Category Archives: Minnesota Politics

The evidence shows that ISD 709 has been wounded by special education…

…notwithstanding my pooh poohing the idea in the last post.

A reader sent me a well reported story from Minnesota Public Radio about the state’s dealings with Special Education since about 2004 when I left the Duluth School Board. As I said, things were always bad. They’ve gotten much worse.

This does not in anyway excuse the spending decisions of the Duluth School District to hush up teachers for its squandering of operational funds to pay for Red Plan Bonds. What it means is that the District was put behind yet one more eight ball. Put another way it means that having crawled out to the end of a flimsy branch another hefty problem joined them on the branch taking them to the Earth.

Here’s the story on “cross subsidies.” Its long but, if you care about public education in Minnesota, you need to read it to make sense of the subject.

I had just read about Indiana (Next post) before getting the story and it had already resoured me on the Republican Party. I’ve had several more episodes of GOP souring since.

Some potential good news for Duluth’s school Board…

…and a lot of qualifications from me:

The DNT’s story on Governor Dayton’s tax proposal offers some hope in mitigating the Red Plan’s disaster in Duluth. (Golly, this one was actually on their website)

Dayton wants a billion additional dollars for education although three quarters of this would go to colleges. All Districts will get their share so Duluth won’t do any catching up with other Districts that don’t their own Red Plan ball and chain. Still, this District is desperate for any good news. I expect the Governor to get his way – mostly. He doesn’t even have a lower house majority of GOP to pester him any more.

NOTE: To put this $243 million more for public education in perspective look at it this way: Its 72 million less for the whole state than tiny Duluth spent all by itself on the Red Plan. ($315 million) It’ll be a drop in the bucket for us. Our share of it will be about 3% of the total or about $730,000. And it ain’t in our pocket yet. We won’t get any of it until the following school year. Meanwhile the District has to cut another $3.5 million and use up more of its rapidly diminishing reserve.

The Strib and the DFTRA pension

This morning I got a very brief peek at the news after waking up at 4AM to head to the Ft. Lauderdale airport and my frigid return to Duluth. I was very impressed to see the Strib far ahead of the Duluth News in covering the sorry plight of the Duluth Teacher’s pension.

Here’s the story and here’s the bit about Duluth:

The Duluth Teachers Retirement Fund Association, for example, which has just over 3,300 members, saw a negative return in 2011, but then saw a percentage return in the mid-teens in 2012, said Association Executive Director Jay Stoffel.

Still, the Duluth Teachers Fund has a long way to go before it’s healthy, Stoffel said. It has a $119 million unfunded liability, is only 63 percent funded, and has more retirees to pay than active teachers paying into the fund.

“Our board is concerned,” Stoffel said. “We certainly don’t think we’re in good shape. We have an actuarial consultant who has told us that we do need to do something.”

I knew immediately that I would have to offer kudos to the Strib once I got home and had a chance to link the article on my blog. BUT – HERE’S A SURPRISE TO ME.

I’ve gotten back to Duluth and just found the article again. Before I get to my reactions I just made a new discovery. The article was written by one of the Duluth News Tribunes best reporters. Brandon Stahl. That explains the inclusion of an interview with Jay Stoffel of DFTRA but since there is no mention of the Duluth Trib I wonder if the STRIB stole Brandon away from the DNT or if they are sharing his services. If its the former its a real loss for Duluth News paper subscribers.

Now about the DFTRA. In the post I wrote about the tour of the DFTRA that Mr. Stoffel gave me I said little about my biggest recollection of the meeting.

I asked Mr. Stoffel how the DFTRA could justify raising pension payments to teachers based on Investment earnings that had not yet materialized. This, by the way, is the important question an observent reader should wonder about in Brandon Stahl’s story. What I learned then was that the state of Minnesota seemed to be on the hook if the DFTRA or the TRA or PERA overpaid their retired members. That revelation gobsmacked me. In other words if they gave pensioners more than the pensions collected from active members their public employers of their investment earnings taxpayers would guarantee the pension payment increases.

