Friday, May 27, 2005

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith

[On April 4, 2005, Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith was posthumously awarded the first Congressional Medal of Honor in the War on Terror. This is the official citation:]

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith

United States Army

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. SmithSergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army.

Remember our troops

This Memorial Day, please fly your American flag, and on Monday morning, make your way to your local Memorial Day observance to remember our troops.

Earlier this week, I attended the memorial ceremony at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, conducted by the Japanese American Veterans of Minnesota. Many of those in attendance, many World War II veterans and their spouses, watched me grow up in the 1960s and '70s. Others didn't know me but knew my parents. An Army chaplain addressed the group. A roll call of deceased was read, which included my World War II veteran dad, who died in April last year. The organization provided bouquets to decorate the graves of our loved ones, and volunteers brought a bouquet to the graves of those whose relatives were not present that day. Afterwords, the group adjourned for its traditional luncheon held at a Chinese buffet.

On Monday we will attend a memorial observance conducted by the Wayzata American Legion post. In the past we have greeted U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-3rd District) at cemetery ceremonies in Wayzata.

We owe our liberty to our brave and dedicated troops in all branches of the Armed Forces. As Sen. Zell Miller (D-Georgia) put it so eloquently last year:
Nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators.

Tell that to the one-half of Europe that was freed because Franklin Roosevelt led an army of liberators, not occupiers.

Tell that to the lower half of the Korean Peninsula that is free because Dwight Eisenhower commanded an army of liberators, not occupiers.

Tell that to the half a billion men, women and children who are free today from the Poland to Siberia, because Ronald Reagan rebuilt a military of liberators, not occupiers.

Never in the history of the world has any soldier sacrificed more for the freedom and liberty of total strangers than the American soldier.

And, our soldiers don't just give freedom abroad, they preserve it for us here at home.

For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.

It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom he abuses to burn that flag.

Flying the flag and showing up on Memorial Day for a sincere tribute to those who made the supreme sacrifice for our country, or who passed on as veterans, is the least we can do to say thanks.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Senate DFL looks to 2006

As the Legislature goes into overtime again with the 2005 special session, Senate DFLers must be taking stock of their options for 2006 with some anxiety.

For example, Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins), chair of the Senate Education Committee, failed to deliver on key legislative priorities of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) in the omnibus K-12 education bill that passed the Senate:
  • Did not include levy cap relief

  • Did not include cost differential for suburban schools

  • Did include a mandatory statewide insurance pool for teachers (costing school districts millions); in fact, Sen. Kelley voted against making the insurance pool optional.

Sen. Kelley will have to find other ways of scoring points with his constituent groups, whether he decides to run for re-election or for higher office. The latter would be more attractive to him should the DFL lose their slim majority in the Senate next year. In its May 23 Capitol Compass e-newsletter, the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) reports on speculation that Sen. Kelley will announce his run for governor next month.

Majority Leader Sen. Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar) may be looking for other career opportunities as well, considering his performance on two bills signed into law by Governor Tim Pawlenty this week:
  • The quiet reenactment of the Minnesota Citizens' Personal Protection Act of 2003, a.k.a. the "conceal carry" law, which was previously struck down by the courts on a technicality. Sen. Johnson allowed the reenacting legislation to be considered in the Senate, and he voted in favor of it. The courts handed gun rights opponents an opportunity to shoot down the law, but the DFL missed the target.

  • The Positive Alternatives Act, the number one legislative priority of pro-life group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), which passed the Senate with Sen. Johnson's "yea" vote.

Look for DFL legislators to stall and obstruct as a way to keep themselves in the spotlight after the Memorial Day recess. After the regular session, it's about all they have left.

UPDATE: Minnesota Democrats Exposed ran this AP story today on Sen. Kelley's presumptive (he's filed his papers and scheduled an event for next week) run for governor. SD 44 anyone?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Dance With Who Brung You

You got to dance with who brung you
Swing with who swung you
Don't be a fickle fool
You came here with a gal
Who has always been your pal
Don't you leave her for the first unattached girl, it just ain't cool
You got to dance with who brung you
Swing with who swung you
Life ain't no forty-yard dash
Be in it for the long run
'Cause in the long run you'll have more fun
If you dance with who brung you to the bash

Republicans from Bill Frist to Tim Pawlenty would do well to review their dance cards before the 2006 elections.

