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Eric Ferguson

Freeway roofs and wine

by Eric Ferguson on September 19, 2014 · 0 comments

Following up on a couple recent posts, with the definition of “recent” being arguable in one case:
Minneapolis_skyline_51In a recent post on the two charter amendments on the ballot in Minneapolis, I spent most of the post on the increase in election filing fees because I understood that issue, but had to leave readers with just the text of the food requirements for wine licenses because it was Greek to me. Or French or Californian, I don’t know what kind of wine it was. Minnpost has an article explaining it. Essentially, the city council and the charter commission felt that the rules for restaurants that serve wine or beer don’t make any sense given changes in the restaurant industry, especially as regards craft beers. The council passed a replacement ordinance unanimously, and removed an archaic ordinance, but some rules are in the city charter and thus the need for a charter amendment. It probably seems ironic if you’re a conservative that this liberal city coucil is acting to simplify and modernize regulations to encourage business development. I’m going to vote “yes” just to watch some conservative heads explode. Feel free to drown your sorrows in a craft beer at a Minneapolis neighborhood restaurant.
OK, I’m actually going to vote “yes” because it seems like it should be good for the city. The metaphorical explosion of conservative heads is just a happy side effect.
The post of arguable recency but deserving of an update was my suggestion that we should put a roof over our freeways. Crazy idea. What was I thinking?


Rebecca Otto’s opponent implodes

by Eric Ferguson on September 18, 2014 · 2 comments

sad elephantState Auditor Rebecca Otto might as well be allowed to pick her opponents. Wouldn’t get much of a different result. Her primary opponent ran a well-funded lousy campaign, but I thought she might have been the one statewide DFLer to draw a serious opponent. Randy Gilbert is a professional auditor and a small town mayor, so he actually has a relevant resume for the job. The other Republicans are pretty much running just on “vote for me because I’m extremely rich” or “vote for me because I’m extremely conservative”, maybe spiced with shouts of “Obamacare!” and “voter fraud!”. So I wondered, after he was nominated, if Gilbert might be the Republican with the best chance. Then a week ago, Dan.Burns posted:

Whatever this turns out to be, this isn’t the highest-profile race on the ballot. But veteran politics-watchers know what kind of spillover effect, fair or not, these kinds of episodes can have, not long before Election Day.

It’s now less vague, maybe as bad as feared. KSTP reported they have suggestive emails, and sources speaking of turmoil inside the MNGOP. Since I’ve criticized KSTP before and I’m about to do so again, I’ll give credit where due: KSTP did go after a story that’s bad for their owner’s preferred party. The emails are substantive. They seem to show not just that Gilbert carried on an affair with a local realtor, but that their assignations happened in the houses she was selling. Well, that’s a unique form of trespassing.
Maybe not unique, but certainly bad for a candidate, is Gilbert’s decision to avoid the press and not answer questions. KSTP said he wouldn’t respond to them. I looked on his campaign web site, and as of this moment, there’s nothing about it. There’s “news” from last June about DFLers being divided, and something from 9/11 attacking Otto for being anti-mining. Nothing in between or since.


Bill Maher, John Kline, Mike Obermueller and student debt

by Eric Ferguson on September 16, 2014 · 2 comments

As interesting as it is that Bill Maher picked one of our congressmen, Rep. John Kline, CD2, for his #FlipADistrict contest, the reasoning is interesting. He explained it on his Sept. 12 Real Time with Bill Maher. The bit I refer to starts around 2:40, where Maher said the issue of student debt inspired most of the votes for Kline, and then he tore into Kline’s record:

Student debt is a huge issue for young adults. If Democrats want young adults to vote, something they’re less inclined to do than older age groups in any sort of election, then we can only help our cause by addressing their biggest issue. Judging from Holly’s post yesterday, Kline’s opponent, Mike Obermueller, has already taken that advice. However, this doesn’t apply just to Democrats running specifically against the representative sometimes described as “Rep. John Kline, (R – for-profit education industry)” (and with pretty good reason). It applies to all Democrats, obviously more so those with more more young adults, but are there any Democrats with no young adults whose likelihood of turning out is concerning? GOP outreach has been a joke, if it’s been there, even though I gave the GOP some friendly advice. I don’t normally care to help the opposition, preferring to let them continue when making mistakes, but I told them to reach young voters on student debt in hopes of making some progress on the issue. Partisan opportunity is just the consolation prize. For now, looks like a consolation prize will have to be enough. However, that consolation prize is just an opportunity, not a win.


Scottish independence the wrong way

by Eric Ferguson on September 14, 2014 · 2 comments

If you’re thinking a post on Scotland’s independence referendum seems like an odd topic for a Minnesota-centric blog and you don’t see how it applies to anything that interests you, fair point. I quite understand readers who couldn’t care less scrolling on down to the next post. Furthermore, I’m under no delusion we have a large readership who are eligible to vote on Thursday. Nonetheless, I care about this, so for whatever good I might do, this is what I’m saying: independence, at least as proposed, will have the ironic effect of turning Scotland into a vassal state. In other words, those of you who get a vote, vote no.
I get that if you can vote, it might be irritating to have some American who partly shares your ethnicity putting his nose in. Europeans of any ethnicity might get annoyed with European-Americans saying things like, “Oh, you’re [ethnicity]? I’m [ethnicity] too!” I get that impression of annoyance when I hear Europeans say things like, “It annoys me when Americans say ‘Oh, you’re [ethnicity]? I’m [ethnicity] too!’”.
Yes, it’s true, my grandmother was the one who came from Scotland, not me, though my Irish grandfather was likely descended from Scots who settled in Ulster way back in the 16th or 17th century, if that helps. Probably not. So yes, I’ve been to Scotland just once, for a few days, playing tourist, but that was enough for me to walk the boggy ground at Culloden and see the fresh flowers on the memorial markers. I joined historical reenactors who portray a Scottish regiment in the 30 Years War, and it wasn’t from interest in the 30 Years War, but from a desire to learn about, and rescue from romanticization, that time in Scottish history when clans were central to Scottish life, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands, and kilts were those things worn daily out of impoverished necessity. I’ve studied the wars of independence fought by Bruce and Wallace, wrote a play about them at the same time Braveheart came out and did my best to push back on Mel Gibson’s lies, so I know the immense blood Scotland spilled to gain and keep its independence for centuries before it was lost in the Act of Union in 1707. So I get, at a gut level, the urge to wipe the stain of coercion and bribery that attended the Act’s passage.
Yet I’m saying don’t do it. At least not now, this way.