THAT IS JUST WRONG. No one in the private sector get’s that kind of insurance for their pensions. Better than ten years ago I read about the terrible payouts and impending bankruptcy of Illinois pension plan. Nothing has been done about it and today its in the news again a financial monster that can not be solved so that Illinois public employees can expect full payment of the pension they have been guaranteed.

Minnesota’s crises pales in comparison but its still alarming.

I’ve often expressed contempt for Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker. Using his massive GOP victories as a cover to neuter public employees was the easy way to solve a problem with a guarantee of blow back. His disingenuous self righteousness curdled my milk. But. But. But. Walker was right to see public employees as far too powerful for the State of Wisconsin’s own good. Much the same can be said of most non Southern states including Minnesota.

The Brandon Stahl story makes clear that all these public employee pensions are expecting the Minnesota’s taxpayers to make good their over payment of pensions. The old fashioned Republican in me has one simple reaction to that kind of entitlement. Its a rude two word phrase.

DFTRA’s local problems have been grievously aggravated by the Duluth Teacher’s Union which will soon be lobbying the legislature asking that Minnesota taxpayers bail out their over generous pension. One of the many problems plaguing the underfunded DFTRA pension is the diminished number of teacher who’s payments to the pension keep the huge number of retirees getting those generous benefits. If I was a teacher with 35 or 45 teachers in my class seeing my earnings going to retirees I’d wonder if the stress I was enduring was worth it. Oh, probably. Their stress shortened lives will make it easier for the DFTRA to pay future pensions in full.

The Courts….Simonson and the DFL’s only hope

I was helping my Church’s mens’ group over at the Seafarer’s Center scraping and painting windows when I unwittingly splashed my head with white paint. I had to suffer the indignity of having the staff wash my head in a sink. On my way to the clean up I saw my old friend Mike Jaros in the hallway and we exchanged pleasantries.

Once I was dripping with water instead of latex we chatted a bit. We both agreed that unless candidate Simonson can get his name on the ballot west Duluth would get its first Republican legislator since Mike defeated Dwight Swanstrom in 1972 (or thereabouts).

I think there is precedent for this. In 1990 one of my heroes Arne Carlson became the GOP nominee for Governor after the disgraced nominee of the religious right, Jon Grunseth, was discovered to have chased his daughter’s girlfriend around his pool trying to rip her swimsuit top off.

Before the Courts or the Secretary of State intervened folks like me were busy trying to distribute stickers with Carlson’s name on it so mispelled write-in votes wouldn’t be thrown out. I asked Mike if he recalled whether Carlson’s name was printed on the ballot or whether the stickers had been used. Mike thought Arne got on the ballot.

Those rascally activist judges can’t be trusted. One of them just threw out Governor Walker’s law outlawing collective bargaining for Wisconsin’s state employees. Maybe Simonson and the DFL will get lucky and land such a judge.

Minnesota Voter ID pros

From the amendment’s sponsor Mary Kiffmeyer. She’s persuasive.

I resisted looking at this for a couple days thinking it would be a long written piece. Its from Powerline a blog I generally regard as a hackish GOP outlet.

I’ve snarked about the motives of the GOP around the nation on the various Voter ID laws that have been proposed. I know that diminishing democratic votes is one object of the legislation. I also know that Republicans since the days of the Kennedy Nixon election have been paranoid about registered voters in Chicago graveyards and poor Mexican Americans in Texas being paid five bucks to vote for LBJ and JFK. Nixon was gracious in defeat despite being cheated out of the Presidency in 1960. See “controversies.”

I think that Democrats ought to bite the bullet and support Voter ID laws that can assure voters a relatively hassle free method of registering to vote.

I ran as a Republican several times from the 1970s to the early 2000’s. I never smelled a whiff of serious fraud. Still, if we’re going to quell the paranoia about fraud its not asking too much to address the issues Mary Kiffmeyer lays out. I’m not sure whether I’ll still vote against the particular constitutional amendment that’s on the Minnesota ballot. I’ll have to research its wording and implication more.

