Elections 2016: Minneapolis School Board At-Large

Minneapolis has an at-large School Board seat coming up for a vote this year, and the incumbent, Carla Bates, isn’t running again.

Two candidates are running:

Kim Ellison
Doug Mann

Kim’s site is pretty content-free. She’s worked as a teacher both at a regular high school and an alternative high school for very at-risk kids (this 2012 interview with her gives a lot more detail on her work as an educator). She’s actually served on the school board for four years already, but previously she held the seat for the District 2 representative. She’s retiring from that seat and running for the at-large seat.

She has the DFL endorsement, which is weirdly not mentioned on her website, and the only person running against her is Doug Mann, who’s been running for the school board since 1999 with no luck.

My issues with Doug Mann can be summed up pretty well by noting that on the front page of his extensive website he lays out his priorities for schools (better retention, more mainstreaming of special ed kids, avoid watering down curricula), then adds, “Cut the war budget and raise taxes on corporations and the rich to fund the transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power to clean energy and to fund social welfare programs” and lists out a grab-bag of other left-wing positions (Medicare for all, raise the minimum wage to $15, eliminate tuition for public universities, legalize marijuana…)

I mean, do I think most of these things are a good idea? Sure. Do I think the Minneapolis School Board has the power to enact any of them? No. I am in favor of electing people who have a sense of what the job entails.

Doug’s contact information is a Facebook page which he last posted to in February. He is endorsed by the Green Party.

If I were voting in Minneapolis this year, I would vote for Kim, despite her mostly useless website. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: serving on the Minneapolis (and St. Paul) school board is supposed to be a part-time job, but it’s not; it’s a full-time job, and one of their major responsibilities is getting yelled at for making unpopular decisions. It is a terrible job for which they get paid less than $15,000/year. For much of the time I was living in Minneapolis, most of the people who served didn’t run for re-election, which meant the school board lacked any real institutional memory. At some point I decided that I would always vote for incumbents on this board running for re-election unless they had really pissed me off. Kim Ellison definitely qualifies.

Also, I think that when the work on a school board has become a full-time job, the school board members, like City Council representatives, should be paid a salary they can actually live on. (This would have to be changed at the state legislative level, and I do not think it’s anyone’s priority, unfortunately.)

 

Election 2016: State Senator District 64

The candidates for my State Senate seat are Dick Cohen (DFL) and Ian Baird (Republican).

Dick Cohen, the Senator from my current district, has been in the Minnesota legislature since 1976. He’s not as old as you might think — he got elected for the first time when he was ridiculously young, and so he’s younger than my father. But since 1976, my father has lived in four different cities and worked at four separate universities, despite being a faculty member (who, as everyone knows, typically get tenure somewhere and stay there basically forever). In those same forty years Dick Cohen has stayed in St. Paul, and in the legislature. (He did move from the House to the Senate ten years in.) I will admit some mixed feelings about legislators who serve for this long.

But he’s kept up with the times and has been a hard-working, reliable progressive vote.

Ian Baird looks about eighteen to me. His biography talks about his parents’ dairy business and says, “Today I work as a theater artist and carpenter.  I’ve worked on shows ranging from  Les Miserables to, well, shows you’ve never heard of.” This got me curious and I went looking for his CV. Most theater professionals make it really easy to find them, via a listing like this one on Minnesota Playlist. Or a website. Or a LinkedIn page. I turned up a LinkedIn page that might be Ian’s; I’m not sure. It’s even more pathetic than my LinkedIn page. I did find a CV that might be his here. If it’s his, he graduated college in 2013, so that explains why he looks so ridiculously young.

He also probably went here: https://unwsp.edu/ (I’m not 100% sure because there are a number of academic institutions named Northwestern. This is based in part on what I found on the LinkedIn page.) This is a small, weird, very conservative, very Christian college. They also emphasize career-oriented degrees, so the fact that he emerged with a History degree and a Theater minor is kind of fascinating.

