Category Archives: elections

Election Ennui

I must admit I am right where the majority of Americans seem to be regarding our elected government. I’m bummed out. I’ll also confess that in the recent primary election I was guilty of a first. I didn’t vote. I always vote but didn’t this time.

I’ll vote in the general election but with little enthusiasm. Today’s newspaper had its fill of last minute stories about the looming November election including letters to the editor. There was only one that caught my interest. It was from a woman thanking the Trib for its recent story about the massive inequity in Duluth’s angry Red Planet.

The writer wants the School Board to be reshuffled. I have little doubt that she will get her wish but it won’t be until next year that the Duluth School Board seats will be up for grabs. It will only be three of the seven as the other four were up for the ballot last year.

I’m grateful to the letter writer for this observation:

I hope voters interpret this into voting every member out at the first opportunity. The taxpayers can all shout, “We told you so!” even though that doesn’t get us out of the mess we are in.

I think a change of Congress would be far more likely to improve the climate in America today than a change on the School Board will clean up the Red Plan mess. We have close to twenty years of debt we most likely can’t be excused from paying off and that is a longer stretch of time than I have the heart to serve on this board. Still, a new board might pick up a mop and pail and get started. The current one has locked all the broom closets.

“Gangrene” spreads to social media

I got a call just now 45 minutes into today’s election. Apparently my comments about gangrene spreading from western Duluth to eastern Duluth is now part of a Facebook campaign to discredit my candidacy. I’m not suprised. I told a friend who asked me about some of my recent actions it was the only one I regarded as a mistep. Using a baseball analogy I called it an “unforced error.” Its not that I disavow it its more that I didn’t do a good enough job explaining what I meant.

The Red Plan has led to a gross under staffing of our classrooms and families fleeing our new schools. Its worst out West where children are being bused from Duluth to Proctor. Test results are dire. I used gangrene to describe what’s happening because its famous for spreading. If the first levy referendum question fails we will be forced to cut another two and a half million dollars from the District’s budget. Is that a knock on West Duluth or is ignoring the calamity a worse knock on Western Duluth?

One of the people who brought this all about, Nancy Nilsen, is the person who stands to benefit from this last minute social media campaign. In her comeback attempt she has been aided by Judy Seliga-Punyko who endorsed her with very little commentary in a letter to the Editor recently. She has also been aided by her other confederates on the old School Board Tom Hustad and Ann Wasson who object to my constant reminders of the consequences of the dictatorially imposed Red Plan. They made much of the gangrene comment too in their recent letter to the editor.

I don’t know how long the social media campaign has been bubbling along. This is my first whiff of it. Its not the first whiff I have had of a character assassination campaign. I put the strange ad in the Reader to fight off the guilt by association campaign some unpleasant person is trying to spread.

I’ve always asked, “if you can’t be passionate about your children what can you be passionate about?” I stand by that today. I also stand by my observation that so far western Duluth has been most savaged by the Red Plan’s unintended consequences. I think passionate parents ought to consider that if they wish to make things better for their children. Killing the messenger has never solved anything. Electing someone too blind to see carnage when it lies at their feet is no better.

Hermantown’s Referendum

I have a couple posts worth of thoughts about yesterday’s longish DNT story on the Hermantown building levy.

I’m not inclined to start typing now but the posts would cover.

A. The justification. I think its justified.

B. Its contamination by Johnson Controls. This was a stupid and foreseeable impediment to its passing.

C. The cottage industry spawned by Tea Party government haters to derail school levie across the nation.

Its this last issue I’ll probably write about. A and B don’t really need much elaboration.


I went to some song and dance meeting at 8AM this morning to talk about healthy schools. I probably scared the bejesus out of attendees (who were outnumbered by candidates for public office) because candidates for public office aren’t supposed to speak as though they were John the Baptist. That only gets your head served up on a platter.

It was productive in several ways relating to the School Board that had nothing to do with the topic. Instead it was because of the interactions I had with other school board candidates. That will lead in short order to some new posts which I have decided to call “What Would You Do?”

That will come later as I have lawnsigns to put up if the rain holds off a little longer. But that does leave me with one anecdote.

