Rosie’s Hardball

(This post was first conceived as: MAJ 7 Rosie’s Hardball on April 9, 2015)

At our closed school board meetings Rosie Loeffler-Kemp regularly says to no one in particular, words to this effect, that she hopes everything we’ve discussed is understood to be confidential. I’ve always taken this to be an unsubtle warning about her displeasure with my blog. She joined with the others in censuring me last December for what I put in my blog about the now lost offer on the Central High School Site. I’ve never said anything in response to her at the closed sessions but I’ve come to doubt my colleague’s dedication to “transparency.”A lot of folks prefer the shadows.

Rosie and Judy Seliga-Punyko have had the chance since the beginning of the year to meet privately with the Superintendent and his cabinet. What they have discussed is completely opaque to me but I suspect it has had a big impact on the developments in Art Johnston’s litigation. I have even been denied the chance to listen in on any conversations with the attorneys our District is paying with taxpayer’s dollars. For this and so many other reasons my standard joke to people who ask me what’s happening in the District is that I’m only a school board member so I don’t know anything about what’s happening in our schools.

I am concerned about who will join us on the School Board next January. As a result I’ve spoken with a number of outstanding potential candidates. Word of this must have gotten out because Rosie called one of them in the last few weeks and tried to discourage this candidate from filing. Among the several discouraging reasons she offered Rosie explained that it was unlikely the DFL would bestow an endorsement on this person’s candidacy because Bill Westholm would get it. A lot of folks have resented the DFL’s endorsement of candidates for non partisan offices like the School Board but Rosie is a great believer in the process. As I’ll explain shortly she has benefited from her insider status in Duluth’s DFL.

While Rosie has tried to throw cold water on citizens I have encouraged to run she has not been shy about supporting a candidate that she and Judy Seliga-Punyko want to take Judy’s place. I saw Rosie’s husband, Ken, at the press conference called by Dr. Mark Kirby who announced his intention to run for Judy’s seat. I’ve been told that others saw Rosie herself on the news reports. I’m not surprised. I’ve often seen Rosie and Judy put their heads together at school board meetings since the war against Art was declared. Dr. Kirby, who I’ve been told is a pretty nice fellow by someone in the same line of work, made it clear why Rosie would be supporting him. He said would not run himself if Judy had decided to run for reelection. He also expressed admiration for the expensive upgrades to the swimming pools that Judy single-handly pushed through that were far more costly and grand than the initial Red Plan designs. (Dr. Kirby is a competitive swimmer) Further, he expressed disgust with the school board meetings he’s watched. I can hardly blame him. They have disgusted me too. I’m just not sure we would necessarily agree on what has been so disgusting about them.

Rosie is a long history of being a political activist.

Rosie first ran for the Duluth School Board in 1999. Like Art Johnston today, Rosie faced accusations of having a conflict of interest. Rosie’s husband is a labor representative for AFSCME which bargains for many School District employees. Rosie defended herself in an Oct 8th Trib explaining:

“Regardless of my husband’s job, I would be running based on my record of school and community involvement,”she continued. “I’m running because of my commitment to public education and that I will have children in the Duluth Public Schools for the next 14 years.”

Since that election Rosie added another child to the District’s enrollment and will no doubt continue to attend parent teacher conferences until 2019.

I too sent a letter to the Duluth Tribune during that campaign concerning AFSCME. I wrote:

I wonder how many union members know anything about how their leaders endorse political candidates? This year’s screening committees were an eye opener for me.

At the AFSCME screening, I expressed my regrets to Alan Netland about not getting an invitation to be interviewed by the AFL-CIO. Mr. Netland is president of both organizations. Alan told me “their”process, the AFL-CIO’s, was not as “clean”as AFSCME’s endorsement process. That gave me little comfort. The AFSCME screening committee was composed of Al, two other union officials, two school board members who are trying to cleanse the board of anyone who disagrees with them, their buddy, and six rank and file union members. These people made the endorsement for the several thousand AFSCME members who didn’t attend.

I wasn’t asked a single question about our children’s education. I trust that most union members do care, even if their leaders can’t be bothered with such inconsequential matters.”

