Friday, December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas, My Friend

Lone Survivor © 2013 Universal Pictures

North Star Liberty dedicates this poem to all active duty, Reserve, and National Guard soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard who stand upon a wall and say, "Nothing's going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch." God bless you all this Christmas season, and always.

by Marine Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt (1986)

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone.

I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this home did live.

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more,
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
"Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don't ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps."

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep.

I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.

I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night,
this guardian of honor so willing to fight.
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
said "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Wayzata school board endorsements

"Who are you voting for in the school board election?"

Residents of the Wayzata school district, many of whom (us included) intentionally moved into the district so their kids could enroll in Wayzata Public Schools, will again have some good choices in this year's school board election. It's a large field: nine candidates vying for three open seats. How to narrow the field?

I asked all nine candidates to respond to three questions about the upcoming bonding referendum which would fund a new elementary school and a major expansion of the high school, accountability for curriculum, and the state of Minnesota eliminating basic skills testing for students and teachers. Returning the questionnaire were (in alphabetical order): Derek Diesen, Sarah Johansen, David Lloyd, Chris McCullough, Bill Pritchard, and Ted Victor. You can view their responses in my posts from last week. I hope their answers will inform your vote. Candidates Andrea Cuene, Dan Haugen, and Phil Napier did not respond.

The value of published endorsements depends on who is doing the endorsing: are they people you trust and respect, or are they just political supporters? I found some consensus among three outgoing and former school board members whom I trust: Susan Gaither, John Moroz, and Greg Rye. I was pleasantly surprised to also find an endorsement from our kids' former principal at Birchview Elementary School, Dr. Tom Koch. Dr. Koch was well-liked and respected during his tenure (and he had a tough act to follow in current Wayzata High School principal Mike Trewick).

The individuals in this group endorsed one, two, or three candidates in letters to the editor published in the Plymouth Sun Sailor newspaper. Their consensus was to support Chris McCullough, Ted Victor, and Sarah Johansen. All three of these candidates have already served this district for many years, including the Citizens' Financial Advisory Council (CFAC) for Victor and McCullough, the Citizens' Facilities Task Force for McCullough and Johansen, and the Legislative Action Committee (LAC) for Johansen. Their knowledge, experience, and commitment to the district would enable each of them to hit the ground running to help the Wayzata schools meet the financial, facilities, and academic challenges it will face in the years ahead.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wayzata school board candidates: student and teacher accountability

Question 3. During the most recent session, the Minnesota Legislature removed the requirement that high school students pass a minimum skills test (known as the GRAD test) in order to graduate, and removed the requirement that teachers pass a basic skills test in order to become licensed. In light of these changes, what can local school districts including Wayzata do to ensure the high academic outcomes and teaching standards that residents have come to expect?

Derek Diesen

Local control is the only way to ensure success. I must admit this is the first I have heard of this GRAD and teacher basic skills test requirement being removed. However, if the school board sets the curriculum and then measures it's success we will be able to continue to ensure high academic outcomes.

Sarah Johansen

Wayzata has always had more rigorous requirements for graduation than required by the state. With the implementation of our Q Comp program several years ago, continuous improvement and further education for our teachers is required for them to receive any increase in their compensation. I feel very strongly that we must ensure that every student who attends Wayzata Public Schools is supported in reaching their fullest potential and graduates ready for college or the career of their choice. It is essential that the Board and administration work together to continuously evaluate our educational program and develop and use measures that work for Wayzata and our deepest commitment to excellence.

David Lloyd

The District is very engaged in wanting success for our students. We hire many experienced teachers. I'm confident at this point in our human resources process. Neither of the issues you note in this question are a priority in my view.

Chris McCullough

I believe that there are probably already too many tests given to our students. That said, I do believe that having a minimum skills test in order to graduate and to teach, should be required. We are fortunate in the Wayzata School District to have great teachers who have traditionally passed these tests, and we are also fortunate that the great education our children receive, coupled with the tremendous support most children get from their families and the broader community, have allowed our students to exceed these minimum requirements. It will be important for families and our community to continue to demand high standards for all, and as we continue to attract the “best and brightest” students and teachers to our District, we must continue to strive for excellence for each and every student.

Bill Pritchard

The District is facing steady and continuous growth, and I believe it is fortunate we have a highly dedicated base of educators, staff, volunteers and administrators. I respect the honest, dedicated, ethical and efforts of these individuals, and believe they are truly committed to ensuring all students receive the best quality and excellence of education possible. The District’s top priority is and should remain foremost its students.

