Election 2014: Ramsey County Commissioner, District 5

If you ever get the urge to go into politics, but you’re totally in it for the power and really not interested in the glory (because “glory” in the case of politics mostly just means people e-mailing you with complaints), run for County Board. At least around here, the County Board does an amazing array of stuff and yet people largely ignore it completely. How completely? Well, Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson has been on the Hennepin County Board for years and yet even in the metro area, an awful lot of people don’t even know who he is. (This excellent article talks about the problem in some detail, though it’s focused on Hennepin County, not Ramsey.)

(For the non-Minnesotans who read these posts for the snark and weird stories, I’ll just quickly note that Minneapolis and St. Paul are in different counties. Minneapolis is in Hennepin County; St. Paul is in Ramsey County. Both of these counties include a bunch of suburbs and Hennepin I think includes a little bit of rural land.)

In my part of St. Paul, here’s who’s on the ballot:

CHARLES S. BARKLIND – NONPARTISAN
RAFAEL E. ORTEGA – NONPARTISAN

Rafael Ortega is the incumbent. He has (1) the job, at the moment; (2) the DFL’s endorsement; and (3) yard signs (I’ve seen them.)

He does not have a web site that can be found with Google.

Well, he has a job web site, but the complete lack of a campaign web site kind of makes me wonder where people got the yard signs. I mean, obviously people had their methods back in the era before the Internet — heck, I pounded in yard signs for Ken Golden the first time he ran for Madison City Council — but seriously, don’t you want people to be able to get them easily? and more importantly, to donate money to you easily? He must not be very worried.

To clarify the DFL endorsement thing despite the fact that no party is listed: there are a bunch of offices that are officially non-partisan; the political parties in town can endorse candidates if they want and if they can agree on somebody. The DFL routinely does endorsements for the mayoral races, the city council races, the school board races, and the county board races. The Republicans in Minneapolis and St. Paul occasionally do endorsements but mostly just stay out of it because an endorsement from Republicans in Minneapolis isn’t going to motivate people to vote for you, it’s going to be the MARK OF CAIN that people point to and say “you can’t vote for this guy; he’s a REPUBLICAN.” The smart Republicans, like Cam Winton, run as Independents.

Rafael Ortega

His office web site says he grew up in a tough neighborhood in New York, where he learned firsthand about the importance of transit. He was a social worker and a director of a social services organization before becoming the first minority elected to Ramsey County board and the first Latino elected to ANY county board in Minnesota, which happened in 1994. So twenty years in, it’s no wonder he’s not super worried about getting re-elected.

His achievements list mentions, “Did critical site cleanup for Sholom Home East on West 7th in Highland Park, paving the way for what the Star Tribune calls the ‘future of nursing homes.'” Sholom Home is a genuinely nice facility: pleasant and (more critically) well staffed with people who are well trained, attentive to the residents, and friendly. My grandmother has lived in three different places since moving to the Twin Cities, and I toured several others, so I speak from a pretty good knowledge base when I say that Sholom Home is EXCELLENT. So I will happily give him points for that. That whole little corner went from a disused industrial site to a thriving mini-neighborhood; I think it was anchored by Sholom Home.

On the other hand, you could probably fairly blame him for some of the most annoying things about the Green Line, the LRT line that runs from Downtown St. Paul to Downtown Minneapolis.

Here’s the thing about the Green Line. (Why did they call it the Green Line? Why couldn’t it have been the University Line, like the Blue Line was and should have stayed the Hiawatha Line?) It runs down the center of University Avenue, and they didn’t feel that they could let it preempt the traffic lights, because Snelling (the biggest north-south street it crosses) is already a mess, and letting the Hiawatha Line preempt the lights created some seriously effed-up east-west traffic. Years after they opened the line, they finally had the technology installed so that the traffic lights could resume the cycle where it left off, instead of starting over from the beginning.

So to solve this problem on University they are not letting it preempt the lights for the north-south streets at ALL. Now, on Snelling: yeah. You can’t. I think it makes sense to not let the trains preempt Raymond, Fairview, Snelling, Hamline, Lexington, Victoria, Dale, or Western — all of which are stops, anyway. But there’s a light at Prior. There’s a light at Pascal. There are lights up and down all of University; making the train stop at Pascal is just ridiculous.

There is a fascinating, if someone technical, article from back in July about how they’re trying to fix this problem by timing the signals to create waves of green in both directions. When you do this right, cars and trains will get a whole long string of greens and then one red and then another whole long string of greens. Except I would think the trains would keep screwing this up by stopping at stations for unpredictable amounts of time, and in fact, the bus that used to run along University Ave was faster than the goddamn train.

Mind you, the Green Line is getting a ton of riders, despite all the annoying aspects; it’s way above ridership predictions and actually seems to be a huge success. And it has not made it any more difficult to cross University by car than it already was. (In fact, it’s a whole lot easier than it was during construction, when it was horrific.) I found a whole bunch of blog-type posts about Rafael at the Pioneer Press site and one of them quotes him saying that he doesn’t think cold weather will depress ridership, and I think he’s right; trains are nice year round, but they are particularly awesome when it’s snowy and the roads are a mess.

…and HEY, while hunting for information about Charles Barklind I found a voter’s guide that had a link and I FOUND RAFAEL ORTEGA’S WEBSITE. (I sent them a note suggesting ways they could make it a bit easier to find.) In addition to his transit stuff he mentions creating a program that offers mental health and chemical dependency treatment under one roof, protecting sex trafficking victims, and redeveloping land like the old Army Ammunition Plant.

Charles S. Barklind

Charles really truly does not have a website. He’s a man of many contradictions, though, so let me just go through a few things I found in semi-chronological order.

Back in 2010, when he ran for this same seat, he turned in some answers to a voter’s guide. This is a highbeam.com link but conveniently, Charles’ extremely succinct answers are in the teaser bit. In 2010, he was 62 and a golf caddy. Candidates were invited to submit a 100-word essay about the issue that was most important to them. I quote Charles’ essay in its entirety: “The University Corridor of light rail transit. I’m in favor of it.”

A year or two back, he got profiled on a blog that does news analysis. In the piece, he describes himself as a Republican, although mostly he sounds like a harmless crank with a letter-writing hobby.

This year, he’s got a profile in an East Metro voter guide. In response to the question, “What would be your top three priorities if elected?” he says, “Maintain our excellent credit rating. Take from the rich. Give to the poor.”

Anyway. I am not going to speculate about what precisely is going on with Charles, other than to say I’m glad he’s found a rewarding hobby in running for office and I’m glad he lives in senior housing where presumably there are people to keep an eye on him. He sounds like he’s probably both incredibly hardworking and very kind, and I hope the people in his life appreciate him. I don’t want him as my County Commissioner, though.

Election 2014: MN Attorney General

The Attorney General is the state’s chief legal officer, and represents the state in court on legal affairs that can range from defending against slip-and-fall lawsuits to appealing Supreme Court decisions that one of our laws is unconstitutional. The office is probably best known for its consumer protection and consumer advocacy.

Mike Hatch was our AG for a while; he scored enormous political points by going after the local HMOs like a rabid pit bull. I specifically remember two things that he got exercised about that I thought were BS: (1) Allina had hired a masseuse to give chair massages to a bunch of employees as a random perk during a busy season. You know what, there are thousands of corporations that spend money on random little perks every now and then, ranging from chair massages to free turkeys. Of all the things you could complain about an HMO doing, if this is what you’re going after, you are really stretching. (2) They also paid for their doctors to go to medical conferences that were held outside the midwest. As it happens, most of the big medical conferences are held in states with better weather, and doctors hear about a lot of new research at these things, it’s not a vacation. As irritating as all that was, I also remember chatting with another parent at the playground years ago whose very small private ambulance business had been driven under by a lawsuit from the AG’s office claiming that he’d overbilled, or something. (I can’t remember the exact details.) He said that he would never ever ever vote for Hatch for anything, or for anyone associated with Hatch.

