Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pleading for Relevancy in Minnesota's U.S. Senate Campaign

Three of the five men in this photo could be reached at 202-224-5641 at some point in their career.

My first job out of law school was to work for U.S. Senator Wendell R. Anderson as Legislative Counsel. The first phone number on my first business card was 202-224-5641. Rudy Boschwitz, a Republican I usually disagreed with but came to admire for a time, inherited that phone number from Senator Anderson. My government studies professor at Carleton, Paul Wellstone, earned the right to be phoned at 202-224-5641 from Senator Boschwitz.

I have a lot of emotion invested in 202-224-5641. Hubert Humphrey answered that number until 1965. Walter Mondale answered it until 1977. It was the number the Carter White House called to tell me that if I dropped Senator Anderson's bill to establish a Holocaust Memorial and thereby allow the President to take credit for the memorial's establishment, I could name a representative to the first Holocaust Memorial Commission. It was the number that Senator McGovern's staff called to ask me if we would co-sponsor a bill to legalize marijuana. It was the number they called back to in order to save my job by confirming that I had said "no" even though the bill came out with Senator Anderson as a co-sponsor.

Currently, Norm Coleman uses 202-224-5641. He doesn't deserve it. His victory in 2002 was a tragic fluke. He has tarnished the reputation of 202-224-5641 by turning his back on his more liberal upbringing and pandering to the far right in order to retain his position of power. He is now attempting to utilize my First Law of Politics (i.e., Never Assume an Informed Electorate) by having us believe that the last six years of serving as the president's lap dog were really demonstrations of his ability to exercise independent judgment and seek bi-partisan solutions.

Yesterday I posted a blog with a photo of the statue of President Harry S. Truman that stands in the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. President Roosevelt chose Harry Truman to be his running mate in 1944 largely because of the work then Senator Truman did as the chair of the committee investigating war profiteering. Senator Truman earned a reputation for determination, integrity and independence in his efforts to protect American soldiers and their supporting taxpayers from unscrupulous government contractors.

Guess who served in the same post in the U.S. Senate when the Republicans were in the majority for most of our current war effort? Here's a clue. You can reach him at 202-224-5641.

Guess how many hearings Senator Coleman held to make sure that Halliburton and other "no bid" contractors were being held accountable by the Bush Administration for the billions of wasted dollars and resulting loss of life among under-equipped U.S. troops? Here's another clue. Same as the number of Minnesota Viking Super Bowl rings. Only with less effort.

Norm Coleman doesn't really expect to run on his record. He chose to rely on McCarthy-like scare tactics to defer any critical analysis of his unwaivering support for the president's war effort. Now, as the public finally awakes to the real cost of our collective blindness, Norm is avoiding focus on his record by running television ads touting his support of Federal assistance to rebuild the 35W bridge (gee, thanks) and by having his partisan colleagues trash Al Franken.

Here's a multiple choice test for those of you who struggled with my open ended "guess" questions. Choose the letter next to your choice of the target of Norm Coleman's campaign rhetoric.
a. Senator Coleman opposes Al Franken's proposal to start the process of bringing troops home from Iraq, thereby forcing the Iraqis to make the difficult political choices necessary to stabilize their government and operate as a sovereign nation.
b. Senator Coleman opposes Al Franken's proposal to provide meaningful support for the American educational system and move away from programs like No Child Left Behind that merely prepare students to take standardized tests.
c. Senator Coleman opposes Al Franken's proposal to deal with the health care crisis by taking steps to assure that individuals won't have to rely on expensive and limited emergency room resources in order to obtain treatment for routine and preventable medical conditions.
d. Senator Coleman believes Al Franken is unqualified to serve in the U.S. Senate because his accountant screwed up and didn't file the proper tax returns in all the jurisdictions which lay claim to Mr. Franken's earnings.

If you answered "all of the above", you didn't read the question.

