Prologue to the Red Plan Chronicles

My complete column from this week’s Reader Weekly:

Welty Loses Again

By Harry Welty

I lost the school board race. It’s nothing new. I’ve lost eleven out of 13 bids for public office. As the Duluth News Tribune editorialized I’m a “perennial candidate.” That’s shorthand for:” Don’t take him too seriously.” As I told the Reader Weekly’s Editor, Dennis Kempton, my eccentricities have finally caught up with me.

The $437 million Red Plan is all but a done deal. Derailing it required a change of votes on the Duluth School Board. I had to win to give the voters a referendum. It’s possible that my defeat means that Second District voters didn’t want a referendum but I find that hard to believe. I had a strong ally in the at-large race, Gary Glass. Gary’s landslide victory across Duluth, including my Second District, indicates that our message carried the day even while I lost.

I’m inclined to give Ralph Doty’s character assassination credit for my defeat even though it was billed as a warning to voters to guard against last minute dirty tricks. Ralph’s Budgeteer column was published three days before the election making it impossible for me to rebut. Ralph did the same thing to his brother Gary’s mortal enemy, Herb Bergson, just before the primary election. Ralph’s “truthy” column characterized me as an obscenity spewing, voodoo practicing liar. I may well be the former but the libels, Ralph accused me of, were all published by the risk averse Duluth News Tribune. The Trib would no sooner court a lawsuit by a Fortune 100 company than it would give its newspapers away for free.

The Budgeteer, however, is delivered to every household in town for free whether they are wanted or not. How seriously it is regarded can often be determined by the height of a moldering pile of them clumped together on the porch. Ralph’s column was delivered to perhaps 10,000 homes in my District alone. I lost by 670 votes. A switch of a mere 336 voters from my rival to me would have gotten me elected. Could Ralph’s column have caused 336 voters to switch their votes? I think so, and if my dire predictions come to pass then Ralph can claim some of the credit.

Duluth’s City Council has some big ticket problems. It must pay off a growing health care debt to its retirees. It must resume fixing its streets. It must repair some ancient sewer pipes which recently flooded dozens of homes with sewage. Police ranks must be beefed up and Library hours restored. With the School District hogging huge tax increases it will make it tough for the City to do to the same. Next year there will be a 56% increase in school district taxes because of the Red Plan. This will be easy to verify because St. Louis County will be mailing out tax estimates today or tomorrow. Anyone concerned by the District’s tax increases can register their opinion at the School Board’s Truth in Taxation hearing, Tuesday, December 4th at 6:30 PM.

I’m not so concerned about the City, however; I’m worried about the schools. I believe that resentful voters will kill the existing $5 million annual tax for our classrooms next November. This would mean teacher layoffs, larger classrooms, and shrunken course offerings. We will have new buildings in the works but our curriculum will become threadbare. Parents won’t stand for it and our schools will be plunged into chaos again.

I’m an amateur historian and there is no finer subject for a history than calamity. I propose to write a series of columns which will help explain how we got to this moment in time. I’ll begin right now with a little anecdote on the author of the column that laid my campaign low.

On election eve Ralph Doty told Dennis Anderson that he is a life long Duluth resident. How he managed this while being president of an Ohio community college I’m unclear but he was a State Senator here when I first moved to Duluth 33 years ago. Some of his legislative colleagues unkindly nicknamed Ralph the “Prancing Prince” for his natty attire and the platform shoes he wore while striding through Capitol hallways.

Before his death I was occasionally invited over to Willard Munger’s home along with his environmentalist buddies and my Republican pal Gerry Anderson who had become Willard’s campaign manager for his final campaigns. Over breakfast one morning Willard told a story about the long absent Doty.

It seems that the Duluth legislative delegation had a long standing agreement with Rep. Rod Searle of Waseca. The Duluth Delegation would protect Searle’s Waseca campus of the University of Minnesota if Searle would use his position on the House Higher Education Committee to do the same for UMD. One day a distraught Searle told the Duluth Delegation that Senator Doty had voted to close the Waseca campus in Committee. The Duluth delegation convened an emergency meeting and Willard let Ralph have it. “You GD, blankety-blank. The Duluth delegation keeps it promises!”

An ashen faced Doty sniffed, “Mr. Munger, where I come from we don’t use that kind of language,” to which Munger roared, “Well then Mr. Doty, you horse’s ass. The Duluth Delegation keeps its promises.”

Welty, a small time politician, will resume writing for the Reader Weekly every other week as he serializes the Red Plan Chronicles. Anyone wishing to help his pet cause can do so by visiting: letdulutvote.com.