Monday, December 28, 2015

Tomorrow's Endorsement Today: A Strib Parody

Earlier today, the StarTribune announced on Twitter it would be endorsing in the special election in Senate District 35.  I responded with a series of tweets predicting what the inevitable endorsement of Abeler would look like, and said if I had the time I'd expand it into a full post so we could compare my notes to the real thing.

Since we didn't quite get the snowmageddon that was predicted, I found an extra 10 minutes and came up with this. Check back when the real endorsement is issued to see how close I got.


The Minnesota Legislature lost a future lion when State Senator Branden Petersen announced last year he would resign his seat before the end of his term.  Petersen’s tale was all too familiar to long time legislative watchers – he cited financial burdens in his decision.  This page has long advocated for a raise for our legislators, who work at an increasingly full time gig with very part time pay.

Petersen was one of the few independent voices in the Republican Party, willing to stand up to the extreme wing of the party on social issues.  He was the only Republican in the Minnesota Senate to vote in favor of gay marriage, and one can’t help but wonder if his penchant for strong individualism contributed to his need to seek an early exit.

Petersen will leave shoes that will be difficult to fill. Fortunately, a former legislator with an all-too-rare track record of seeking true bipartisan compromise has stepped up to fill those shoes.  Former Representative Jim Abeler of Anoka is seeking a return to the legislature, but this time to the greater chamber instead of the people’s chamber.

This setting would befit Abeler nicely.  Republicans in Minnesota are in desperate need of an elder statesman who can guide their party through the seas of turmoil that are all-too-common in today’s divided legislature, and Abeler can play this role aptly from his seat in the upper chamber of Cass Gilbert’s masterpiece.

Republican activists narrowly endorsed fellow activist and bombastic blogger Andy Aplikowski for this seat, which shows that he is in touch with a certain wing of the party. But while Aplikoswki has shown progress since his days of bomb throwing, he would benefit from greater civic engagement beyond partisan politics to show that he is truly a statesman in waiting.

By returning Abeler to the legislature to replace Petersen, the voters of District 35 will get a competent and even handed bipartisan coalition builder.  One may even say, a lion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For 2016 MN GOP Caucus, Why Not an Express Lane?

Precinct caucuses, the biannual arcane and exclusive process that Minnesota political parties use to organize, are scheduled for March 1, 2016.

The Republican Party of Minnesota has seen dramatic drop-off in caucus attendance over the past few election cycles - caucus attendance fell almost 60% from 2008 to 2012, the last 2 presidential years.  I propose a new idea that could help turn that trend around- institute an "express lane" for caucuses that allows people to stop by the caucus location, cast a vote in the presidential preference poll, then leave.

The current caucus process is designed to trap people in small rooms, usually in a local middle school without human sized desks, clustered by precinct, so that you can browbeat one of them to volunteer to be a "precinct officer", a position they will promptly forget they have after they leave the building.

As if that's not enough, caucus participants also get the pleasure of listening to a handful of very passionate people argue endlessly about platform resolutions, which will then be argued again by other groups of people, who will then either kill the resolution, or add it to the party platform, so it can be promptly ignored for the next two years until the cycle repeats.

At some time during that process, but never soon enough, the person in the front of the room, called the convener, who likely has no training whatsoever, will ask the people in the room to cast ballots on small slips of paper so they can be tallied for the statewide presidential preference poll (or straw poll).

In past years, Republican Party leadership would then ignore the votes of the caucus attendees, and embark on a different arcane process of getting delegates to the national convention elected through a series of conventions.

But this year, thanks to the RNC and no-thanks to MN GOP leadership, Minnesota will be forced to bind their delegates to the results of the straw poll.  This means that the vote held on caucus night will actually be meaningful and impact (in a small way anyway) the selection of the next presidential candidate.

So, instead of punishing people who just want to cast a ballot for their favorite presidential candidate, like the citizens of the 40 or so other states that get that privilege, why not allow them to stand in a special line, put their name on a list, cast their ballot, then leave?

The others, who want to run to be delegates or debate resolutions, can participate in the full caucus experience.

It's really a win-win. The party still gets the data on the participants that they would otherwise get (which is the real purpose of caucuses anyway), but you could likely (with a good PR strategy) increase the universe of participants.  The hardcore attendees can still do their caucus thing, but they will only be annoying each other, instead of the poor unsuspecting souls who just want to vote.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Binding Caucuses: MNGOP's Loss is Minnesota's Gain

A few months ago I wrote that the MNGOP should give up it's silly quest to get waivers from RNC rules that would require it to bind its delegates to the 2016 RNC convention.

