Saturday, March 22, 2014

What The Hann? Tax Cut Edition

In the 2013 legislative session, the DFL controlled legislature passed a several billion dollar tax hike package on the people of Minnesota. Despite their claims to the contrary, the end result of this action was that millions of Minnesotans saw their tax burden increase.

Yesterday, the legislature passed a tax bill that rolled back some of those tax increases.  House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt had a great statement on the bill passed yesterday that sums up what happened:

"This bill is a good start but it falls woefully short. It doesn’t undo the damage and chaos Democrats’ tax increases created for farmers, small businesses and families over the past year.”

“House Republicans have stood beside hardworking taxpayers since Day One and voted unanimously against these tax increases last year. While Republicans weren’t part of the problem then, we are part of the solution today.”

(As far as press statements go, this one is really a work of art. You should really read the whole thing.)

Daudt’s colleague in the Senate, Minority Leader David Hann, took an altogether different approach.

After encouraging his caucus to vote for the tax bill, Hann switched his vote at the last minute. When asked to explain the reason for his decision, he told the Associated Press:

"This is not the Republican plan. This is part of a huge tax increase."

The measure passed the Senate 58-5, with 23 Republican Senators voting for it. Hann and Senator Dave Brown were the only two dissenting Republican votes.  Hann did not inform his caucus of his intent to vote against the bill in advance.

Following Hann’s logic that the bill is “part of a huge tax increase,” the Senate Minority Leader told the press that 23 of his colleagues just voted for a “huge tax increase.”  This stunning statement did not go unnoticed among the Senate caucus.

It also did not go unnoticed in the House, where the Republican caucus there was preparing to vote unanimously in favor of the bill.  Fortunately (if that’s the right term to use) the House caucus has much experience with the Senate’s inept messaging attempting to derail them, and was able to get through the vote unified and on message.

In the time since the vote, I have heard a number of theories as to why Hann did what he did, ranging from the staggeringly silly (was it an accident?) to the Machiavellianly complex (that Hann is trying to hurt Jennifer Loon by painting her vote for this bill as a tax increase).

That Republican Senators would be desperately seeking to invent theories as to why their caucus leader would throw them under the bus is totally understandable- after all, nobody wants to think they voted for a moron for Minority Leader.

However, I believe that the reason for Hann’s decision is much simpler: he just didn’t think through the ramifications of his actions. And then when asked about it by a member of the press who happens to be more politically astute than he is, Hann gave an off-the-cuff (read: honest) response as to why he changed his vote. He saw this as a vote for tax increases, not a vote to cut taxes.

Hann has a long history of tin-eared political action and bad decision making. This is, after all, the man who started his own Draft Hann for Governor movement just weeks after being elected minority leader. He’s also a guy that surrounds himself exclusively with yes-men and “friends.

His vote yesterday, and the bone-headed explanation he gave following that vote is just Hann being Hann.

As I wrote in my last post on the subject, I feel that Hann as Minority Leader is a liability in a position where we desperately need an asset.

Now the Senate Republican Caucus needs to decide whether Hann being Hann is good enough for the next 3 years.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Follow-Up on Dennis Nguyen, Strippers, and Bad Judgment

I have received a lot of feedback about my post from earlier this week regarding Dennis Nguyen.  I would like to address some of this feedback here.

I feel that, understandably, the real issues within the Nguyen campaign are being drowned out by the headlines about Dennis frequenting strip clubs.

While I find the image of Dennis Nguyen and Senator Dave Senjem throwing dollar bills at college-age women disturbing, I understand that the activity in question is not illegal, and, depending on who you ask, maybe not even uncommon.

The bigger issue here, and the one that should receive more attention, is one of judgment.

Going to a strip club is a public act. We’re not talking about what goes on behind closed doors in someone’s bedroom. The activity that takes place at a public place is public, by definition.

Nguyen’s decision to participate in this action, along with another high profile politician, shows an appalling lack of judgment.

That the campaign stubbornly refused to believe that the story of Nguyen’s behavior could potentially cause damage to his campaign, compounds this error.

The decision by Nguyen’s campaign not to disclose this story in advance to the 60 or so legislators who at one time endorsed Nguyen is another example of his bad judgment.