Ted Victor

Wayzata demands excellence in their hiring process. They offer support to their teachers in several ways. Teachers that are probationary must achieve before earning tenure. Teachers have peer group mentors that monitor and assist when needed to achieve excellence. The district provides required staff development for all teachers to maintain a teaching license. Our department chairs, principals, curriculum specialists, superintendent, and board of education have their fingers on the heartbeat so as to provide what ever is necessary to create the best education for all students. With all these support systems in place excellence in teaching will remain in the district.

I’m confident that our high school graduates do not need to take a GRAD test. Approximately ninety percent of our students are attending post secondary education.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wayzata school board candidates: curriculum

Question 2. In apparent contradiction with state statutes (123B.09) the Wayzata School Board has delegated full authority for curriculum matters to the Superintendent. He, in turn, has delegated this authority to the curriculum and teaching staff. Curriculum issues presented to the school board (such as integrated math, state standards, International Baccalaureate, and Common Core curriculum) are directed to non-elected curriculum and building staff, without action or discussion by the board. Do you think this is appropriate? Why or why not?

Derek Diesen

The number one reason I became involved was because of curriculum. A few years ago my son was diagnosed with dyslexia and we really struggled to get him the help he needed. His teachers at Sunset Hill were amazing and worked hard with, and for Andy. The problem was the district didn’t have the systems in place to identify his issues soon enough and support his different style of learning. I feel like I have a responsibility to other families to share what we learned and help guide changes so other children and their families don’t go through what we did. I believe it is the duty of the school board to set the curriculum and evaluate its success.

Sarah Johansen

It is my understanding that a sub-committee of the board meets at least monthly with the Executive Director of Teaching and Learning (Dr. Jill Johnson) and most often, the Superintendent to discuss curricular issues and the full board receives this information at the work sessions. Each curricular area goes through an exhaustive 3 year process of evaluation, recommendation and implementation about every 6 years. All findings and recommendations are presented to and voted on by the board. I believe that it is the job of the school board to work in partnership with the administration to provide accountability and support for the education of our students. If elected I will work hard to learn as much as I can about the process and challenge our District to ensure that we continue to meet or exceed our requirements.

David Lloyd

I think the real issue is keeping the Board engaged in curriculum issues. This is important so we have the appropriate programs determined at a local level for the students to succeed long term. I'm not comfortable with this arrangement and would want the Board to be more involved in curriculum than you state is currently the case.

Chris McCullough

The School Board, as elected representatives of the District, very clearly should have a strong say in curriculum matters. Based on what I know, there appears to be a good partnership between the School Board and the District Administration pertaining to curriculum matters. To me, assuming that state law does not preclude it, this “partnership” seems like a balanced and sensible approach. The Board, even as a collective, may not have the same level of expertise that the professional educators and administrators in the School District have about curriculum matters. And as I noted above, the School Board, as elected representatives, very clearly should have a strong say in curriculum matters.

Bill Pritchard

I don’t believe the Board has delegated full authority for curriculum and/or personnel matters to the Superintendent, or should it. The seven Board Member mandate is to make and oversees the District’s budget, curriculum, personnel and physical facilities.

I believe that the operation of the District organization is much like a business and as a business, the Superintendent acts much likes its CEO, and is accountable to the Board.

Ted Victor

First, the District has hired a Superintendent and the Superintendent has hired educational professionals to create, develop and implement curriculum per the requirements of the state Department of Education. The Superintendent is responsible to make sure the curriculum is appropriate and meets the state guidelines and it is being correctly and consistently implemented. Any elementary or middle school student that switches district schools should be continuing with the same curriculum in the new school as the student had in his or her previous school.

Second, the Board needs to hold the Superintendent, and the appointed curriculum staff accountable for the consistency of the curriculum. That information should be reported to the Board on a regular basis. Items such as integrated math, state standards, International Baccalaureate, and Common Core curriculum need to be explained to the Board with a recommendation and supporting evidence allowing the Board to make the final decisions. The Board’s job is to acknowledge the recommendations of the experts; teachers and directors of curriculum. The final decision may or may not support the recommendation by the Superintendent.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wayzata school board candidates: bond referendum

Three seats on the Wayzata School Board are up for election next Tuesday, November 5. Earlier this month, I sent three questions to the nine candidates. Here, in alphabetical order by candidate name, are the responses I received to the first question. As I advised the candidates, I made some minor edits for length and journalistic style.

