Election 2016: U.S. House, 5th Congressional District

The 5th district Representative is Keith Ellison. I like Keith Ellison a lot: he’s a reliable liberal vote in Congress and he makes conservatives’ heads explode. Especially this year. (Did you hear that Trump’s campaign manager talked about Trump’s “five-point plan to defeat Islam”? She’s since blamed sleep deprivation for how that came out, but I’d say this is a good example of the definition of “gaffe” that goes “a politician was caught accidentally saying what they really mean.”)

The candidates on the ballot:

Keith Ellison (DFL)
Frank Drake (Republican)
Dennis Schuller (Legal Marijuana Now)

So yeah, Keith Ellison. Reliably liberal Democrat. I don’t know what all else to say about him: his policies are basically exactly what you’d expect (protect voting rights, reduce carbon emissions, expand Pell Grants… he has a lot of specifics if you look on his Issues page).

Frank Drake. His Platform section starts off as follows:

My number one issue that desperately needs to be addressed is Education. For far too long we’ve been scared to make the necessary changes which will give our children the best chance to succeed in a global market. We’re stuck in a 19th-century school calendar, but we live in the 21st Century.

We need to modernize our school calendar so we can catch up to the rest of the world. We also need to emphasize the basics such as arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, and science.

Okay. First of all, school calendars are set by the states. This is not remotely in the Federal government’s wheelhouse, and I find it sort of hilarious and fascinating that a Republican is advocating so strongly for increased federal control over something that historically has been a local issue.

Also, I’m not sure if he’s paid much attention to this, but the Republican party has been having an ongoing freakout over the Common Core standards, which were the Federal government’s attempt to emphasize the basics such as arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, and science.

He then goes on to say:

In High school, we have to encourage some students to learn a skill or trade because college isn’t for everyone. These students graduate High school,  ready to enter a field as an apprentice.

Just a couple of days ago I was writing about Ron Moey (candidate for Minnesota State Senate) and a questionnaire he filled out back in 2002 during a prior run for office, which included a question about whether he’d try to protect students from job training, basically. From the 14-year-old questionnaire: “The Profile of Learning and School-to-Work system are turning K-12 schools into job training centers where job skills training is replacing academic instruction. … Will you support legislation that protects students in K-12 schools by prohibiting all requirements that all students must participate in career skills training or other work-based curriculum, instruction or employment-related activity in career areas?” Ron answered “yes,” which was clearly the correct answer. I added, “I think most Republicans these days are OK with in-school job training these days, but maybe not?” Question answered! Republicans are A-OK with job training these days. (Much like they’re A-OK with the Federal government implementing basics-oriented standards as long as it’s Republicans doing it instead of Democrats.)

He goes on to talk about Obamacare:

Did you know, every person in Minnesota has to carry over 70 mandated health coverages? Each coverage carries a cost and is the primary reason why health care costs have skyrocketed. Many of these coverages you will never need. My Plan would allow greater flexibility on the health care exchanges, allowing people to choose some of their coverages. All while protecting people from being denied coverage who have a pre-existing condition.

So a couple of notes: he doesn’t put his plan on his website, which is a shame since he’d be basically the only Republican I’ve run across with an actual plan. Pretty sure it’s because he doesn’t have one either, but who knows. Also, it’s absolutely true that you’ll never need some of the mandated coverages. I looked this up — your plan must include coverage for outpatient care, hospital care, emergency services, pregnancy and maternity care, mental health care, prescription drugs, labs, chronic disease management, and rehabilitative services. It’s been years since I’ve needed hospitalization coverage and those fascists make me buy it anyway on the specious grounds that you never know when you might get trampled by a wandering white-tailed deer or suddenly need your gall bladder removed or whatever.

It is in point of fact absolutely true that Ed, for example, is never going to need pregnancy and maternity care. They make people buy that one because it’s in everyone’s interest that pregnant women get prenatal coverage, and if only women who are planning to get pregnant buy it, it’s going to be ridiculously expensive, and there will be a shit ton of women who get pregnant unexpectedly, opt not to terminate, and wind up either not getting prenatal care at all, or needing state help to afford it. This is in no one’s interest, not even Frank’s, though I’m sure he feels deeply affronted at the idea that prenatal care for women he doesn’t know might benefit him in any way.

