Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Great Debate: Chris Fields vs. Keith Ellison Live at the State Fair

Today was the first debate between Congressman Keith Ellison and his challenger, retired Marine and first-time candidate Chris Fields.

If I’m right, it will also be the last.  After the trouncing Ellison received today, I would be surprised if Keith actually shows up for the planned KSTP TV debate in October.  I’d imagine some type of “scheduling conflict” will be the excuse.  Ellison has already been playing the “busy schedule” card as an excuse for ducking a debate with WCCO’s Chad Hartman- and that was before his embarrassing performance today.

Now, let me be clear about something- if I were advising Keith, I’d encourage him to skip the debates too.  Despite the fact that he is a career politician and a lawyer by trade, Ellison just isn’t good at debating.  When you live your life in an echo chamber, like Keith Ellison does, you don’t have to be good at defending your positions.  When everyone who you interact with agrees with you, it’s easy to start feeling really smart.

And it was clear today that the effects of Keith’s time in the echo chamber have dulled whatever debate skills he may have once had.

I live-tweeted the debate, which I then storified, because that’s a verb now.  You can see that here, and it’s probably the best way to get the highlights of what was said on both sides.  If you want to listen to the whole debate, you can find it here.

For his part, Ellison alternated between babbling nonsensically, shouting at the audience, and talking over the moderator.  He was on the defense, and clearly agitated.  Sadly, the debate was on radio and not TV, because the eye-rolling, headshaking and general face-making on Ellison’s part reached truly Al-Gore-ian proportions.

Fields was on offense, and went after Ellison for his addiction to big money.  Fields also turned out a few memorable lines- including telling the audience that his wife owns a small business, and yes, she built that. 

Ellison, in turn, spent a lot of time blaming George Bush and the Tea Party for just about everything. He also informed us that we could create jobs by having government focus on fixing leaky roofs.  I want that to be a joke, but it’s not.  The best one-liner he could come up with was “it’s called ObamaCare, because Obama cares.”

The highlight of the debate (for me, anyway) was when the audience erupted into laughter when Ellison said he takes deficit reduction seriously.  Another round of laughter ensued when Ellison named Paul Krugman as his favorite economist.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this debate.  After all, Keith Ellison is a trained debater.

But what I heard today was one candidate who was focused on the future, and another who is obsessed with the past.

It’s time to move forward.  It’s time to vote for Chris Fields.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Banking Regulations Unexpectedly Have Unexpected Results

Via Kare11’s John Croman on Twitter, The Des Moines Register takes a look at the “unexpected” impact of new banking regulations by examining the story of Richard Eggers, who was fired from his job at Wells Fargo last month- for something he did in 1963:

Richard Eggers doesn’t look like a mastermind of financial crime.

The former farm boy speaks deliberately, can’t remember the last time he got a speeding ticket, and favors suspenders, horn-rimmed glasses and plaid shirts. But the 68-year-old Vietnam veteran is still too risky for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, which fired him on July 12 from his $29,795-a-year job as a customer service representative.

Egger’s crime? Putting a cardboard cutout of a dime in a washing machine in Carlisle on Feb. 2, 1963.

Why would a big evil corporation behave this way?  The government, naturally.

Big banks have been firing low-level employees like Eggers since the issuance of new federal banking employment guidelines in May 2011 and new mortgage employment guidelines in February.

The tougher standards are meant to weed out executives and mid-level bank employees guilty of transactional crimes, like identity fraud or mortgage fraud, but they are being applied across-the-board thanks to $1-million-a day fines for noncompliance.

I have a number of family members who work in banking, and I’ve learned from them more than I ever wanted to know about the crushing regulatory burden that banks are under. 

Congressman Keith Ellison, who is on the House Financial Services Committee, will tell you that all these regulations create jobs.  But I’m guessing Richard Eggers and the “thousands of other workers” fired under these new regulations are going to disagree with that.

When Dodd-Frank was passed in 2010, it was over 2,300 pages.  Now, two years later, that’s ballooned to over 7,300. It will take banks over 25 million hours per year to comply with the first 224 Rules in Dodd-Frank, and they are still writing more rules.

Every hour spent on a Keith-Ellison-approved compliance job translates into real dollars as a cost of doing business.  And every dollar spent on compliance is one that is not invested in growing a business.

Most of us (Ellison excepted) already knew that regulation is a drain on business.  Now, through Richard Eggers, we’re finding out the human cost as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Part-Time Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

Kurt Bills is going back to school.  In what is a somewhat reassuring sign that he understands his chances of winning in the fall, Bills announced on WCCO radio yesterday that he would be returning to his job as a teacher at Rosemount High School this fall (via the Morning Take).