Lori Swanson was Hatch’s protege. I am pretty sure that the first time she ran, I didn’t vote for her. (Which means it’s possible I voted for our current gubernatorial candidate, Jeff Johnson! Or maybe I went for the Jessecrat, I’m not sure.)

That said, I’m mostly fine with the job she’s done. But, if you’re inclined to vote for a third-party candidate in one race, this would be the one I’d pick for you, I think.

Who’s running:

BRANDAN BORGOS – INDEPENDENCE
SCOTT NEWMAN – REPUBLICAN
LORI SWANSON – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
ANDY DAWKINS – GREEN PARTY
MARY O’CONNOR – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
DAN R. VACEK – LEGAL MARIJUANA NOW

Brandan Borgos

Brandan has a JD from the University of St. Thomas. He doesn’t mention whether he works as a lawyer, or what exactly he does for a living, though he does mention he lives in Whittier, enjoys reading and martial arts, and does fundraising for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. I was curious whether he does work as a lawyer, so I looked on LinkedIn. Per LinkedIn, he graduated from UST in 2010 and works at “Borgos Law, PLLC,” which suggests to me that he’s in solo practice. Except you might think his solo practice would have a web page, which it does not (at least that I could find). The Chamber of Commerce website believes that Borgos Law, PLLC is at 898 Galtier St. in Saint Paul. I looked this up in Google Maps and from street view (which admittedly has its issues) this appears to be a vacant lot.

His platform, on his website, is unobjectionable. In the sense that there’s nothing in it that anyone from either the DFL or the Republican party would hesitate to put on their own website. He believes in evolving leadership; transparency; building community partnerships; and protecting civil rights. That said, just as an outsider I think he’s probably a bit more serious about protecting privacy and civil rights than the major party candidates. (On the other hand, as someone who may or may not have significant legal experience, I’m not sure he’d be at all successful in that goal.)

His Twitter actually has a bit more character than his campaign website: “Using the sword of justice on predatory lenders, student loans, polluters, & backroom government deals. Alter ego of @JutSao: fighter of cannabis prohibition.” His @JutSao page mentions that he’s the former Minnesota NORML chair. (NORML = National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, if you’re unfamiliar with it.) Maybe that’s what he was doing as his day job?

Not surprisingly for someone who used to work for NORML, he strongly supports legalizing pot. It would be interesting, you know, if an AG got elected who supported marijuana legalization but the governor did not. I am not sure he’d be able to do anything to undermine existing state laws, but he might be able to come up with something.

Scott Newman

Apparently the Republicans have decided to make themselves THE PARTY OF MINING because — like their auditor candidate — this guy has a whole bit dedicated to how awesome mining is. In fact, why don’t I quote it: “First, Northeastern Minnesota has experienced a lagging economy for too long. I lived on the Iron Range for many years. These hard working folks are not looking for a handout. They want a good job that provides for their families. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an arm of the federal government. For years it has been holding up permission to get non-ferrous mining operating on the Range. As your Attorney General, I will do all I can through the legal system to push back against the federal government and get our people back to work!”

DOWN WITH THE EPA. TO HELL WITH CLEAN WATER. YAY MINES.

Next!

Lori Swanson

As noted up front, I am not a huge Lori Swanson fan but I actually think she’s done an OK job. Specifically on the health care front, rather than going after chair massages, she went after grotesquely inappropriate debt collection practices. She also opted not to defend a 101-year-old Minnesota law that could have caused me to be slapped with a large fine if the wrong person had taken issue with one of my statements about a ballot initiative. She’s sued fraudulent debt-collection companies and a patent troll.

Her website says, “Her industry-wide agreement stopped hospitals from charging uninsured patients up to four times more for the same services than insurance companies pay. (Minnesota is the only state with this agreement.)” — I had missed that! If she actually pulled that off, that is a HUGE deal, actually. It is consistently appalling how much uninsured patients get screwed over. She also went after two of the local for-profit colleges for deceptive practices. (Should’ve gone after all of them, IMO, but I’m not sure what sort of evidence she needs for that.)

On the other hand, I’m not sure she’s done anything about the collection agencies using law enforcement agencies to do their dirty work. A lot of the “Debtor’s Prison” articles that hit the media in 2010 and 2011 at least involved people who’d failed to pay fines. The Star Tribune found people arrested in Minnesota because they owed money to collection agencies. Also, the gun lobby likes her just fine.

I will probably vote for her this year because I like her better than the Republican. But if you want to vote for someone else, I’m not going to yell at you.

Andy Dawkins

Andy is my parents’ neighbor. They like him. He was a DFL legislator for 15 years and spent 35 years working as an attorney, so he has actual experience working in an office that isn’t a vacant lot.

He’s got about the positions you’d expect for someone running to the left of the Democratic incumbent: he’s pro-pot, pro-campaign donation limits, pro-privacy. He opposes pretty much all nonferrous mining. He wants to take action on climate change (which is mostly outside the domain of the AG, actually, but he wants to divest state pension funds from fossil fuel companies.)

He is the only Green running for a statewide race, and they’ve focused a lot of efforts on this one in the hopes of getting 5% of the vote and regaining major party status. This MPR piece explains some of what that means.

If you hate Lori Swanson, he’s a viable alternative, in the sense that he could do the job if elected. The risk is that you’ll get Scott “Yay Mines!” Newman instead. (The other risk is that with major-party status, the Greens will be empowered to act as a spoiler in the statewide races. The solution the Greens propose to this is instant runoff statewide — Andy has a whole bit about IRV on his website — but that’s unlikely to be implemented soon.)

Mary O’Connor

So here’s the question I have about Mary: is she actually an attorney? Does she have a JD? The state constitution does not actually require the AG to have a JD degree, but it seems like kind of a self-evidently good idea. I e-mailed Mary, left a question on the Libertarians of Minnesota facebook post about her, and Tweeted my question to the Libertarians of Minnesota. So far, radio silence. Oh, I also looked her up on LinkedIn but the Mary O’Connor in MN that I found did not look like her.

I did find some information about her on the Libertarian Party officers page. She’s the state party treasurer. According to her bio there (why on earth is there no bio on her candidacy page? they could just C&P this) she has been a Libertarian for five years, she served for three years on the Brooklyn Center City Council (05-08), and had run for “many offices over the last 11 years.” She worked for the U of M for almost 40 years and is now retired (which does not sound like a lawyer sort of job, but it’s possible she was doing that with a JD.) It also notes, “O’Connor wrote a paper on solving the healthcare problem in the United States and sent it to many elected officials. She has an interest in reducing government and rightsizing public education.” (“Rightsizing” is one of those euphemisms for “cutting” that particularly makes me twitch.)

On the issues page of her website she says that she’s anti-eminent domain (“Government should not be seizing the homes and property of Minnesotans for Light Rail Transit or other unnecessary projects”), pro-marijuana, anti-regulations of businesses (“A business owner has the right to make a living and the government should not deny this right by forcing unnecessary regulations and paperwork onto their business,”) and that as a member of the Pardon Board she’ll work to pardon offenders who’ve committed victimless crimes (I’m guessing mostly she means drug offenses here.)

The line about business owners having the right to make a living free from regulations and paperwork is pretty fascinating. How far does she extend this? Should restaurants be free from inspections of whether they’re following food safety guidelines? Should food manufacturers be free from burdensome regulations requiring that they accurately label their products? Are we including minimum wage laws here? Restrictions on child labor? The requirement to pay overtime if you make someone work more than 40 hours in a week?

I would suggest that if you’re tempted to vote for her, you cast your vote instead for Brandan Borgos, instead, since the Independence party shares many of her values, and he actually has a JD.

EDITED TO ADD: I heard back from Mary. She does not, in fact, have a JD, “but justice is not hard to understand.” She added, “As Attorney General I will work to defend the rights and freedoms of Minnesotans. Government, not businesses or nonprofits, is the main entity taking away our rights and freedoms. Are any of the other candidates for Minnesota Attorney General talking about defending our rights and freedoms? Is our current Attorney General working to protect our rights and freedoms that are taken away by government? We Minnesotans can choose not to do business with fraudulent businesses or nonprofits but we risk being arrested if we choose to not obey an unconstitutional law that government imposes on us.”