Anyway. Frank is a moderately typical Republican, hasn’t thought through most of his positions to any real degree, and misuses capitalization. Next!

Next is Dennis Schuller. I’m going to C&P an excerpt from his website:

If the government can take away your basic right to use a plant as you see fit there are truly deeper issues. Prohibition is a human rights issue and I am a human rights candidate personal safety is my number one concern, everybody should be safe and not afraid of violent criminal acts. When we confuse morality with criminality we become a church state, the separation of church and state is protected in the constitution you can subscribe to any religion you want but you still have to follow the rules set forth by the government but not vice versa. However rules are supposed to make sense and be limited in scope to pretty much anything that impedes the citizen’s right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. I believe a kinder friendlier government should be our goal, our government should seek ways to end animosity and create good will and stability for our citizens. Thanks to our ancestor’s diligence abundance and modern convenience is what sets us apart from past Americans so let’s end the cold war mentality and follow a better path towards individuality and shared responsibility. Allow me to sum this up “Free The Weed & Free The People”

I know a lot of people who smoke pot these days. (Many of them legally, because they live in Washington State or Colorado.) Those people are all smart and articulate speakers/writers so I feel a little bad making the joke here that the entire website reads like he wrote it while stoned.

But, the entire website reads like he wrote it while stoned.

I have very minimal experience with marijuana because I tried it a handful of times and concluded I really didn’t like its effects. The one time I got really stoned, I attempted to write a letter in which I was complaining about the effects. And it came out kind of like this. My sentences would start on one topic and finish on another. I couldn’t stay focused on anything for more than a fraction of a second. I eventually gave up trying to write. (And I couldn’t read either and I got really bored and this is how Naomi decided that marijuana was not for her. Well, plus there were the leeches. It was just a bad time all around.)

I am pro-marijuana legalization and I am happy to see that society is moving in that direction but I see no particular reason to vote for Legal Marijuana Now candidates in general and if I were going to vote for a LMN candidate I’d want someone who’d be a credible officeholder, not someone who goes meandering off on weird tangents and writes all his paragraphs as wall-to-wall run-on sentences.

Also, the case for marijuana that goes “but it’s just a plaaaaaant” makes me want to list all the incredibly harmful toxic plants out there. There are bunches! Natural does not equal benign! (I don’t think marijuana is sufficiently dangerous to justify the laws against it. Even remotely. But I prefer to pressure Democrats and Republicans to recognize the stupidity of these laws, rather than voting for third-party candidates.)

In summary: vote for Keith Ellison, who is both a perfectly fine Congressional Rep and the only credible candidate in this race.

 

 

Election 2016: State Representative District 60A

(By request.)

This is a much more interesting race than a typical Minneapolis legislative race, because there’s no Republican at all and the Democrat is instead being challenged by an “Independent Progressive Liberal.”

The two candidates:

Diane Loeffler (incumbent, DFL)
Gabe Barnett (challenger, endorsed by the Green Party, chose to list his party as “Independent Progressive Liberal.”)

Diane Loeffler has been in the legislature for 12 years. Per her Wikipedia page, she has actual bona fide expertise on health care policy; she’s a health care policy analyst and planner for Hennepin County as her day job. Not surprisingly, if you click the Issues page on her website, the first thing you’ll see is a page about health care.

She supports “universal access” (“Universal access to affordable health care whether unemployed, self-employed or involved in a small business”) and doesn’t talk on her website about single-payer, even as a long-term sort of goal. In talking about costs, she focuses on “changes the promote health, prevention, and universal coverage,” which…okay. I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers here and I am not an expert, but. There’s only so much you can do to get people to voluntarily make changes that “promote health.” (We’ve successfully shifted societal norms around smoking, but that took literally decades.) I think the idea that we can control health costs by encouraging healthy lifestyle choices is really questionable. It’s a politically safe answer but I’m super doubtful, in part just due to all the many people I’ve known over the years who were perfectly healthy until suddenly they weren’t.