He also doesn’t appear to have turned out the sort of Christian his parents were probably hoping for when they sent him off to school, given that his “About” page that goes with the CV includes the observation that “Religion, like performance, offers a place for people to hide from the reality of who they are.”

Working my way to his actual campaign: his positions include “why do we pay for trains when I never ride them,” “I’ve heard lots of horror stories about education,” and “paid leave legislation is bad.” He’s also pro-transparency (fair), thought the police officer who shot Philando Castile should be tried (yay), and has nothing much to say either on his campaign website or his campaign Facebook page about the GOP’s social positions. His Facebook page also mentions that he’s pro-fireworks and views himself as the candidate for fans of Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation. (I am fond of Ron as a character, but have never said to myself, “wow, I wish I could have him represent me in the legislature.” I’d totally vote for Knope, though.)

Unclear: whether he’s reflected at all on the fact that most of the people in his party view arts funding the way he views trains, or the fact that most of the people in his profession are heavily dependent on health care plans set up by Democrats.

 

Anyway, it’s an interesting picture. Not someone I’d vote for, but I wish Ian success in his life as a Theater artist and I hope he’s gained financial independence from his parents, because I bet they are a lot more conservative than he is.

 

Everyone else should vote for the progressive dinosaur!

 

Election 2016 – Judicial Races -4th District Court 45 and 4th District Court 37

When I looked at the candidate lists yesterday I missed the fact that there were in fact two contested judicial races for district courts in Hennepin County.

4th District Court 37

Carolina A. Lamas (incumbent)
Luke Kyper Bellville

4th District Court 45

Paul R. Scoggin (incumbent)
Chris Ritts

I’ll do the 4th District Court 37 first.

Carolina Lamas

Judge Carolina Lamas is a relatively recent appointee — she came to the bench in 2014, appointed by Governor Dayton. She’s relatively young, having graduated from law school in 2003. (Not scandalously young. But probably younger than me.) She’s an immigrant from Peru and prior to becoming a judge, she worked as a public defender and for a nonprofit that serves indigent people who’ve been charged with felonies.

Looking for news stories about her turned up a piece about Hennepin County judges doing free weddings for people on Valentine’s Day this year, and she set a typical (rather than an extremely high) bail for someone back in February. Searching on the guy’s name turned up no additional articles, so I’m not sure whether his trial is still pending or what. (Also, protecting the public is not supposed to be what bail is for; you’re innocent until proven guilty. You’re only supposed to be denied bail, or given an extremely high bail, if you’re a flight risk, at least that’s the theory as I understand it.)

Anyway, overall she seems to be doing a fine job.

Luke Kyper Bellville

If you visit Luke Bellville’s site you’ll probably have the same first thought I had, which is, “wait…Tripod still exists?”

Luke appears to have a family and enjoy sitting in grassy settings. He emphasizes his deep local roots, which I initially read as a fairly standard iteration of Minnesota parochialism (there are people in both Minneapolis and St. Paul who will brag about how they never ever go to the other city, which always makes me want to speculate that they’re secretly a vampire who can’t cross water) but having read up on Carolina Lamas I’m now wondering if he’s trying to channel anti-immigrant sentiment. He also says, “I, having grown up in the inner-city of Minneapolis, have little tolerance for violent crimes, and feel they are the number one thing in the modern era that needs addressing.” So possibly he’s mad about the low bail or that one guy, or again, this actually sounds a little dogwhistle-y.

He does not even hint at any actual qualifications to work as a judge, like having gone to law school. Which is weird, because he appears to indeed be a lawyer. I found his LinkedIn, which adds another odd thing to the mix — he talks about attending the U of  M Twin Cities on both his “hire me to be your lawyer” page and his “vote for me for judge” page but he got his JD in North Dakota. Which is a perfectly reasonable place to get a law degree so why he wants to cover up this fact is bizarre. (And, I mean, on his “vote for me” page, he gets really detailed: “I am a fourth generation Minnesotan who grew up on the West Bank in Minneapolis. I attended Marcy Open Elementary school when it was still on Como Avenue, then Anderson Junior High off Lake Street, and South High School off Cedar Avenue. After this I graduated from the University of Minnesota on the Twin Cities Campus.” Like, you considered it important that you attended Marcy Open but you didn’t want to tell us where you went to law school?)