While each of the statements is true, only "d" is deemed worthy of discussion by the Coleman campaign and its cohorts at the office of Minnesota's Republican Party. That's the way we engage in political discourse in 2008. Norm Coleman knows that a vast majority of Minnesota voters disagree with his positions on items a, b, and c. Rather than show some leadership and try to make the case for his position, Senator Coleman is content to get folks riled up over a non-issue, like Al Franken's accountant's malpractice, smear Al Franken with the non-issue, deflect any scrutiny of the record of Senator Coleman's first term in the U.S. Senate and undermine the credibility of anyone who pursues such scrutiny.

I long for relevancy in political debate. I long for public servants who are willing to show some backbone and defend their beliefs without resorting to nonsensical character assassination. In my mind, to deserve to have your name associated with 202-224-5641, you have to be willing to stand for something greater than a shortcut to re-election. You have to have principles that are not morphed by the latest Gallup Poll or Karl Rove gameplan. If a candidate lacks those minimal criteria (note that it's not even a requirement that they share
my political views), then they ought not be allowed to besmirch the reputation of 202-224-5641 and the worthy public servants who have answered its call.

Please join me in supporting Al Franken's U.S. Senate campaign. Insist on relevancy in political debate. Give Al some money. Call 202-224-5641 and tell Norm Coleman to show some respect for his office and for your intelligence. This race is much too important to devolve into investigations of accountant malpractice. Let's decide this one on the issues that matter to all of us.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sam Thinks He Can . . . Change the Name of His Blog

With apologies to Bette Davis, fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night.

First, I've changed the name of the blog. It's now called Prairie Pondering. I still think I can, but the gimmick often leads to editorial awkwardness. I'm reducing impediments to posting more regularly; I don't need the hassle of writer's block when I'm coming up with a title.

Second, I'm moving towards shorter postings. I am committed to trading length for frequency. If you want longer, pass the blog along to your friends, make me famous and wait for the book. Better yet, read the postings of my mentor, Charles Leck. Charlie has a lot to say, he says it well and, now retired, has the time so as not to shortchange us in sharing his wisdom. Visit him here.

Third, what in Hell is going on in politics today? I was going to ponder the state of the campaign for the Democratic Party nomination to run for president. That will wait. On the way home from work, listening to Minnesota Public Radio describe the State Republican party's new ad campaign, I wanted to scream. The Republicans are spending $100,000 to run ads blaming the Democrats for higher gas prices because they voted to override the Governor's veto of the transportation bill and raised the State gas tax for the first time in 20 years.

Apparently, they did not read my March 13th blog. Here's the relevant part (skip it if you've already read it):

"Sherry Engebretsen, Artemio Trinidad-Mena, Julia Blackhawk, Patrick Holmes, Peter Hausmann, Paul Eickstadt, Greg Jolstad, Scott Sathers, Christina Sacorafas, Sadiya Sahal, Hanah Sahal, Vera Peck, Richard Chit

"Each of the persons identified above lost their life when the I-35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River on August 1, 2007. For years, the State of Minnesota neglected recommended repairs to transportation infrastructure, including needed repairs to the now collapsed bridge. This month, over Governor Pawlenty's veto and just after the release of a legislative auditor's report that the Department of Transportation did not have sufficient funds to even maintain our roadways, the Minnesota Legislature passed a transportation funding bill that will ultimately cost gasoline consumers an extra 8-1/2 cents per gallon.

"Six Republican legislators voted their consciences and deviated from the party line by siding with the DFL to override the veto. Their principled decision has been rewarded by ostracism from the Republican caucus and, in some cases, challenges at what should have been cakewalk endorsing conventions. Governor Pawlenty and his supporters lost no time lambasting the 'tax and spend DFL' in a series of speeches and television advertisements (on Fox, of course), as if the Democrats had just used taxpayer money to purchase a warehouse full of Tommy Bahama khakis for a nudist convention.