On the plus side, she talks about both “support for home care” and “an improved system of options when home care isn’t enough,” and it is really damn rare to see people address caregiving; she’s clearly aware of the importance of not incentivizing self-destructive behavior (if it’s expensive to get a mammogram, a lot of people will just skip it); and public health approaches.

I was thinking that I really thought there should be some up-to-date information on how she wants to deal with MNsure-related stuff but then I got to her “Fairness and Respect” issues page and saw that it includes “Formally recognize in law all long-term committed relationships, including gay and lesbian partnerships” and now I’m curious when she last updated this site in any way.

Gabe Barnett’s campaign site is a Facebook page. He has a little sidebar that links to gabebarnett.com but when I clicked, that just took me back to the FB page. A campaign FB is definitely better than nothing, but if you want to track down someone’s position on issues they’re a lot harder to find.

In his pinned post up top, he says, “Our community’s leaders should share our values of equity, justice, and compassion for all people, regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, or income. Our elected officials should share our passion for a truly sustainable approach to the environment, and remain steadfast in our goal of protecting our natural resources and stopping climate change. Our representatives in St. Paul should be leading the conversation on these progressive ideals, and pushing the envelope on innovative ways to address them with integrity and conviction.” Someone left a question asking how he differed from Loeffler, and he said, “Thanks for inquiring. We will be releasing my full platform in the coming weeks.” On his FB page, the closest thing I found to a platform is this image. I’ll note two things: (1) the image was posted in May, and he promised a full platform soon in June, so this is definitely not what he meant. (2) if you’re using a screen reader, images of text on Facebook are completely inaccessible. So if you’re blind, you’re not going to be able to read it.

I will admit that I feel some hostility toward people who talk a good line about progressivism, but even while campaigning, can’t be bothered to do a few really minimal things (like not posting important text in picture-only format).

I guess I’ll also note that the text starts out, “Together WE can… * get corporate money and influence out of Minnesota politics and restore power to the people. * eradicate institutional racism, sexism, and classism from the public sector” — so, no ableism listed. (It goes on for 15 more lines that I’m not going to type out. If you’re using a screen reader, I would strongly encourage you to e-mail Gabe at gabe.for.northeast@gmail.com and ask him to send you a text version.)

Fundamentally it looks like he doesn’t disagree with Loeffler on much; he thinks that in general the Northeast representative should be trying to push the Overton Window to the left and apparently doesn’t think Loeffler’s doing a good job there. Here’s his statement: “I believe that, as progressive and diverse as Northeast is, we should be boldly leading the conversation on making Minnesota an inclusively equitable and sustainable state, not meekly toeing a moderate party line.”

And, okay, I kind of get where he’s coming from here, but you know, I am pretty sure he is vastly overestimating the legislature’s overall interest in listening to anyone’s Bold Conversation.

There’s a nice article about Gabe that ran in a freebie local paper. He starts out complaining that too many people ignore “down-ballot politics.” (Tell me about it, Gabe.) He also notes, “Whether it’s gay marriage, or smoking bans, or medical marijuana, these things happen when this city does it, then that state does it, then that county does it, then this city does it, and all of a sudden it’s a national movement” — and yeah, I think he’s often correct. He goes on to say he was inspired by Bernie (cool) and that he’s undecided on the Presidential race (less cool). (He does say that if it looks close in Minnesota he’ll hold his nose and vote for Hillary, and he isn’t super impressed by Jill Stein, either.) This article also talks about his in-person outreach to the community: “Social media’s a great tool…but again, local politics should be about community engagement.” To which I would say that community engagement is great, but when you’re talking about an area with almost 18,000 households and over 40,000 people, there are some real advantages to having a centralized place with a bunch of information about yourself, like a website. With your platform.

Gabe comes across as super young to me, but he’s actually 35, so not that much younger than I am. He’s a musician (a fairly successful one — his band, Gabe Barnett and Them Rounders, has performed at First Ave).

Fundamentally, here’s what strikes me about this race.