The campaign had advance knowledge that this story was going to break, but chose not to inform the elected officials who lent their name to him as a show of support.

It’s pretty clear this decision backfired, as I noted on Twitter yesterday that all mentions of Nguyen’s legislative support were removed from his campaign website.

In another example of extremely bad judgment, Nguyen’s campaign made the bizarre decision of injecting abortion into the Secretary of State race, by stating yesterday to City Pages that Nguyen is pro-choice.

The campaign then waited a full day to “correct” the story and now states that Nguyen is “very pro-life” and blamed the “mix-up” on his campaign manager’s busy day, a “clarification” that strains credulity.

In December 2013, political consultant Gregg Peppin had this to say about Nguyen’s campaign:

Peppin thinks Nguyen’s main concern should be about avoiding “unforced errors” on the campaign trail, the kind of verbal or messaging missteps that often hurt a first-time candidate.

I think it’s safe to say Nguyen has been less than successful in avoiding unforced errors.

Dennis Nguyen gave it a shot and tried to run for office. He should be commended for that. He has a compelling story, and there may be a role for him within the Republican Party.  But he has proven that he does not have the judgment or discipline to run a successful statewide campaign.

It’s time to move on and find another candidate.

Note: There has been some confusion as to whether Nguyen is for or against Photo ID. From the same article as I linked above:

Along those lines, Nguyen said he plans to avoid the topic of photo ID at polling booths altogether, arguing that any move in that direction could disenfranchise recent immigrants like himself.

If he is claiming to be in support of Photo ID, he has evolved on this issue, albeit not as quickly as he did on abortion.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Time for a Choice in the Secretary of State Race

Earlier this morning, Shawn Towle, a member of the Capitol Press Corps, and DFL activist, “broke” the worst kept secret in politics- that Republican candidate for Secretary of State Dennis Nguyen has a habit of frequenting strip clubs.

While Towle has a somewhat checkered past when it comes to the accuracy of his reporting, it should be noted that Nguyen’s habit of frequenting strip clubs was confirmed by the candidate himself.

While the rumors about Nguyen’s strip club habits have been widespread for quite some time, this was a topic that few people were willing to touch, at least publicly.

There have been numerous conversations behind the scenes to convince the Nguyen campaign to get ahead of this story, something they refused to do. The campaign took the position that Dennis’ behavior was not illegal, and that this will not be an issue to Republicans at an endorsing convention, or to voters in a general election.

Towle took things a step further today, by apparently confirming that former Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester accompanied Nguyen to a strip club on at least one occasion- after Nguyen’s announcement as a candidate.

I disagree with Nguyen’s campaign’s assessment that this is a non-issue. While it is true that activities of Nguyen and Senjem are not illegal, this type of story plays right into the media narrative of the “war on women” and that family values Republicans are all a bunch of hypocrites.  You don’t have to like reality, but you do have to acknowledge it.

What’s more alarming than the Nguyen campaign’s tin ear on this issue is the blatant disregard they had for other Republicans and the impact that this news breaking could have on them.

Nguyen has been endorsed by 23 State Senators and 40 members of the Minnesota House, including several people who are running for higher office like Senator Benson, Senator Ortman, Senator Westrom, Rep Mike Benson, and Rep Abeler.

The Nguyen campaign was aware for weeks that this news was widely known, but did not have the courtesy to give a “heads up” to the people who endorsed him and allow them to make a decision on whether or not to continue their support.

Beyond the stripper issue, the campaign’s terrible judgement, and incredibly bad crisis management, there are other aspects of the Nguyen campaign that should be concerning.

Nguyen sold himself to activists and the legislators who endorsed him as someone would be able to fundraise, and also self fund his campaign, yet there has been little evidence of this so far. As of the end of 2013, Nguyen raised a mere $10,000, and loaned his campaign another $20,000.

When you add that to Nguyen’s opposition to photo ID, it’s hard to see a compelling reason for Nguyen’s continued candidacy.

In my opinion, this is a campaign that cannot win, and should not continue.

I think Republicans would be well served if another candidate were to get into the race for Secretary of State.