Long time followers will know that I once beat up the current City Council candidate Howie Hanson on the blog over the Red Plan. I won’t link to the post but industrius readers can always plug the name into the search engine to see what I wrote. In substance I criticized the School District for giving Howie a nice payment for advertising school activities on the Internet. I claimed at the time it was Superintendent Dixon’s way of bribing potential critics into zipping their lip about the Red Plan.

Well I saw Howie as I headed into the health forum. When I saw him I joked that it appeared his election to the City Council had become a foregone conclusion. He said he knew and sort of apologized explaining that he felt really bad about it. I just laughed and joked I was jealous. (His opponent Gary Krause, formerly of the School Board, has announced he will not remain on the City Council although his name is still on the ballot.)

Howie made a point to tell me that I had been right. He said that he had figured out after the fact that buying off critics is exactly what Dr. Dixon had been doing. He felt bad about that too.

Good for Howie. I give credit to anyone who owns up to embarrassing details like this. That bodes well for the City should non-candidate Gary Krause fail to pull off an upset.

Candidate’s view: Vote for Martell and for the levy referendums in Duluth

Today, Thursday, the DNT published my opinion piece. I’m quite pleased with it:

On Aug. 19 I read the two most intelligent things about the Duluth schools that I’ve seen in the News Tribune in recent years.

This was from At Large School Board candidate Loren Martell’s commentary on the Opinion page: “We have to rein in spending now. We have to get to some truth about the financial arrangement we’ve gotten into with the Red Plan. We have to make a sober and accurate assessment and start reprioritizing. Any pennies we can spare have to be directed to the classroom. We have to refocus on the core of education curricula, teachers and teacher development. We have to quit blowing millions on everything else under the sun. We have a half-billion-dollar investment hanging out there. It was a reckless investment, but we’d better roll up our sleeves and make it work.”

Then there was the front-page story Continue reading

TMI from HRW #1

What follows is an email I’m composing in the blog to be sent to a potential campaign volunteer for the Welty for School board campaign. It may very well decide him against helping me. It will be longish thus TMI (too much information) as for the HRW. That’s me, Harry Robb Welty. If my PCV agrees and continues to volunteer this might become a regular feature of this blog for the duration of my campaign for school board.

Dear PCV, (potential campaign volunteer)

My dithering is putting me at risk of losing your help. After our cup of coffee at Sara’s Table it appeared you were eager to commence. I’m afraid that it now appears to you that I am not eager to commence and you are already looking for other avenues to spend your time and talents. Arrrrrgh! Continue reading

Background, First endorsements made, First comments on my campaign

I’m busy with company, my Father-in-law is in town for the week. I’ll not campaign other than to blog a bit but I don’t want to shirk my hosting responsibilities while he remains with us. I haven’t decided whether I’ll campaign. A few weeks ago I was certain I wouldn’t. I began to have second thoughts about that a week ago or so. When Nancy Nilsen filed I had a reaction not dissimilar to the one I experienced the year I planned to retire from the School Board after eight years service. At the end of that year a noisy controversy broke out about taking the coaching duties away from East High school’s hockey coach. You don’t get much closer to the status of Pope in Northern Minnesota than by coaching a winning hockey team.

I kept getting calls from hockey fans (short for fanatics) who told me that if I didn’t vote to keep the coach they would defeat me in the next election – the one I had no interest in running for. I was damned if I was going to let folks think I was retiring because I was fearful of the hockey crowed. So, I filed for reelection. Then, when it was too late to take my name off the ballot, I realized that it was pretty stupid for me to run for another four-year term when the only reason I had for doing so was to prove I wasn’t afraid of the hockey crowd. I told a DNT Editorial Board that was eager to endorse me (for only the second time in 15 elections) that I only had one disagreement with my challenger and it was of little consequence. I added that I thought he’d make a good school board member. I wasn’t about to endorse him because he was part of the hockey crowd but I never spent a dime or campaigned. The Trib editors reluctantly endorsed the other guy. Continue reading

The race for the School Board got interesting today

I filed this morning. Then one of the old board members, Nancy Nilsen, who caught a lot of my most pointed criticism filed after me. Let’s hope its not just a grudge match. There were a truck load of other last minute candidates as well.