I predicted back then that the RNC would ultimately deny the request, and MNGOP would have to get with the program anyway.  Instead of embracing the new way of doing things as almost every other state (including Iowa!) had done, MNGOP and their useless executive committee chose to carry on the useless fight, ultimately accomplishing little except wasting time.

Today, news came down that the RNC denied MNGOP's request for waivers.  The only person shocked by this news is de facto MNGOP spokeswoman Cyndy Brucato's anonymous "party leader"- you know, the one who was so certain waivers would be granted that they wouldn't speak on the record.

MNGOP's loss on this issue is Minnesota's gain.

As I've written before the caucus system is outdated, archaic, and guarantees that Minnesota is flyover country during the presidential nominating process.  While our neighbors to the south long ago figured out a way to oversize their relevance, Minnesota always seemed content to be a non-factor.  I thank the RNC for fixing that for us.

I'm not predicting that Minnesota will immediately become North Iowa.  I wouldn't expect to see the top contenders here too often, save for the occasional trip to the ATM known as the Freedom Club. But binding delegates to the results of the straw poll will make the straw poll less useless, and make the prize of Minnesota delegates worth at least nominally fighting for.

The really good news is that it should only take a bound caucus or two before people finally give it up and embrace a true presidential primary.

By adopting a presidential primary, Minnesota would be instituting a modern and equitable process that doesn't disenfranchise the elderly, working parents, people who travel for work, and active duty military members, like caucuses do.  This would take bipartisan action by the legislature, and hasn't scored high on anyone's priority list lately, but here's hoping that the gentle nudge in the right direction the RNC delivered today gets some people thinking.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Setting The Record Straight(er)

Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey sent out an email to State Central delegates today that attempted to "set the record straight" on what Downey calls "(mis)information" that is being sent out to delegates.

Downey is running for re-election this Saturday, and has seen two challengers step up in recent days.  Both challengers have been critical of Downey's management of party finances, and specifically the party's lingering debt.

Despite the title, Downey's email misses the mark, and is intentionally misleading.  Downey supporter Andy Aplikowski posted a copy of Downey's email on his website.

In addressing the debt, the email states:
Since its high of $2.2 million after the problems of 2011, Party debt is now just over $1.4 million.  It reached a low of just under $1.3 million in early 2014 before the strategic decision was made to give it all we had and put our financial resources into the election, starting with the state convention and then on to the primary campaigns, statewide victory program, early/absentee ballot program, and general election campaigns.
This paragraph it problematic, in that is uses an irrelevant figure as the benchmark for the debt.  While MNGOP debt may have been at $2.2 million at one point, the debt when Downey took office in April of 2013 was $1.6 million, as illustratred in the party financial documents below.

So the debt was $1.6 million when Downey took office, and is $1.4 now, after reaching a low of $1.3 in early 2013.

Delegates who are judging Downey's financial performance should note that the total net debt paid off under Downey's two year term was about $200,000, or about $8,300 per month.  Apparently about half of that amount ($110,000) has happened since January 1 of 2015.

The total paid off since the high water mark is about $800k, but much of that happened under chair Pat Shortridge, before Downey took office.

It is disingenuous for Downey to start with the $2.2 million figure in his calculations, but when you see how unimpressive the real numbers are, it's easy to see why he would use the higher figure.

Downey starts his section on the debt with the statement "To be clear, the State Party still carries too much debt."  I couldn't agree more.  I guess on Saturday we'll see if the delegates agree.

 RPM A/P Aging Summary Dated March 31, 2013, a few days before Downey was elected.

April 16, 2013 memo about party financials

Monday, March 9, 2015

GOP Should Tell MN Tea Party Alliance to "Go to Hell"

Let's get this out of the way right away. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of a Tea Party.  I've never been to a Tea Party meeting. I don't even drink tea. I know many people who have been involved with the Tea Party in one way or another, and many of them are fine people who care about their country, but choose to show it in a different way than I do.

But then there are the others.

Shortly after the Tea Party came to prominence in 2009, a number of opportunists rushed to take advantage of a new flood of people into the political process. At the national level, old groups like FreedomWorks wrapped themselves in the Tea Party label and started raising boatloads of cash.