I’m going to upgrade her to full-on weirdo.

Don R. Vacek

I was expecting to get to make a joke about the People’s Front of Judea vs. the Judean People’s Front (because, what, we need a Grassroots Party AND a Legal Marijuana Now party?) but as far as I can tell, Don’s not actually running. If you look at his web page, it says, “Because Minnesota does not allow citizen initiated voter referendums. Every vote represents a voice of the cannabis community.” I suppose if you really truly do not care who’s the Attorney General of MN you could try to use this, as suggested, as a referendum in favor of legalizing marijuana, except this is not going to crack 1%, so it’s kind of self-defeating.

Since he’s not actually running to try to serve as AG, I’m not sure how much it really matters whether he’s qualified or not. His Facebook page mentions a few things about him (he works for Ramsey County, he studied social work, and he lives in St. Paul). It doesn’t appear that he has a JD or any particular legal experience, which may be why he figures that the AG race is a good one to use for a symbolic “vote yes for weed” campaign.

Election 2014: MN State Auditor

State Auditor is an interesting and poorly understood office. They do not do audits of businesses or non-profits; rather, they audit local governments and (I think) school boards. Their office FAQ provides a decent explanation for what they do. Matt Entenza probably should have read that FAQ before he filed.

On the ballot:

PATRICK DEAN – INDEPENDENCE
RANDY GILBERT – REPUBLICAN
REBECCA OTTO – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
KEEGAN IVERSEN – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
JUDITH SCHWARTZBACKER – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Patrick Dean

He starts out by saying that he’s “the guy who’ll stop and give you a jump start when it’s 20 below.” It’s rare to run into that sort of statement on candidate web pages but being neighborly in winter weather came up in the Republican primary debate I linked to the other day. The thing about being the helpful jump-start guy is that apparently these days most newer cars can’t be jump started from another car. (At least, this is what we were told by the guy from AAA after we unsuccessfully tried to jump my minivan from Ed’s car with no luck.) The Republican candidates for Governor focused more on snow removal. Being the guy who’d stop and help push you off a snow berm is also kind of extra evocative, although looking at his picture, I think if he stopped and wanted to help push me out of a drift I’d be reluctant to let him. He’s pretty old and I wouldn’t want him to get hurt.

He then goes on to tell you that “For 19 years I worked in St. Paul, Minnesota and ran a for-profit business for the St. Paul Port Authority. During my time there I found evidence of diversion of pledge funds. I spoke up and that made some very powerful people very, very angry. And then the matter went to litigation and the Supreme Court of Minnesota said I was right. It’s all a matter in the public domain and you can take a look for yourself.” He then links to a Google search: https://www.google.com/search?q=St.+Paul+Port+Authority+876+Bonds&oq=St.+Paul+Port+Authority+876+Bonds&aqs=chrome..69i57.929j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8 …which, okay, but I don’t even know what he means by pledge funds and who’d be diverting them, and following the most helpful-looking result to a Star Trib article didn’t make me feel a whole lot more enlightened. I do, however, think that his “made some very powerful people very, very angry” line may possibly be him trying to make himself sound super badass for filing a lawsuit.

That said, he looks at least reasonably qualified and his plans for the job he’s running for appear to involve doing the job he’s running for. He’d probably do okay. (And if your battery goes dead while you’re in downtown St. Paul near the capitol, you’ll know who to call!)

Randy Gilbert

I will note for the record that the State Auditor job is one I’ve actually voted for a Republican for. Admittedly, the Republican in question (Judi Dutcher) changed parties a few years later.

Anyway, given that this guy’s campaign has focused on the fact that Rebecca Otto is not wholeheartedly pro-mining. He has a whole page about mining complete with a picture of himself in front of the Polymet building with two thumbs up.

Yeah, nope.

Rebecca Otto

So one thing I’ll note about Otto is that her opposition to the mines she voted against (in her position on the State Executive committee) was not even environmentally based: “Rebecca is not pro-mining or anti-mining; she is pro-taxpayer. It is part of the State Auditor’s job to watch out for the best interests of Minnesota taxpayers and make certain they are not left holding the bag after a nonferrous mine closes. The State Auditor sits on the State Executive Council, where in 2013 she voted against the approval of 31 leases to mine nonferrous minerals because of potential taxpayer exposure to cleanup costs. Rebecca is pushing for an open and transparent process when it comes to the setting of financial assurances for new copper mines, which are like damage deposits, so that taxpayers are protected.”

I totally get that people in outstate want mining because heavy industrial jobs pay a whole lot better than tourism jobs. I am not necessarily opposed to mining. But the mining companies sure as heck do not get to leave a big mess for the people of Minnesota to clean up; that’s a bad deal.

Anyway, overall I think she’s been doing a fine job and I’m planning to vote for her.

Keegan Iversen

It took me about fifteen minutes of googling to be pretty sure that this Keegan Iverson is NOT in fact the hockey player. (That Keegan Iverson is also from Minnesota! But younger.)

Edited to add: I cleverly misspelled his last name when googling. Iversen is the politician, Iverson is the hockey player.

Keegan Iversen the Libertarian politician has a picture on his web site (in the gallery of rotating photos) of somebody getting arrested, and I’m curious if it was him, but the existence of the hockey player makes it really hard to turn up news stories about an obscure political activist. (Anyway, it doesn’t look like him. I have no idea why it’s on there; he doesn’t say.) (Edited to add: correctly spelling Iversen did not help me find much more than I’d already found.)

Anyway, this guy has no particularly relevant experience (I think he most recently worked as a military contractor doing weather forecasting in Iraq) and his position statement says that he plans to “eliminat[e] positions and redundant departments,” which is pretty far outside the job description for the Auditor.

Oh, and he accepts donations in Bitcoins.

If you want to be all iconoclastic in this race and vote for a third-party candidate, go for the Independence guy. He has relevant qualifications AND he will jump start your car for you.

Judith Schwartzbacker

Judith has no link because she has no web page, Facebook group, or any useful information about her online beyond the fact that she filed for office and wants to legalize pot.

In googling her name I have also discovered that in 1988 she was a graduate student in Philosophy at the U and gave a talk called “What is Existentialism” at Normandale Community College. She left a comment on a post about philosophy in 2011 and she goes to a Nietzsche interest group meetup.

So basically, her hobbies are weed, philosophy, and filing for offices you’re not actually running for (although she seems to have only done that once, so maybe that doesn’t quite qualify as a hobby yet.)

Don’t vote for her. Legalizing pot is well outside the job description of the State Auditor anyway.

Election 2014: Governor’s Race: Chris the Libertarian and Chris the Grassroots Party Guy

Okay, this is getting long. I am going to see if I can get through the last two in a single post. I mean, Hannah Nicollet is barely showing in the polls, but she’s at least from a party that has won statewide office at one point in the past. As far as I know, the Minnesota Libertarians and the Minnesota Grassroots Party people have never been elected to anything.

The candidates again:

HANNAH NICOLLET AND TIM GIESEKE – INDEPENDENCE
JEFF JOHNSON AND BILL KUISLE – REPUBLICAN
MARK DAYTON AND TINA SMITH – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
CHRIS HOLBROOK AND CHRIS DOCK – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
CHRIS WRIGHT AND DAVID DANIELS – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Chris Holbrook

Chris is anti-tax, anti-trains, pro-pot, and pro-fireworks. (The fireworks get as much space as the government spending piece on his issues page.)

I just want to underscore that last one for city residents who might lean libertarian. Think about that one carefully. The 4th of July is annoying, but most of us can suck it up a few times a year. Chris’s take: “I believe that aerial fireworks should be sold, purchased, and used here in Minnesota at the discretion of the people, however any damage to another person’s property from careless use should carry strong penalty.” Dude. What about my right not to have explosives being shot off near my house at midnight? (This is the problem with libertarians. Your right to swing your fist doesn’t actually end just short of my nose: you need to keep your fist WELL AWAY FROM MY FACE AT ALL TIMES, actually. Your right to shoot off fireworks doesn’t start and end with you causing actual property damage; it ends when you seriously annoy your neighbors, and I know very few people who are not annoyed by fireworks.)

