Thursday, November 21, 2013

What The Hann is Going On Over in the MN Senate?

The Star Tribune reported a few days ago that the Minnesota State Senate’s Federal Campaign Committee is paying former state senator Ray Vandeveer $1500 a month for consulting services.

This news raised some eyebrows, for a variety of reasons, depending on who you are and how much you know.

I will state for the record right away that I think David Hann has been a trainwreck as Minority Leader, and should be replaced immediately. But we’ll get into that a bit later.

For now, let’s deconstruct what’s going on here. Here’s what we know:

  • David Hann hired former state senator Ray Vandeveer to consult on “various tasks to prepare Senate Republicans for the 2016 elections.”

  • Hann is unaware whether Vandeveer has ever been paid for political work in the past.

  • Hann considers Vandeveer “a friend.”

  • Hann speaks to Vandeveer “fairly often.”

  • Hann talked over hiring Vandeveer with others, but the decision to hire him was ultimately Hann’s.

  • Vandeveer is being paid from the MN State Senate’s Federal Committee, named the Senate Victory PAC (Campaign ID C00506410).

We also know that the fact that Vandeveer was doing work for the Senate was not widely know among members of the Senate caucus, as reported at Politics.MN.

Now, let’s take the controversies that have been alleged, one by one.  These are items I have heard or read elsewhere since the story broke on Monday.

  • Why does the MN State Senate have a Federal Committee when they are a state entity?  - I don’t know the answer to this, but I assume it has something to do with the labyrinthine nature of campaign finance laws. Both the House and Senate Caucuses of the DFL and GOP have these committees, so the existence of the committees is not unique to this situation.

  • Hann is a criminal because he illegally took corporate contributions - This particularly stupid allegation comes to us from blogger Two Putt Tommy. Tommy fails to understand the difference between corporate contributions and contributions from PACs, called Separate Segregated Funds (SSFs), which are not funded with corporate money, but with contributions from the personal funds of employees who work for a business or belong to a group such as a union. The existence of SSFs is perfectly legal and common. Both the GOP and DFL routinely take contributions from these funds. Tommy, as usual, misses the point entirely and adds nothing to the conversation.

  • Hann’s arrangement to pay Vandeveer using federal funds to work on state races is illegal - This allegation, made by someone blogging under the name “The Big E” on racist blog MN Progressive Project, is harder to nail down. Several people have opined both publicly and privately about the potential illegality of this arrangement. A few have defended it.

    I am not a campaign finance expert, so I don’t have a ruling on this. I do know that in general, campaign finance matters remind me of professional sports- everyone fancies themselves an expert, but only a few actually know what they are talking about.

    An analysis of the four Senate/House GOP & DFL federal committees going back to 2010 does show that the arrangement of paying someone for consulting on a regular basis from a federal account is unique to the Hann/Vandeveer situation, meaning it’s not a typical arrangement for these types of accounts. Make of that what you will.

Whether the Vandeveer arrangement is legal or not is irrelevant to me. (If it’s illegal, it will be dealt with, as it’s now out in the wide open. If it’s not, then it’s not.)

To me, the largest issue in this whole affair is that David Hann hired “a friend” with dubious qualifications to do unspecified work, and did it in secret. One would think that if Vanderveer were bringing value to the Senate’s campaign operation, this would not be the type of thing that you’d keep quiet.  Instead members of the Senate caucus get to find out who is allegedly working for them by reading the StarTribune.

This, of course, is not the first time that a Friend of Hann™ with dubious qualifications has found themselves gainfully employed. Or been allowed to stay employed on the taxpayer’s dime while off running (or I guess he prefers the term “advising”) some other campaign. One could get the impression that being a friend of David Hann could be a quite lucrative thing to be.

Hann has a pattern of poor decision making. He has terrible political instincts, and he is a liability in a position where we desperately need an asset.

Minnesota’s Senate Republicans are a guaranteed minority through 2016.  If we allow the cronyism and incompetence of the Hann Dynasty to continue, we will be a minority for a lot longer than that.

It’s time the other GOP Senators stand up and do what needs to be done. It’s time for a new Minority Leader.

Actually, it’s past time.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mark Dayton's Charitable Giving

I worked for the Dayton Hudson Corporation (and it’s successor Target Corporation) for over a decade starting in the late 90’s. One thing that was drilled into our heads repeatedly was the company’s stance on charitable giving. The company had a long standing tradition of donating 5% of its pre-tax profits back to the community. It was something they were proud of, and should be.