I confirmed this with the Bills campaign (via Twitter), who clarifies that Bills will be teaching the first hour class that has been featured so prominently in his campaign.

For me, this is the capstone of a poorly run campaign, which should now be left on its own to wither and die. 

I voted for Kurt Bills in the Primary.  For the privilege, later that night I was informed that I, along with the anemic 51% of other Republicans who voted for him, participated in a victory in a “contest between the Tea Party/Ron Paul wing of the Minnesota Republican Party and their establishment opponents.”

Had I known that’s what I was doing, perhaps I would have changed my vote and instead joined the 49% who voted for somebody else. I was not even aware that “the establishment” preferred someone else. I guess I overlooked that in my pre-primary issues of The Daily Establishment.  I, apparently ridiculously, thought “the establishment” was behind the endorsed Republican candidate.

A few weeks ago, Michael Brodkorb wrote an open letter of sorts to Bills.  I’ve never met Brodkorb (I was out of state during the Brodkorb era of the GOP) and I know that Brodkorb is a 4-letter word in many GOP circles, but that doesn’t mean the advice he gave Bills is off-base.  In fact, it all made a lot of sense to me.

Missing from Brodkorb’s advice list: “Campaign Part-Time during the last 60 days of the campaign”.

That’s because you can’t effectively run a statewide campaign if you have to be in Rosemount for first hour every morning.

It’s clear that Kurt Bills can read the writing on the wall and knows he has no shot of winning this race.  So he’s doing the responsible thing and making sure he’ll be able to support his family after November.

It’s time that the rest of the GOP understands this.  It’s time to pull all resources from this race and re-deploy them to other races where we have a shot.  Every dollar spent, every phone call made, and every yard sign placed for Kurt Bills between now and November will be wasted.

Those dollars and hours would be better spent trying to defend our state legislative majorities, trying to pick up a Congressional seat, or electing good mayors, county commissioners and school board members.

There will be plenty of time for finger pointing, blame, and figuring out how to avoid repeating this mess after November 6, and I think it’s important we have that discussion.

But for now, the most important thing we can do is cut our losses, re-deploy our resources, and focus on what we can win. 

The Senate seat is lost. Kurt Bills knows it.  It’s time to act accordingly.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Real Conversation? Yeah, Not so Much

Shortly after the news of the Paul Ryan VP Pick broke, MN District 5 Republican Congressional Candidate Chris Fields had this to say on Twitter:

@FieldsFor5thCD: Good job with the VP pick. We can now have a real conversation about the future of our country. (link)

Many others had similar sentiments- now we can have an adult conversation, now we can focus on issues, the silly season is over, etc, etc, etc.

With all due respect to Chris and the other optimists out there who are engaging in wishful thinking- you’re giving your opponents way too much credit.

It didn’t take too long to see what Chris’ opponent Keith Ellison, and Keith’s Campaign Manager William Hailer think a “real conversation” looks like:

@EllisonCampaign: Romney’s VP pick sends unmistakable message to the American people that if you fall on hard times, you’ll be on your own. RT if you agree. (link)

@wrhailer: So we got outsourcing, hide my money in foreign banks Mitt, and sorry grandma you don’t deserve social security Ryan. #winning (link)

@wrhailer: the Ryan budget: gut social security, destroy public sector, and blame nurses, teachers and firefighters. #obama2012 (link)

The last few days have seen an onslaught of what the Democrats think a “serious conversation” looks like.  Joe Biden told an audience Romney/Ryan would put them back in chains.  The President himself is talking about Romney’s old dog.

It’s clear we won’t be having a serious, adult conversation. At least not if the Democrats can help it.  We’ll be focused on tax returns, dogs, and pushing grandma’s wheelchair off a cliff. That’s when we’re not accusing Mitt Romney of giving people cancer of being a felon.

People who say there’s no difference between political parties just aren’t paying attention.

I agree with Mitt Romney- it’s time for Barack Obama to get his campaign out of the gutter so we can have a serious conversation.  I just won’t be holding my breath waiting for it to happen.

Disclaimer: I hold a volunteer staff position with Chris Fields for Congress. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

On Checks and Balances in City Government

One of the biggest issues in the Crystal Mayor’s race, which has been championed by candidate Andrew Richter, is the lack of checks and balances among the Crystal City Council.

There are many reasons this has come up as an issue this year, not the least of which is the fact that Mayor ReNae Bowman was dating, and is now married to (as of this weekend), one of the members of the City Council.  Or it could be that Bowman, who has some bizarre vendetta against the West Metro Fire Department, had the council appoint her to the Fire Board as it’s “citizen representative”.  Or maybe it’s because the council rarely ever has a split vote, especially on the budget. Or it could be because the council is known to cackle about the unlimited power they have over the city’s Economic Development Authority.