There’s a legitimate philosophical question about what you want from your elected representatives. Do you prefer someone who is pragmatic, who will set smaller, more achievable goals and get more of those things done, or would you prefer someone who is idealistic, who will have big goals and try to inspire people to work toward that goal, and who (honestly) probably won’t get anything done in the short term? If what you want is something big and sweeping, do you think you’re more likely to achieve it in baby steps, or with the revolutionary, aim-for-the-moon approach?

At this point in my life, I will pick the pragmatist pretty much every time. Half a loaf is not only better than no loaf, it’s way more than I was expecting. Typically I feel like I’m doing pretty well if we get 1/4 of a loaf. But I have very close friends whose views I respect who want their representative to throw that loaf to the side and say “you motherfucker, that is HALF. HALF A LOAF. For people who have NO BREAD. Why should we take this?”

I guess what I really want (and what I definitely feel like I had in my old district and have in my current district) is a legislator who will grab that half a loaf and put it somewhere safe and them come back to the table and pitch a fit about the missing half.

Is that what 60A has in Diane Loeffler? This is one of the things that’s harder to know from outside the district. Even if she’ll just shrug and take the half-loaf, though, that’s who I’d want representing me in the legislature because so much of what the legislature is about is fighting for these incremental changes in the face of complete intransigence. (I mean, the titanic fight that got us passage of one of the strictest medical marijuana laws in the country would be a good illustration of this.)

Diane Loeffler’s “Results” page has some hilarious examples of what I mean, though. It includes, “Diane worked to make more aware of property tax refunds (1/3 of those eligible don’t apply).” This is one of those tiny accomplishments that nonetheless put a chunk of money in the pocket of a bunch of people who were probably able to make good use of it. She got $24 million allocated to replace a bridge in the Northeast that was in particularly poor condition. She mentions helping to pass the graduated licensing law, which restricts new teenage drivers. (Some of this stuff looks really old. I think this really might have been a good year to update her site, though possibly she checked out her opponent’s FB page and the fact that he never got a platform uploaded made her figure she didn’t need to bother.)

If I lived in this district, it’s possible that Gabe would door-knock me and blow me away so much I’d vote for him. But part of my attitude here (which also heavily influenced my preferences during the Democratic primary) is that I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, immersed in the talk-a-good-line, never-get-shit-done school of progressivism, and I’m kind of over it. If you have goals like “make Minnesota’s public colleges tuition-free” I have a lot of questions. Where are you going to get the money? How are you going to set this up so it’s not just a blank check for the university to spend money on stupid shit? How long will individuals from other states have to live here to qualify for residency, and how will this impact the ability of Minnesotans to get in to our colleges and universities? Will this be an unlimited sort of deal or four years only? What if someone changes their major? What about students who come in needing remedial work? …I mean, it’s not that I don’t think this is a good idea. At the very least, I think that public college tuition should be something that every student can pay for by working part-time in a crappy job. (I also think that if someone got B’s and A’s in college-preparatory classes at their high school and arrived at the university and got told they needed remedial classes, their school district should be on the hook for the cost of the remediation.) And finally, how are you going to accomplish this when the legislature wasn’t even able to pass a transportation bill? There are 5.457 million Minnesotans; the House Rep for 60A will represent 40,000 of them.

(If you have a request for an analysis of a Minneapolis or St. Paul race I haven’t written about, feel free to let me know. I don’t do suburban or outstate races because I’m insufficiently versed in local jargon, hot-button issues, etc.)

Election 2016: State Representative District 63A

On the ballot:

Jim Davnie
Kyle Bragg

So there are a couple of politicians around I know personally, some from way, way back. I met Jim Davnie (State House representative for my old neighborhood) back in 2000, when he was first running. I did some lit-dropping over the summer and went to some campaign events. His wife and I were both pregnant. So when he door-knocked me in mid-October he started with “hi, I’m Jim Davnie, I’m running for–” and then broke off mid sentence when he processed that it was me, and I was holding a newborn, and that meant I’d had my baby. He squee’d over tiny Molly, asked about the birth, told me that he was not going to tell his wife (who’d had 24+ hours of back labor) about my ridiculously short-and-easy labor, and headed onward to introduce himself to someone else.