At the local and regional level, scores of groups popped up, taking advantage of the fact that the Tea Party movement was intentionally decentralized, with no real national leader.

Here in Minnesota, two opportunists in particular have done a great job of establishing themselves as self-appointed "leaders" of the Tea Party movement, they being Jack Rogers and Jake Duesenberg of the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance.  They have a sweet URL that makes them seem extra legit, and they operate the MN Tea Party PAC.

Jack and Jake haven't been as successful as the guys from FreedomWorks, only raising $8,200 in 2014. They spent $8,900. The irony of the deficit spending is probably lost on them. A total of $0 was spent to support the election of any candidates. They did spend $1,300 on a wi-fi hostspot, $1,110 on Facebook ads, and just shy of $1,000 to Constant Contact for emails.

Over $1,700 of their expenses (an atypically high 19%) are unitemized, probably either because of their overwhelming commitment to transparency, or because it's none of the government's business how they spend their money. Just guessing on that last part.

Credit where credit is due, Jack and Jake may not raise a lot of money, but they have perfected the art of over the top symbolic gestures as a way to generate media coverage.  As just one example Jack was behind an aborted attempt in 2014 to orchestrate a meaningless show vote of "No Confidence" in then Minority Leader, now Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt.  A quick search of the Star Tribune archives shows Jack has been mentioned in 12 recent stories, Jake, sadly, only 6.  In most of these stories you can find Jack and Jake bad mouthing Republicans. About the only candidate they seemed to like in 2014 was Jeff Johnson. Take from that what you will.

Jack and Jake's most recent stunt was an over-the-top tantrum aimed at notorious RINO Tom Emmer.  Emmer, you see, chose to attend an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma.  Or as Jack put it: "a parade in Alabama."

You see, Jack and Jake would have preferred that Congressman Emmer instead attended a small gathering of local Republican activists, so those activists could yell at him about how he is a sell-out who hates the constitution or something because Emmer didn't commit career suicide in his first vote in Congress by voting against John Boehner for Speaker of the House and/or didn't think gambling with the safety of the nation was a good strategic move.

During the 2014 US Senate campaign Jack and Jake infamously told US Senate candidate Mike McFadden to "Go to Hell" during a meeting.

I think it's high time Republicans say the same thing to Jack and Jake.  No serious candidate for office or elected official should attend any event sponsored by the MN Tea Party Alliance.  The group seems to exist for the sole purpose of promoting Jack and Jake.  It's time other Republicans stop playing along.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

MNGOP Should Abandon Quixotic Quest For Waivers

News broke earlier this week that the chairs of the Minnesota Republican Party and the Minnesota DFL had jointly set precinct caucuses for the date of March 1, 2016.

Under the law, caucuses are held on the first Tuesday in February unless the chairs of the "two largest major political parties" jointly agree on another date.

Now that the caucus date is set, it's clear that the Republican Party of Minnesota will be required, under the rules of the Republican National Committee (RNC) to bind their delegates to the result of the straw ballot for president that will be conducted on caucus night.

Although MinnPost originally erroneously reported that caucuses would be non-binding, MNGOP is now admitting that they will indeed be binding.  But according to an anonymous source in another MinnPost article, MNGOP "expect[s] to get a waiver from the rule."

I wouldn't be so sure. I'll note that the source was so certain that a waiver would be granted that he or she wouldn't discuss it on the record for attribution.  Take from that what you will. 

Also, the granting of a waiver for Minnesota defies logic.  The RNC passed the rule to make delegates be bound because they want delegates to be bound.  There's no reason to think that they would grant a waiver to Minnesota, just because Minnesota wants it.

Regardless what you think of the prospects of waivers, MNGOP should abandon their quest of defiance and embrace the new process.  It's the only way for Minnesota to be remotely relevant in the process for selecting a presidential nominee.

The process in Minnesota in recent years has been that people show up on caucus night and cast a vote in the straw ballot.  The results of that straw ballot are then summarily ignored as a handful of party insiders make their way through a byzantine process of increasingly exclusive conventions in an attempt to win a spot as a delegate to the national convention with no regard for how the public voted.

As a result, Minnesota is largely ignored in presidential nominating contests, except by long-shot or no-shot candidates.

The move of caucus night to "Super Tuesday," when several other states will be voting, combined with the binding of delegates to the straw poll results will make the delegates in Minnesota a coveted prize.  By having some clear and fair rules for binding delegates, real presidential contenders will compete in Minnesota, rather than writing off our convoluted convention process.