Further I’m intrigued by a recent proposal I heard about proper ID. Why not demand that anyone buying a firearm carry and present a photo ID before purchase?

Western Duluth may soon elect its first Republican legislator in 40 years.

At this point I’d put money on Travis.

I like Julene Boe and her last name is easier to spell. I would have voted for her in a heartbeat.

Poor dim DFL. First Al Netland rushed to support the soiled Gauthier and when that fell through his party rushed to support a man so cold he turned his back on not only his baby daughter but his own parents. I’ve been reading letters from lots of folks describing the DFL candidate Simonson as a stand up guy but all I can think is cold fish.

After the Democratic Party’s opening convention night….

…there is no way the local DFL could nominate Assistant Fire Chief Simonson to replace Kerry Gauthier in good conscience:

Erik Simonson’s mother, Beatrice Simonson, said she, her husband and their daughter haven’t had contact with their son and brother since he stopped seeing his daughter. She said she and her husband wanted to maintain a relationship with their granddaughter.

“It’s sad. It’s a heartache,” she said. “But there’s nothing you can do.”

Erik Simonson said he has spoken with his brother several times but that he hasn’t spoken with his parents or a sister for about 18 years.

Unless all that messaging about women was just rhetoric.

Openly gay

Until I read this Star Trib story about the Duluth that is no longer your grandparent’s Duluth (I’m a grandparent!) I had never read that former candidate for the Congressional Seat held by Chip Cravaack was gay. This story mentions it as though everyone knew it. Not me. I only heard it rumored by a local DFL operative who explained to me that because of it this candidate would never get elected.

I feel better that I apparently didn’t out him.

In the near future, in that better world I anticipate our gravitating toward, it should be unnecessary to announce your sexual predilections when you run for office. We’re not there yet. If Obama only had a 5% loss of voters due to his being black if you were to compare that to oppositon based on sexual preference I’d guess that in Northern Minnesota that figure would be closer to 10 to 20%. If I’m right that would be enough to guarantee a loss for any DFL challenger to Chip Cravaack.

Just because life isn’t fair doesn’t excuse a candidate from failing to disclose possible impediments to his getting votes. Who can forget Senator Thomas Eagleton failing to tell George McGovern that he had undergone electroshock before being selected as a VP candidate by McGovern? That may account for the worst drubbing any democrat has endured in a presidential election.

If this candidate was still in the closet so that the Strib couldn’t mention it as though it was no big deal that would be different. But he semi-outed himself. I guess all his buddies and the political insiders knew but not the delegates at the DFL caucuses and conventions. Had they decided to endorse him even though they knew he had to bear the cross of being gay that would have been different, laudable even. Instead he allowed the delegates to remain uninformed with a potential bombshell to be detonated by the GOP after the primary. In a year when all Democrats are aching to take back the Congress he did them a major disservice.

Silver is tarnished

I just watched Almanac North and have concluded that the Assistant Fire Chief Simonson has a chance.

Travis Silver is a nice tongue tied-young man, probably a Ron Paul devotee, who doesn’t really know why he’s running for the legislature. He’s probably running because someone asked him to file just so the GOP could have a candidate. His chief argument could have been one of mine back in 1976 to wit: that Duluth ought to have a Republican in the legislature and not keep all its eggs in the DFL basket. For crying out loud, Given the opportunity he didn’t even say “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

I can imagine Travis getting barely 20% of the vote all the more for write-in candidates.

I mentioned the likelyhood that City Councilor Fosle and Chief Simonson could split the vote. Fosle didn’t show up on Almanac. He had some previous engagement. If he really wants to win he sure as hell should have skipped the previous engagement. My thought was he’s too chicken to show up or was afraid he couldn’t handle questions from Denny Anderson.

Simonson looked and sounded like a legislator. When the DFL endorses him they will put their shoulder behind his campaign.