I really, really like Jim. Of all the local politicians, he’s the one who most reminds me of Paul Wellstone. He’s a committed progressive and also a terrific, rousing speaker. Once a high-school dropout, he’s now an educator, one of the major movers and shakers for the state anti-bullying bill, and in general a terrific voice for progressive values in the legislature. He’s one of the people I was always happy to vote for when I lived in Minneapolis.

Anyway, Jim’s website is here.

I looked up Kyle Bragg and was immediately sort of surprised that a black man who’s a union organizer was running as a Republican. Then I realized that this Kyle Bragg lives in New York and also this confused me two years ago, as well.

When I searched “kyle bragg mn,” my 2014 post about this race was the fifth hit down. Right below the whitepages link. That’s truly pathetic, Kyle. You could set up a Facebook page for your campaign. You could set up a LinkedIn page for your campaign. You could set up a GoFundMe page for your campaign and okay it’s not like I actually recommend that option but it’s less pathetic than what you’ve got, which is nothing.

The third hit down was a page for the SD63 Republicans, with a drop-down “pick the guy you want to e-mail” contact form. Kyle is one of them, so if you want to ask him any question, have at, I guess? The other thing of interest I discovered is that this guy I vaguely remember from college, Carleton Crawford, who I think ran the college Republican group, is now on the SD 63 Republicans Executive Committee.

On page two I found Kyle’s LinkedIn, which I’m leaving here so I can find it two years from now when he runs again and still doesn’t put up a campaign web page. Pretty sure this is his Facebook. He takes some very nice shots of the changing seasons in the Twin Cities.

Vote for Jim Davnie.

Election 2016: State Representative District 64B

I live in 64B, which is Highland with a bit of Mac-Groveland. We are represented by Dave Pinto, who was elected for the first time two years ago when Michael Paymar retired.

I like Dave. I was a Senate District Convention delegate so I got to talk to him in some detail, and I found him thoughtful, a good listener, and a committed progressive.

The two candidates on the ballot:

Dave Pinto (DFL)
Emory K. Dively (Republican)

Dave Pinto

Dave is a Ramsey County prosecutor who works on domestic violence cases involving children. His big focus tends to be kids, especially early childhood education.

Emory K. Dively (Republican)

Emory is a pastor at Deaf Life Church on Snelling Avenue, which I pass pretty frequently and have wondered about a few times. It is apparently part of a loosely-organized Pentecostalist fellowship. Emory and his wife (who’s a co-pastor there) are both Deaf.

There is very little info on Emory’s website about his views (there’s not a ton on Dave’s, but he’s at least got a voting record plus I remember him from when I was contemplating the Senate District Convention back in 2014) so I went looking for other info on him. I was thrown for a bit by the fact that there are two Emory Divelys, this one plus an Emory David Dively who turns out to be Emory K. Dively’s son. There’s a bunch of interesting biographical information over on this site, including the fact that he speaks eight different sign languages. (Sign languages are not the same from country to country; in fact, ASL (American Sign Language) and BSL (British Sign Language) are apparently not mutually intelligible.

I also found a District 64 Candidate Forum that was held last night and is now up on YouTube:


and watched it. (Well, okay, I fast-forwarded through some bits.) It’s not just Dave vs. Emory: Dick Cohen and Ian Baird, as well as the candidates from 64A, Erin Murphy and Riley Horan, are also in it.

 

Emory used ASL and had an interpreter. Some of what he was saying came across as pretty incoherent and I’m honestly not sure whether the problem was that he is an incoherent communicator, or if the interpreter was having trouble. The interpreter sounded a lot smoother on his closing statement than on some of his answers, though, which made me think that it was him, and he was not great at coming up with answers he hadn’t practiced.

Things I noted about his positions: he is very focused on special education; that’s his pet issue. I’d say this isn’t entirely surprising, given that he’s a Deaf man working at a Deaf church, but Dave Pinto is also disabled (he’s significantly vision impaired, enough that he can’t drive) and his pet issue is Early Childhood Education.