Whatever my quibbles with AFSCME, and I deeply sympathize with them and their travails in neighboring Wisconsin, no one can fault Rosie’s education credentials. She is not only a true blue DFLer she has been a PTSA parent for years ascending to the Presidency of the Minnesota State PTSA. She’s also worked tirelessly for Clean Water Action circulating petitions for the group not unlike the petitions Let Duluth Vote (my organization) passed out asking for a referendum on the Red Plan. Rosie is a prominent member of the League of Women’s Voters and has organized Citizen’s in Action training meetings for decades. (It was my blog description of her treatment of my friend Tim at the most recent Citizen’s Action meeting that prompted anonymous email warnings to Tim to avoid me.)

Rosie decided to run for the school board in 2013 at the last minute. She won the endorsement of the DFL in July and the Trib ran the story. She had not been the only person seeking the party’s nomination. A young fellow, Joe Matthes, another AFSCME business rep, had been campaigning for the endorsement for some time. Unaware of Rosie’s interest he had already locked up one of the prerequisites for the endorsement, an interview with and an OK from a mandatory screening committee to which no one else had applied. He had every reason to believe he was a shoo in for the endorsement at the convention to follow. This was the process outlined in the State DFL Constitution. It’s not the process that cost him the endorsement.

On the day of the convention Joe got a big surprise. Rosie had thrown her had come prepared to win the endorsement had rustled up her friends to attend the convention. Joe, in blissful ignorance, had little time to rally his own troops. When the votes were counted it was 16 to 8. Joe was skunked.

After her endorsement Rosie turned to Joe and told him that he had to endorse her. That too is a DFL expectation although it is widely honored in the breech. For instance, Governor Mark Dayton got elected by defeating the DFL’s official endorsee.

Joe decided to try this well trodden path and began a door to door campaign without the party’s support. Running against someone as well connected as Rosie with her endorsement didn’t pan out but Joe managed a respectable showing in the primary. However, by challenging Rosie Joe would discover that he had aroused the ire of the Loeffler-Kemp clan.

In the year following the school board election the DFL undertook its biennial reorganization. Joe ran for a Seventh Senate District Board of Directors position. So did Rosie’s daughter. There was no contest as there were more open positions on the Board than there were candidates. Once again a screening was held.

During the interview Rosie’s daughter laid into Joe about his refusal to bow out of the school board race one year earlier. The row lasted for about fifteen minutes. Miss Loeffler-Kemp excoriated Joe for having run against Rosie in the primary. Joe made no apology and stood up for himself further outraging his attacker. He would eventually apologize to Rosie’s daughter for being intemperate and take his name off the list of director candidates.
After the director’s election Rachel told delegates tearfully that she felt as though Joe had attacked her. She told the delegates, “I thought it (the DFL) was my family and here I was being attacked.”

Rosie was not satisfied with the outcome. A few days later Rosie approached a couple of the DFL elders who had witnessed the election for the Director’s position. She told them that she was upset that her daughter had been attacked by Mr. Matthes. By chance this accusation was overheard by another name in the news, Jane Bushey, an ardent DFLer and partner to Art Johnston.

Jane went over to explain that Rosie’s take wasn’t the way things had happened. She had been sitting across from Rachel while she was laying into Joe. Jane’s take was that Rachel started the brouhaha and that had Joe finished it.

One of the DFLer’s thanked Jane for the correction because she too had been trying to tell Rosie that her daughter had started the ruckus.

Another DFLer told Rosie, “Your daughter asked for it”.

Art has been accused of having compromised motives in defending his partner, Jane, an employee of the Duluth School District. One can’t help but wonder, speaking of being compromised, if Jane Bushey’s correction might have inclined Rosie to turn a deaf ear to Art’s complaint that Jane was being mistreated by the school Administration. Her family does seem to have a penchant for holding grudges.

For his part, Joe Matthes would prefer to forget the whole episode. I called him and he pointed out quite correctly that Rosie just played a smarter political game than he had. He strongly suggested I not make a big deal out of this old hurt. He admitted, however, that his foray into politics was not what he had hoped for. He has small children, who along with his wife, attended the DFL convention where Rosie won the nomination. His family is looking to leave Duluth, the town he grew up in and where he attended school with my children.

He’s eager to get a fresh start.


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