He was in the news in May because the Park Police arrested him for standing in a park gathering signatures for his candidacy. Dear Mayor Hodges: can you put “do something about the Minneapolis Police Department” on your agenda, please?

Chris Wright

Chris Wright’s top four issues, in order: (1) weed. (2) drugs generally. (3) energy independence, by which he means weed (“Simply stated, instead of boiling oil, let’s cook biomass carbon feedstocks like HEMP and switchgrass to produce GRASSOLINE a.k.a. bio-gasoline.”) (4) corporate personhood, which he was unable to connect to weed but probably not for lack of trying.

His issues page also mentions his agriculture policy (weed!), his economics plan (weed!) and his position on mandatory motorcycle helmets for adults (opposed).

I have to say, for those who wish to make the case that marijuana is harmless (and does not, contrary to popular belief, kill brain cells), I’m not sure the Grassroots Party really serves your purposes.

Both of these guys sound like complete doofuses to me.

Election 2014: Governor’s Race: Democrat Mark Dayton

Governor Dayton’s turn!

The gubernatorial options, just to remind you:

HANNAH NICOLLET AND TIM GIESEKE – INDEPENDENCE
JEFF JOHNSON AND BILL KUISLE – REPUBLICAN
MARK DAYTON AND TINA SMITH – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
CHRIS HOLBROOK AND CHRIS DOCK – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
CHRIS WRIGHT AND DAVID DANIELS – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Mark Dayton

In addition to the usual social networking options (Facebook, Twitter), Mark Dayton’s campaign has a Tumblr: http://govdayton.tumblr.com/ (I’m really curious how many tumblr followers he has but I don’t see a way to find out). Tumblr skews really young, so that’s definitely a gesture of electronic outreach toward the youth vote. (It’s a low-volume tumblr but hopefully as they get close to Election Day there’ll be a bunch of stuff about how you should remember to vote! and make sure your friends remember to vote! and drag your friends bodily to the polls! and so on. Young people are overwhelmingly liberal but also have a tendency to not vote.)

In a fundamental sense, Dayton’s in a good position with this campaign, because the question, “are you better off than you were four years ago?” is going to be an emphatic yes for a lot of people. The recovery’s been kind of rocky and has varied a lot around the country, but in Minnesota we’re doing pretty well. I started seeing “help wanted” signs all over about two years ago. The housing market has largely recovered. The tax base has recovered and we can pay for schools again.

His website glosses over the MNSure rollout, which was a serious mess. We get our health care through the exchange; Ed is the one who dealt with it. By the time he signed up, he was able to get it to work, but I had friends who were NEVER able to sign up online (they had to go in via phone, which had its own set of issues). This wasn’t a Minnesota problem so much as a national problem, but it sure as hell was frustrating. (And the Minnesota website is really poorly designed; when I tried to look at plans, I wanted to be able to right-click the various options and pull them up in separate windows. But they’d used scripting instead of linking so I couldn’t do that; I had to look one at a time, and then it crashed when I’d try to back up, so I kept having to start over from the beginning. It was reminiscent of the classic “make them have to reboot after every typo” Dilbert strip.)

But on the other hand, having Democrats in charge meant that Minnesota fully participated in the Medicaid expansion. And that has been terrific for a number of people I know. Friends of mine who had not seen a doctor or a dentist in years are now getting the care they’ve needed. (I would be a fan of single-payer health care, but given all the screaming over how the ACA was SOCIALISM and we were LOSING OUR FREEDOMS I am not going to hold my breath.)

Dayton’s website also doesn’t mention one of the other great things that happened under his watch: marriage equality. I have other friends who are finally able to see doctors and dentists because they can now be covered under their spouse’s insurance policy because they were able to legally marry.

Anyway, I am not a huge Dayton fan in some respects. I find him affable but a little bland. I think he was too much in the pocket of the law enforcement lobby when making the call on the medical marijuana law. But in general, I’m happy with how he’s governed in the last four years (and I’m certainly a lot happier than I was with Pawlenty). He’s got my vote.

Election 2014: Governor’s Race: Republican candidate Jeff Johnson

Right. Hannah Nicollet was interesting enough to write about that she got her own stand-alone blog post. Turns out Jeff Johnson also gets his own. Here’s the ballot, just to remind you:

HANNAH NICOLLET AND TIM GIESEKE – INDEPENDENCE
JEFF JOHNSON AND BILL KUISLE – REPUBLICAN
MARK DAYTON AND TINA SMITH – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
CHRIS HOLBROOK AND CHRIS DOCK – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
CHRIS WRIGHT AND DAVID DANIELS – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Jeff Johnson

So, just as I wanted to give you a little recap of Jessecrat politics over the years, I want to start by mentioning a few highlights about Minnesota’s GOP. In 1994, for example, there was a solidly popular incumbent Republican governor, Arne Carlson. The delegates to the Republican Party State Convention loathed Carlson, though, because he was too liberal (specifically he was pro-choice, but there was some other stuff, too), and endorsed Allen Quist, instead. Carlson handily defeated Quist in the primary and then crushed the sacrificial Democrat, John Marty, so it’s not like he was held back much by his party refusing to endorse him.

More recently, let’s talk about the 2012 Presidential Primaries. Minnesota doesn’t have primaries; we have caucuses. There’s a binding straw poll held at the caucus that functions as a primary, and Santorum surged in Minnesota. As I explained at the time, caucuses don’t draw your every-day casual party members, but the party FAITHFUL, the people who are willing to give up an entire evening to crowd into classrooms and listen to speeches. Not surprisingly, the Republicans willing to do this tend to be very, very conservative. Historically — by which I mean, “since I started paying attention to Minnesota politics at some point in the early 1990s” — the most consistent thing about Minnesota Republicans who turn up at caucuses is that they tend to be socially conservative purist ideologues and they tend not to be at all quiet about it.

Which is why it is SO WEIRD that Jeff Johnson’s website has almost nothing on it at all about social issues: it’s wall to wall taxes and economic growth. Curious about whether there was a bit more openness about social conservatism in the primary, I actually sat down and watched an entire video of Republican candidates vying for endorsement debating back in January and there was not a single question about abortion or marriage equality, and no one seized an opportunity to bring anything like that up.

It’s like they had a meeting sometime in 2013 and pinky-swore to just sweep the social issues under the rug and leave them there.

In the debate I linked above, Jeff Johnson described himself as “an unapologetic fiscal — and social — conservative, although not in a loud or obnoxious sort of way, but more in a Norwegian Lutheran from northern Minnesota sort of way” — in his opening statement, he also urged Primary voters to view the candidates through the lens of the non-Republican voters they’d need to win over. (“Try on your neighbor’s shoes for a few minutes because they’re going to be crucial for us winning in November.”)

There were a couple of other really striking moments in that debate, actually. (I should note that I didn’t watch the whole thing straight through. If you hit the right-arrow key on your keyboard it’ll skip 5 seconds in a YouTube video, which makes it easy to fast-forward through the candidates you don’t care about.) About 40 minutes in, there’s a question about the fact that the GOP is seen as the party of rich white men, and did they have any thoughts about how to fix that? Johnson, along with a couple others, talked about reaching out to immigrants: “A lot of the new immigrants coming in are entrepreneurs…and they are socially conservative! But they are told by their leadership that WE ALL HATE THEM and we don’t want them to succeed. […] It’s not about giving them a seat at our table. It’s about trying to get a seat at their table….that will help more than anything else we can do.”

And, I mean, I’ll give him credit for being smart enough to notice that. Of course, the reason why immigrants generally don’t vote for Republicans (despite often being relatively socially conservative) is that so many Republicans are vitriolically anti-immigrant. The Tea Party groups have been particularly nativist (which is a rather wholesome-sounding word for “bigoted”)….and when he wasn’t appearing at debates and talking about how the GOP needed to reach out to immigrant groups, Johnson was scooting around to every Tea Party group asking for their support. AWKWARD.

