Friday, March 30, 2007

Stay out of the pool

The Education Minnesota teachers union, over multiple legislative sessions, has been lobbying in favor of creating a mandatory statewide health insurance pool for all public school district employees. The legislative action committees (LAC) of west metro school districts such as Wayzata, Minnetonka, and Hopkins all oppose this bill, as does the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. The Hopkins Schools LAC sums it up well:
Please contact your legislators and the governor as soon as possible to express your feelings on the mandatory statewide health insurance pool bills that are being considered by both the Minnesota House and Senate finance committees at the present time. (House File 464, chief author Rep. Sertich and Senate File 276, chief author Sen. Betzold).

Hopkins Public Schools has worked hard with its employee groups to control health insurance costs and has achieved a remarkably low average of 4.5 percent in health insurance cost increases over the last three years (two 0 percent increases, one 14 percent increase).

The mandatory bills now before the House and Senate would most likely increase health care costs in our district. This would decrease the dollars available for students. Furthermore, the legislation is written so generally that it is impossible to develop an accurate projection of costs to support the measure.

In its current version, this bill does not have an opt-out provision for districts (an opt-out amendment failed on the Senate floor) such as those in the west metro, which stand to lose big bucks if the bill is passed into law. Education Minnesota strongly opposes an opt-out provision, saying that it would defeat the purpose of the pool.

In 2006, Education Minnesota was the number one lobbying group at the Legislature by expenditures, spending about $1,520,000 in 2006 to represent 70,000 members, or about one percent of the state's population.

School districts rely on grassroots lobbying by parents, and by lobbyists (paid by the school districts — ultimately, taxpayers) such as the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

As of this writing, the House companion bill is still in committee.

A correction and an apology

Yesterday I posted a report that Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) left an E-12 Budget Division committee hearing in the Senate to avoid a difficult vote on Senate File 276, which would establish a mandatory statewide health insurance pool for all public school district employees. I based this report on a number of sources from whom I occasionally receive information relating to legislation on ed policy and finance.

This report was in error. SF 276 has never appeared before the Senate E-12 Budget Division, so there was obviously never such a vote. In fact, when an amendment allowing individual school districts to opt-out of the plan was offered on the floor of the Senate by Sen. Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton), Sen. Bonoff joined the Republicans to support it (the amendment was defeated roughly along party lines). The bill was passed by the Senate with a similar margin, and again Sen. Bonoff voted with the Republicans against it. (The companion bill did appear before the House E-12 Education Committee.)

I apologized to Sen. Bonoff for the error by phone last night, and I apologize to her and you, my readers, today. To avoid further confusion, I have removed yesterday's post from the blog.

In the future, I will try my best to provide the political observations and commentary you have come to expect at North Star Liberty, specifically: well-written, biased yet factual, passionate yet not hyperventilated, aggressive at times yet always ethical. After all, it's political, not personal.

Matt Abe
North Star Liberty blog

Monday, March 26, 2007

How the west was lost

A loyal North Star Liberty reader shared some interesting data about 2006 campaign expenditures with me last week. The data was compiled from reports from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

The data shows that the Dems outspent, and one could infer, outfundraised their Republican rivals by a significant margin. For example, Sen. Terri Bonoff's (DFL-Minnetonka) campaign received from the DFL state party and the DFL Senate caucus nearly $190,000 — six times the amount received by Republican candidate Judy Johnson from the Republican Party of Minnesota and Republican Senate caucus. Judging by the independent direct mail pieces on behalf of Johnson that I saw (which is to say, few if any that I recall), I wonder of the RPM spent anything on Johnson's campaign. When you take into account all spending, Bonoff's campaign outspent Johnson by over 3-to-1.

(It may be small comfort, but considering by how much they were outspent, SD 43 Republicans can claim a more efficient campaign. The margin of victory in this race was 1400 votes or 4 percentage points. The swing vote was only about 700. Do the math.)