To the best of my knowledge, Mark Dayton, now Minnesota’s Governor, never worked in the family business. Maybe he did, but apparently the tradition didn’t rub off.

Dayton released his tax returns this week, which showed that he had a personal income of $343,234. The return also showed he had charitable donations of $1000. That’s about 0.3%.

Dayton later said that he is “embarrassed” by his lack of giving.

“I pride myself on my charitable giving and I’m disappointed in myself,” Dayton said at the end of a briefing with reporters on another issue. “I totaled it up and noticed I had fallen off, so I will remedy that.”

The drop was significant from 2009, when Dayton, then a gubernatorial candidate, earned $172,475 mostly from family trusts, and donated nearly $27,000 of that to charity.

Though it does seem to me that Dayton’s level of giving has been… shall we say… erratic.

Dayton gave $1,750 to charity in 2011, when his earnings totaled $342,322.

If Mark Dayton were a private citizen, I wouldn’t care how much of his money he gave away. I don’t think that anyone should be compelled to give to charity. What you do with your money is your business.

But Mark Dayton is the Governor, and has been a frequent employer of class warfare as a means to get what he wants. For instance, he pushed through a tax increase this year by riding a wave of anti-“1%” sentiment.

It’s also interesting to note that candidates for MN Governor aren’t required to disclose their tax returns. Dayton does so voluntarily, so this revelation about his inner grinch, and any damage it does to him, is totally self inflicted.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Dayton’s reputation though. He has the media to make sure that we know that Dayton “still gave back last year in the form of taxes.

The notion that paying compulsory taxes somehow equates to “giving back” is not unique on the left, or in the media (forgive the redundancy).

In fact, it is one of the major philosophical differences between the left and right. Leftists like Mark Dayton believe in compelling people to “give back” through taxes, while people on the right believe in the power of private charity and voluntary donations.

You can see this divide quite clearly when you examine the tax return of one of Dayton’s challengers in the Governor’s race. Senator Dave Thompson showed charitable donations of over $20,000 on income of just under $200k.

That’s a rate of about 10%, something Thompson should be proud of. I’d imagine Mark Dayton’s forebears would approve.

Reviewing The Met Council's 2040 "Projections"

As a member of Crystal’s Planning Commission, one thing that I deal with is the City’s comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan outlines the city’s plan for growth over the next 20 or so years. A city is required to have one by state law, and the document requires Met Council approval.

The next update to the comprehensive plan is due in 2018, and covers the period to 2040. Even though we’re still several years out, the Met Council has already begun work on the 2040 plan.

The planning commission recently received information on the Met Council’s “Preliminary Forecasts” for 2040, which was focused on three areas: Population, Households, and Employment.

In each case the Met Council’s “forecasts” were not based in reality.

Crystal is projected to see an increase of 28% in population, 35% in households, and 55% in employment by 2040.

To reach the population and household numbers, Crystal would have to see growth increase by a rate of 5 times more than the rate we achieved during the housing boom of 2000-2007.

Said another way, we need to add about as many housing units per year for the next 26 years as we usually add in a decade. It’s just not going to happen.

The employment number is even more insane.  I’m not sure where the land comes from for all the new jobs, since we’re supposed to be using it all to add housing units.

Crystal’s city planner attended a workshop with the Met Council to discuss the city’s concerns with the “projections”. The concerns were echoed by the planners from other cities, meaning the asinine numbers are not unique to Crystal.

The Met Council admitted there were flaws in the computer models they used to form the projections, but were noncommittal about when or if the flaws would be corrected.

Crystal’s city planner wrote a great recap of the issues with the process, which you can find here.

His update includes this line, which I believe describes the issue perfectly: "maybe [The Met Council’s] ‘forecasts’ are really just MC’s aspirations and should just be treated as such."

Anyone with even a passing familiarity of the Twin Cities Metro Area would realize quickly that the Met Council’s “projections” are pure make-believe.

A computer model that treats a corn field in Farmington the same way as it treats a fully developed neighborhood is Crystal, as this one does, is pure garbage.

When I first reviewed the comprehensive plan, one of the first questions I had was over the use of the term “projections,” as the projections in the current comprehensive plan are not realistic either. That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

What’s frustrating as a taxpayer is that we have city staffs all over the Metro wasting time responding to the Met Council’s fantasy plan- several years before the numbers should even be relevant.

The Met Council’s “projections” are used to justify demand for light rail, among other things.

