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

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

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

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.