

Johnson's visit this week to the Global Academy public charter school in Columbia Heights highlighted how kids can benefit when academics take precedence over politics. Among the school's challenges:
  • 98% of students are immigrants themselves or children of immigrants
  • 92% of students receive free or reduced-price lunches
  • 74% of students are non-white
  • 10 different languages are spoken by student body
  • In 2008, 88% of students were classified ESL (English as a second language)
In spite of these challenges:
  • In 2014, just 46% of students are classified ESL, due to its students becoming proficient in English
  • Global Academy students score higher than the state average (of all students regardless of race or income) on all three subjects tested (reading, math and science)
  • On average, Global Academy students score 30-40 points higher on state standardized tests than peer students in traditional district public schools
  • In 2014, Global Academy students ranked #1 in reading on the Star Tribune “Beating the Odds” list (highest proficiency among metro-area schools with at least 85% poverty)
  • Global Academy ranked #6 in math in the Star Tribune list
Charter schools, even though they are still public schools, are anathema to the education establishment. With outcomes like this, don't you wonder why?

When Republicans focus on excellent education outcomes (or lack thereof in the case of those who put the "L" in the DFL), they can win. In a contest over who can outspend the other on cradle-to-grave government education programs, Republicans don't have a school prayer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lowering standards for teachers and academics will not close the achievement gap

Lowering standards for teachers and academics will not close the nation's widest achievement gap and give Minnesota and our kids a bright future. Put Minnesota's students first, not the teachers' union. Vote Jeff Johnson for Governor and Ryan Rutzick for Representative in Minnesota House District 44B.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gov. Dayton earns an "F" in EdPolicy 101

Source: Minnesota Dept. of Education

“The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools.” —Constitution of the State of Minnesota, Article XIII, Sec. 1

When the DFL puts the interests of the teachers' union above the needs of Minnesota's public school students, we get headlines like this, year after year:
Don't remember hearing about this? It may be because the state Department of Education released their annual report of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments standardized testing on August 26, when Minnesotans were either at the lake or enjoying the unofficial last week of summer at the Minnesota State Fair.

By doubling the number of standardized tests that middle and high school students will be required to take, Gov. Dayton and the DFL legislature have ensured that “paralysis by analysis” will preserve Minnesota's achievement gap between white and minority students for another generation.

In contrast, union interests are being well-served by the majority party in Saint Paul:
  • Democrats prioritize seniority over teaching ability (one doesn't guarantee the other) when they oppose ending the state's last-in/first-out teacher layoff law.
  • Democrats protect union members when they oppose introducing innovative programs like Teach for America into low-performing public schools.
  • Gov. Dayton put union interests above high teaching standards when he vetoed a bill that would have required new teachers to pass a basic skills test before teaching in a classroom.
When he was a Minnesota legislator, Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson voted to increase K-12 funding, although some would define voting for a smaller increase than was requested as “voting to decrease funding.” Governor Johnson would advocate for genuine education reforms that would make Minnesota's students, especially those who are unfairly stuck in the gap, the top priority again.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Truth, justice, and the American way

Figures of Soviet soldiers at the base of a Soviet Army monument transformed into superheroes in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“Well, Doctor, what have we got, a Republic or a Monarchy?”
“A Republic, if you can keep it.” —Benjamin Franklin (attributed)

On this thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States — on United Airlines Flight 93, the World Trade Center in New York City, and The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. — we remember those who were murdered by those who hated America. We should also understand that there are still those with a deadly hatred for this country and all for which it stands (see the documentary America: Imagine a World Without Her, and its companion book by Dinesh D'Souza).

But we should also remind ourselves that there are so many of us in the United States and around the world who still believe in and want to preserve all that is good about the U.S.A.

This startling and oddly reassuring image showed up recently in a newsfeed from, of all places, the Moscow Times. I tweeted it almost right away.
President Obama said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” With all due respect, Mr. President, if every country is exceptional, no country is exceptional. Perhaps that was your point.

That Bulgarian graffiti artists would transform a Soviet military monument into a monument to American superheroes (and Santa Claus and is that Ronald McDonald??) is remarkable on multiple levels. People from other countries often understand American exceptionalism better than U.S. citizens who take their country's freedoms and opportunities for granted.

Photograph by Dorothea Lange, Oakland, California, 3/13/42, for the War Relocation Authority. University of California collection.
Japanese Americans of my parents' generation who happened to live on the West Coast in 1942 suffered terrible racism and were unjustly incarcerated in camps for years. It was illegal for those born in Japan and other Asian nations to become naturalized U.S. citizens until 1952. Yet many of them enlisted in the U.S. military, fought with valor, and remained in the U.S. to help raise the Baby Boom generation.