It’s clear that the Met Council is more interested in pushing an agenda than providing for common sense regional planning. It’s time that cities start understanding that, and acting accordingly.

Update on the Crystal Police Department's Alleged Corruption

I wrote about the alleged issues in the Crystal Police Department a few months ago.

My bottom line conclusion at that time was that allegations of widespread corruption were unfounded, but I left the door open on the potential for management issues based on not having all of the facts available. After reviewing new information, I stand by that assessment.

My biggest complaint during this process was that an outside group from Minneapolis was agitating against the city, and was trying to circumvent the normal processes that are in place to resolve these types of complaints.

This is a position that I shared with the Crystal Police Officers Union and the Crystal Police Supervisors Union.

The city released an update on the issue earlier this month.

In the update, we learn that one of the officers who had been removed from duty, Alan Watt, has now been reinstated.  Watt went to arbitration on one of his complaints and it was found that the city had just cause for imposing discipline. He has two other complaints pending.

The other officer’s grievance process is ongoing.

As for the allegations of corruption, there is an ongoing investigation by the Police Officers Standards and Training Board (P.O.S.T.).

There are processes in place to address all of the issues that have been alleged, and in all cases the processes have been followed. These processes take time.

I have always found it ironic that the outside group agitating in Crystal accused the city of not following proper procedures, but then wanted to throw procedures out the window and just fire the city manager and the police chief because they said so.

I have full confidence that Crystal Mayor Jim Adams and the majority of the members of the city council will handle this issue in a responsible manner. If there are issues found with city management, they will be dealt with.

I am also glad to see the city communicating about this issue in a proactive manner, and look forward to the ultimate resolution so we can all move forward.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Leave No Narrative Unassisted

State Representative Andrea Kieffer, a Republican from Woodbury, announced yesterday that she would not be running for re-election in 2014. Kieffer was first elected to the Minnesota House in 2010.

As is her right, Kieffer gave no reason for her decision. However, that did not stop the lazy, agenda driven media, from inventing one.

Within a few minutes of Kieffer’s announcement breaking, two local reporters shared observations on Twitter.

The first, from the AP’s Brian Baskt:

And the second from StarTribune’s Rachel Stassen-Berger:

Both tweets provide information that may give a clue to Kieffer’s reason for retirement, and both are, in my opinion, very reasonable and relevant real-time observations about a breaking news story.

Only one, however, fits The Narrative™, which was in full swing by the next morning as the lazy and corrupt in the media began to pile on.

The first item I noticed was this tweet from StarTribune’s Lori Sturdevant, who never misses an opportunity to show you that she is morally superior to you, whoever you are:

By this time information about Kieffer’s daughter was widely known, having been disseminated in the StarTribune’s own daily politics newsletter.

Whether Sturdevant neglected to read her own paper’s coverage, or just ignored it, is up to you. One makes her ill-informed, the other makes her startlingly biased. Perhaps both can somehow be true?

If you are keeping score here, we now have two facts available- Kieffer has a daughter who suffers from a terrible disease, and Kieffer voted to support gay marriage.

But, as only one fits The Narrative™, only one will be repeated.

The second piece I noticed (h/t Erik Leist) was a piece by MPR’s Tim Pugmire, which came with this amazingly lazy yet provocative headline.

The Narrative™ has now decided that support of Gay Marriage has cost Kieffer her seat; those neanderthals in the GOP require bigotry as a condition of acceptance into their club, dontcha know?

It was at this point that I did what reporters used to do, and made a few calls to verify what I already knew to be true: that there is no organized opposition to Kieffer intent on punishing her for her voting record, but rather she decided to refocus her attention on her family.

I notified Pugmire of this by email. An email to Pugmire was not immediately returned, as they say.

Once The Narrative™ was settled, every other lazy media outlet was free to parrot it. And they did.

Several outlets ran near carbon copies of the Pugmire piece. Whether he posted his first or they posted theirs first is irrelevant.

I do want to call out two news organizations that went above and beyond, though.

The first is WCCO, who chose the headline “House GOP Marriage Equality Backer Won’t Run Again" along with this photo:

The second is MinnPost, who decided to pair laziness with incorrect facts, in the headline “Another of the Republicans who voted in support of gay marriage is leaving the legislature" despite the fact that Kieffer is the first to do so.

I have screen-capped the MinnPost headline below, as they have a habit of making their mistakes disappear down the memory hole when they are discovered.