So, okay. Elsewhere in the debate (59 minutes in) everyone got asked about their faith; Johnson said, “I’m a Norwegian Lutheran so I don’t wear it on my sleeve very well.” (I’m curious what variety of Lutheran Johnson is. Lutherans range from the very-liberal mainline ELCA sort of Lutheran to the somewhat-more-conservative Missouri Synod to the much-more-conservative Wisconsin Synod to some totally off-the-wall groups of genuine kooks, although there are certain things they all have in common, like Jell-O salad, Reformation Sunday, and Norway, making his “Norwegian Lutheran” claim pretty non-specific. Anyway, his website — sensibly enough — doesn’t tell you.)

Moving on! I took a look at his website. I’ll note that in addition to the usual social media options (Twitter and Facebook), Jeff has a Google+ account, a YouTube channel, and a Pinterest board you can follow. He doesn’t have a ton of followers on any of these things; FB has about 7,000 people following, Twitter has 2,625, and Pinterest has less than 30. Over on his YouTube channel, only 433 people have watched his Ice Bucket challenge. (For comparison, the video my kids made with some friends from 4-H in which they did a Bad Demonstration of fashion tips has 104 views. Admittedly, about half of those may have been my kids watching themselves over and over again.)

On his Issues page, taxes are at the top — no surprise there, he thinks they’re too high — followed by education. He complains about the achievement gap and says: To do this we must reform our system to have the money follow the child to any school option their parents choose as the best choice for their child. That’s a call for vouchers, though he doesn’t say this. Right now, in Minnesota, the money already follows the child to any public school option their parents choose, and you can enroll your kid in any school where there’s space. If we wanted our kids to go to school in Eagan and were willing to drive them down there, we could just move them. I strongly support this system; funding everyone at the state level based on student population has some flaws but in general is a decent system. We do not, however, let you turn that money into a tuition voucher and take it to a private school. I’m not in favor of vouchers, but it’s a perennial Republican idea. The funny thing here is that he’s so careful not to say “voucher” even though that’s clearly what he’s supporting. He goes on to say that he will “reject programs like Common Core and No Child Left Behind.” Can I just say that it is a relief to see that the Republicans have finally come around to rejecting NCLB as vigorously as the Democrats.

He moves on to health care, parroting various Republican talking points. “Government has been messing up health care for decades” — in what respects? is he objecting here to EMTALA? — “and Obamacare will break the system altogether if we don’t get rid of it. I will work to eliminate MNsure and move toward a market-based healthcare system in Minnesota where consumers have more options and government is not making decisions for patients and doctors.” Naturally, he gives no details.

Under Family Issues, he says, “I believe that parents know best how to raise their children and that government should not undermine their right to do so.” For some of his statements I can suss out the tune he’s playing on his Republican dogwhistle but this one left me baffled. I sent him an e-mail, asking simply, “Can you expand on that a little? In what ways do you believe that the government is currently undermining the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, or in what ways do you see that right being threatened?” I’ve gotten no response. So, feel free to speculate. Maybe he was pre-emptively defending Adrian Peterson! (If a 200-pound man can’t beat a four-year-old child bloody with a stick, WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO?)

In that same section he notes he’s anti-abortion and anti-marriage-equality. Elsewhere, he elaborates on both of these a bit. On abortion, he says that if the legislature puts anti-abortion legislation on his desk, he will sign it. On marriage equality, he says he has no interest in repealing the marriage-equality law signed last year.

Transportation: yay cars, screw transit. (I’m summarizing.) Agriculture and natural resources: yay mining, screw regulations. “I believe the people whose livelihood depends upon using those natural resources are better stewards of the land than any bureaucrat in St Paul.” Yeah, that never ends badly. Second Amendment: yay guns. (I’m sure you’re shocked by this.)

Finally, his campaign website has a “blog” but he seems to think that means “collection of actual press releases, complete with the FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” part. (You can pull up an identical page by going to News Room > Press Releases, although the URL is different.) This is particularly odd given that he actually has a real blog, or used to, which he kept as a Hennepin County Commissioner.

I poked through that blog to see if I found anything interesting. He complains a lot about government spending he considers wasteful. Probably the most stomach-turning bit is where he talks about how the HCMC ought to be turning away anyone who isn’t actively dying and doesn’t have documentation to prove they’re here legally. Spoken like someone who’s never waited in an urgent care clinic in a poor neighborhood, watching people arriving in obvious pain and being turned away if they didn’t have $50 cash up front. It doesn’t have to be a life-threatening condition to make your life feel like utter hell, for the record, and if you are unmoved by compassion for fellow human beings in pain, I will also note that from a public health perspective, you really do want sick people to be able to get care. It’s not like the pertussis virus is going to check someone’s immigration status before infecting them.

Anyway. Far and away the weirdest thing about browsing Johnson’s site and record is how little he talks about social issues, given that he’s a Minnesota Republican who got endorsement. Apparently McFadden is following a similar strategy, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed:

Burned before, GOP governor hopefuls quiet on abortion, gay marriage. (MPR)

MN GOP: The bargain of silence on social conservative issues (a blog over at MinnPost by someone who finishes by saying, “Don’t be fooled. We are being played on this one.”)

Fall from grace: how ‘Christian values’ became a non-issue in Minnesota elections (MinnPost again, this time written by Doug Grow — fascinatingly, he opens by quoting Allen Quist, who apparently said recently that he thinks the environment attracts more single-issue voters these days than the social issues.)

I chatted about this with my parents (because it really does almost sound like there was a secret meeting!) and my mother hypothesized that the secret meeting was convened by the Koch Brothers. (“They really don’t care about abortion or gay marriage; they just want lower taxes and no unions and NO REGULATIONS.” All that’s still firmly on the agenda, including a bunch of rhapsodizing about the Polymet Mine, although that might have been during a bit of the debate I didn’t transcribe.)

But okay, in writing all this up, I hit on another theory. Let’s go back to 2012 again, and the Santorum thing. In the end, Minnesota didn’t send delegates for Santorum to the RNC; our delegates were backing Ron Paul.

This is a story that got rather brief play, but I did catch the edges of it. From what I gather, the Santorum people had largely lost interest by the time the Senate District Conventions rolled around, because Santorum had dropped out of the race. But the Ron Paulites weren’t actually in it to win the nomination (they knew — well, most of them knew — at the outset that this wasn’t going to happen.) They were in it to make a point — to have seats at the Republican National Convention. So their delegates showed up again. And again.

And maybe THAT is the crucial piece of backstory I was missing.

Maybe the meeting where the shift took place was anything but a secret back room: maybe it was the convention hall floor in St. Cloud.

Anyway, as it happens, I am not a Ron Paul fan either. He’s a creepy little racist demagogue. This is a man who lost a full-time campaign worker not to a political rival but to pneumonia because the guy had no health insurance and no money for care. Who uses terms like “honest rape” when talking about abortion rights, who sponsored a law that would gut Griswold vs. Connecticut.

NOPE.

But, that said, I find Ron Paul’s supporters to be vastly more reasonable overall than the people who turned out for Santorum. They differ from me philosophically, but they have arguments for their positions, not just Bible verses. While I am not going to vote for Johnson, and I would encourage my readers not to vote for Johnson, if the Ron Paulites have taken over the Minnesota GOP, I look forward to a markedly better crop of candidates in the future. Some years back, John Scalzi wrote about how the Republicans seemed to be embracing the nuttiest wing-nut end of their political spectrum, and he wanted to see that STOP, because he believed that it’s good for the U.S. to have two functioning parties. (Alas, I couldn’t track that post down, though I found this one.) Maybe this is a sign that we’re going to once again see the Republicans as a party of ideas that go beyond “whatever the most powerful Democrat is doing, WE HATES IT PRECIOUS FOREVER”? Am I being overly optimistic here?