Question 1: The Wayzata School Board is considering approval of a February referendum to provide bonding (debt) for a new elementary school, additions to the high school, and other infrastructure improvements. If the school board approves the referendum, will you be supportive of it? Why or why not?

Update: The same week that I emailed the questionnaire to the candidates, the Wayzata School Board passed a referendum to ask the voters on February 25, 2014 to approve a $109.65 million dollar bond (debt).

Derek Diesen

I support some of the referendum, for example I believe we need a new elementary school immediately. Elementary schools are the backbone of our community. It’s what brings a neighborhood together. Kids need to attend the school that’s in their own neighborhood. It also takes pressure off transportation and start times.

However, the way the referendum is written, I would vote no. I am against the proposed high school addition. It is already mega-sized and there are better ways to meet the needs of such a large, diverse population of students. Having two schools is an opportunity for Wayzata. Two schools wouldn’t need to compete, they could complement each other. I think we can be fair without being the same.

We have what I refer to as first-class problems. We have a growing population, a highly sought after district and a community that wants what’s best for their kids. My biggest concern is that not all voices are heard when a district gets so large. I feel a responsibility to the voices of kids in special education, junior varsity sports and industrial arts classes.

Sarah Johansen

The school board unanimously approved the referendum on Monday, October 14th and I fully support their decision. In the face of unprecedented growth in our District, we must ensure that we have the resources to meet our growing numbers. The approved plan is the most fiscally responsible decision to address our current and future needs.

David Lloyd

The difficult parts of the referendum are the amount to be borrowed of approximately $109 million and the resulting size of the high school to educate approximately 3900 students. I understand the administration and the committees they appointed feel they have worked hard to analyze and recommend this referendum. There are good people on both sides of this debate. I've enjoyed meeting and communicating with everybody I've encountered in this campaign.

Let's discuss the amount first. The amount of borrowing and the length of time of approximately twenty years in paying back this debt is a concern. We have a culture in our country that we should borrow as long as possible to keep the payment as low as possible. Of course, the longer the term of borrowing, the higher the interest cost. My sense is we have the wealth in the District to shorten the length of time to pay back this debt and give us cash flow options further down the road if we need funds for some other project.

While I understand and admire the confidence of the administration and Board to increase the high school to 3900 students and maintain quality, this will still be a considerable task. Common sense tells me that this size of school is not ideal to take on the achievement gap. Many students have parents with significant ability to fund outside coaching, mentoring, tutoring, etc. Children caught in the achievement gap need to secure opportunity in the existing school structure. 700 more students won't be easy to manage in actually conquering the achievement gap. Approximately 15% of our students have already been identified as qualifying for meal assistance. I'm concerned more students will have difficulties in a school of this size.

I have concern more funds in the referendum are earmarked for physical education and a performing arts center than will be used to create classroom space for the high school. I have not gained any sense from listening to the administration, Board or committee members that educational needs such as STEM or options for students not headed to college have been considered in this process. The ECM Editorial Board just wrote a piece discussing that since college has become so expensive many should embrace non-four year post secondary programs. It is sad affordability outweighs ability in pursuing post secondary education. But, the reality is that high schools long term will need to address this issue. I don't sense the referendum considers this issue.

The growth in the District is an opportunity to think as far ahead as the term of the bonds we may be issuing. There is time before the vote in February to bring the District together on these issues. I would work hard towards addressing these issues if I were elected to the Board. I need to see that occur in order to support the referendum.

Chris McCullough

I intend to vote “yes” on the funding question on February 25, 2014. We have outgrown our existing facilities and the growth trends are not projected to slow down anytime soon. We cannot continue to try to educate our students (and expect our teachers and staff to do the same) in crowded classrooms.

Having served on the Citizens Task Force on Facilities, I personally reviewed the data and engaged in hours of detailed discussions (sometimes debates) with other members of the Task Force in an effort to understand and scrutinize the data, propose and analyze various options, and — ultimately — reach consensus on our recommendation to the School Board. I recognized as a member of the Task Force, and plainly acknowledge, that our recommendations may not be perfect. After all, all models and projections require assumptions. That said, we reached consensus on our recommendation based on the best available data and analysis. And I stand by that recommendation and will vote “yes” on February 25.