"The recriminations against the proponents of the transportation bill were so strident, even I was concerned that I would not be able to afford to drive anymore. So I did the math, trying to figure out what necessities I would have to give up in order to make up for the extra tax burden.

"I get about 20 miles per gallon with my vehicle and drive about 20,000 miles a year. With those constants, I will pay about 54 cents a month in extra gas tax for each of the 13 lives lost when the bridge collapsed. In order to put this in perspective, I've identified exactly what impact this will have on my lifestyle. For convenience sake, I've assigned a sacrifice to each of the victims. That way, it's easy to determine if any particular life lost was not worth the sacrifice I am now forced to make in order to provide the Minnesota Department of Transportation with enough money to avoid another major disruption to free flowing traffic.

Sherry Engebretsen,
One (1) weekday edition Minneapolis Star Tribune per month
Artemio Trinidad-Mena,
One (1) pack Orbitz chewing gum every two months
Julia Blackhawk,
One (1) cup of coffee at Papa's Café every two months
Patrick Holmes,
Twenty (20) minutes parking at State Office Building per month
Peter Hausmann,
One (1) small soda, McDonald's every two months
Paul Eickstadt,
One (1) iTunes music download every two months
Greg Jolstad,
One (1) Powerball ticket every two months
Scott Sathers,
One (1) vending machine can of Coke Zero per month
Christina Sacorafas,
One (1) order of anchovies on restaurant salad per month
Sadiya Sahal,
Two (2) movie rentals from Coburn's per year
Hanah Sahal,
Ten (10) ounces of gasoline per month
Vera Peck, One (1) Almond Joy candy bar every two months
Richard Chit,
One (1) Exacta box bet at Canterbury Park per season

"The 10 ounces of gasoline per month attributed to Hanah Sahal might have propelled my car an additional 3 to 4 miles. Hanah was an infant when she died, probably not worth much. So, depending on where I might travel to with those 3 to 4 miles a month, I might be getting the short end of the stick. On the other hand, on balance, it appears that the value of the lives of the other 12 victims of the bridge collapse outweigh my sacrifice. And, since it might otherwise be me on the next bridge to go, I'm willing to do without the anchovies."

Now the Republicans are running their ads, demanding that the voters throw the tax-and-spend Democrats out of office for bringing Minnesotans $3.50/gallon gas. Never mind that the price of gasoline has gone from $2.90 to $3.50 a gallon since the veto override including, only, a 2¢ a gallon increase in taxes. Never mind that the State desperately needed a funding mechanism to pay for safe roads. Never mind that the folks in Hastings and St. Cloud will avoid bathing their cars in the Mississippi River because the money will be there to replace their dangerous bridges.

The Republican Party has decided to continue their proud tradition of pandering to people's fear, ignorance and reliance on 10 second soundbites posing as public discourse to cover up and project the consequences of their failed fiscal policies.

Don't let them do it. Copy and paste
Sherry Engebretsen, Artemio Trinidad-Mena, Julia Blackhawk, Patrick Holmes, Peter Hausmann, Paul Eickstadt, Greg Jolstad, Scott Sathers, Christina Sacorafas, Sadiya Sahal, Hanah Sahal, Vera Peck, Richard Chit into e-mail message boxes reached by clicking on the home page links of Senate Minority Leader David H. Senjem and House Minority Leader Marty Seifert. Put "I support the gas tax" in the subject line. After pasting the names of the bridge victims in the message box, insert: "These victims of the 35W bridge collapse don't mind the gas tax increase. Neither do I. Shame on you. Please respect my intelligence and stop confusing your use of blatant misrepresentations with acceptable campaigning."

If you have friends in the media or on the DFL side of the aisle, copy them on your e-mails. If Sen. Senjem and Rep. Seifert get enough copies, maybe they'll realize they proceed at their own risk and risk to the Republican Party.

Turns out it's too late to make a long story short. Less verbiage next time. Back me up here. I feel better already. I feel like President Harry Truman, a plain talker.