Let me stipulate first that I know of no school board candidates in previous Duluth elections who had anything other than the best interests of the schools at heart. Certainly that is true of Nancy. I disagreed with her profoundly on pushing the Red Plan through without a vote. It cost her reelection a few years ago. But then again, as I told the reporter for the Trib today, I’ve just lost my last TWO school board races so we can both be accused of being retreads.

If this is a bid on Nancy’s part for vindication I think she will be disappointed. If she admits the methods her Board used were highhanded. If she acknowledges that the results of this insensitivity resulted in voter antipathy to the District and large class sizes I will be pleasantly surprised. I’ll wait and see how she explains her wish to be placed on the Board again by the voters.

In the meantime I’ve got a long memory and so does this blog. If anyone wonders what I’ve said about Board member Nilsen in the past you’ll find it here in the blog.

I also told the Trib reporter I was looking forward to reading the Trib editorial board’s perennial observation about me – that I’m a “perennial” candidate.

If they also acknowledged that I have been significantly more accurate in my predictions for the Schools than their editorials (Who can forget the hilarious $32 million windfall prediction?” …….Well, that would be very gratifying. That kind of editorial goof-up about the Duluth schools is another perennial phenomenon.

The Reader and our Black Hills vacation nears its end

We egressed the Black Hills early last evening through the Spearfish Canyon Road. It was lovely but the sun was so low that only the very top of the Eastern canyon lay in sunlight. We had tarried too long in Lead, South Dakota after our last in the day tour of the Homestake Mine. I easily took a thousand pictures on my digital camera and have already removed 400 of the lesser ones while cropping and tending to the remaining before a second culling. No one needs 600 pictures of the Black Hills even with your grandchildren in them.

I was curious about the absence of my column to the Reader Weekly for the past couple weeks. I called the publisher who told me it would be in the Reader this weekend. That means it should be on their website by tomorrow. I’ll believe it when I see it. He also gave me orders on a one time basis to submit another column by tomorrow for two successive issues. I roughed out something this morning and I’ll putz around with it tonight after watching the Spielberg film Lincoln. Sadly, I had two small boys who disported through most of its first half so that a third viewing will be necessary sans boys.

We had planted ourselves in the Black Hills for seven evenings. The first two nights were in Rapid City on its eastern flank. Four nights were spent in Custer, named after the one and only followed by the last night in Spearfish. We visited Rushmore twice, the second time to make up for being chased out by rain on the earliest visit. We traveled most of the best known highways with Claudia at the wheel. She insisted because she is terrified by my gawking at every precipitous hairpin turn instead of keeping my eye on the wheel. We spent an hour and a half on a tour of Jewel Cave a similar time in Hot Springs at the site of a huge mammoth burial site. We petted donkeys and stood amid prairie dogs in custer State Park while seeing the Buffalo we had promised the boys.

I had to be glaciered a couple of times by claudia when I passed on too much historical information to our 3 and 5-year-old companions. “Glacier” had been the watchword twenty years ago with my children when I yammered on about something they were tired of hearing about.

Tomorrow we drive to Fargo. We’ve promised the littlest traveler a half year birthday at Chuck E Cheese when we get there. Hopefully I’ll be sufficiently primed to finish my second column for next week’s Reader Weekly. Every one is trying to sleep but I’ve got this bright computer on while choral music plays in my headphones. The Hotel’s water was shut off by the City an hour ago so we are all crossing our legs and brushing our teeth with bottled water. Such hardship.

Because God will soon destroy the world…

…we will keep voting for Republicans who will do nothing to stop him.

That’s my shorthand take of the unsurprising poll of Americans by Newsweek that says 40 percent of us think the world will soon come to an end. And many of these people would vote against any do-gooder environmentalist to tried to stop the oceans from rising to cover the billions of us who live on the coast.

These Christians are a menace to the world. Their God is a menace to the world. Their savior is the lone horseman of the apocalypse.