(Of course, right now Johnson and McFadden are both struggling just with name recognition, and I’m not sure their bland affability is helping them as much as they’d have hoped.)

Next up is Dayton. I feel like he should get a whole post of his own too, but I’m not sure how much I have to say about him.

Election 2014: MN Governor’s Race: Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet

Before I get into the Governor’s race here, a brief recap of the Independence Party.

Back in 1992, eccentric Texas billionaire Ross Perot ran for President as an independent. He was successful enough to get on the ballot and into the debates, but not successful enough to actually get an electoral votes. He then founded a political party, the Reform Party, which stood for … you know, I can’t really remember. “We’re not the Republicans or the Democrats” was probably their biggest platform plank. My recollection is that Perot was opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement, anti-debt, and not particularly socially conservative. In 1996, Perot ran again, and did somewhat less well. In 1998, the Reform Party hit what was probably its high-water mark: Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota. Two years later, in the 2000 Presidential race, racist demagogue Pat Buchanan took over and got himself on the ballot as the Presidential nominee, and around that time the Minnesota Reform Party renamed itself the Independence Party. Lots of people called them Jessecrats.

Ventura’s biggest appeal was his bluntness. In 1998, the other candidates were Skip Humphery and Norm Coleman. Let’s say that in a public forum debate someone asked the candidates to agree with his stance that the sky was green. Skip and Norm would have both tried to find common ground on the idea that it was teal or turquoise which is really a shade of green and what ARE colors, anyway, and let’s try to steer the conversation back to their current pet hobbyhorse in the most disingenuously political way possible. Jesse would watch all of this and then say disdainfully, “The sky is blue.” That is why he won — it wasn’t so much a collective disgust with the other parties as with the other candidates. The press also adored Jesse, because he was basically a sound-bite machine; all you needed to do was throw him periodic straight lines and then go home and transcribe and you’d have a great article.

Alas, he really wasn’t prepared for success, and as governor he was less than the sum of his parts. Thin-skinned, easily worn out when it came to the political games that are inevitable when you’re trying to get anything done, he got hung up on the wrong projects (he wanted a unicameral legislature) and then quit after one term. (And became an increasingly batshit conspiracy-theorist who was most recently in the news for suing over libel.)

No one in the Independence party has even come close since that Governor’s race, but I’ll add that this is also a reason why polling in Minnesota can be so important. A lot of people look at the polls and vote strategically. Ventura was rising in the polls on Election Day, which is why so many people jumped to the third-party column — they believed he really had a shot. (Plus, I don’t think I did a fully adequate job of communicating just how uninspiring Coleman and Humphery were. I voted in the morning that year, because I KNEW that if I waited until after work, when I was tired and demoralized and grumpy, I would totally vote for Ventura.)

Anyway! That’s the background. On to this year’s candidates.

HANNAH NICOLLET AND TIM GIESEKE – INDEPENDENCE
JEFF JOHNSON AND BILL KUISLE – REPUBLICAN
MARK DAYTON AND TINA SMITH – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
CHRIS HOLBROOK AND CHRIS DOCK – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
CHRIS WRIGHT AND DAVID DANIELS – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Hannah Nicollet

So the very first splash page of Hannah’s website nails rather neatly a big piece of the appeal of the Independence Party. She asks:

Why is that although 76% of Minnesotans favor legal medicinal marijuana, 68% oppose publicly funded sports stadiums, and 59% desire Sunday alcohol sales, politicians refuse to carry out the will of the people? In each of these cases lawmakers voted in favor of influential lobbies and private interests over the public’s interest. Independence is the answer.

Right? I mean HOLY CRAP, guys. WHAT IS IT with the sports stadiums? Back in 2001, I campaigned for RT Rybak in part because Sayles-Belton had backed some dumbass stadium deal. Here we are in 2014, and while RT was mayor, Minneapolis got not one but two overpriced sports palaces, paid for by taxpayers, crammed down our collective throat against the municipal law that demanded a referendum (they can’t ever put these to a referendum vote because THEY WOULD ALWAYS LOSE.)

Everyone wants Sunday alcohol sales. (Except the liquor store employees who like having a consistent day off.) Everyone agrees that allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana is a no-brainer (I mean, we let doctors prescribe Fentanyl, Seconal, and methamphetamines, right?) There’s so much we don’t agree on; when there’s overwhelming agreement on something as straightforward as, “sports teams should buy their own damn stadiums,” why does the will of the people get overruled again and again and again?

But — if Hannah sounds like an ordinary person asking the sort of common-sense questions that we all ask, the problem is that she’s also an ordinary person repeating stuff she’s heard without checking on it particularly closely. Under “Economy,” she says, We also have a permit and licensing obsession that must be addressed. Did you know that in Minnesota, more classroom time is required to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer? And becoming a manicurist requires twice as many hours as a paramedic?

She cites a source on that: this editorial. Which starts out stating baldly, “In Minnesota, more classroom time is required to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer. Becoming a manicurist takes double the number of hours of instruction as a paramedic.” But (a) it’s an editorial, not an article, and (b) it’s completely unsourced. So I dug up numbers and checked out the claims here.

To get a cosmetology license, you need 1,550 hours of training. Those are clock hours, but they’re not actually spent in the classroom. The Minnesota School of Beauty explains the curriculum a little bit on their website. Because I’m a completist, I called them up and asked them to go over their curriculum for me. (They assumed I was a prospective student, which was sort of sweet. I would be the worst cosmetologist EVER, even with 1,550 hours of training.) It’s a ten-month program. For 2.5 months, you go to classes with textbooks and listen to lectures on hair cutting techniques and how to dye hair so it doesn’t wind up green. And then you spend 7.5 months in “clinic,” which is to say, practicing on people under supervision. And then you take an exam. Is that excessive training to require of someone who wants to cut, dye, and style hair? Maybe? I mean, for some styles they’re messing around with hot stuff and caustic chemicals right by your scalp; I think I probably do want someone to have some mandatory training so they’re not going to injure me.

But, to make their point that this was excessive they were comparing it to being admitted to the bar. To be licensed to practice law in the State of Minnesota, you need to pass the bar exam; you also need a JD or LLB degree from an accredited institution. (And you have to be eighteen years old and “of good character” and there’s some other odds and ends, but that’s most of it.)

So what does it require to get a JD? I found the ABA’s requirements here. The ABA requires 67 credit hours to actually happen in the classrooms of the law school and Washington University requires 86 credit hours overall (I’m not sure if that’s actually part of the ABA’s requirements for accreditation but I’m guessing they do require more than 67 credit hours overall.) Note that “credit hours” are not “clock hours.” According to the wikipedia page on the subject, a credit hour is an hour of instruction once a week for a semester, or between 12 and 16 hours in a semester. Let’s say 14 hours x 86 = 1,205 required hours in the classroom, which is, in fact, less than the 1,550 hours required by the State of Minnesota for Cosmetology school.

Except in order to get into law school, you’re going to need a Bachelor’s degree. It’s not actually in the requirements as written for admission to the bar but it’s in the requirements for programs where you get a JD (and the JD is required.) Also, just as most of those cosmetology hours are actually supervised practice rather than sitting in a classroom, most of the hours spent in law school are spent reading, writing papers, and studying, it’s just that you don’t have to do those under supervision because no one’s worried you might actually stab someone with scissors. (Maybe they should be.) If it were possible to do law school in ten months rather than three years, there’d be a program for it out there. There isn’t. I looked. (I did find someone who thinks law school should be a two-year program and he mentions there are a few schools out there that cram three years of work into two years.)

So that part is marginally accurate misleading bullshit; by contrast, the manicurist/paramedic comparison is straight up bullshit. Manicurists need 350 hours of training. Paramedic programs range from 1000 to 1500 clock hours, according to the organization that accredits paramedic training programs. The thing with manicurists, hair stylists, and estheticians, though, is that all of the training requirements are about requiring supervised practice, not classroom instruction. Should we be requiring training? I mean, I guess this is one of those areas where we could go the libertarian route and say that it’s on you to check into the training and credentials of your manicurist, waxer, or hair stylist. That’s a lot more reasonable than expecting you to check into the training and credentials of the paramedic on the ambulance that responds to your call about chest pains. You can make a case for keeping the government out of beauty salon regulation, but don’t make your case by saying, “more classroom time is required to become a cosmetologist than to become a lawyer,” because that’s true in only the diciest possible sense of technical accuracy.