The award for actual journalism unsurprisingly goes to a local paper, the Woodbury Bulletin, which got an actual interview with Kieffer before printing their story. You can read that here.

On an unrelated note, I was one of the many people who had never heard of Mitochondrial Disease before tonight.

If the media had done their job, there would be many more people aware of this affliction tonight. But The Narrative™ always comes first.

Rep. Kieffer and her daughter Melissa gave an interview about Mitochondrial Disease a few months ago. You can see that below.


To learn more, you can visit the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation at

I send my best wishes to Representative Kieffer and her family.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013 Election Results: Libertarian Endorsed Candidates

A few days ago on Twitter, an elected Republican BPOU chair pointed out the Minnesota Libertarian Party’s 2013 Voter Guide, which discusses the candidates who were endorsed by the Libertarian Party of Minnesota (LPMN) this year.

LPMN has recently experienced a resurgence of sorts, earlier this year electing Chair David Arvidson, who ran as a Republican for state legislature in District 46 in 2012. Arvidson also served as a Republican Vice Chair in his Senate District, but eventually resigned, only after he ascended to leadership in the LP.

Arvidson, who lost his 2012 race by 40 points, is now in charge of “Candidate Recruitment and Support” for LPMN.

So how did the Libertarian endorsed candidates fare in 2013? I analyzed the results of the races in which there were LPMN endorsements.

Vote totals all come from the MN SOS website, and are unofficial. Some figures have been rounded for readability.

  • BLOOMINGTON – CITY COUNCIL, AT-LARGE, Zavier Bicott (R): Bicott lost this race 26% to 74% in a head to head matchup.

  • BROOKLYN CENTER – SCHOOL BOARD, Mary O’Connor (L): O’Connor placed 5th out of 5, receiving 35 votes, or 7% of the total votes cast.

  • MINNEAPOLIS – CITY COUNCIL, WARD 3, Michael Katch (L): Katch finished 3rd out of 4 candidates, beating the Green Party candidate by 6 votes in this RCV race. Both had roughly 6% of the first choice total. However, in the second round, Katch trailed the Green party candidate by 800 votes.

  • MINNEAPOLIS – MAYOR, Christopher Clark (L), 1st Choice: LPMN’s first choice for Mayor received 188 votes, placing him at 20 out of 35 candidates. Clark received 24 votes more than the infamous shirtless candidate, and 71 more votes than “write-in”.

  • MINNEAPOLIS – MAYOR, Kurtis Hanna (P), 2nd Choice: LPMN’s second choice, who is also the Executive Director of Minnesota NORML (a group that advocates for Marijuana legalization), ran under the Pirate Party banner.  Hanna did a bit better than LPMN’s first choice, garnering 200 votes in the first round.

  • SAVAGE – CITY COUNCIL, Shaun Alexander (L) and Jeremy Seykora (L): LPMN endorsed two candidates in this race, for two available seats. Alexander finished 3rd of 6 (1st runner up) with 20% of the vote, and Seykora finished 4th of 6 with 16% of the vote.

  • ST. PETER – CITY COUNCIL, Roger Parras (L): In a head-to-head matchup for the Ward 1 seat, Parras lost 41% to 59%.

  • ST. PETER – MAYOR, Joel Brinker (L): Brinker fared a little less well than his council counterpart, losing 38% to his opponent’s 62%.

  • DULUTH – CITY COUNCIL - LPMN’s endorsed candidate was eliminated in the primary election, but he personally endorsed Ryan Stauber and Skip Sandman in the race, who came in 3rd and 4th in a 4 way race.

I am confident that in the years to come, LPMN will continue its track record of participating in races.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Anyone For Congress, 2014

The 2013 Minneapolis Mayor’s race, with its 35 candidates, has been a circus, which makes it all the more surprising that Keith Ellison has been totally absent from the fray.

Six candidates sought the DFL endorsement, which ended up going to no one. A few candidates dropped out, some more jumped in, and more than a handful of “top-tier” DFL candidates remain.

After Tuesday, most (or all!) of these candidates will not be the next mayor of Minneapolis. I would like to encourage each and every one of these candidates to seek the DFL endorsement for US Congress in 2014.

Minneapolis is in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. The Congressional seat is currently being warmed by Keith Ellison, who is nearly universally recognized as a joke.

Ellison is utterly ineffective at his job. Every one of the DFL candidates for Mayor would be a better Congressperson than Keith Ellison. Yes, even Mark Andrew.

In 2012 I was a volunteer staffer on the campaign of Chris Fields, Ellison’s Republican challenger.