The job of the state political party is to elect a majority in both houses of the Legislature and in all statewide offices. 2002 and 2004 were good years for Republicans. 2006 was a bad year. It remains to be seen whether the west, and the rest, can be won next time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

BPOUs convene

As Minnesota's political party BPOUs convene their conventions this spring, they conduct the business of electing delegates and debating platform items, with the ultimate goal of electing a senator and two representatives from their party to represent their local senate district. Although activists at this level are the foot soldiers for statewide and national campaigns as well, the primary mission of the BPOU is to know their senate district, precinct by precinct, voter by voter, and use this intel to deploy the door knocking, signage, parade walkers, campaign literature, phone calls, and fundraising to help get their candidates elected.

BPOUs in the west metro have their work cut out for them. Senate District 43, once upon a time represented by a Republican state senator and two multi-term Republican state representatives, recently lost all three to resignation to pursue higher offices. Democrat Terri Bonoff upset Republican Judy Johnson in the 2005 special election for the open Senate seat, and again in the 2006 general election. Republican Sarah Anderson defeated DFL endorsee Sandy Hewitt for the open seat in House District 43A, while first-time Republican candidate Dave Johnson was defeated by Democrat John Benson in his second run to represent HD 43B.

Candidates may also get various levels of support from their state party and/or legislative caucus. Local candidates may qualify for financial and staff support if they demonstrate — via metrics such as fundraising targets and campaign sign placements — that they have a fighting chance of winning.

Bonoff seemed to enjoy large amounts of these so-called independent expenditures, most visibly in the form of campaign literature mailed to SD 43 addresses, at one point on a daily basis. Yet I saw few such pieces mailed on behalf of Johnson from the Republican Party of Minnesota. You would think that the party would have poured a lot more resources into this race after the unexpected defeat in 2005.

Someone once said that the world belongs to those who show up to the meetings. If you're happy with how things are going in the legislature this session, stay home. If not, get active and get out to those meetings.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Too much time on their hands

Since 1973, the Minnesota Legislature has met in session every year, the result of a 1972 constitutional amendment, which allowed for "flexible sessions." The 1972 amendment did not require annual sessions of the Legislature. Rather, it just allowed for them to happen.

From 1877 until 1973, when lawmakers redefined the term, legislative days were measured consecutively, meaning that the clock began ticking the moment the Legislature convened, excluding Sundays. Exactly 120 calendar days (plus Sundays) after convening, the Legislature had to adjourn. Following the passage of the 1972 amendment, lawmakers in 1973 redefined a legislative day as only those days when either the House or Senate met in full session. Days on which only committees meet are not considered official legislative days. This definition of "day" left the 120-day constitutional maximum untouched, but allowed lawmakers to spread the days over a two-year period. This "flexible" system is unique in the United States.

— Minnesota Legislature web site

The Legislature should go back to the pre-1973 practice of meeting for 120 calendar days every other year. By splitting the constitutionally-mandated 120-day limit between two calendar years, and by redefining the meaning of the word "day," legislators have enough time on their hands to grow government, turn their public service into careers, and crank out needless bills like this, authored by Sen. Ann Lynch (DFL-Rochester) in the Senate (SF 1454), and Rep. Phyllis Khan (DFL-Minneapolis) and Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) in the House (HF 1385):
A bill for an act relating to state government; creating a task force to study the design of the state flag.



Subdivision 1. Establishment. The legislative task force on the design of the state flag consists of three members of the senate appointed by the Subcommittee on Committees of the Committee on Rules and Administration, and three members of the house of representatives appointed by the speaker.

Subd. 2. Form and style of state flag. The task force shall study the form, style, and design of the state flag and suggest any desired changes, while preserving its basic symbolism. The task force may solicit and secure the voluntary service and aid of persons who have either technical or artistic skill in flag construction and design.

Subd. 3. Report; expiration. The task force shall make its report and recommendations to the legislature by January 15, 2008. The task force expires after submitting the report.
Hat tip to the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.

Global warming expedition called off due to extreme cold

An inconvenient truth.

[Expedition organizer Ann] Atwood said there was some irony that a trip to call attention to global warming was scuttled in part by extreme cold temperatures.

"They were experiencing temperatures that weren't expected with global warming," Atwood said. "But one of the things we see with global warming is unpredictability."