Our neighbors in Iowa have perhaps the most famous caucus system in America due to their position as a "first in the nation" state, yet Iowa is not seeking waivers for their caucus.  They will be binding their delegates. 

“This is the party trying to line up the results to the wishes of the people,” said Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker, who was one of the Paul backers swept into power at party headquarters last election cycle.
What Mr. Spiker is referring to when he talks about "the wishes of the people" is the fact that under the existing caucus system the votes of the people who show up on caucus night are meaningless.  In Iowa in 2012 Ron Paul received the support of 79% of the delegation, despite coming in with only 21% of the vote on caucus night.

Here in Minnesota even though Rick Santorum won the night on caucus night, nearly all of the delegates from Minnesota voted for Ron Paul at the convention.

The disconnect between the results of caucus night and the eventual make up of the delegation is just one of the terrible features of MNGOP's existing caucus process.  Holding a caucus instead of a primary will still disenfranchise many people, including active duty members of the military, but binding the delegates to the results of the straw poll is a reform that brings us a step in the right direction.

Instead of wasting time and energy on a likely futile effort to seek waivers, MNGOP should instead have a vigorous debate about how they will proportionally allocate their delegates as required by the RNC rules, and how they will adjust their delegate selection process to fit the new reality.

There are a number of important decisions that need to be made to transition Minnesota to a more modern and inclusive way of participating in the selection of presidential candidates. The party's focus should be on making these decisions in a responsible manner, not putting their heads in the sand and pretending change isn't coming.  MNGOP should not make the same mistake that their 2014 gubernatorial nominee did in thinking that "waivers" is a plan.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Yesterday the MN Republican Party's State Executive Committee held a conference call to discuss moving the date of precinct caucuses from the second Tuesday in February to March 1.  The call and vote were actually more of a formality.  GOP Chairman Keith Downey had already agreed with his DFL counterpart Ken Martin on the date change.  The vote to change the date passed with only one objection, that of CD2 representative Bill Jungbauer.  He wanted to table the motion so that it could be discussed further. He couldn't get a second.

Last year I ran for (and won) a spot on my local city council.  My campaign was centered largely on a message of the need to increase transparency in our local government.

I'm about 2 months into the job now, and one thing that has been funny to see is just how much more transparent everything is in government compared to the party process.  In fact, in a statement that would have seemed preposterous to me just a few months ago, I think there's a lot the Republican Party could learn from the government.

Now of course I understand that a political party is not a unit of government, and cannot and should not operate like one.  But it's been my experience than many Republicans like to campaign on things like openness and transparency, but sure don't like to practice what they preach.

Let's take this decision to move caucus night as one simple example.  This is a decision that could have significant implications to the way Minnesota awards its delegates at the national convention, which could in turn impact which Republican candidate is nominated for President.  A pretty big deal.  But how was the decision made?  If you are an average Republican in Minnesota who has a strong feeling about the topic, how would you know that a decision is even being discussed?  Notice of yesterday's meeting, like all executive committee meetings, wasn't posted online.

In the government world, a public body has to post notice of their meetings at least 72 hours in advance. That includes a complete list of the items which will be discussed.  And no- you can't just have a section at the end for "other business".  You didn't provide proper notice.  People have the right to know what you are discussing and when.

How about attendance?  In the government world we can't have conference calls (unless there's a pandemic).  All meetings have to be in a place where the public can observe.  Can't attend the meeting?  You have the right to get the meeting minutes so you can see what happened.  If you were a Republican who wanted to listen in to a meeting, could you?  Where do you get the minutes?  They certainly aren't on the Party's website.  When Chris Fields was the Party Secretary he used to email out executive committee minutes.  That doesn't happen any more.

Not that it matters anyway, since most of the time the executive committee meets in executive session, where no notes are kept and nobody can talk about what is discussed.  Again, not allowed in government.  There are only a few reasons you can close a meeting, and even then you are required to audio record the proceedings and make them available eventually.

What about the decision making process?  In the government world you're entitled to all of the documentation that those making the decision are given.  As a council member at the dais I have a packet of information.  That same packet is available for any member of the audience to review so they have the same information I have.

During the last MNGOP State Central Committee meeting, delegates were not given printed copies of financial information to review.  Instead they got a snapshot of information on a PowerPoint. As a result many Republicans were probably surprised to learn that the Party's debt had grown significantly at the end of 2014 and that the Party ended the year with roughly the same amount of debt that it had when Keith Downey took office. 