Asked about the racisal disparities in St. Paul public schools, Emory had no real answer. Asked about climate change he said we needed to take our time and not rush and not try to tell other states what to do. Asked about improving health care his answer was just confusing.

I will say that i kind of liked him? He seemed like a warm, likeable person, especially when compared to his fellow Republicans, the very young Ian Baird and the holy-shit-even-younger Riley Horan. (Riley is twenty years old, and is currently in college at the University of St. Thomas.) I am definitely going to vote for Dave Pinto, though. Absolutely. I sat through 90 minutes of forum and I am still not sure what his views are on most of the major issues, but more to the point, I’m not sure he knows, either.

Ian Baird came across as very young and frequently inarticulate. (Ian, if you’re reading this, go to Toastmasters.) He had handful of comments that made sense but he also thinks global warming is going to be solved with “American ingenuity” rather than government interference.

All you really need to know about Riley Horan is that he thinks the jury is still out on global warming. He came across to me like a dark-haired Draco Malfoy. I will give him credit for one thing, which is that he says on his campaign website that same-sex marriage is a settled issue and Republicans should shut up about it. Other than that, eesh. The guy has a picture of himself posing with Ted Cruz, one of his favorite politicians. (His other big favorite: Scott Walker.) If you’re in 64A, vote for Erin Murphy.

 

Minnesota Caucuses: What Actually Happens

One of the reasons why caucuses are fundamentally such a bad way to pick presidential candidates in Minnesota of all places is that Minnesotans are kind of hypersensitive to embarrassment and find it horrifying to be somewhere that everyone else knows the rules, and they don’t.

There’s this little booklet in Episcopal churches about What to Expect if you come worship with Episcopalians and one of the points on which they reassure you is that they will not embarrass you. If you’ve ever been in a church where they made all the newcomers/visitors stand up so they could clap for you, you know exactly why the Episcopalians put that note in.

So, yeah, caucuses. They don’t make newcomers stand up so they can clap for you! Well, maybe there’s a caucus convener somewhere who does, but it is definitely not part of the agenda. Also, if you want to go to a caucus because you’re a passionate supporter of some candidate but the whole process seems sort of freaky, definitely get in touch with the campaign and tell them your precinct and ask if they can set you up with a buddy.

You can watch the DFL’s “What to Expect at your Precinct Caucus” video, or keep reading for my take.

Something everyone should know going in: caucuses are run by volunteers. Many of these volunteers have never done this before; they maybe went to a two-hour training on how to run a caucus. If you find yourself thinking, “omfg I could do this better than these losers,” you are probably correct, and if you’re willing, you can almost certainly have that opportunity!

Arriving

Your caucus will probably be held at a school. Most likely, everyone in your ward will be at the same school, with each precinct in a separate classroom.

In a presidential year with an interesting contest, attendance skyrockets. If you’ve ever been to a caucus before, you should have received a reminder card in the mail, and apparently if you bring that along it can speed things up a bit. (I predict that maybe 1 in 100 people who receive that card will think to bring it.) The thing you really want to be sure you know before you go is your ward and precinct. In fact, I checked out my Senate District Convention’s caucus page (find your own local unit here) and they had all the info down to which classroom at the school my precinct will be in. The more info like that you can track down before you head over, the more likely it is that you can skip past the long lines and head straight to the right spot. The long lines are probably not people waiting for ballots: they’re usually people who need to be told which precinct they live in.

If you can walk over to your caucus, you’ll be happy that you didn’t have to park. If you drive, leave plenty of time for parking.

(If you’re reading this in 2017 or 2018 instead of 2016, disregard that advice: off-year caucuses are a vastly smaller crowd.)

Signing In

Once you’ve gotten into the school and figured out where you’re going, you’ll probably wind up in another line to get into the classroom where your precinct is. You will sign in at the door, and usually they hand out ballots as people sign in.