Hugh Hewitt is furious over the Senate Republicans' (remember, the majority party?) failure to pass the "Constitutional option" that would have ended filibusters against judicial nominees:
Not one dime more for the NRSC from me unless and until the Supreme Court nominee gets confirmed, and no other filibusters develop. I won't spend money on a caucus supporting organization when the caucus can't deliver a majority. Mark Kennedy and other Senate candidates with spines, but not for the NRSC.

The fetching Margaret Strom, one of the gals and guys who brought Governor Tim Pawlenty to the bash, is clear-eyed in her disillusionment over The Gov's Strib-tickling cigarette tax and his administration in general:
I am not exactly a naif when it comes to politics. No matter how much I love my guy or gal (whoever he or she is) during the endorsement battles and elections, I just know in the back of my mind that this person will betray me, betray the issues and the causes I believe in. That's politics and politics is about compromise and the need to be pragmatic. But that compromise needs to be in the service of some larger vision. Otherwise, it is power for its own sake and there is no more corrupting influence in politics. Pawlenty ran as a conservative Republican so most of us believed that that vision was about smaller, less intrusive Government, attained not just by cutting taxes and cutting budgets but by reform. Pawlenty brought so much energy into the office, with all his talk of "change agents" that when you look at what he has done, the contrast is more than a little shocking. Maybe even more shocking than Ventura's "we shocked the world" campaign followed by the quintessential establishment administration.

In his open letter to the governor, King Banaian tries to rehabilitate him with Conservative Econ 101:
The first thing we need to do is keep your eyes on what is important, and what is important is not the size of the deficit, but the size of government. The problem with ever proposing to put up taxes is that it requires, if you're a fiscal conservative, having enough votes later down to take them down. The problem with cigarette taxes is that once they are put up, there isn't a constituency clamoring to take them down, because smokers are a minority. If you raise cigarette taxes, then, you've made sure that government gets permanently bigger. That is not just a "bad thing", that is the baddest thing when you are a fiscal conservative.

What worries me the most is the effect that this mass "majority party" syndrome will have on Republican activists down where I live, at the grassroots level. One such activist and contributor put it to me this way today in an e-mail:
Matt, my wife and I are so fed up with the recent capitulation of the Republican party and the Republican Senators on the judicial appointments. We are stepping back for any time and financial support/commitments. Not only did we both work the phones on 3 different days, probably (20-25) hours total; I worked a St. Paul precinct as a poll challenger. If our party doesn't know how to act when they won the election and are in the majority, if they don't turn this thing around, it's the last active support you will get from our family. There are 5 eligible voters in this family, all Republican at this time. You need to pass the word up the line, we are not happy campers on this end. Maybe we should have run McCain, as it looks like he is running the show anyway.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Minnesota House of Representatives Taxes Committee

Memo to the House Taxes Committee: Let us vote!

Name (Party) Phone E-mail

Chair: Philip Krinkie (R) 296-2907

Vice Chair: Dean Simpson (R) 296-4293

Lead-DFL: Ann Lenczewski (DFL) 296-4218

Members to call with the message "Let us vote!":

Katie Sieben (DFL) 651-296-4342

Dean Simpson (R) 651-296-4293

Joe Atkins (DFL) 651-296-4192

Peter Nelson (R) 651-296-5377

Connie Bernardy (DFL) 651-296-5510

Joe Mullery (DFL) 651-296-4262

Lyle Koenen (DFL) 651-296-4346

Gregory M. Davids (R) 651-296-9278

Jim Davnie (DFL) 651-296-0173

Laura Brod (R) 651-296-4229

Ray Vandeveer (R) 651-296-4124

Chris DeLaForest (R) 651-296-4231

Mike Jaros (DFL) 651-296-4246

Jim Knoblach (R) 651-296-6316

John Lesch (DFL) 651-296-4224

Tom Rukavina (DFL) 651-296-0170

Irv Anderson (DFL) 651-296-4936

Stadium tax rounds second base

After a proposal to require voter approval (as per state law) for a $1.1 billion windfall to the Minnesota Twins and Hennepin County failed last night by a vote of 10-9, the stadium tax authorization bill itself will be heard again by the Minnesota House Local Government Committee. If that committee passes it, it will be referred to the House Taxes Committee.

