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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

A Few Gripes From the Volunteer Trenches

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 08/11/07 18:48

by Dave Mindeman

I realize that what I say here doesn't really count for much. People are busy watching what Brodkorb cooks up or what the paid bloggers at MinMon can generate. But what I give you here is the opinion of somebody who works in the trenches. I work on the campaigns, the lit-drops, the door to door exposure. I am out there doing a lot of grunt work and if I have the time... outside of that and the job that I do to earn a living... I do some writing on this blog.

I scramble, sometimes, to get regular posts on here.... often I don't even proof read much of it (probably shows); but you get direct thoughts as they come out of my head.

I view issues as more important than party, but I have been at this long enough to know that, for now, the Democrats are the only party that can move a progressive agenda forward. Even if they are doing a lousy job of it.

That's why I support IRV. Issues will never get a fair hearing as long as we are restricted to the two party dogma we have now. But that is still a far off dream, because the powers that be have a heavy investment in the status quo.

So, I am going to issue a couple of gripes.

My first one comes in regard to how we select our Presidential candidates. Watching New Hampshire officials wring their hands at other states changing primary dates, borders on idiotic. Iowa and New Hampshire, two lilly white states, going to the extremes they do to protect "first in the nation" status is narcissistic.

On top of that, we have this bizarre Iowa "straw poll". Straw polls used to mean a spontaneous preferential vote. In Iowa, it means buying votes at $35 a head... not to mention the free barbecue. So, candidates that think they will lose drop out and tell everybody its meaningless; second tier candidates expend enourmous sums to get 2nd or 3rd place finishes that they claim gives them huge momentum .....while "moneybags" candidates flaunt their ability to throw money around. And to cap it all, need we mention the media frenzy that surrounds this tribute to capitalistic marketing? Somehow, through it all, we are supposed to derive some real political meaning. It is truly a bizarre ritual.

My second gripe deals with the Democratic party. Locally, during the special election in 28B, the DFL decided that they would help out the local candidates by mailing "hit" pieces about her opponent. Before their own candidate could establish her issues, they put out a negative message, which may have been technically true but gave the voters a bad connotation about the DFL candidate whom they did not know yet. It was a bad decision and in a 400 vote loss, I think it cost her enough votes to swing that election.

The state DFL party is so concerned about the negative ways of the GOP, they feel they have to make pre-emptive strikes. That is wrong, because, first of all, they should be an issues party, and secondly, because they are just bad at doing it.

On the national level, the Democratic message gets so chopped up, triangulated, and pureed, as to be unrecognizable. Every principle they hold to, has at least a dozen qualifiers cemented on the end. Watching Bill Richardson squirm about the "genetic or choice" question at the GLBT forum was pure discomfort. He didn't have a clue. The next day's clarification only solidified the mistake. But I don't mean to single out Richardson. Clinton and Obama waited till the last second to vote on the last war authorization bill....waiting to make sure they could try to spin it both ways. Edwards preachiness about the war rings a little hollow when he didn't show that courage when he actually had votes to give in the Senate or during a vice presidential platform he had for an entire campaign.

It is hard to keep knocking on those doors...putting yourself on the line with each face that responds to those knocks. The miles you walk and the numbers you dial.... you want to believe in it --- but sometimes it is awfully hard.

You can go back to ignoring me again. It is just one view from the trenches. Next year, I'll get the calls to head out on a rainy Saturday to drop leaflets or trudge through the snow on another GOTV endeavor. I'll bite the bullet and trudge on.... but sometimes you wonder.... Is anybody listening?

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Gas Tax: Pawlenty's Moment of Political Courage?

Category: Tim Pawlenty
Posted: 08/10/07 16:35, Edited: 08/20/07 13:58

by Dave Mindeman

Let's talk the politics of the gas tax. In today's Star Tribune Opinion Exchange is a piece by Rep. Mark Buesgens from District 35B. He outlines the push back that will be used to put pressure on Governor Pawlenty to back off of his willingness to look at the gas tax for infrastructure. As Buesgens has determined, we shouldn't be making any tax decisions on emotion.... we should use a "reasoned" approach.

As he put it himself, "calling a special session now virtually ensures a gas tax increase".

I do not understand how you can look at transportation in Minnesota and not see the essential need for a gas tax. We can't borrow our way out of this. We have transferred and shifted funds in and out of transportation money so many times to balance budgets, it is hard to know what the real budgetary allowance is.