I find it hard to disagree with this appraisal:

According to a Newsweek poll, 40 percent of people in the United States believe the world will end with a battle between Jesus Christ and the Antichrist. And overwhelmingly, those people also believe that natural disasters and violence are signs of the approach of the glorious battle, so much so that 22 percent of Americans believe the world will end in their lifetime. This would logically mean that concern for the world of their great-great-grandchildren makes no sense at all and should be dismissed from their minds. In fact, a recent study found that belief in the “second coming” reduces support for strong governmental action on climate change by 20 percent.

Apart from the corruption of money, whenever you have 40 percent of Americans believing something stupid, combined with the forces of gerrymandering in the House, disproportionate representation of small states in the Senate, the Senate filibuster, the winner-take-all two-party system that shuts many voices out of the media, out of debates, and off of ballots, and a communications system that mainstreams Republican beliefs, it’s almost guaranteed that the 40-percent view will control the government.

On the other hand I just did a search for the poll to link to and discovered its

over a decade old and was done just before the year 2000 when all sorts of minneniallists thought the Y2K virus or a rapture was imminent.

Still, the GOP’s leaders don’t have the ca-hones to call their rapture prone to account for their fatalism and fanaticism. Not if it would cost them votes. Perhaps that will change as young evangelical voters fall away from their blisteringly self righteous, anti-intellectual, and anti-gay churches.

157 million dollar bailout?

A couple weeks ago the Duluth paper published an update on appeals to the state from the Duluth Teachers pension planners to bail them out since they had run short of the funds necessary to pay for the pensions of retired teachers. In part this shortfall came from not reducing payments soon enough as the economy tanked a mistake that fell only on the shoulders of the pension board of directors. The story said that the state had decided to plug the hole to the tune of six million dollars. That almost got my hackles up but I couldn’t tell if the payment was a one time payment or not. I didn’t mind a one year cash infusion but I wondered if the state was planning to expend this money for many years into the future. I was too busy to call and ask what the situation was but I had planned to post my question on the blog.

Now I know the answer. It came in the DNT when it republished the St. Paul Pioneer Press’s editorial on the subject. The answer is yes. For each of the next 25 years or so the state has agreed to plug DFRTA’s hole to the tune of $6.3 million annually. That means that our retired teachers could get a $157 million windfall to cover the poor decisions of their pension plan. Other pension plans will be getting similar bail outs and we will just have to wait to see what happens to the mother of all public pensions in Minnesota, PERA, with a projected $16 billion shortfall.

“…the remedies should come with a loud note of caution for the public: Public-employee pension funds are under the influence of politicians who, as they apply the remedies, have the power to do favors and solve problems with somebody else’s money: ours.

The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement, which also approved $6.3 million per year in state aid for the plan for Duluth teachers, got what amounts to a reality check in testimony from retired Rockridge Elementary Principal Tom Threinen. He told lawmakers the additional contribution costs for the district will result in the loss of at least five teaching positions and make it harder to reduce class sizes and increase offerings, as both the Duluth News Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.”

I’ve commented before about pension plans most recently on the red ink in Illinois. One of the faults with democratic elections is the emphasis they put on today at the expense of tomorrow. In the last two decades of the war declared on moderate “RINO” republicans the consequence is that sane fiscal voices like Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa and many others have been killed off in GOP primaries by simple minded, short term strategists who have opted to push “pure” ideologically driven and dreadfully impractical candidates. The vacuum this has left in the vital center of American politics has fallen to Democrats like President Obama. Its still a huge vacuum.

Its hard to give any credit to the current GOP minority in the legislature because there aren’t many centrists left. Their current leaders describe the remnants of the Republican side of the legislative aisle as the “grownups.” I wish.

Decisions like this one to bail out overly ambitious and unsustainable pensions give all such pension boards an incentive to game the system knowing that poor and incautious investing could be bailed out by taxpayers. Its simply not fair and its not sustainable.

Demographics # 2

Also on the Daily Dish was a graph that blew me away. A longer version of it from the World Bank can be found here.