 15.10     Subd. 3.  [SALES AND USE TAX.] (a) Notwithstanding 
15.11 Minnesota Statutes, section 477A.016, or any other law, the
15.12 governing body of the county may, by ordinance, impose an
15.13 additional sales tax at a rate not to exceed 0.15 percent on
15.14 sales taxable under Minnesota Statutes, chapter 297A, that occur
15.15 within the county, and may also, by ordinance, impose a
15.16 compensating use tax at a rate not to exceed 0.15 percent on
15.17 uses of property within the county, the sale of which would be
15.18 subject to the additional sales tax but for the fact that the
15.19 property was sold outside the county. For purposes of this
15.20 subdivision, sales that occur within the county do not include
15.21 sales that would be exempt pursuant to Minnesota Statutes,
15.22 section 297A.68, subdivision 11, 15, or 16, if the name of the
15.23 county were substituted for the words "state," "the state," or
15.24 "Minnesota."
15.25 (b) The tax authorized under this act is exempt from
15.26 Minnesota Statutes, section 297A.99, subdivisions 2 and 3.
There is plenty for Republicans and Democrats to hate about this tax-without-referendum. The Pioneer Press reported today:
But opponents, led by Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, said supporters' real fear of a referendum is simply that residents will vote it down.

Lenczewski, in whose district the Mall of America sits, came to the committee with 32 amendments to offer — most of which aimed at inhibiting or slowing the ballpark process. She managed to offer nine before chairman Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, adjourned the meeting in accordance with House rules, which state that committees must end their work at midnight.
The Senate District 42 Republicans web site is all over this issue and many others, with detailed talking points that you can use when you phone the legislature to demand a referendum in Hennepin County. For example, did you know that the Twins would retain naming rights for the stadium, enabling the team to recoup virtually all of its $125 million "contribution?" Sounds like a free stadium for the Twins to us!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

$1.1 billion for the Twins?

Our friends John Knight and Linda Koblick, who ran against each other in 2002 for Hennepin County commissioner (Linda won), today find themselves on the same side of the Twins stadium referendum issue.

John Knight asks, "Where are the 'free-market' Republicans when you need them?"

The economics of major league baseball do need to change. Right now, millionaire players and billionaire owners have it both ways -- justifying their high incomes while forcing taxpayers to pay for their facilities. Pohlad says his one-third portion is a "fair-share percentage to pay." That sounds odd to me -- I would never expect taxpayers to underwrite 66 percent of my company's facilities. Where are the "free-market" Republicans when you need them?

Other stadiums have been built with as little as zero public dollars -- zero. It can be done. We deserve better.

I will be contacting my legislators and letting them know that if they approve this without requiring a voter referendum, I will consider them as having individually approved this tax increase. My request is simple: Let the people decide this one.

--John Knight, "Let county voters decide on Twins stadium tax," Star Tribune, April 29, 2005

Linda Koblock reveals that the proposed tax will actually raise $1.1 billion over 30 years, for a $478 million stadium:
The Hennepin County Board is proceeding with a request to the Legislature for authority to impose a .15 percent sales tax and is requesting an exemption to the referendum requirement that state statute mandates to issue bonds for constructing a $478 million Twins stadium in Minneapolis. This tax will raise $1.1 billion over 30 years.

A May 6 Star Tribune editorial ("This is a republic; stop with the referendum talk") implied that referendums aren't appropriate for this taxation proposal. Not true. State statute requires a referendum.

This is not a simple "3 cents on $20" tax deal that gives us outdoor baseball. That's the mantra the advocates want everyone to repeat, without asking for the details. Those advocates designed this, in timing and in process, to thwart effective public review and input. The people and businesses in Hennepin County affected by this taxing decision deserve to decide whether this billion-dollar tax proposal makes sense to them, and provides them with value for the public tax dollar. They also deserve a forum where they can speak and be heard.

--Linda Koblick, "Stadium rush job leaves public out," Star Tribune, May 10, 2005

If the Legislature allows Hennepin County to levy this tax without a referendum, as required by state law, we have truly entered the post-democracy, taxation without representation era. Voters should remember the outcome at the ballot box next year.