Bill Pritchard

While the Wayzata School District is fortunate to be experiencing a steady growing student population, which does contribute to the sound fiscal state of the district, it also creates a challenge when managing to balance the student population within its facilities.

The District in all likelihood not if, but, when, needs to embark on its largest capital improvement project in recent history. With over twenty years in the construction industry and having personally been involved with several large residential capital improvement projects, it is important that the District be prepared and represented in this area. As a business and financial professional, I understand the budgeting processes, the operating complexities of large organizations. I will work hard to diligently ensure the processes are openly communicated and strive to seek cost effective solutions and to enable all stakeholders to have a voice.

I support the referendum for the following reasons:
  • Most of our schools are at capacity
  • The current Wayzata High school will grow by over 900 students in the next 10 years
  • The State’s recent decision to fund all day Kindergartner will create an addition need for over 14-16 classrooms
  • More students are moving into the District
  • More housing, in the past 4 years 1200 new homes in the District and in the next 4 years an estimate 1600 homes to be built

Ted Victor

I fully support the Board’s decision. The original bond issue to have one high school was approved and passed by voters and a previous school board. The Minnesota Department of Education will only approve a school to take care of the current need, resulting in a small high school. We are unable to make equal size schools because that would create unused capacity in the current high school by moving students to the new school.

Additionally, two schools open a myriad of problems that will affect the community for years to come; open enrollment issues between the schools, community division, boundary issues for what elementary and middle schools feed which high school and the ultimate decision of is each school being treated equally and fairly.

The infrastructure improvements are necessary to correct current safety issues. Controlling the access of the public to the schools is necessary for the safety of the students and the staff. Some schools currently have this control and other do not. It needs to be consistent throughout the District schools.

The addition of an elementary school in the northern part of the District must be done for two reasons. First, with the passing and funding of all day kindergarten by the legislature, additional space is needed just to meet the current and incoming kindergarten population. Secondly, this will allow elementary students in the northern part of the district to attend school closer to home. This will decrease the need to bus students past closer elementary schools to other elementary schools that may have capacity for them. This will also create new boundary issues as new boundaries for each elementary school will need to be established.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Wayzata school board candidates vie to fill three open seats

Wayzata School District Board Room. Photo: Wayzata Public Schools

The philosophy of the schoolhouse in one generation is the philosophy of the government in the next generation. —Abraham Lincoln (attributed)

On November 5, voters in the Wayzata School District will choose from nine candidates to fill three open seats on the district's board of directors. School board elections typically do not attract line-out-the-door numbers of voters, so your vote will have a greater influence over the outcome than statewide or national elections. But for whom should you vote?

The school district is accountable to the community through its elected board of directors. So I sent three rather pointed questions to each of the candidates. I will share any responses I receive. I think that these responses (or lack thereof) will provide you with more information than the standard "why are you running for school board" type of questions. Here are the questions I asked:
  1. The Wayzata School Board is considering approval of a February referendum to provide bonding (debt) for a new elementary school, additions to the high school, and other infrastructure improvements. If the school board approves the referendum, will you be supportive of it? Why or why not?
  2. In an apparent contradiction with state statutes (123B.09), the Wayzata School Board has delegated full authority for curriculum matters to the Superintendent. He, in turn, has delegated this authority to the curriculum and teaching staff. Curriculum issues presented to the school board (such as integrated math, state standards, International Baccalaureate, and Common Core curriculum) are directed to non-elected curriculum and building staff, without action or discussion by the board. Do you think this is appropriate? Why or why not?
  3. During its most recent session, the Minnesota Legislature removed the requirement that high school students pass a minimum skills test (known as the GRAD test) in order to graduate, and removed the requirement that teachers pass a basic skills test in order to become licensed. In light of these changes, what can local school districts including Wayzata do to ensure the high academic outcomes and teaching standards that residents have come to expect?
The nine candidates are:
Check the Lakeshore Weekly News, Plymouth Patch, and Sun Sailor for more candidate information between now and election day

Refer to the school district website for complete election information, including polling locations. Your polling place for the school board election may be different from your general election poll. This page also includes the broadcast schedule for the October 21 candidate debate moderated by the League of Women Voters, and hosted by the Wayzata High School Parent-Teacher Organization.

