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.