I suggested that there was no way to get Kerry Gauthier’s name off the ballot. We’ll see. If the DFL can endorse Simonsen in time they may have an in to get his name on the ballot in the absence of a DFL candidate. The primary was in August which gives them close to a month before the ballots are actually printed up to make their case in court. They may be stuck with a write-in campaign but could probably win it. If they can set a new precedent they have a shoe in.

Can the GOP take West Duluth? and a reminiscence

I think so if two serious challengers run write-in campaigns in Kerry Gauthier’s district.

I don’t know how many “conservative” votes there are in the old Jaros/Munger house seat. When I ran a campaign in the area back in 1980 I discovered that Richard Nixon only got 23% of the vote in far western Duluth. That was 1972 and the biggest ever blow-out Presidential election in America’s modern history. George McGovern got three times as many votes as Nixon in west Duluth. That’s a tough district for any Republican.

I’d guess that the four decades that have passed have taken a lot of old New Dealers with them. Today a good Republican should get an easy 35% of the vote out west especially in a Presidential election year.

Gauthier’s name will be on the ballot even though he’s decided to “withdraw.” I’d be surprised if he got much less than ten percent of the vote. For argument’s sake lets assume that he gets 7% and the Republican, Mr. Silver, gets 30%. That would leave the two (so far) write-in candidates fighting over 63% of the available vote. It would take a near miracle to get that many voters to cast a write-in but if that happened one of the newcomers would have to clean the other’s clock. Could an assistant fire chief pull such a thing off over a sitting City Councilor? Could the reverse happen?

The Republicans are in deep doo doo (Broadkorb, Sutton, et al) all across Minnesota this year but I’ll bet some Minnesota Koch-brother-type would love to kick in some money to see at least one satisfying and unexpected GOP victory this year.

I’d like to add one more thought.

To my mind no one has been irreparably hurt by this incident except Mr. Gauthier. Thomas Huntley called him a “child molester.” From what I know about this day and age in America and what I know about most boys over the age of 17 I find that description a stretch not withstanding my previous description of the young man as a “boy.”

So let me follow with a personal story.

When I was 20 years old I got a chance to be an intern in Washington DC. I lived in a run-down block about eight blocks from the Capitol Building. Next door was a gentrified house lived in by two gay men, both college professors as I recall. I was living next door in an ancient town house in a room I painted black and white. (The radiator was zebra striped) I’d been in the city for about a month when I decided I needed to cook something and bought a cake mix. When I realized I had nothing to bake it in I got the crazy midwestern idea of asking my neighbors for a baking pan. The first two doors I knocked on got me nowhere but the third door, the next door, brought results.

An effeminate man answered the door and was delighted with my request. He invited me into a house with a lot more class than my grubby black and white. When I returned the pan a few days later he and his partner invited me to have a martini (my first) with them. They took me to a very cool backyard patio/garden showed me a platter of ripe tomato slices collected from a nearby Farmer’s Market and we had a very nice chat.

I asked my housemates if they thought the neighbors might be gay when I got back later that night. To their credits my housemates were indifferent. I got invited over several times afterward and was introduced to a number of men who seemed like sophisticates. One was a British fellow who had been the premier danseur for a Parisian Ballet Company. They were fairly interested in me and my drudge-like work in the bowels of the Congressional Office Buildings. The subject of marijuana came up. I told them I’d read a survey that summer that reported that something like 70% of the staff of the Congress admitted to using grass. Even in the office of my conservative Republican Congressmen the staff was so casual that all of the staff under the age of 30 (including me) confessed to the Administrative Assistant to having used grass. Some of the fellows at the party had usedJus grass, one expressed interest and another was a little shocked by the subject. It was a good chance for me to reciprocate for the martinis I had been served a month earlier and I offered to bring a dime bag over for them to sample. They thought it a capital idea so I did and we toked up.

In some ways the evening ended rather poorly. Marijuana has a tendency to make folks a little paranoid and that was the affect on me this particular night. I was surrounded by five pretty harmless gay men who were obviously interested in me. When I was sober this was not a problem. After the intoxication kicked in, however, one of them, produced a kitten and placed it on the sofa next to me. When the hand petting the kitten went astray and rubbed against my knee I mumbled an excuse and abruptly left the house.