What have you learned about the candidates? Who do you plan to support and why? Let us know in the comments.

You can influence the direction of the Wayzata Schools with your vote on November 5. Get informed, and get out and vote.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Growth and opportunity party" reaches out

If you stop by the Minnesota State Fair booth of the Republican Party of Minnesota (RPM), you'll see something completely different from previous years. Besides the snazzy new visual design (I saw graphic designer Derek Brigham's fingerprints all over it, FINALLY), the focus has shifted from the party to the people.

Counterintuitively, the booth no longer screams REPUBLICAN PARTY OF MINNESOTA. Instead, the main messages are "Repeal Obamacare," "Growth and Opportunity," and "The American Dream." The traditional emphasis on candidates, GOTV (Get Out The Vote), and volunteer recruiting are replaced with interactive issues surveys collected on iPads, with realtime results displayed on large-screen monitors. You can spin the prize wheel and buy a button for $2 with Republican messaging, like the PROUD CONSERVATIVE button I bought.

Maybe because it's a non-election year, or maybe someone at the RPM has realized that the party needs to attract new voters (and even win back a few former party-faithful). Whatever the reason, the RPM seems to be listening and engaging at this year's Great Minnesota Get-Together.

We found SD44's favorite son, Jeff Johnson, meeting and greeting folks at his Jeff Johnson for Governor booth on Underwood Street east of the Grandstand. Jeff is competing in a strong field of candidates for the endorsement of the RPM to challenge Gov. Dayton next year. An often lone conservative vote on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, Jeff could be the candidate most likely to win and work with both parties to move Minnesota forward in a long-term, sustainable fashion.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Free" all-day K!

Twin Cities media outlets are trumpeting a provision of the state education bill on its way to Gov. Mark Dayton with the headline "free all-day kindergarten."

Well, it is "free" — to everyone but the taxpayers.

We can debate the efficacy of early childhood education for all, but there still is no such thing as "free" all-day K, and it's actually worse than that. The Legislature's appropriation for all-day K doesn't fully fund it. The rest of the tab for "free" all-day K will fall on local school districts.

The DFL and the media will spin the $15.7 billion education funding bill as a windfall for "Minnesota's kids," but unfunded or partially-funded mandates like all-day K, anti-bullying programs, and special education are a hidden burden on local school district budgets. The Legislature is acting like a state school board that doesn't have to worry about how to pay for its lofty agenda. Yet as any weary school board member knows, the money has to come from somewhere.

The bill does fund urban (read: DFL) public school districts with over $13,000 per pupil, while rural (read: Republican) districts receive about $9,900 per pupil. If the Legislature and governor were more concerned with educational outcomes instead of the status quo, they would allow education funding to follow the student to the school that best meets his or her needs, and they would relieve our independent school districts of paying for mandates designed to help get the DFL reelected.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Jeff Johnson announces run for governor

Jeff Johnson announcement, May 5, 2013. 
Jeff Johnson's choice of a venue to announce his run for Minnesota governor may have been a preview of his statewide appeal. The Hamel Community Building, located through a twist of local history in the city of Medina, is steps away from Medina's small-town main street, cornfields, the Inn Kahoots bar, and the picturesque Church of St. Anne.

Johnson is known as a former three-term member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and current Hennepin County Commissioner. As Republican National Committeeman since 2011, Johnson has gained national party experience. Yet his roots are in Detroit Lakes, where he grew up, and Moorhead, where he graduated from Concordia College. His wife Sondi is a native of Crookston. After receiving his degree from Georgetown Law School, he worked in Chicago before moving to the Twin Cities to work for Cargill and then open his own employment law practice.

About two hundred supporters and media packed the room at Sunday's announcement. Johnson stressed three priorities and two reasons why he makes the best Republican candidate for governor. Johnson's vision for jobs is that Minnesota will actually be the best state in the upper Midwest to start or expand a business. He would "give all parents the option of sending their kids to a great school." To make state government more effective, Johnson promised to undertake a "line-by-line, top-to-bottom audit" of state programs, to "celebrate and bolster" the ones that can demonstrate success, and eliminate those that cannot.

Speaking to the Republican base that will eventually vote to endorse their gubernatorial candidate, Johnson claimed that his appeal extends beyond the Republican party, making him the most electable of the party's eventual field. He also said that his record in the Minnesota House and on the county board demonstrates that he has the ability and integrity to actually follow through on his campaign promises around tax reform, public safety, and business climate. His Hennepin County Watchdog blog shows how a conservative can tilt against an unending parade of ineffective and extravagant programs, like an extra $14 million to turn the new Lowry Avenue bridge into a "signature" bridge.