Monday, March 12, 2007

The rhetoric of the left

Enter "international baccalaureate minnetonka" into Google, and the first entry displayed is a City Pages article from May 11, 2005, "We Don't Need No Education." Jump to the next page of search results, and you can find the letters to the editor about this article. Together, they provide a compact example of the rhetroic of the left, whether the issue is International Baccalaureate (IB), abortion, global warming, the minimum wage, or smoking bans: a rhetoric filled with logical fallacies.

The left uses these arguments because they are rarely challenged (thanks in part to a friendly mass media), and they work on a public unequipped for critical thinking, which is ironic considering how schools place the importance of "critical thinking skills" above knowledge these days (except for the fact that you can't have the former without the latter: "Take away a people's heritage and they are easily persuaded," said Vladimir Lenin).

Conservatives will never win these arguments until they expose these rhetorical fallacies for what they are, refute them with the facts, and unapologetically stand on conservative principles.

Attack the Messenger

The City Pages article throws its first punch at IB opponents with its clever headline: "We Don't Need No Education," a reference to Pink Floyd's The Wall. The message is, IB opponents favor ignorance. The phrase "Fervor over God and country aside..." is comfortingly condescending (wink wink, nudge nudge) toward two IB opponents quoted in the article, Paul Borowski and Julie Light. To the credit of writer Brett Stursa, the remainder of the article is a surprisingly balanced overview of the opposing sides.

The letters to the editor in response to this article aren't quite so restrained.
I can't relax after reading your article about crazy parents in Minnetonka. I need to hurry up, graduate, and find a law school outside Minnesota, before I find myself handcuffed to a chair in prison, forced to memorize the Old Testament...Our education system is broken, and it's reassuring to know that whenever someone tries to fix it, mobs of crazy parents will start burning books and rioting.

Greg Wright
Straw Man

This logical fallacy is defined as "refuting a caricatured or extreme version of somebody's argument, rather than the actual argument they've made. Often this fallacy involves putting words into somebody's mouth by saying they've made arguments they haven't actually made..."(1)
If you don't want your children to grow up respecting diversity, tolerance, and the sheer fact that America is not the only country on this planet worth its salt, then you deserve to have your children live in the ridiculous world you have created in which being peaceful is a negative trait.

Lenne Klingaman
Seattle, Washington
Argumentum ad numerum

This is the fallacy of trying to prove something by asserting that "everyone" agrees with you. ("Everyone" once thought that the world was flat, did that make them right?) This fallacy is being employed with success in the global warming and intelligent design controversies.
The merits of the program seem to be clear to all but a few vocal critics driven by narrow ideology.

Mitch and Kris Thayer, parents of three kids in Minnetonka schools
Other views on IB

No discussion of International Baccalaureate in the Minnetonka School District would be complete without mentioning Tonka Focus. This grassroots organization is strongly in favor of implementing, preserving, and expanding IB in the district (they also favor the teaching of evolution over intelligent design). You will find token links to opposing arguments, without the standard leftist vitriol, but their viewpoint is clear. Their web site is worth a look, especially since their members may be present at a future IB showdown at a school board near you.

Most days, it seems that the only thing standing between public schools governed by locally-elected school boards and a complete takeover by either the federal government or the United Nations (an increasingly blurry distinction, unfortunately) is EdWatch. Whatever your opinion of this grassroots organization and their unwavering conservative values, their research is impeccable, usually employing published statements and legislation verbatim from their opponents. For the politically incorrect viewpoint on IB, check out EdWatch.

One of the most frequently ignored planks of the Republican Party of Minnesota's standing platform (2006) is: "Republicans believe that parents are responsible for their children’s education and that parents, teachers and local school boards can best make decisions about our children’s education. Therefore, we support...Prohibiting state and federal support of International Baccalaureate (IB) and the adoption of IB by local school districts." Calling Governor Pawlenty!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

SD 45 Chili & Chat

SD 45 Chili & Chat (photo: North Star Liberty)
In order to win again, Republican BPOU organizations (Senate Districts in the metro areas, counties in the rural areas) are going to have to figure out a way to rebuild. Like a forest fire that devastates, then permits the regeneration of a forest into something new, the electoral losses of 2006 provide the party's BPOUs with an opportunity to start fresh with new activists and new candidates joining the old timers.