Moving on.

It’s Hannah’s Food Freedom section that got me curious enough yesterday to e-mail her, and then, at her request, call her. (Props to her for availability, seriously. I e-mailed Jeff Johnson’s campaign with a much briefer question and have not heard a peep.)

Here’s what she says:

Minnesotans should have the freedom to drink the milk they wish, have tap water that is free from chemicals and use natural plants to treat their illnesses.

I was pretty sure that by “the freedom to drink the milk they wish” she was talking about raw milk. (There’s a provision in state law that lets farmers “occasionally” sell raw milk and raw milk products directly to consumers, but they can’t sell it at farmer’s markets. There is a farmer at a market I used to go to who sold raw milk cheese as “fish bait.” Obviously there’s no law against eating stuff you bought as fish bait, right?) Anyway — I have mixed feelings on this, in that I think it’s reasonable to take risks with your own health, but there are people out there who are convinced that raw milk is magical unicorn juice that cures all ills and want to feed it in large quantities to their children, and who will insist loudly that when a farmer selling raw milk has his product embargoed because he gave eight people e. coli, and who continues selling it anyway and people also come down with campylobacter and cryptosporidium, this is not evidence that he is a really bad bet for a safe raw milk source but the VICTIM OF GOVERNMENT PERSECUTION.

Anyway, she confirmed yes, she was talking about raw milk. The “tap water free from chemicals” was indeed a reference to municipal fluoridation (although she’s also not a fan of fracking) and “natural plants to treat their illnesses” was mostly a reference to pot. I wanted to know how she felt about cases like Daniel Hauser, a thirteen-year-old boy who back in 2009 had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a set of parents who were very, very, very into woo. Daniel wanted to forgo chemo in favor of “natural therapies, such as herbs and vitamins.” I linked to a blog post rather than a news story because it gives a comprehensive overview, but also gets into some discussion of why this is such a particularly bad idea with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There are cancers where the primary treatment is the surgery; chemo reduces the risk of recurrence, but if you skip the chemo, you can get lucky and be cured anyway. That’s not the case for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Chemo is THE TREATMENT. And it’s also incredibly effective in kids with this cancer at the stage his was at. Anyway, after some drama and legal battles, Daniel had the chemo and went into remission. His father got cancer a year later, treated it with pureed vegetables, and died in 2011. I respect Anthony Hauser’s right to make stupid, misguided decisions about his own health and medical treatments, but a thirteen-year-old lacks the perspective and maturity to make these sorts of decisions. (Or, to quote the Supreme Court’s opinion on Prince vs. Massachusetts, “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”)

Anyway, it was clear from our conversation that when she posted about using “natural plants” she was not thinking about parents making choices for their children (or, inasmuch as she was, she was thinking about the parents who want to use cannabis-based treatments for their children’s seizures). But it was also clear from our conversation that this is a woman who buys into some unadulterated woo.

She doesn’t talk about vaccinations on her website, but the red flags here prompted me to ask about her thoughts on mandatory vaccinations for school and day cares. She cited the rumor that the CDC was suppressing information about vaccines causing autism and added, “It’s not like we have some plague that’s overtaking the land!” and then said it should be up to the parents.

…so yeah.

The thing about “common sense” approaches to political problems is that it’s really important they be backed up with facts and accuracy. Because in fact the real world can be really counter-intuitive.

A couple of other notes about Hannah: she originally went to the Independence Party convention wanting to be their Senate candidate; she got talked into running for Governor when they realized they didn’t have ANYONE trying for endorsement for the governor’s race. You may recall that the Independence Party guy in the Senate race was a complete whackjob. It turns out he was not the endorsed IP candidate; he won in the primary.

The other sort of hilarious thing is her party affiliation. In her In the News section, she links to one article that mentions her staffing a Libertarian Party table at a gun show and to another that describes her as a Ron Paul supporter (which suggests to me that in 2012 she registered as a Republican and went to the GOP Caucuses.) It’s not actually that surprising that she’s been affiliated with three parties in three years; the fact that she highlights that on her campaign website is an interesting strategy, though.

This got so long I decided to just make this post all about Hannah Nicollet. Will do the others in a separate post (or multiple separate posts, it depends on how much on their website I find myself wanting to respond to).

Election 2014: U.S. House in District 4 and District 5

Both District 4 (St. Paul and some suburbs) and District 5 (Minneapolis and some suburbs) are rather solidly DFL districts. The 4th District was last represented by a Republican in the late 1940s; the 5th in the 1960s. We do have Republicans running in both these districts this time around and strange things do happen, but these are not generally considered to be competitive races.

In District 4, here’s who’s on the ballot:

DAVE THOMAS – INDEPENDENCE
SHARNA WAHLGREN – REPUBLICAN
BETTY MCCOLLUM – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Dave Thomas

So whereas the Independence candidate in the Senate race was running somewhere to the right of the Republican, the Independence candidate here (who is actually endorsed by the Independence party, unlike the guy in the Senate race) is running to the left of the Democrat. Whereas the Independence guy in the Senate race is your embarrassing bigoted uncle, the Independence guy in the Congressional race is your extremely liberal and overly enthusiastic very young cousin whose Facebook feed has more than its share dubiously sourced re-shares about the dangers of plastic water bottles or whatever it is this week. When you talk to him at family parties, he wants to buttonhole you about some ISSUE that he is currently passionate about. One Thanksgiving it was the paleo diet; another it was marijuana legalization. You don’t actually disagree with him about much of this stuff, mind you, but his passionate declarations of fervent belief make you realize that you’ve gotten old.

Dave Thomas doesn’t give a bio on his campaign website, which had me wondering if he was still in college. His Facebook page, however, says that he is “an Iraq War veteran, volunteer firefighter and works in the special education department at Brimhall Elementary in Roseville, MN. He is happily married with two beautiful children.”

Anyway! He wants a system of state-funded tuition-free public higher education, and in the meantime we should forgive all loan debt. He wants universal paid maternity leave. He wants a manned mission to Mars and a 5% increase in our National Park lands. He wants energy self-sufficiency in eleven years, he wants marijuana legalization, he wants the NSA to be defunded.

To pay for the stuff like tuition-free college, he wants a new tax code: “A sliding scale, percentage-based flat tax on all income generated (from the federal level) would rectify most of the problematic situations that our current code perpetuates.” I’m not sure what a sliding-scale flat tax is, other than contradictory sounding.

Under Veteran’s Affairs, he suggests that when members of the Armed Service go through extensive training equivalent to a technical degree, we call it an Associate’s Degree. This strikes me as possibly really reasonable (and wouldn’t cost anything extra — essentially it’s a way of upgrading the credentials soldiers are already coming home with into something employers recognize). I wonder why this isn’t what they do now?

Possibly the funniest, from the National Security section “It should be illegal to sell any seed which is unable to produce viable offspring.” So just to be clear: he thinks it should be illegal to grow seedless watermelons. (Marijuana: legalize and tax. Seedless watermelons: BAN.) (I’m sure he’s actually thinking of some of the varieties of corn developed by Monsanto that are specifically designed to make it impossible for you to save seeds. But his proposed legislation basically bans hybrid garden vegetables.) Dammit, Dave Thomas, YOU CAN HAVE MY SEEDLESS WATERMELON WHEN YOU PRY IT FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS.

Sharna Wahlgren

Sharna is the Republican. She provides a fairly standard political bio (community service on non-profit boards, work ethic honed by high school labor at the State Fair) and states that her priorities are fiscal responsibility, local solutions, and job growth. She’s got a paragraph about each. I salute her willingness to run in a race she’s going to lose, and her pragmatism in accepting that this is not a campaign worth investing a lot of time in.