Anyway, the tl;dr here is that this guy is a flake. Vote for Carolina Lamas.

On to Court 45.

4th District Court 45

Paul R. Scoggin (incumbent)

So two years ago, Paul Scoggin was running against Bridget Ann Sullivan for an open seat and I wrote about it. I thought they both sounded like strong candidates who’d make excellent judges. And in fact Sullivan won the election but Scoggin was appointed to fill an opening the following year.

I went looking for news articles about Scoggin and didn’t turn up anything about his work as a judge. Interestingly, though, I did find a news article from 2013 about a criminal case that he prosecuted and his opponent in the race defended: Minneapolis man who wrecked Lamborghini gets six months in workhouse. The case involved this idiot who was hired to repair, then store, a Lamborghini. (Presumably for the winter months.) He took it for an unauthorized drunken joyride and wrecked it. Then he tried to bill it to insurance and lied about the accident. Honestly, click and read, the whole story is sort of hilarious in an “omg what an idiot” kind of way. (I’ll note that I did some follow-up googling fascinatingly enough, his auto shop is not only still in business but doing fine. He must be one hell of a mechanic. It appears that he committed himself to sobriety and stuck with it, so hurray for the wake-up call he got working as I’m sure everyone hoped.)

Anyway, both Chris Ritts and Paul Scoggin were doing their jobs as expected in that case — I don’t think either did anything wrong. Reading the article I felt a bit more sympathy for the prosecutor, but there’s nothing wrong with defending someone guilty, I mean that’s solidly part of the job of a defense lawyer. I’m not sure how good a deal Chris got for his client — this was a plea deal — but when a guy digs himself that sort of ten-foot pit before he calls you, there’s only so much you can do. (Oh, wait. Plus he had priors, according to the Strib article. He must be an amazing mechanic to still be in business.)

Chris Ritts

Two years ago, Chris Ritts was running against Bev Benson for an open seat and I wrote about it. I thought Bev sounded a little too cozy with the police but I thought Chris sounded super flaky and not overly bright.

His website is less embarrassing now, though it definitely telegraphs “campaign committee of one.”

Searching for news stories on him turns up a couple of different stories about his work as an attorney. He defended a Maple Grove City Council Rep who stole money from her elderly father while working as his caregiver. (Maybe Brad Gerten, R-51A, should give Ritt a call.) Ritt has also worked for the family of a man killed by a Plymouth police officer and won a settlement for a man who sued a St. Paul police officer for excessive force.

The fact that he has only a single endorsement (vs. Soggins’ long list of endorsements) makes me think less “courageous outsider” and more “the people who know this guy don’t actually think he should be a judge,” though.

I would vote for Scoggins.

 

 

 

Election 2016: Constitutional Amendment 1

There is a constitutional amendment on the Minnesota ballot this year! Statewide. (Obviously.) Here’s what it says:

Remove Lawmakers’ Power to Set Their Own Pay
Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove state lawmakers’ power to set their own salaries, and instead establish an independent, citizens-only council to prescribe salaries of lawmakers?

You can vote Yes, or No. If you leave it blank, that counts as a No.

So my first gut reaction to this is as follows: I suspect that the legislators have put this on the ballot because they would really like a raise, and they would really like it not to be on them to give themselves a raise, because if you do vote yourself a raise people will slam you for it and sometimes people will indignantly run against you because you gave yourself a raise after not accomplishing whatever it was they particularly wanted you to get done that session.

How much are legislators paid at the moment? I found that info over on the Minnesota State Legislature FAQ:  a Legislator’s salary is $31,140 per year. That said, it’s allegedly not a full-time job; you’re not in session all year. If legislators have another job, the FAQ notes they’re protected from firing over their legislative-session-absence and also their employer isn’t allowed to fire them if they dislike how they voted, which is hilarious but also a good idea, I’d say.