We could start by making sure transportation money stays put. No more shifts to other areas. And along with that, don't cut other areas to shift money back into transportation. That will only complicate other budgetary constraints.

Secondly, an increase in the gas tax is simply the fiscally responsible thing to do. We were $1.7 billion (that is a figure Pawlenty agrees with) behind on budget needs before the bridge collapse, and we will certainly see more requests for repairs,

But, let's digress a moment and discuss the politics of the gas tax. As many of you are aware, KSTP did a Survey USA poll about the gas tax, asking Minnesotans if they favored a gas tax to pay for infrastructure repairs. As the GOP is quick to point out, 57% said NO.

Republicans will smugly point to that poll during their no-tax arguments but they will leave out some important notes about public perceptions of gasoline taxes and energy questions.

Many polls have been done on public sentiment for gas taxes over the past few years. In February of 2006, a nationwide poll on this subject was conducted and when asked their opinion on increasing the gas tax, 85% said no. However, the same polls asked the additional question, "Would you support a gas tax increase if the money was used to reduce carbon emissions attributed to global warming or lessen dependence on foreign oil? 55% would support the tax under those conditions. Note, the two questions were asked in the same poll.

In April of 2007, another CBS/NY Times polls asked the following question:
"Would you be willing or not willing to pay higher taxes on gasoline and other fuels if the money was used for research into renewable sources like solar and wind energy?"

64% said yes.

In May of 2007, an MPR poll showed that 51% supported the nickel gas tax the DFL was proposing legislatively. Support dropped when asked to support a 10 cent increase.

In July of 2007, Rasmussen did a national poll on a Rep. John Dingell proposal of a 50 cent gas tax increase to fund road related projects. An overwhelming 86% opposed it..... however, in the very same poll 53% favored an increase in income taxes on people making $200,000 or more a year.

In May of 2007, another CBS/NY Times poll found the following:
67% favored tougher CAFE standards'
83% think they are being gouged at the pump.
70% favored a windfall profits tax on oil companies.
78% favored increased spending on alternative energy.

The real point is that people want some solutions but if taxes are involved, they want it connected to the problem. Gas taxes in light of current prices are hard to swallow, but people are willing to do it under circumstances they can understand.

A gasoline tax is a regressive tax. It hurts lower income people more than the wealthy. That is why support is generally poor when the question is a simple yes or no. The only redeeming value of a gas tax is that it can be a user fee if government would stop playing with money shifting and stick to a dedicated use.

Almost always, if you have a qualifier or a reason for the gas tax increase to occur, support will always climb.

Taxes should be a last resort.... and the truth is, we have done the borrowing thing to a fault. We have shifted money around to a dizzying degree. We have put off vital projects..... and we have even tried the embarrassing avenue of asking contractors to "float" us loans on MNDOT projects (The Crosstown).

Frankly, it would be nice if wealthier Minnesotans would put in a fairer share of the repair bill.... after all, the movement of goods and services are critical for a healthy corporate and business climate. But, that is a discussion for another day.

The needs are immediate and although the public may not like it, a gas tax is something they will accept if it is really utilized for the purpose intended. It is a dedicated repair bill..... not another avenue for a shifting budget balancing strategy.

This is also not simply an emotional response to a tragedy.... we have been through talks and discussions on gas taxes for years and have not acted since 1988.

We need to fix this. Governor Pawlenty got high marks for his handling of the bridge crisis..... now he needs to show some political courage and do the right thing. Call the special session...raise the gas tax and fix the bridges.

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Action Required...We Get None

Category: US Politics
Posted: 08/09/07 13:44

by Dave Mindeman

During the AFL-CIO debate on Tuesday, a woman who lost a spouse in the Sago Mine disaster, asked Senator Biden about mine safety and what we need to do. Senator Biden gave a quick, terse answer to her question and then went back to a foreign policy point he wanted to make about Pakistan. It looked like Biden was just blowing her off..... and he apologized for that on the Countdown show last night.

He was able to give a clearer answer later and it coincides somewhat with the Minnesota bridge collapse. The mine disaster prompted a commission that studied mine safety and came up with recommendations. Biden pointed out that the Bush administration has ignored them.... and Congress has not given any of them the force of law. Likewise, the Minnesota bridge disaster has prompted calls for investigations into infrastructure. Those inquiries will take time...time enough for us to forget the urgency and time for the Bush administration to distract us to other topics of concern.

The Iraq study group, the Sago mine study, and now the promises on our bridges..... all of it requires action. We get none.
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