Although it was Johnson's first official gubernatorial campaign event, it didn't look like it. The venue was professionally set up for the media and guests, including a stage, backdrop draping, and camera-friendly sight lines and lighting. Campaign signage and stickers, t-shirts, check. Mini-war room with website and social media humming, thanks to volunteer all-nighters so it would be ready for Sunday, check. Media notified, hardcopy press releases at the venue, candidate media availability, check. Greeters at the door and sign-up table for donors and volunteers, check. Oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies, bottled water, check.

Clad in red campaign t-shirts, activists in Johnson's past campaigns and other local Republican campaigns were busy in their appointed roles. Bloggers Walter Hudson and Craig Westover, and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's chief of staff David Gaither, Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R-Greenfield) were seen in the audience.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Recap: Where Do We Go From Here?

Note to aspiring bloggers: I have finally learned my lesson about liveblogging. The two things you absolutely cannot take for granted at a liveblog venue: Internet access and power. Without both of course, you are dead in the water. I had intended for this to be a liveblog of Wednesday's Minnesota GOP activists' meeting of the minds, but a, shall we say, cluster of circumstances conspired first to delay then put an abrupt end to that idea.

"MN GOP: Where Do We Go From Here?" was a panel discussion about the future of the Republican Party of Minnesota, in the aftermath of the 2012 elections. The party has been devastated by overwhelming election defeats, financial mismanagement, scandal, infighting among its various factions, and an image of exclusion — and that's aside from the constant attacks from the Democrat party and their allies in the media, Hollywood, and political action committees.

I arrived at the Blue Fox Bar and Grill in Arden Hills (located on the corner of Lexington Avenue and, ironically, Red Fox Road) just after the scheduled 6:00 pm start to the pre-event social, only to find the parking lot full to overflowing into the neighboring businesses. It was even more crowded inside the bar, where easily over 200 persons packed the bar, tables, and booths, making it difficult for the waitresses to make their rounds, laden with food and drink.

This may have been what Samuel Adams called the "animating contest of freedom" looked like. People from all walks of life, gathered in a pub, debating the questions of liberty, at times listening intently, at other times loudly objecting or talking amongst themselves, then applauding an eloquently-spoken point.

The panel was moderated by blogger and talk radio host Mitch Berg and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. Announced panelist Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville) was unable to attend. Fortunately for the discussion, commentator and activist Erin Haust was able to sit in for Thompson.

The moderators posed several questions to the panel, some submitted by audience members on index cards. Several recurring themes emerged:

Is the Minnesota GOP the party of addition and multiplication, or division and subtraction?

This line from Kurt Bills's concession speech sums up what the panel identified as the Minnesota GOP's most pressing problems. The various factions within the party — so-called Ron Paul libertarians, social conservatives, TEA Party fiscal conservatives, moderates, and the party establishment — are eating themselves alive and killing the party from within. Instead, Republicans should focus on what they agree on, get elected, then debate the rest. This internal feuding is wasting energy, turning off the grassroots, and discouraging everyone else from joining the party. Party activists should remind themselves that their common opponent is the DFL.
The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor. —Ronald Reagan
The Minnesota GOP is attempting to fight a twenty-first century opponent with stone knives and bear skins.

There is a black-and-white video of Ronald Reagan from the 1960s giving a tour of the "modern" political campaign phone bank. (I couldn't find it on YouTube, if you do, please send me the link.) The Gipper proudly explains the modern techniques of compiling neatly-typed telephone number lists of Republicans by precinct, and how the volunteers call everyone on the lists to remind them to vote Republican on election day.

The problem for Republicans is, this was how Republicans contacted voters in 2012, a half century later.