Well, for whatever reason, there’s a perception that there’s a problem with checks and balances in our city’s government.  The issue was brought up at the debate, and both of the challengers, (Richter and Jim Adams) had tough words for the sitting Mayor. (View my debate recap here, and the full write up here.)

The Mayor, for her part, had an interesting answer.  She let us know that the City Council is it’s own Checks and Balances.

Well, Madam Mayor, I don’t buy that. You won’t convince me that when 28% of the council is married, they are independent, and can act as a set of checks and balances on each other.  And your other actions in office have shown that you, like most politicians, value power above everything else.

It’s time for some real transparency in the Crystal City Government.

Let’s hope the voters of Crystal agree, and bounce Bowman out of contention on August 14.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crystal Mayor Debate 2012: The Full Recap

I promised a full recap of the Crystal Mayor’s debate when I wrote my first impressions the other day, so here it is, if for no other reason except I took 6 pages of notes and I’d hate that all to be for nothing.

I’ll step through the debate question by question.  All points and questions are paraphrased, unless otherwise noted.

The debate was between incumbent two-term mayor ReNae Bowman, and challengers Andrew Richter and Jim Adams.

As I mentioned the other day, each candidate made a two minute opening statement.  Bowman kicked it off, and I covered her bizarre opening rant in my other post. She helpfully posted a copy online in case you want to read the oddness in its entirety.

Richter went next and spoke about his 12x16 plan and some of the specific code changes he would like to tackle if elected. 

Adams spoke next.  He mentioned that he has a full time job and a bunch of part time jobs, which is actually one of my biggest concerns about him- that he’d be too distracted to be able to focus as Mayor.  Owning a business, being a fire-fighter, volunteering at church, etc., while admirable, doesn’t leave a lot of time for mayoring.

Q1. Small Businesses

The first question was about the challenges that face a business starting up in Crystal.  Richter and Adams both handled this well, speaking as a current business owner (Adams) and a former business owner (Richter) about first-hand knowledge of the impact of onerous regulation on small businesses.

Bowman declared that there are no roadblocks to starting a business, her opponents are wrong, and any business that failed in Crystal was due to bad management not interference from the city.

Q2. Top 3 Priorities

The second question asked each candidate to list their top 3 priorities if elected.

Adams spoke first and mentioned reducing the debt service (currently a $2 million/year bill), engaging citizens, and looking into the Economic Development Authority (EDA).

Bowman talked about sustainable government, seeking citizen input, and making the government more transparent. Since Bowman has been the mayor for the past 8 years, I’m not sure who else we could blame about the current lack of transparency but her.

Richter spoke of his plan to require a referendum as a means to cap annual spending, tackling changes to the city code and city charter, and televising the council’s work sessions.

Q3. Bottineau Blvd

The third question was about opportunities along Bottineau Blvd, specifically how transit affects city planning.

All three candidates seemed a bit confused by the question, which makes me think it was unclear.

Bowman said that the project was already done, but that we need to promote and engage transit and add more bike paths.

Richter stated he was not a supporter of light rail, and generally wants the government to back off and let the market work.

Adams wants to promote proper development around the incoming light rail station.

Q4. New Housing

Our fourth question was about whether or not Crystal needs more Senior and Low Income Housing.  Again, this question was a bit confusing so the answers were also a bit confusing.

Richter started things off by re-stating that he wants to get the government out of the real estate business and stop the top-down approach to development.

Adams said he wasn’t sure if there was a need or not, but that private business will figure it out if there is, and it’s not the government’s job.

Bowman said Crystal didn’t need any low income housing.  She also took issue with Richter’s “top-down” statement and declared Crystal does not have a top-down approach to development.  I should also note that this is where I wrote in my notebook- “Bowman- unprofessional, making faces” because the sitting mayor was making faces while her opponents spoke, which I think is unprofessional.

Q5. Cost Savings

The fifth question asked the candidates to name their 3 largest cost saving or revenue generating initiatives and what impact they would have on property taxes.

Adams wants to reduce debt payments and buy down the city’s debt.

Bowman stated that the largest parts of the city’s budget were public safety and utilities. So she is looking at saving money by reducing snow plowing and cutting down on pothole repair. Because the best way to get the public to relent and give you more money is by making cuts as painful as possible.

Richter said we should examine opportunities for shared services and re-think the special assessments process.