Every BPOU is different, but for some BPOUs, it may all begin with a bowl of chili. The idea started in SD 63 with Rob Hewitt and his crew, who have done fifteen of these events. Last fall, SD 45 decided that a revitalization of their BPOU needed a similar event. They brought the SD 63 chili concept to Robbinsdale Middle School last night. With icy patches in the parking lot and gusty winds outside, approximately 75 Republicans agreed that it was a perfect night for a chili supper.

BPOUs across the state could benefit from a few informal gatherings like this throughout the year, with a mix of old and new activists, some high-profile speakers to spark attendance, good food, and fellowship. At my table, SD 43, SD 33, and SD 42 were represented, and we were all paying attention. The inter-district networking is another good thing about these informal events.

SD 42 was represented at Chili & Chat by former state Representative Peter Adolphson, who is also a vice chair of his Senate District. Peter provided a running commentary of the event at our table, and finished a few of Minnesota Department of Employee Relations Commissioner Pat Anderson's sentences during her remarks (he worked closely on her campaign last year).

Of course, SD 45 Senate candidate Derek Brigham was prominent at the event, welcoming guests and performing well as master of ceremonies.

The MOB was represented by Andy Aplikowski, a.k.a. Triple A, of Residual Forces, and Kevin Ecker of Ekernet, and me. I was going to sit at the round table "bloggers' row," until Peter collared me on the way to the buffet table. There was no WiFi for liveblogging, but that's OK, I don't own a laptop! (If you were one of the other two bloggers mentioned but unnamed by Derek, please let me know in the comments.)

After receiving a warm welcome of applause, Anderson encouraged the audience with her optimism about winning back seats in the Legislature. An audience member asked whether she would consider running for the Legislature or Congress, but somehow didn't ask about the office that delegates whisper about for Anderson after every one of her kick-ass convention speeches: governor. Anderson gracefully responded that she is 40 years old, and the election of 2006 was the only one of five that she's lost (she won her bids for Eagan City Council twice, mayor once, and state auditor the first time), so she's not necessarily finished running for elective office. Adolphson remarked that Anderson's inflatable bulldog mascot is still in her garage, so the brand is not dead, just on hiatus.

Next up was House Minority Leader Rep. Marty Seifert (R-Marshall), the voice of the conservative movement at the Capitol. Seifert shared a long list of the scariest, most sickening legislative proposals from the DFL, many listed on the SD 42 web site. Seifert assured the audience that the House Republican Caucus does have the votes and the will to sustain a Pawlenty veto on the worst of the bills.

An audience member asked whether Governor Tim Pawlenty can be counted on to stand on Republican principles in the face of overwhelming pressure from lobbyists and the media. Seifert responded that he meets with the governor on a regular basis, speaks frankly, and encourages him to "dance with who brung you," as the saying goes.

Conservatives are certainly relieved that after the 2006 election dust settled, Marty Seifert was one of the Republicans left standing, and standing tall.

Taxpayers League Foundation President David Strom had some good news and some bad news to share. According to a poll cited by Strom, 60% of Minnesota DFLers would oppose a statewide tax increase, but only 40% of the state's Republicans would oppose it!

Remarking that liberals ironically stand for the reduction of individual liberty, Strom also cited a Council for Affordable Health Insurance study that found that Minnesota has the most health care mandates in the country, 62 (the U.S. average is 32.5). He said that these mandates are helping to keep health care costs high in the state.

(By the way, be sure to read Strom's latest column, "The Growth of a 21st Century Fascism." It's a cogent overview of how fascism, socialism, and communism — and by extension today's liberal/progressives — are simply variations on the same tune: "they are all dedicated to the proposition that the rights and desires of individuals are properly subsumed by the needs of the whole." Sound familiar?)

Chili buffet (photo: North Star Liberty

Reflecting the conservative slant of those in attendance, the straw 2008 presidential poll chose as yet unannounced candidate Newt Gingrich, with 28%. Mitt Romney and, surprise, Condoleeza Rice, tied for second, each with 14%. John McCain polled 4.8%, behind Duncan Hunter's 7%. Rudy Giuliani scored a middling 9.5%, tied with Tom Trancredo.