This is another trend I’ve heard about. The flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico has been seizing up. It might be natural to think this is because of the hazards of crossing our newly heavily patrolled borders but that may be an illusion. For one thing the Mexican economy seems to be improving despite the the drug war.

More tellingly the birth rate hass changed drastically from my youth. when I was in high school Mexican women averaged close to 7 children. Today they are having just a little over 2 children.

If women suffering in the current GOP oriented free enterprise exalting, universal health care resistant, economy doesn’t make a difference then reduced paranoia about illegal immigration over diminishing numbers of illegals will. The GOP still has gun control to worry voters about but gays bashing doesn’t cut it so much anymore.

Panic is overdue

One of my regular old Red Plan allies emailed me a few days ago imploring me to attend the Chamber’s Red Plan program with the new Superintendent. I told my friend I had no intention of wasting my time.

Today she wrote back after reading the Editorial in the Duluth News Tribune and told me its just as well I didn’t go because it would obviously have been “a waste of time.”

This is what I wrote back to my friend:


I have much to say on this subject. In short I woke up yesterday and had changed my mind. I decided I ought to go to the Chamber’s meeting with the Superintendent. If I hadn’t spent so much time shoveling the new fallen snow I would have gone.

After reading the DNT editorial I’m very glad I didn’t go. I would have felt like a chump. Guess who else feels that way today? The Trib and the Chamber of Commerce.

Gronseth and company did learn from Dixon – all the wrong lessons. Primarily that if you call a meeting and do all the talking then leave ten minutes for questions you can escape without any accountability. The problem for Gronseth is that Dixon’s old sycophants are now on to the tactic. They ignored it when it was Red Plan critics getting the razzle dazzle. Now, however, the District has screwed up our public schools and Dixon’s old pals know it. They also know the City knows they were Dixon’s enablers and the fruits of his labor are the fruits of their support for Dixon. They don’t want to be left holding Dixon’s dirty bag. They are handing it back to Gronseth now with a big “no thank you.”

They want to know how Gronseth will fix the problem. He doesn’t have a clue so he pulled a Dixon special dog and pony show with lots of Post-it notes “for input” to avoid having to answer questions. Finally this tired tactic isn’t good enough for the DNT and the Chamber of Commerce who cut the District so much slack for so long.

I was thinking about how desperate the District’s situation is. Its worse than dire. Up to now the public had given them the base excess levy they’ve requested which they’ve had since before the Red Plan but nothing more. They need a helluva lot more money than this to keep their nose above water. If they don’t even get the base levy approved by voters they’ll be sucked down the drain with our children in the undertow. If they don’t get it……well you ain’t seen nothing yet. The accompanying letter to the editor under their editorial said it all. A kid with four classes with 40 kids in them. In years past the editors would have salted that page with a letter that offered counter arguments to their editorial. Instead they put a letter under their editorial which reinforced its message that “happy talk” isn’t good enough anymore. Sadly, all the superintendent has is hapless talk.

He still doesn’t seem to have a clue how much of what used to be operational money for the District has been siphoned off to pay for Judy Seliga’s swimming pools and the East Stadium that was never part of the Red Plan to begin with.

If I wasn’t so irritated at the Trib and the Chamber I’d say “better late than never.” But I’m so annoyed that even “I told you so,” doesn’t address my contempt for the Trib’s and the Chamber’s complicity in this educational abortion.

It is about time the Trib and the Chamber begin to realize just what they helped to deliver into Keith Dixon’s hands…..the fate of Duluth. Notwithstanding Mayor’ Ness’s unqualified optimism about the reemergence of his City of the First Class, Duluth will never make it with third class schools.

Panic won’t help anything and its a couple years overdue.


PS. I also told her that I would have to be a fool to run for the School Board this fall.

PPS. I cleaned up this email with a few edits so that its not exactly what I originally emailed out. I’d guess its still about 98% original.

Israel, we hardly knew ye

But the GOP does. They wan’t to defend folks like this from the President of the United States while they find new ways to keep America’s shrinking GOP population in charge of the nation:

“I would say that today Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow before Judaism,” – Benny Katzover, a leader in the settlement of Elon Moreh in Greater Israel, cited in a new must-read by David Remnick.