UPDATE: On "Midday" with Gary Eichten on Minnesota Public Radio this morning, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin were asked how they can favor this tax which will raise over twice the construction cost of the stadium. Both cited the need to make a variety of other "investments" in addition to the stadium. When asked how they can be against a referendum, Rybak cited the need to avoid the California model of government by plebiscite, letting elected officials off the hook for bad decisions. Minnesota "needs" this stadium, said both candidates. There was no discussion of the state law that mandates a referendum for this tax increase. Rybak and McLaughlin are seeking the DFL endorsement for mayor.

UPDATE: Read the stadium resolution passed by the Hennepin County Board. The money paragraph:
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners approves a sales tax as discussed in the proposal, attached and incorporated herein by reference; that the proposed rate of tax will be .15 percent; that the revenues from the sales tax will be used to pay for ballpark financing, construction and development costs, capital improvements, and operations of the ballpark commission; in addition excess revenues, if any, may be used to fund youth activities and amateur sports, and library hours; that $1.1 billion, as estimated by the Minnesota Department of Revenue, will be raised before the tax expires; and that the estimated length to the tax will be until December 31, 2036.
Three words: LET US VOTE.

Monday, May 09, 2005

When being "right" is not enough

No New Taxes!

Taxpayers Bill of Rights!

Two tenets of the conservative movement, both made into household terms by our friend David Strom of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota (whom you might meet at Keegan's if you aren't lucky, according to a recent funny Northern Alliance Radio ad).

But sometimes just being "right" -- in the sense of correct, valid, commonsense, ideological -- may not be quite enough.

On his radio show last Saturday morning, Mr. Strom was challenged by his guest, Plymouth mayor Judy Johnson on these proposals and others. For Johnson, current President of the League of Minnesota Cities, it's a matter of another conservative tenet: local control.

Most Minnesotans would probably be surprised at how much state law restricts local units of government, from levy limts to salary caps, to the proposed surveys which would constitute an expansion of the existing Truth in Taxation provision. I was clueless about such things, until Johnson enlightened me a while back with her years of experience trying to serve the citizens and solve the problems of our growing western Twin Cities suburb. In nonpartisan offices like the city council (and like the Legislature was until 1973), ideology tends to take a backseat to getting the job done. Being nonpartisan also allows you to ask questions and point out contradictions from both sides of the aisle.

Faith and politics don't mix in some churches, but they often combine over coffee and doughnuts at my church. Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a retired executive who is advocating on behalf of the daycare associated with our church. He is finding that fiscal conservatism is sometimes at odds with Jesus's commandment to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. He argued that increased "investments" in early childhood programs have a manyfold return down the road. Sure, we should encourage kids to finish school, get a job, get married, and have kids (in that order), but the reality is, stuff happens, and the adults and children caught in circumstances are very real.

The challenge for policymakers of all political stripes is how to remain true to your school of thought while solving the very real problems of society. Sometimes they are forced (or choose to) set aside society's problems until after something else that is very real: the next election.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Gift to illegals could endanger in-state tuition

Should illegal aliens be granted in-state tuition to Minnesota colleges and universities?

That is exactly the consequence of a provision in the Minnesota Senate’s omnibus higher education bill (SF 2265), debated and passed yesterday:
Sec. 5.  [135A.53] [RESIDENT TUITION.] 
9.1 (a) A student shall qualify for a resident tuition rate or
9.2 its equivalent at state universities and colleges, including the
9.3 University of Minnesota, if the student meets all of the
9.4 following requirements:
9.5 (1) high school attendance within the state for three or
9.6 more years;
9.7 (2) graduation from a state high school or attainment
9.8 within the state of the equivalent of high school graduation;
9.9 and
9.10 (3) registration as an entering student at, or current
9.11 enrollment in, a public institution of higher education.
9.12 (b) This section is in addition to any other statute, rule,
9.13 or higher education institution regulation or policy providing
9.14 eligibility for a resident tuition rate or its equivalent to a
9.15 student.

Sen. David Gather (R-Plymouth), attempted to amend the bill with this requirement: “and is lawfully present in the United States.” Incredibly, the amendment failed by a vote of 20 to 43, a fact which somehow did not make it into the Star Tribune’s coverage of the bill (“Senate bill proposes $239M for higher ed”). Republicans Bill Belanger, Steve Dille, Bob Kierlan, Paul Koering, Cal Larson, Thomas Neuville, Gen Olson, Claire Robling, Julie Rosen, and David Senjem helped to defeat fellow Republican Senator Gaither’s amendment.