Social media maven Erin Haust sounded a high-tech wake-up call for Minnesota Republicans. She explained how Democrats are light years ahead of Republicans in data analytics and social media. She urged BPOU activists to work together to create "viral" videos on Facebook and YouTube, advertise on Facebook "now" for 2016 (she remarked that it may already be too late for 2014), use memes and infographics, and get regular articles in local newspapers and online websites like

Haust mentioned and Project Veritas as examples of the effective use of video for conservative messaging:

Republican campaign strategist Andy Parrish recommended the book The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), reviewed in 2010 on RedState. It's an eye-opening account of how liberal-progressives used a privately-funded political machine to work on projects from "policy generation to leadership recruiting, coalition building to grassroots activation...dozens of 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) and 527 organizations...worked in perfect harmony to take down the Republican establishment and install left-leaning policymakers in its place." After reading it, Minnesota conservatives will better understand what has been happening here in Minnesota, and how it might fight back.

The Minnesota GOP needs to appeal to minority communities and independents by stressing our common values.

Walter Hudson, commentator and member of the Minority Liberty Alliance, explained how Minnesota Republicans should reach out to minority communities by first listening to what's important to them, and then explain why conservatism offers better answers than liberal-progressives. Dan Severson, president of the organization, and 2012 U.S Senate candidate Kurt Bills are already making inroads in this way. Later, Hudson recalled that for most of the country's history, people immigrated to the United States to escape the tyranny of their homelands, with no guarantee of anything except precious freedom. This is a message that resonates with the Hmong who told of their fight against the Communists for the CIA at a recent Minority Liberty Alliance meeting.

Politics in Minnesota creator Sarah Janecek, who proclaimed herself the "only moderate Republican in the room," offered a similar approach that she has used to talk to independents: instead of focusing on labels like conservative vs. liberal, talk to people about opportunity, reframe the message based on values, and why conservative ideas are superior.

The Minnesota GOP needs to get its house in order and figure out how to win elections in the twenty-first century.

Parrish proclaimed that The Republican Party of Minnesota is "a disaster." He said that it's time for the RPM to declare bankruptcy, start over, give candidates and BPOUs the tools to run an effective campaign, including effective voter ID, microtargeting precincts, messaging.

Haust said that the party needs to recognize that Democrats are engaged in a perpetual campaign, and to abandon its "campaign season" mentality. She said that activists need to be engaging friends and neighbors continually, as liberal-progressives have been doing for years.

Mark Westpfahl, chairman of Senate District 2 Republicans, agreed, adding that Republicans need to be more active in the community between elections, and run for local offices. He added that party activists also need to trust each other and cooperate within and between BPOUs.

Hudson said that the party needs to understand that winning campaigns and winning ideology (public policy, public opinion) are two different efforts, and to conduct them independently instead of as one process. He added that conservatives don't need to wait for the state party to tell them what to do, pointing out that this evening was not organized by the party. (It was the brainchild of Steve Hensley of Real Capitol View.)

Janecek asked what did Minnesotans get when Republicans controlled the state House and Senate (for the second time in her lifetime, she added)? Government grew, two failed constitutional amendments, financial mismanagement, and scandal (and a less than optimal response to it by elected leadership). Republicans instead need to deliver on its promises of smaller government, fiscal restraint, and economic growth.

Janecek and Stebbins claimed that Ron Paul won young voters by leaving social issues out of his campaign, and focusing instead on economic issues.

The last question asked panelists, what do Republicans agree on?

Ron Paul Minnesota 2012 chair Marianne Stebbins: Economic freedom, fiscal conservatism, school choice.

Westpfahl: Government is more obtrusive in people's lives than it should be.

Severson: Our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are given by God; government with the consent of the governed.

Janecek: Focus on the economic issues, and we win the majority.

By the end of the evening, Hudson had so eloquently espoused various conservative principles that one of the panelists had to admit, "Nobody [on the panel] wants to follow Walter."

Not surprisingly, the party's problems were not solved that night, but perhaps getting them aired out was a critical first step.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Where do we go from here?

Many of the top thought leaders in the Republican Party of Minnesota will gather this Wednesday evening to discuss the most critical questions facing the party in the aftermath of the 2012 election cycle.

"MN GOP: Where Do We Go From Here" is a forum jointly sponsored by Real Capitol View and True North. Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County Commissioner, and Mitch Berg, talk radio host and blogger at Shot in the Dark, will moderate the evening, which starts at 7:00 pm at the Blue Fox Bar & Grill in Arden Hills.

If you are an activist, BPOU leader, TEA Party member, blogger, or anyone else who wants to avoid a repeat of 2012, please show up to help us figure out where we go from here. Check back here, on True North, and Real Capitol View for recaps of the discussion.

Follow the event on Twitter, hashtag #mngop13, and on Facebook at