During that campaign we heard from a number of prominent Democrats, including several elected officials, that Ellison is deeply disliked within the DFL community, because he is more interested in building his own celebrity than serving his district. They are constantly frustrated by Ellison doing nothing to represent them, then taking credit for other people’s hard work when the cameras are present.

However each of these stories was quickly followed up with a “don’t tell anyone I said anything and if you say we met I’ll deny it” type disclaimer.

Because the other thing that is universally known about Ellison is that he is vindictive.

As Fields liked to put it- “I get it, it’s like trying to stab Caesar. Great if it works, but If you miss, you’re done.”

After Tuesday’s election there will be a half-dozen or so Minneapolis Democrats who have a campaign organization, a volunteer and donor database, and name recognition built up that can easily be transitioned into a Congressional run.

It’s telling that Ellison has been a non-factor in the race for Minneapolis Mayor. He famously (infamously?) offered an unsolicited endorsement of Anthony Weiner for New York City mayor earlier this year, but has been silent on his preferred candidate in the city he pretends is his home. It’s not clear if any of the campaigns even asked for his endorsement.

I’m a Republican, but I’m also a realist. I’d love to have a Republican representing the Fifth, but the odds (and district lines) aren’t in our favor. That doesn’t mean that we’ll stop trying.

But until then, Minneapolis and its suburbs deserve representation in Washington DC, something that they don’t have today.

So, Minneapolis Mayor runners up: Anyone for Congress, 2014.

The Revolving Door: Political Staffer Edition

Bill Glahn wrote a piece at his site a few days ago called The Revolving Door: Outgoing Democrat Politician Edition which talks about what happens to DFL/Democrat politicians when they leave office.

The bottom line- DFL politicians rarely have trouble landing on their feet when they leave office. The Left does a good job of taking care of their own through their near-monopoly on institutions, plus their vast network of phony “non-profit” organizations.

On the flip-side, the Right is not so good at taking care of ours.

(You really should go read his piece. Actually, you should read everything he writes.)

I wanted to expand on Bill’s piece a bit to include another group that we on the right fail to take care of- political staffers.

Among people who talk about these types of things, it’s widely acknowledged that we suffer from a lack of talent on our side. There simply are not enough people with the knowledge, talent, and perhaps most importantly, the track record of winning to staff all of the campaigns that need staffing.

Not that we totally lack talent. It’s just that our talent doesn’t tend to stick around. I can count a number of acquaintances who have political talent and experience, but have left the political arena altogether.

Some will explain this away by dismissively suggesting that we live in a blue state, so we obviously have fewer talented people to choose from. But I reject this.

We have plenty of talented people, they just move on and get “real” jobs after campaign season. And who could blame them? People need to pay their bills, and campaigns only run for a short time every few years.

The effect of this is that we end up training in a new crop of staffers every election cycle. (And by training, I mostly mean that we take a group of people with no experience and make them learn on the fly.) A few will stick around for an extra cycle or two, but many if not most will move on.

(The other side of the coin is those who should move on but keep hanging on. That’s a whole different post for another time.)

The Left, on the other hand does a much better job of talent management. When campaign season is over their staffers find homes at all of the same institutions and “non-profits” that the elected officials land at. But when campaign season comes around again you’ll see the same old faces, back from non-profit-land, running campaigns.

Running political campaigns is a unique skill, and like any other skill, it must be honed and developed. If we want to get serious about winning elections we need to start building a lasting infrastructure to win.

2013 Minneapolis Municipal Election Voters Guide

Minneapolis will hold their municipal elections on Tuesday November 5, 2013.

For the first time in, I don’t know, like 50 years or so, there is a credible candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis that doesn’t hail from the DFL - Cam Winton. Unlike many of his opponents, Cam is running as an independent in this non-partisan race, but, as the local media loves to point out, has ties to the Republican party.

I enthusiastically endorse and support Cam Winton for mayor of Minneapolis, and would encourage you to do the same. If you think Minneapolis would benefit from some fiscal restraint, there is no other candidate for you.

I also enthusiastically support David Pascoe for the Board of Estimate and Taxation. David is a long-time Republican activist (and current Treasurer of CD5 GOP), and an all-around good guy.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s a known Star Trek uber-fan. Though his interest and knowledge in economics and local government are probably more relevant to the position he is seeking.

If you’re interested in any of the other races in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis City Republican Committee has a complete breakdown of their recommendations at their website.