I felt a little bad about my hasty departure the next morning. Even so we stayed on cordial terms although I only stopped by their house once more to say goodbye prior to flying back to a new school year at Mankato State. Both the partners mentioned that they would be in Europe the following summer and invited me to be their house sitter. I rather liked the idea.

My father did not. I’d told him the men were gay and it was likely their friends would drop by. My Dad was alarmed enough about the offer that I sent my old neighbors my regrets. They were honest regrets.

The point of this is that even though I wasn’t at all interested in sex with men had I been this would have been a comfortable a place to do some exploring. The primere dansur told us a very funny story about his youth in the Paris Ballet. He told us that all the ballerinas tried to have sex with him because, in the trade, it was considered good luck to sleep with a virgin. All the gay men at the party in D.C. thought this was very funny. Of course, as they all appreciated, the primere’s good luck was wasted on him as he was really not into ballerinas. On the other hand, had it been me in Paris I suspect I might have acted with a little more enthusiasm had a ballerina placed a kitten on the couch next to me.

Kerry Gauthier is close to my age and I know that he lived through a couple cruel decades as a young man where shame and humiliation were about the best he could expect in the way of public support. He says he’s suffered from addictive behavior for the past thirty years which may be evidence of that cruelty. I’m pleased that we seem to be heading to a new more enlightened age. I wish Mr. Gauthier well and I wish the same for the young fellow who answered his ad. They both deserved better than a public rest stop.

The Iron Drainge

My Buddy sent me this story about the shrinking heft of the Iron Range for the 8th Congressional District.

When Tony Sertich graduated from Chisholm High in 1994, he was one of about 80 seniors who crowded the stage, he recalls.

This year, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board commissioner and former House DFL majority leader returned to his alma mater as the commencement speaker. The graduating class numbered fewer than 40.

Unendorsed Dayton supports Endorsed Nolan

I enjoy the irony of this. Mark Dayton who got elected Governor without the DFL endorsement is supporting the Eighth District DFL Congressional candidate who got the endorsement Rick Nolan. I would guess that this is mostly a pragmatic decision with Mark looking for the strongest candidate but I’ll bet he and Nolan feel like fraternity members of the 1970’s as well when they bot got into politics.

The one line in the email appeal which was sent to me – twice – (damn overlapping data bases) that I thought was the funniest suggested that Nolan had once before been the Eighth District’s representative to Congress: “And I hope you’ll help me help him– because it’s time we had a fighter like Rick Nolan representing the 8th once again.”

He wasn’t.

a Republican political honor killing

I wouldn’t likely have commented on the surprise resignation of the Minnesota Senate’s Majority leader, Amy Koch, had it not been for the four Republican male Senators who decided to give a press conference about their role in confronting her over rumors of impropriety between her and a staffer. That they were holding a press conference about having acted on rumors was bad enough. Then their spokesman, Geoff Michel, had the audacity to tell the reporters that the four of them were like Senator Amy Koch’s “brothers.” Some brothers.

Oh yeah, I forgot today’s bygones in the Trib

This was the result of the “Minnesota Miracle” during which both Republicans and Democrats decided to put far more burden on income taxes to pay for local public schools and lower the burden on regressive local property taxes. Perhaps your tax bill has come in and you’ve noticed that this miracle’s angels have been falling from the sky.

Bygones News Tribune
Dec. 1, 1971

The Duluth School Board yesterday voted for a property tax levy that reflects a drop of 26.8 percent from last year’s figure. The reduction is possible because of increased state school aid from a state tax increase approved by the Legislature.

More on that Vikings stadium

The The Ramsey County Charter member I quoted a bit ago has just had an interview with KSTP television. Beforehand he sent this explanation on why a referendum ought to be offered on the proposed Vikings stadium in Ramsey County.