I wasn't.  But then again I was provided access to copies of the full financial statements before the meeting.  Not every delegate was given this opportunity.  In fact, when it became known that I was provided information about the party's finances some Republican insiders were much more concerned about who had "leaked" the information to me (a delegate to State Central, the governing body of the party) than the information about the additional debt.

Now, again, I know that a political party is not a unit of government.  It's a self governing body, and the members get to decide how much transparency and openness they want.  It seems that the majority of Republican delegates are OK with the closed, secretive process that they have.  After all, it appears Chairman Downey is going to sail to re-election without opposition.  Many Republican delegates don't seem to care that their elected chairman tries to control the flow of information to keep them in the dark. Actually, some seem to prefer it that way.

The Republican Party is currently in the process of electing new delegates to State Central for the next two years.  I would encourage this new crop of delegates to reflect on their organization and see if it really models the values that Republicans claim to care about during campaign season. 

Perhaps they can take some cues from an organization that really understands transparency and openness. The government.

Monday, February 9, 2015

My Visit to KIPP: North Star Academy

I don't really watch movies in the theater anymore.  The combination of the ever rising ticket prices, the ever diminishing quality of the movies, and the quickness that I can get new movies streamed into the comfort of my living room has just made the process obsolete for me.

One of the last movies I saw in the theater was the 2010 documentary Waiting For Superman, which takes a very critical look at the state of education in this country.  The notion of seeing a big screen documentary that framed charter schools in a positive way was exciting enough to get me out of the recliner and into the theater.

(Yes, I realize how old and curmudgeonly those first two paragraphs make me sound. I have chosen to embrace, not fight this. Get off my lawn.)

It was Waiting For Superman that first introduced me to the KIPP School.  KIPP is a national network of charter schools that specializes in "preparing students in low-income communities for success in college and life," according to their literature.  Some of the KIPP schools were profiled in the documentary.

A few weeks ago Cam Winton posted a link on Twitter to a Go Fund Me page for a teacher who was raising money to bring his students to go see the movie Selma.  This seemed like a good use of a few bucks to me so I made a donation.
I met Cam when he was running for Mayor of Minneapolis in 2013.  He and I have kept in touch since then, but I somehow overlooked the fact that earlier this year Cam joined the board of KIPP: North Star Academy, the first KIPP school in Minnesota.  The Go Fund Me page was for one of the KIPP classes.

Last week Cam invited me to one of the school's open houses for a tour.  I walked in semi-informed, I walked out amazed.

KIPP: North Star Academy is located in North Minneapolis, and currently serves 265 students in grades 5-8.  98% of their students are minorities, and 92% are eligible for federal lunch aid.  KIPP alum graduate college at a rate four times higher than the low-income average.

The small group I toured with had the opportunity to observe a few classes in action. It was immediately clear that this was not the average school. Probably the most striking thing that I observed was that no matter the classroom or subject, when the teacher asked a question, almost every hand in the room shot up, enthusiastically, to participate in the discussion.  These were students who were engaged and interested in learning.  It's been a while since I was in 8th grade but that's certainly not the environment I remember.

It's a statistic that is repeated so much that it has almost lost meaning, but Minneapolis has one of the worst achievement gaps between students of color and white students in the entire country.  Only 30% of the students who live in North Minneapolis are likely to graduate from high school.  This immoral statistic leads to a gap in employment later in life, which feeds the cycle of poverty.

A lot of politicians like to bleat on about this statistic, but very few actually do anything about it.  At KIPP I saw an amazing group of people who rolled up their sleeves and are actually addressing the achievement gap each day.  And with great results.

The average KIPP student grows 1.9 grade levels in proficiency for each year they are at KIPP.  This means that even students who are far behind their peers when they enter, can be back on track for success by the time they leave 4 years later.

The vision is to eventually grow to a pre-K through 8 school by 2020.

KIPP delivers amazing results but they can't do it alone.  As a charter school not associated with a school district they receive about 31% less per student than a "regular" district school.  They also pay their teachers more than average to account for longer than average school days, and a few Saturday classes per year.

There are a number of ways you could help KIPP, but one of the best ways is to start with a tour.  The next two are at 9:00 AM on March 5 and April 9.  Details are on their website.

Please consider attending a tour.  This curmudgeon is incredibly glad he did.