You do not have to be a registered party member of anything in order to attend a precinct caucus. However, when you sign in, you’re affirming that you consider yourself generally a Democrat (if you’re at a DFL caucus) or a Republican (if you’re at a Republican caucus). You’re also affirming that you’ll be able to legitimately vote on November 8th, and that you live in the precinct.

If you’re planning to move before November 8th, that’s fine, you can caucus in your current precinct and vote at your new address in November.

How the Meetings Are Run

These meetings are run Robert’s Rules type procedures, so there are a bunch of somewhat goofy hoops that get jumped through.  The caucus convener calls the meeting to order and then the group as a whole gets to elect a person to run the meeting. In theory, this could be a hotly contested battle. In practice, people are usually happy to vote for the person who went to the training session on how you run a caucus.

There’s an agenda, which the meeting adopts. People make motions and second motions. If you’re one of the 16-year-olds at the meeting, you are allowed to participate in those parts of the meeting. (Edited to add: letting 16-year-olds participate in caucus business may be strictly a DFL thing.)

If you’re at a DFL caucus, you should turn your presidential preference ballot in before eight. If you don’t want to stay for the meeting, you can come, sign in, get your ballot, vote, hand it back to a volunteer, and leave.

If you’re at a Republican caucus, ballots will be distributed as the first order of business and then collected. (You are then free to leave, if that’s all you wanted to do.)

Resolutions

One of the things that happens at caucuses are resolutions. If you want to bring a resolution, the DFL resolutions form is online. Print it out and fill in your action item. You can skip the bits that say “whereas” and if you insist on putting those in they’re supposed to go on the back and you’re not supposed to read them. (I support this change!)

The idea is that the resolutions from the caucuses are used to revise the DFL platform. You can find the DFL platform and the DFL Action Agenda online. Before proposing a resolution, I would encourage you to check to make sure it’s not already in the platform. If there’s time, you’ll get to present your resolution to your precinct caucus, speak briefly about why it’s needed, and everyone will vote on whether to adopt it. The resolutions that get adopted all get passed to a resolutions committee, which prepares them for the Senate District Convention. (More on that in another post.)

Republicans do this, too; I couldn’t find their resolution form online, though. (Edited to add: hey, they put it up! It’s here.)

If you’re in the DFL, this is one of the things you can do at sixteen! You can also vote for or against other people’s resolutions.

Speakers

Local politicians often pop in to speak at precinct caucuses. This includes both currently elected officials and people seeking office. Typically you’ll get visits from your state legislators and city council rep, if they’re members of your party. Occasionally you’ll get a bigger name, like your Congress person or Mayor. If you’ve got an open seat for something pending, you’ll almost certainly see candidates (or people speaking on behalf of candidates).

When someone pops in, they usually catch the eye of the person running the meeting, who will pause the proceedings and request that someone move to let your visitor speak. (You can say, “So moved!” to make the requested motion.)

Recruitment

Part of the purpose of a caucus is party-building, and there are lots of entry-level, truly grassroots volunteer positions that they will be recruiting for.

Sound like fun? Go for it. Seriously, if you hear, “we need a Precinct Associate Chair” and that sounds fun to you, you are exactly the sort of person the DFL hopes to recruit to do it. Don’t worry if you’ve never done anything like it before. There’s a whole elaborate party infrastructure for teaching you what you’re supposed to be doing.

On a more immediate level, they’ll recruit tellers — people to count those ballots everyone turned in.

Some of these volunteer positions are open to people who aren’t eighteen yet. If you’re interested, ask.

Electing Delegates to the Local Organizing Unit Convention

So the next-level political meeting is a convention. Typically things run like this:

  1. Precinct caucuses.
  2. Senate District or County Conventions
    (this is the Local Organizing Unit or LOU convention in the DFL; the Basic Political Organizing Unit or BPOU convention in the Republican party.)
  3. The State Convention
  4. The National Convention

At the precinct caucuses, you elect delegates to the next-level convention. This usually takes the form of the organizer requesting a show of hands, counting, and then passing around a list for people to sign up on.

If you don’t have enough slots, it gets more complicated. But that is actually pretty rare at this level. You do have to be 18 by November 8th in order to be a delegate to the local organizing unit convention.