Why? Around the turn of the twentieth century, their parents immigrated to this country, with no hope for a better future in Japan, many homeless, rising to the middle class in a generation. They believed in American ideals, some dying on the battlefield defending those ideals, even when America sometimes did not live up to them. In short, they were Americans.

Family friends of ours fled Castro's Cuba during the 1960s. They often wonder what would happen if the United States fundamentally changes from its founding principles of freedom. “Where would we go?” they ask.

Fly the flag, petition the government with your grievances, thank a military veteran, say the Pledge of Allegiance, write a letter to the editor, teach your children why they should know the Constitution. Their future, and our country's future, depends on it. It's our country — if we can keep it.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Grand old party in the park

Mike McFadden

The Republicans of Minnesota SD44 put on their annual picnic in the park Thursday evening, complete with barbecue, catching up with old friends, and candidates, candidates, candidates — more great candidates than I can remember at a single SD44 picnic. The candidates who will face a primary election next Tuesday asked for the full support of the party faithful in attendance, who endorsed them at the state convention earlier this year in Rochester.

Republican-endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate Mike McFadden was relaxed and smiling after meeting voters at Farmfest this week in Morgan, Minn. McFadden talked about his farm family roots and listening to farmers talk about government over-regulation and high taxes. Unfortunately, I didn't notice McFadden's colorful campaign-graphic decorated pickup truck until it was leaving the parking lot, so I wasn't able to take a photo of it for the blog.

No doubt in spite of trying, the Republican-endorsed candidate for Minnesota Governor, SD44's own Jeff Johnson, failed to be in two places at once. So his top campaign surrogate, Johnson's wife Sondi, conveyed Jeff's greetings and heartfelt thanks for SD44's loyal support of his campaign. (There was no sign of the family bulldog and Jeff's political alter ego, Chester.)

Randy Gilbert, the Republican-endorsed candidate for state auditor and the only candidate who is actually an auditor, was very happy to report receiving positive press and support from regular folks on the Iron Range (including Gilbert, Minn.!), a traditional DFL stronghold.

Randy Gilbert

HD44A Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) and candidate for House District 44B Ryan Rutzick  stressed the need to win back control of the state House (the Senate is not up for reelection this cycle), and how close Republicans are to do just that (a few thousand more votes than in 2012 to flip a handful of seats from DFL to R).

Currently in her fourth term in the House, Anderson among friends is as approachable and humble as any mom in Plymouth, but in off-the-cuff remarks about, well, pick the issue, it's soon clear that she is a principled legislator and formidable adversary on the floor of the House or the campaign trail. Rutzick is an energetic (Anderson called him "Type-A") businessman with early fundraising success (including money in the bank and no debt). Unlike Rutzick, the three unendorsed DFL candidates for HD44B are fighting to survive next week's primary election.

Patti Meier, GOP Senate District 44 chair, urged the well-fed activists at the picnic to sign any one or all of the several sign-up sheets for various campaign activities and fundraisers, including parades, the peripatetic tasks of literature dropping and door knocking, and phone calling. (I described the last of these in my previous post.)

Gala co-chairs Sheri Auclair and Jennifer Rowe were pleased to announce that the SD44 event of the season on October 10 at the Medina Country Club will be hosted by talk radio hosts Jack Tomczack and Benjamin Kruze.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A new way of smilin' and dialin'

Ronald Reagan starred in a 1960s black-and-white film that showed off what was then state-of-the-art get-out-the-vote (GOTV) technology: typewritten lists of voters and telephone numbers, and rows of dedicated volunteers dialing (as in rotary dialing) each call to ask for their vote in the next election. Unfortunately, every phone bank shift I have ever worked has relied on pretty much the same system: what Mr. Spock might characterize as “stone knives and bearskins.”

This week, I worked a shift at a GOP phone bank to remind folks to vote in next Tuesday's primary election for our endorsed candidates. I am happy to say that Reagan wouldn't have recognized it.

The volunteers still do the smiling, but the computers do the dialing. The software can even leave a voice mail message while the volunteer moves to the next call. These two simple innovations should significantly increase the number of voters reached per hour and make the volunteer's job much easier and less error-prone.

This year, it's easier and more convenient than ever to plow through a couple hours of phone bank calls, and more productive to boot. Contact the Minnesota GOP or your local BPOU (Senate District or county) to sign up. (Paper lists, pencils, and push-button telephones are still available if you would prefer them!)