Bob,

Here are some attached letters that explain the legal aspects of the charter that I have been trying to convey to the pro-Vikings fans. None of their letters have said anything about the charter.

Points are explained in the Blume letter regarding the often heard question “why wasn’t there a referendum for the Twins Stadium or the Guthrie Theatre?”

There are 107 cities and 1 county in Minnesota that have the charter form of government. There are many cities in the metro that have a charter. It’s a set of laws that sort of serves as a constitution for that entity – a city or county. The laws are generally additional laws on top of state statutes. The charter cannot conflict with state law nor can it be looser than state laws. It can be tighter than state laws. Continue reading

No referendum for the Vike’s stadium

I’ve been exchanging email with a member of the Ramsey County Charter Commission who has followed the theft of the voter’s right to vote on the Red Plan for the past five years. He assures me that the County Charter requires a referendum before Ramsey County can levy a tax to pay for the Stadium. I’m inclined to think this is true but I haven’t studied the matter closely. If so then the Vikings are following the Johnson Controls model to reap tax dollars for their shareholders.

I just listened to the Vice President of PR for the Vikings on an hour long MPR talk show. I suspect the Vikes will be heading to Los Angeles if the referendum takes place because I think Ramsey County voters will turn it down. That is the threat that motivates the Viking’s cheerleaders. I must say I was not impressed with the VP’s arguments. On the other hand I’m also inclined to believe his sales pitch that Zigi Wilf will put more money into the project than most other NFL owners have had to in their own territories.

I especially groaned when he mentioned that the Twins lost the chance to build a stadium with a retractable roof. The implication I took from this is that we can expect the Twins to come back in two decades to tell us their new stadium is inadequate to justify asking for state to build a new sufficient stadium.

The Ramsey County Charter Board member sent me the latest email circulating. The last four paragraphs raise all the Red Plan hairs on the back of my neck:

Tomorrow could be a bad day for Minnesota. If you allow a stadium referendum to be on the ballot in 2012, the end of the Viking’s time in Minnesota will be near, and that is sad.

The Vikings have done everything asked of them over the years by the legislature. They have a plan, a site, and a local partner. But it still seems like it’s not good enough for some people. And now there might a referendum added onto the Ramsey County share of it? That just will not work. The Vikings won’t wait until late 2012 for this referendum to happen, nor should they have to. They have been waiting many years already, and time is almost up!

I don’t think you people realize how close we are to the Vikings moving to LA. The new stadium in LA is almost a done deal. All they need now is a commitment from a team to move, and with the Vikings lease expiring at the Dome in a few months, it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out what will happen. The writing is on the wall. Do you people really want to be known as the reason why the Vikings moved to LA? Please don’t let that happen.

The referendum is a waste of time and money. We elect our politicians to make decisions for us. That is their job! If the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners chooses to impose a tax, so be it.

Look at Hennepin County and Target Field. The Hennepin County Board had the vision to see what could be done, and look what they did! Target Field is one of the finest ballparks in the country! We should all be proud of that! Hennepin County didn’t require a referendum and neither should Ramsey County.

The Minnesota Vikings are an asset to the state of Minnesota and it would be a shame if we lose them. My kids love going to games with me!!! We would be heartbroken without the Vikings!

Please allow your county to raise the sales tax WITHOUT a referendum!!!

Thank you again for your time.

Good luck…

…figuring out how this will affect your property taxes. It comes from Minnesota Public Radio.

The DNT reported a while back that losing the homestead tax credit would cost Duluthians on average a 5.7% tax increase. That doesn’t include what the City of Duluth or the County or the Duluth School District or voters on a proposed operational tax levy increase in a coming referendum will do to bump up our taxes.

You can see what would have happened in Duluth last year if the Dayton GOP legislative agreement had gone into effect by looking at this. Its a 900 page pdf that won’t easily transfer to the blog here without a lot of tinkering that I don’t have time to do for you, my dear readers. Page toward the end of the alphabetically listed Counties to St. Louis. Duluth is the last entry under St. Louis County.