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.