Q6. The Crystal Airport

The sixth question was about Crystal’s airport.  This is a hot topic because the city’s long term plan calls for shutting down the airport and turning it into high density housing.  The question was about whether or not the airport is important to the city.

Bowman said the airport is important, and that we should try to make the airport a “recreational stop.”

Richter agreed the airport is important, then reminded the crowd about the city’s plan to shut it down.

Adams wants the city to work with the Metropolitan Airports Commission to develop business around the airport and revitalize the area.

Q7. Cooperation

Question 7 was about how Crystal could work better with other local governments.

Richter said we should look at shared services, and specifically called out that the Parks department operates at a 69% loss each year.

Adams said that Crystal already works with other governments in areas like watershed and West Metro Fire, but we should look into more shared services.

Bowman said that “shared services” is a buzzword, but no money is really saved. Then she took a swipe at her opponents for not attending a recent budget meeting.

Q8. City Commissions

Question 8 asked if the candidates had ever served on any city commissions.

Adams and Richer said no. Bowman listed a bunch of commissions, as you’d expect from a sitting mayor.

Q9. Emergency Water Backups (or something)

The ninth question had to do with emergency water backup systems, and quite frankly was over my head in its specificity.

Bowman said she had a plan and the city was already working on it.

Richter said he wasn’t an expert on water systems but said he was open to looking at the issue.

Adams said that this is a federal initiative and that he’s in support of looking into the issue, but that action shouldn’t be taken until the process is fiscally sustainable.

If I could be allowed to editorialize a bit here- I think this is an issue where Adams and Bowman have a disagreement, and one or the other planted a question so they could talk about it and highlight the issue. Both seemed oddly prepared to discuss this particular topic in quite a bit of detail.

Q10. Mayor Reform

The tenth and final question had to do with Richter’s proposal to make the Mayor a full-time job and re-structure the city council to give the mayor a different role, including the power to veto.

Richter spoke about his desire to implement some checks and balances in the city government, and decried the current lack of checks and balances.

Adams said he was willing to have the discussion and agreed that checks and balances were missing.

Bowman said that giving the Mayor veto power is not necessary, because the council is their own checks and balances(!). This comment will get its own follow-up post, because it deserves a thorough examination.

Closing Statements

The candidates then went into their closing statements, which for the most part were standard “thank you for coming/check out my website” comments.  Of course, with the exception of Crystal Mayor ReNae Bowman’s apparently obligatory bizarre slam on her opponents.

So that’s that.  The primary is August 14, so remember to get out and vote!

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Impressions from the Crystal Mayor's Debate

I attended the League of Women Voters debate for the Mayor of Crystal candidates last night.  The content was interesting enough to deserve a complete play-by-play, but until I get the time for that, here are a few quick impressions…

There are 3 candidates, incumbent Mayor ReNae Bowman, and challengers Jim Adams and Andrew Richter.

I had not met Bowman before last night. I met Adams a few nights ago at the New Hope Lions Corn Feed and we had a short and pleasant conversation. I met Richter a few months ago, shortly after moving here, and have talked with him extensively about his vision for Crystal.

Having not previously met the Mayor, I had the opportunity to form a first impression last night, and it was not a good one to say the least.  The Mayor came off as incredibly unprofessional, rolling her eyes and making faces while her opponents were speaking.

She was also on the attack.

Bowman opened with a bizarre statement, claiming that her opponents were going to try to “make the case that the sky is falling and evil lurks behind each corner”.  I think this speaks volumes about her perspective and her character.

For the record, Richter and Adams stuck to making the case for why they were best suited to be the Mayor.  Neither one made any “sky-is-falling” claims or implied anything evil was afoot.  Both challengers offered substantive, thought out perspectives on how they would approach the job.

The current Mayor chose to attack. It’s a common tactic, and one that she probably learned from watching her contemporaries in the Democrat party- If you can’t defend your record, just attack.

Bowman also chose to close with an attack, equally as bizarre.  This time she claimed that her opponents were not committed to the city because they didn’t show up at a recent budget meeting.  I’m sure that attack line sounded good when she was rehearsing it in the mirror (Bowman read her opening/closing statements from note cards) but in the context of this debate the criticism fell flat. 

The sitting Mayor is expected to be at city budget meetings.  That’s her job.  There’s not an equal expectation on the part of a challenger.  If the Mayor skipped the budget meeting, that’s news.  If the guy running for Mayor did something else that night, it’s really not.

Bottom line- Mayor Bowman failed at making the case for re-hiring her last night.  Both challengers did well, though I think Richter showed a better grasp of the issues, and would be a stronger advocate for the taxpayer.  More to come, including a look at Checks and Balances.