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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Anatomy of a Minnesota Republican "Message Test"

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 09/15/08 11:56

by Dave Mindeman

I had a call from Provo, Utah last night and I am going to tell you about that call and some subsequent conversations I had regarding it.

We have a contested House race in this Minnesota Legislative House district -- 37A, Apple Valley and Burnsville. Democrat Shelley Madore currently holds that seat, but she won in 2006 by a very narrow margin (about 400 votes). Thus it would be assumed she is targeted by the GOP House caucus. Her opponent is a young (20 something), GOP House staffer running for the first time, named Tara Mack.

This call was about that race. The first question was: "Could I speak to the oldest female voter in the household?" That would be my wife -- she got on the phone and I listened in.

First there were some demographic questions and some short opinions on President and Senate candidates...but that was obviously not the focus of the call because the rest of it was all about House District 37A.

This call came from Western Watts in Provo, Utah. They provide the manpower to make these calls, but the script is furnished by The Tarrance Group out of Arlington, Virginia. The Tarrance Group has roughly 80 political clients -- all of them Republican and one of them is the Republican Party of Minnesota.

The questions began this way:

"We would like you to tell us if the following statements about a candidate would make you more likely or less likely to vote for that candidate."

A couple of statements followed about Tara Mack:

1) Tara Mack works for the legislature and will be ready to serve the district on day one.

2) Tara Mack is a fiscal conservative and will work hard to lower taxes and decrease spending.

Then they abruptly shifted to larger series of statements about Shelley Madore:

(1) Shelley Madore voted to give Minneapolis schools $4500 per pupil in additional funding. That's 53% higher funding than schools in this district.

(2) Shelley Madore voted for a bill that allows convicted sex offenders and those convicted of other serious crimes to work in child care centers or nursing homes.

(3) Shelley Madore voted to increase welfare spending by over $1 billion while not voting to control waste, fraud and abuse.

(4) While facing a billion dollar deficit in 2009(?), Shelley Madore voted for $400,000 for a Brass Band Sheet Music Museum in Southeast Minnesota.

(5) Shelley Madore voted to increase state income taxes by $780 million.

(6) Shelley Madore voted to not allow any new construction of nuclear power plants in the State of Minnesota that would reduce energy costs.

(7) Shelley Madore voted for $170 million in pork barrell spending rather than fixing roads.

Notice how they always include the name of the candidate in each statement. And after each of these statements the "survey worker" would ask, "Does that statement make you more likely or less likely to vote for that candidate?"

Well, I guess to the average uninformed voter the answer would get a little obvious. All the statements have a factual premise buried in them, but they only state them in the worst possible negative way.

My wife and I kept this person on the phone. She actually was a very pleasant individual and tried to answer our questions -- truthfully I think. She was just reading a script -- she pronounced Shelley's name as "Shelley Matadore". She indicated that she thought this type of survey was being done in 4 Minnesota House Districts. When she couldn't answer the questions anymore she said, "Would you like to talk to my supervisor?". We said yes and were given to Ryan Retzlaff. He appeared to be cooperative, but said client information was confidential. We asked if he would send us the script of the survey via e-mail. Strangely enough, he said he would, however that did not happen (I would have been shocked if it came). We asked who was his immediate superior and he gave us the phone number of a Robert Macabee who also works for Western Watts.

I called that number and was connected directly to Mr. Macabee. He answered questions but was clear that he could not divulge anything about his clients. The Tarrance group is one of a number of data collectors that Western Watts works for.

I asked Mr. Macabee to define push polling. He told me that he considers push polling a large series of calls about one issue regarding a specific candidate ...usually negative...that are meant to be persuasive in nature. I asked him if they are illegal and he said that they are in some states. I described the call we received and asked him if that was a push poll. He said, "absolutely not. What we do here is called Message Testing". The surveyors ask a sampling of voters in an area to give their opinion on statements to test how a message is responded to. Our company has nothing to do with script that is given to us. We merely make the calls and disseminate the script. The number of calls would be much smaller than those of a push poll. And he reiterated, "We do not do push polls."

I think it is a little disingenuous to call that message testing. Those statements are clearly meant to form a negative opinion in the mind of the receiving party. If the "message" test response was anything other than negative, the the message obviously failed.

The negative politics that permeates the Republican party, up and down the entire ticket, is the reason the voters of this country have such a low opinion of everybody.

Yet, it will continue to thrive because it works in regards to election campaigns. A negative thought always gets remembered long after a positive one is spoken. John McCain learned this in 2000 and he has not forgotten. A desperate Minnesota Republican party has also decided to take the lowest of low roads.

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Norm Coleman: "Issues vs Non-Issues"

Category: Al Franken
Posted: 09/15/08 06:14

By Dave Mindeman

Norm Coleman has been making a lot of decisions for us in this campaign. He has been deciding whether things are an issue or not:

Two examples of "Non-Issues":

Commercial Disclaimer Violation:

"It's really a non-issue. It's really clear who the commercial is from," said Coleman. "We're not getting any feedback from any TV stations or anything or from anybody else. That's simply one of the nitty gritty of politics with somebody saying, 'Oh look, it should have four seconds instead of two-point-five.' But the law is -- the intent is pretty clear." MPR 9/12/08

Washington Apartment Arrangement

After a state Capitol news conference today, Coleman told reporters that his apartment arrangement is a non-issue. --MPR 8/15/08

Now, while Norm is telling us what the "non-issues" are, he hasn't hesitated to tell us what the issues about Al Franken are:

Al Franken's Language in His Career

Quoting from campaign commercial: "I'm Norm Coleman and I approved this message because I thought it was important for you to see it."