They get a per diem during the legislative session (key, for people who live somewhere up on the Iron Range — it’s not like they can go home at night to sleep) and I was trying to find that info out from this helpful document about compensation and that wasn’t in there, but it did mention that the last time the legislature got a raise was in 1999. It also noted, “The 2013 Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment regarding how legislators’ salaries are determined. The 2014 Legislature modified the text of the proposed amendment and passed a bill that put that amendment to voters. The amendment will be voted on at the 2016 general election.” So this has been in the works for a while.

There’s a MinnPost article from 2013 about the question of whether legislators are underpaid.  It covers the per diem issue but also quotes former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe on the whole “part time” issue. “It’s difficult for the public to understand that it’s really not part-time,” Moe says. “It’s a 150-percent of the time job for five or six months of the year, and about a 75-percent of the time job the rest of the year. It’s more than a full-time job and you kind of build your life around it.”

(They’re not as underpaid as the Minneapolis and probably also the St. Paul school board. I can tell you that Minneapolis school board members work a more-than-full-time job for under $15,000/year and a measurable percentage of the job is to be the target of hatred, resentment, and angry criticism. I would raise both Minneapolis and St. Paul school board members’ salaries tomorrow to a reasonable full-time salary, if I could, because I sincerely believe that they’d get better people who would be more likely to be able to solve the district’s problems if people who need to work for a living could afford to serve. That salary: also set by the legislature.)

The MinnPost article notes that the legislature has the same problem, to some degree: the skimpy pay doesn’t stop people from running, but it causes a lot of people to decide they can’t afford to run again.

The comments section on that article kind of illustrates the problem: “Slackers and lemmings not ‘entitled’ to increases.” “That does not justify higher pay because constituents did not benefit from your choice to work long hours.” Several people pointed out that we might get better, smarter people running for office if we paid them a living wage; a not-outstandingly-smart-sounding retired woman who can’t spell said she’d serve for free.

A more recent article in MinnPost talks about this issue again, noting that even mentioning legislative pay is just full-on radioactive for legislators, and that a lot of legislators wind up really struggling financially.

Apparently in New Mexico, state legislators don’t get paid at all. This piece compares legislative pay and talks about the benefits (and drawbacks) of a well-paid legislature.

Here’s the fundamental thing, I guess. I do think people should get paid fairly for their work, and that includes lawmakers. The solution to crappy legislators is kicking them out of office at election time, not saying “none of you get paid today!” I think a citizen commission will pay people fairly. (I don’t think it will pay them lavishly. I think it will compensate them reasonably for the actual hours they work, or at least, they’ll do a better job of this than the legislators can politically do for themselves.) This seems like a good idea to me and I am going to vote in favor of this amendment.

 

 

Election 2016: Judicial Races – State Supreme Court

It’s been weirdly hard to focus on these writeups this year because thinking about politics is far more stressful than it normally is. I’m going to try to focus and get a few more done today.

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’ll get a long list of judges running for re-election but on neither the ballot for my current address nor the ballot for my former address does anyone running for District Court or Court of Appeals have any opponents. (I don’t know how I missed the fact that several Minneapolis judicial races are contested. I’ll get to those shortly.)

I nearly always vote for incumbents in judicial races because 99.99% of the time, the person running against the incumbent is a kook, at best. (In most cases they’re from the Michele Bachmann school of wingnuttery or something similarly appalling.) On those occasions that you have a genuinely awful incumbent, I expect that people advocating for the challenger will have made a pretty concerted effort to make sure I know why I should be voting differently this time around.

Frankly, I think candidate vs. candidate judicial races are a bad idea. I would prefer to see Y/N voting, with a judge removed if there’s a majority saying they shouldn’t be a judge anymore, with new judges selected by a committee and appointed by the governor or something along those lines. (My father is a political scientist and how judges are selected is one of his areas of specialty.)