Betty McCollum

Betty is liberal and hardworking, and has so far avoided embarrassing us with any scandals or criminal behavior. I kind of preferred being represented by Keith Ellison just because he upsets so many Republicans just by existing, but I really have no complaints about Betty. I’m going to vote for her.

In District 5, here’s who’s on the ballot:

LEE BAUER – INDEPENDENCE
DOUG DAGGETT – REPUBLICAN
KEITH ELLISON – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR

Lee Bauer

I clicked on Lee Bauer’s website with trepidation, eager to find out which variety of Independence nutbar I’d find.

I don’t really want to make fun of him, but I wouldn’t vote for him, either. Lee is a blue-collar, working class, gay single father. (Based on the age of his kid, I’m guessing he had a brief marriage to a woman.) He’s earnest and means well but is overly fond of exclamation points and doesn’t know much about most of the issues.

For example, here’s his comment on drug costs: “Prescription drugs, by bring down the price of will benefit the ones with chronic symptoms and the older folks. How about asthma for instance, There is a drug called Albuterol, it was put on the market 1968, the year I was born, Albuterol 5 years ago was $17.00 cash with no insurance, but today it’s $57.00, and if you were to buy in Mexico its less than five dollars for three bottles. One bottle would last a month for most and this is one drug of many that can be lowed.”

I had basically the same question last year — WTF is up with albuterol prices? This is not a new drug; why does it cost so goddamn much? It turns out that this is due to environmental regulations. The old inhalers contained CFCs. CFCs were banned by an international treaty in 1996 because they were causing ozone layer depletion; the albuterol inhalers that used CFCs were phased out in 2008. The new formulation is legally a new drug and so it’s under patent again (or maybe it’s the inhaler design that’s new? I am not 100% sure.) Anyway, that’s why albuterol suddenly costs so much. There were a lot of things that the government could have done differently to mitigate the situation; I would be a lot more interested in his ideas if he got into any of that, but he doesn’t.

Anyway, a lot of his website is like that.

Doug Daggett

Doug has another fairly standard political bio (his first job was delivering the morning paper). He’s 50, married, a tech sales person, and reasonably competent with Twitter. He presents himself as a fairly moderate Republican, suggesting changes to the Affordable Care Act rather than demanding it be immediately repealed. (He thinks people should have catastrophic coverage policies and HSAs.)

The bit that made me roll my eyes and think, “so very Republican” was this bit on education:

We all want our children to have a great education and great opportunities. Yet in Minneapolis, most likely 1/2 of our children (46%) will not graduate. This is an economic and social disaster for all of us in the 5th Congressional District! We need a leader who will get Washington DC out of our schools and allow teachers and parents to decide what’s best for our children. Doug Daggett is that leader.

Minneapolis is doing a crap job, therefore get Washington DC out because local control is the answer!

Keith Ellison

Keith is a solidly liberal, hard-working Representative who so far hasn’t embarrassed his constituents with scandals or criminal behavior.

But what I really adored about Keith Ellison back when I was living in Minneapolis was being able to tell my out-of-town friends that I was represented by a pro-Choice pro-marriage-equality Muslim black guy. Keith Ellison has been making right-wing heads explode since he took his Oath of Office on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran.

Were I living in Minneapolis, I would definitely vote for Keith.

Election 2014 already

Apparently it’s election season again ALREADY.

Over on my old blog, I conscientiously and obsessively blogged about the Minneapolis mayoral race.  (It was an interesting year.)  The election came and went, they counted (which took a few days) and I hung up my political-blogging hat thinking, “done with THAT for a while.”

Picture of the Minnesota State Capitol dome.

Minnesota State Capitol. (From http://www.flickr.com/photos/mulad/)

But…it turns out that here in my new district in St. Paul, our State Rep, Michael Paymar, is retiring.  (He’s represented this district since 1996. So — for a while, although our State Senator, Dick Cohen, has been representing District 64 since 1986.)  The caucuses are in February (February 4th, I think; I wrote it down on the calendar) and the Senate District Convention is in March (late March, thank goodness! it shouldn’t interfere with MarsCon). And if things in this district run like things in my old district, odds are excellent that it’s the Senate District Convention that will effectively pick our next State Rep.

I mean, officially there is a primary, and there’s an election.  But the DFL endorsement holds an awful lot of weight in these races, and the DFL-endorsed candidate has a definite edge in the primary. And come the general election, well, I expect that a Republican will run, but I would be pretty shocked if they won.

(DFL = “Democratic-Farmer-Labor.”  It’s just the Minnesota name for the Democratic Party.)

Anyway. I feel much less well-informed in St. Paul, mostly because I have less of a sense of who the jerks are.  In Minneapolis, there are certain endorsements that people will put in their materials that will cause me to write them off unless they are also endorsed by the people I know I like, to balance them out.  I’m sure St. Paul has a similar crowd of People I Would Hate, If I Knew Who They Were, but I don’t know who they are yet.  (Does that mean I pay more attention to who you know, than what you believe?  Well, not exactly.  It’s more that I pay more attention to who your buddies are, than I pay to what you say you believe.)

This is all preamble to note that I got a phone call this evening from Matt Freeman, a candidate to replace Michael Paymar.  He gets points for being the first candidate to call me, although mid-December is honestly a point at which even I do not really want to be thinking about elections.  We chatted a little (I told him I’d moved last year from Jim Davnie’s district; he wanted to know why I moved, and it wasn’t until I was telling him my answer that it occurred to me that I might be tipping my hand about how best he could craft his pitch.  I don’t think he did, though.)  I wrote down the caucus date and his name and then told him to go ahead and give me his pitch.

The two big issues he talked about were (1) raising the minimum wage, and (2) improving the opportunity gap with Early Childhood education.

Having listened to that amazing This American Life episode about free universal preschool as well as having read about studies, I’m on board with Early Childhood education funding as a potential panacea for the opportunity gap.  I’m also a fan of raising the minimum wage, although I was curious what he wanted to raise it to.   Matt said he thought $9.50 was achievable although he would prefer $10.50; he also wants to peg it to inflation and to work for mandatory sick leave and parental leave.  (Universal paid sick leave is one of those “everybody wins” sorts of ideas.  Totally aside from the fact that letting sick people stay home is the humane and reasonable thing to do, I do not want people with the stomach flu handling my food.)

I asked him about his stance on gun control (which has been one of Michael Paymar’s signature issues, not that he’s had much success with it.)  He talked about background checks and mental health screenings, which is actually a huge red flag for me because what exactly does that mean? Does this mean that people who seek help for mental illnesses are going to go into a database accessible to gun salespeople? Because no. I’m a big fan of medical privacy, particularly regarding mental health records.  He backpedaled when I asked for details and it was clear he hadn’t thought about this much.

One thing he had thought about was that we needed to work harder to figure out how to sell gun control to outstate Minnesotans.  And he’s right about that. Minnesota has a strong hunting culture in the rural parts of the state, and guns just have a different place in people’s lives when they live in the country as opposed to the city.

(My friend Elizabeth, who is a Quaker and a committed pacifist, bought a gun when she moved to the country, because they were raising chickens and were troubled with possums. In the city, if a possum moves into your garage, you can call Animal Control.  In the country, you have to deal with this stuff yourself, and that means either owning a gun, or having a neighbor with a gun.)

Anyway. He does not have a smooth, polished political pitch down yet, and I’m wondering now how long he’s been making these calls.  You would think people would start with the people who’ve been to caucuses in the past, but we haven’t been to a caucus in this district yet so presumably he got my number off the voter registration records and that suggests he’s cold-calling registered voters.  Seems impractical, but what do I know about this stuff?  (He was Chris Coleman’s campaign manager so I expect he knows what he’s doing.)

There are currently seven people running for this seat, I think. (All of them Democrats.) In looking for information, I discovered that someone else is already obsessively blogging about this race, relieving me of the responsibility: http://www.theracefor64b.com/  I’ll probably write about it anyway, though.