How can Senators (and in some cases lawyers and officers of the court) vote to provide this benefit to individuals residing in the United States illegally, not only condoning the crime but encouraging it?

How can the state justify, let alone pay for, this benefit to illegal aliens that is not available to citizens? The concept of in-state tuition, which makes college more affordable for our state’s residents, could be phased out altogether.

Granting this benefit to illegals would result in millions of dollars in lost revenue to Minnesota’s colleges and universities, and raises questions about the number of illegal aliens currently enrolled in the state’s K-12 public schools and receiving expensive special education and English as a Second Language (ESL) services. Opening wide the doors of our colleges and universities with this subsidy to illegal aliens would be a slap in the face to the legal immigrants and natural born citizens who play by the rules to live, be educated, and work in this land of opportunity. It must not survive conference committee or be signed into law by Governor Pawlenty.

Bread and circuses

The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now concerns itself no more and longs eagerly for just two things -- bread and circuses.
--Juvenal (c. 60–c. 130), Roman satiric poet. Satires, no. 10

What is the purpose of government in the United States?

Is it to secure the rights for all citizens of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

Or is it to grow its own budget, throwing the populace bread and circuses along the way to ease the pain of the increasing burden of taxes?

Now that Hennepin County has decided to ask the Legislature for permission to levy a tax to help build a coloseum for the ultimate bread and circuses, professional sports, (Hennepin County OKs Twins stadium plan, Star Tribune, May 4, 2005) a re-reading of Juvenal seems timely.

As former Hennepin County Commissioner candidate John Knight said in a letter to the editor, "There is lots of talk of how small the Twins stadium tax will be. Proponents say it will only cost you a few extra cents for this, a few extra bucks for that. Call it the 'invisible tax.' The fact is this proposed tax increase amounts to $353 million in new taxes, which is real money -- our money. As a taxpayer and voter, I am insulted to hear that a referendum 'would kill the deal.'"

We elect our officials to represent us in the forums of government, but levying a controversial, county-wide tax like this without a referendum borders on taxation without representation. I say this as someone who grew up listening to Twins games on WCCO, watching the Hamms bear on TV, and reading the Twins-O-Gram at Met Stadium. Kudos to Commissioners Linda Koblick, Penny Steele, and Gail Dorfman for casting three courageous votes against the plan after a butt-busting seven-hour public hearing.

Ballparks in Phoenix and other cities have been built with taxpayer funds without voter approval. Will Hennepin County be next?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Before politics, beyond politics

Before this morning, I don't think I have ever been anywhere at six in the morning wearing a coat and tie.

Before my usual morning rituals of a one-mile walk, checking e-mail, driving to work, even before breakfast, I got dressed and made my way to Vision of Glory Lutheran Church in Plymouth for their eighth annual National Day of Prayer Breakfast. In the process of praying for our nation, I witnessed first-hand how our elected officials can lead in a realm beyond politics.

Just by his presence and by breaking bread with his constituents over breakfast, Sen. David Gaither (R-Plymouth), in whose district the event took place, made a statement: this is important, I stand with you.

As emcee, Sen. Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater), who introduced the (unanimously passed) state Senate resolution for the Minnesota Day of Prayer, made a connection beyond political gain (both her state Senate district and the Sixth district for which she is a Congressional candidate, are far away from Plymouth).

By leading the assembly in prayer, both Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) and Plymouth Mayor Judy Johnson exercised their freedom of religious expression without imposing their faith on anyone.

In his proclamation of Minnesota's Day of Prayer, Governor Tim Pawlenty said:
Whereas we know that our state has been strengthened by the conscience-based actions of people of faith from all walks of life; and

Whereas we know many of the challenges we face require a change of heart, which government cannot legislate or enforce, but which spiritual growth can bring about; and

Whereas our Constitution begins with the words, "We, the people of the state of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution,"

Now, therefore, I, Tim Pawlenty, do hereby proclaim Thursday, May 5, 2005 as Day of Prayer in the state of Minnesota and humbly encourage citizens of faith to turn to God as their understanding and beliefs direct, that we may open our hearts in thanksgiving for blessings received and to seek strength, wisdom and encouragement to build a better Minnesota for all our people.
We should be thankful for politicians who place something before, and above, mere politics.