Anyway, the only judicial race that’s contested this time is for the Supreme Court. You can choose between Natalie Hudson, an experienced, respected justice supported by basically all the people in the state who know or care about the court system, and Michelle MacDonald, a certified whackjob who has no business anywhere near the legal profession.

I did a detailed writeup about Michelle two years ago and I’ll just link to that rather than trying to recap. The only major update is that the Grazzini-Rucki kids turned up in the last year; it was their mother who hid them; the mother has now been tried and found guilty for felony deprivation of parental rights and is serving a short prison sentence.

Michelle MacDonald’s behavior and demeanor are erratic; she has repeatedly gotten herself into serious trouble due to a complete lack of respect for legal procedure; she has marginal emotional control over herself in situations where professionals are expected to be able to keep a grip on themselves. She has poor grammar and punctuation. She waves Bibles around in speeches.

Even if you find things in Michelle’s rants that sound appealing, she should under no circumstances be trusted with a judgeship. Vote for Natalie Hudson in this race.

 

Election 2016: U.S. Representative, District 4

(I’m going to tackle the ballot out of order and do the presidential race last.)

I live in St. Paul, and our Congresswoman is Betty McCollum. This is largely regarded as a safe Democratic seat.

Here’s who’s running:

Betty McCollum (DFL)
Greg Ryan (Republican)
Susan Pendergast Sindt (Legal Marijuana Now)

Continue reading

Election 2016: MN Supreme Court Primary

So it is August 2nd, and we have a primary on August 9th. Primaries used to be in September, and got pushed back because they wanted everyone to have more time to campaign. I’m not sure this was a good idea, because I’m just not used to having to pay attention to this stuff in August; it’s easy to just miss it accidentally because I’m not in election mode yet.

There is one statewide race, and it’s the sort of easy-to-miss incredibly important office that hopefully you’re reading my blog for information about: the State Supreme Court. There are three people running:

Natalie Hudson
Craig Foss
Michelle MacDonald

Natalie Hudson

Natalie was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Mark Dayton in October of 2015. She was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals by Ventura. She is endorsed by basically all the current and former MN Supreme Court justices, the Star Tribune, and 90% of the lawyers in the state, according to a Bar Association poll. She is smart, she is qualified, and she has the breadth and depth of experience you’d hope for in a judge.

Basically she’s a no-brainer. GO VOTE FOR HER.

Craig Foss

Craig doesn’t have a website but I did find a brief newspaper article about him. He is an unemployed lawyer and is running for justice because hey, it would be a job!

I’ll say that I think it’s unfortunate that he’s dealing with prejudice because he’s legally blind. Blindness is not a disqualification from being a lawyer. That said, “I’m unemployed and want a job” is a terrible reason to run for Supreme Court Justice. As someone who’s known a lot of math-oriented people, I’m frankly not convinced that “I bring the logic and analytical skills of a mathematician. The law would be much easier and more understandable if all lawyers were mathematicians” is a persuasive case, either.

Michelle MacDonald

I wrote about Michelle back in 2014 when she ran for the same job (different seat) and I’m just going to link you there, because there’s way too much to recap.

Looking her up two years ago, I discovered a jaw-dropping rabbit hole of bizarre behavior, including the drunk driving charge but also this incident where she got arrested in a courtroom that is too convoluted to summarize.

Her (former) client  Sandra Grazzini-Rucki has been back in the news lately because her missing kids turned back up and Sandra was charged with deprivation of parental rights for helping them hide from their father.

Anyway. MacDonald was endorsed by the Republicans two years ago after making a rousing speech that involved some literal Bible thumping; she tried for an endorsement again this year and they refused it. (The Republicans will currently endorse for judicial races; the DFL will not. Most of the respectable candidates, like Natalie Hudson, do not seek party endorsement at all.)

Despite the fact that Michelle MacDonald is the sort of batshit that makes Michele Bachmann look like a model of rational and responsible behavior, she got 47% of the vote against Lillehaug in 2014. Vote in these races, people. And go vote in the primary.