Al Franken's Taxes

"Paying taxes is an obligation that I think Minnesotans expect to be adhered to, and that Minnesotans do," says Norm Coleman.

Which as author, Ken Brosky put it: Sounds like a good thing, but Al Franken paying his taxes isn't the issue. He just paid them to the wrong state, and he probably ended up paying MORE than he should have, given Minnesota's and New York's high state income taxes.

So, Norm Coleman is the arbitor of issues and non-issues?

No, he is not.

We hear a lot about "straight talk" in this campaign. But that is one thing we never get from Norm Coleman. Maybe it is time for Norm Coleman to explain the non-issues, get rid of the Franken "issue" diversions, and start fresh with the things Minnesotans need to hear about:

Health Care
National Security
The Economy

Those are issues, Norm. The people have said so.
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Current "Pork Barrel Politics" Is Dishonest

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 09/15/08 05:26

by Dave Mindeman

There is a very absurd argument going on about earmarks. As with most political discussions it is long on hyperbole and short on factual information.

First, lets try to define earmarks. Generally, they are requests from Congressional state representatives for special projects in their home state or district which need Federal funding support to be completed. These requests are reviewed by committee and then placed in larger bills as part of government spending authorizations. They are then voted on as a part of the larger omnibus bill. At least that is the way it is supposed to be.

This process used to be simple and not very controversial. It is strange that the Republicans are now perceived as the "champions" of earmark reform when it is they,not the Democrats, who oversaw the expolsion of earmarks in the late 1990's. It was one of the pieces in the "perpetual Republican majority" plan.

In fact the Center for American Progress points this out about the infamous Republican 2005 Highway funding act:

In 2005, President Bush traveled to the Illinois district of the House Speaker Dennis Hastert to sign a highway bill containing not only the infamous ?bridge to nowhere? but more earmarks than the combined total of earmarks in all of the highway bills since the Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956. Not only did the president sign the bill?he used the occasion to praise one of the most outrageous earmarks in American history, a four lane stretch of highway running along land recently purchased by the author of the earmark, Speaker Hastert.

Granted, after Democrats took control of Congress after the 2006 election, they continued the practice in the 2007 bill. But it was only then that Republicans started making it a campaign issue (and it was only then that Congressman John Kline decided the practice was corrupt).

Congressional district requests are not always bad. Bridge replacements and road improvements are very common earmark requests. The Highway funding bills from Congress depend on individual district input to know where the highway needs are.

Of course there are abuses of the system. West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd and Alaska Senator Ted Stevens always top the list of the most egregious abusers of the earmarking process. But the debate that goes on now continues to simplify the issue as an "all earmarks are bad" philosophy.

It is ironic... some of the most vocal critics of earmarks continue to request earmarks themselves. And other critics, like John Kline, have stopped requesting any earmarks for their district, to the detriment of worthy and necessary district projects.

The process might be broken, but prior to the 1994 Republican Congressional takeover, it still worked. Earmark requests went through committee approval. Every request had the name of the author. The bills were sent to the floor and changes had to be approved by amendment.

Starting with the Gingrich Congress, earmarking was streamlined so that requests would be rammed through and approved only by committee chairman. Some of the requests were often added at the last minute, sometimes while the vote was being taken. And the requests were listed without ever knowing who put them in.

Democrats have been working on changes but the temptation to maintain this process is strong...especially from high seniority members who have waited a long time to exercise their earmark priorities.

The following rules are proposed changes by the Democratic Congress. This would be a good start on a solution:

(1) Prohibit members of Congress from using earmarks to reward or punish other members for their votes on matters before the House.

(2) Require disclosure of the name and address of any intended recipient, the purpose of the earmark, and whether the member has a financial interest in the organization or entity receiving the earmark or would otherwise benefit personally from the inclusion of the earmark.

(3) Require that all matters before a conference committee (including earmarks) must be subject to full and open debate and that a final version of a conference report must be voted on by a meeting open to all members of the conference committee, and that no item (including earmarks) may be added to the legislation after the conference committee has adjourned.

Republicans have simplified the message so that the word earmark is synonymous with "pork barrel" spending. The public has no idea how much more complicated the issue is than that. When they have roads and bridges that don't get fixed, they complain....not realizing that they are asking for an "earmark" to get it done. When they see a river that needs levees for control of flooding, they forget that "earmarks" are what will fix the problem the quickest. When they see land that needs to be preserved or protected, they do not know that an "earmark" can make that happen.

This has become a "dishonest" debate. Distortions about the process abound and the real culprits in abusing the system, are now the most vocal critics.

This is a fixable problem, but the current arguments about pork barrel spending are dishonest and distorted. We don't need more sound bite debates on this issue. Discuss it honestly and fix a system that can work if done properly and within the boundaries that were intended.

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