If you’re a Republican, you may recall that four years ago, Rick Santorum appeared to win the Minnesota caucuses and yet we sent a whole bunch of Ron Paul delegates. This is because the Ron Paul people carefully organized to make sure they sent delegates to the BPOU conventions, and since their preferential ballot wasn’t binding and Santorum’s people didn’t show up … anyway, that seriously annoyed the Republican central committee and the ballot is now binding for both parties. You do not have to go to the Senate District convention (or whatever it is for you) to make sure your presidential candidate gets their due support. I’m going to write another post about what exactly this is and why you might want to go (or really prefer NOT to go) in another post.

Counting the Ballots

If you stick around, all the ballots from your precinct will get counted and they’ll announce the totals. That’s usually the last thing that happens before they adjourn the meeting and everyone goes home.

 

Election 2014: Rambling on Judicial Races

How to choose judges is not something Americans exactly have a consensus on. In Minnesota, we have elections, but a lot of the time there’s sort of an end run around this by appointing people mid-term so that the first time they stand for election, they’re running with the advantage of incumbency. A few years ago the major parties started endorsing judges — I can’t remember where previously there was a rule against it, or if it was just not the custom. Judicial candidates tend not to trumpet their party endorsements and instead let you know subtly by mentioning various prominent people with known party affiliations as “supporters.”

There’s a group in Minnesota that’s lobbying to change the way we do judicial elections. They suggest a merit-based appointments system after which judges stand election every four years with a yes/no vote. I tend to think this would be a better way to do it, because it means that if someone’s really incompetent we can just focus on getting people to vote NO on that particular judge.

I am not personally an expert on all the different ways out there to pick judges. My father, on the other hand, actually is exactly that sort of expert. Actually, he’s expert on lots of things: he’s a Political Science professor with a specialty in the American judicial system, and he’s studied comparative judicial systems, the effect of contingent fees, mediation, and he did one project we all called the Lawyers in the Mist project where he spent about six months observing lawyers interacting with clients (with the permission of the clients.) Next year, his book Justices on the Ballot: Continuity and Change in State Supreme Court Elections is coming out from Cambridge University Press, and anyone who’s got a strong investment in the question of how we choose judges might want to take a look.

Possibly the finding from my father’s recent research that I found the most entertaining: there really is a town out there that elects its dogcatcher (well, “Animal Control Officer.”) So if you’ve ever heard heard somebody joke that Ole Savior couldn’t get elected dogcatcher, there’s actually a town he could move to where he could, in fact, add that to his collection of electoral losses.

The problem of avoiding partisanship in judicial races is one that doesn’t have a simple solution. My father gave me an extended explanation of a convoluted system that involves merit, a committee that makes recommendations, confirmation by elected officials (but with some rules in place to discourage them from turning anyone down without a good reason), and retention elections.

Alternately, you can just throw in the towel and embrace partisanship, which is more and more what Minnesota is moving to, I think.

Of course, there are all sorts of issues I want to avoid in the judiciary that are not as straightforward as liberal vs. conservative. I am very wary of judges who would assume that the police would never, ever lie (I kind of expect some degree of pro-police bias in judges, but in a situation where a dozen witnesses plus the physical evidence say one thing happened and a police officer says another thing happened, I want a judge who will be willing to at least ENTERTAIN the possibility that the cop is lying.) I am similarly wary of judges who have a bias toward the bigger, wealthier party in lawsuits, or who fail to realize the impact of being the target of a SLAPP suit has on private citizens. Finally, the sad fact is that when people run against incumbent judges, they’re frequently flakes or weirdos. I have a strong anti-flake bias regardless of office.

Anyway, at the moment most judges have dignified, non-partisan web sites that seek to communicate gravitas and hint in only the most discreet ways at whether they’re likely to swing liberal or conservative. Makes it harder. But! We are weeks away from the election so I’d better get going on this.

Just a note: I am only planning to research and write about the contested judicial races. (If there’s a serious write-in campaign happening in any of the uncontested races, please let me know.)

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).