Minneapolis has two ballot questions

by Eric Ferguson on September 11, 2014 · 10 comments

Minneapolis_skyline_51Minneapolis voters will be voting on two ballot questions. Even though I live here and follow politics like you would expect of a blogger, I didn’t know about one of these until I looked at the sample ballot at the secretary of state’s web site, Talk about obscure. Though I guess all readers can now pretend they already knew. Smarty pants.

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the requirement that businesses holding on-sale wine licenses in the City must serve food with every order of wine or beer and to remove mandatory food to wine and beer sales ratios?

If you’re wondering about my opinion, so am I. No idea what that’s about. Feel free to expound in the comments if you know. I do have an opinion on the other question:

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to increase the filing fees for candidates seeking City elected offices from the current fee of $20 for each office to $500 for the office of Mayor, $250 for the office of Council Member, $100 for the office of Board of Estimate and Taxation Member, and $100 for the office of Park & Recreation Commissioner and, as an alternative to payment of a filing fee, allow a candidate to submit a petition of voter signatures as provided in state law?

This comes from last year’s mayoral race, when we learned the office for filing for election must be in city’s lower levels, because every loose thing in the city rolled down there to file. We had 30-something candidates, which was widely blamed on RCV, which was grossly misplaced. We had RCV in 2009 and it wasn’t nearly this bad. This time we had a combination of an open seat and a $20 filing fee. Scare up $20, no other requirements, and you too could run around complaining you weren’t included in the debates (hint: if your campaign starts and ends with filing, that might be why). The $100 for Board of Estimate and Taxation might be unfair since they get paid just $20/month (now there’s a charter provision that makes no sense) but for the other offices, hopefully that will cut back on the non-serious candidates. The opposing argument is that not everyone can afford the $500 fee to file for mayor, but if your fundraising is that bad, you’re not a serious candidate. Sticking your name on the ballot isn’t enough. This isn’t a lottery. I felt lousy for the people who were learning this the hard way, as I know or have met some of the “token” or “perennial” candidates, and they’re hardly bad people, but I couldn’t pretend they were serious or deserved to be in the debates. Not that everyone who did get in deserved it, judging from their low single digits percentage of the vote; still, a reasonable requirement for a filing fee or petition will make a point about what candidates are getting themselves into.
City charter amendments are a bit different from state constitutional amendments. State constitutional amendments require a majority of all voters who vote in any race in that election, so those skipping the amendment are counted as “no”, whilst charter amendments are decided by simple majority of those voting on the amendment.
At this time, the Minneapolis DFL has not made an endorsement on either question.


Pay attention to secretary of state

by Eric Ferguson on September 6, 2014 · 1 comment

Steve_SimonDemocrats still sometimes ignore elections or secretaries of state (SOS), despite Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004. If you don’t get those references, that illustrates the problem. The problem is partisan secretaries of state can manipulate elections to aid their party. Republicans know this, and make a point of electing partisans seeking to be the next Katherine Harris or Kenneth Blackwell, which may explain why they assume if there was a Democratic SOS, then the Democrats must have won by fraud. The latest example is Kris Kobach in Kansas, overruling his own top assistants to deny former Democratic US Senate candidate Chad Taylor’s request to be removed from the ballot, despite being attached to the campaign of the Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts. Yes, or those not following the story, Roberts is the beneficiary of this overruling.
Minnesota’s incumbent SOS, Mark Ritchie, opted not to run for a third term, making this the only statewide open seat, and thereby the best opportunity for a MNGOP pickup. Though I must admit, my prediction in my list of new year predictions that the MNGOP would focus on this race hasn’t proven correct. Still, for what my opinion is worth, SOS remains their best chance to end the shutout from statewide offices that started in 2010, due entirely to the lack of an incumbent. In a non-wave election like this one, incumbents for state constitutional offices tend to get reelected. Fortunately, the likelihood of a winning DFL top of the ticket is likely to aid DFLers down the ballot.
Which isn’t to say the DFL picked a weak candidate who has to be carried; quite the contrary. Looking at the DFL’s State Rep. Steve Simon and the GOP’s former State Rep. Dan Severson, it’s hard to believe this is close. And maybe it isn’t. I haven’t seen any polling. Simon wrote much of our current election law, to illustrate his expertise relevant to the job he’s seeking, while Severson has, well, strong opinions. Actually, he has one opinion, that voter fraud is real and so he wants to institute photo ID requirements. Simon has a strong opinion on photo ID too, explains well why it’s a lousy idea:

Simon was a leading spokesman for the opposition to the photo ID constitutional amendment defeated in 2012, though his moment of national attention actually came on an unrelated issue. Does this look familiar?

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The forgotten guns of August

by Eric Ferguson on August 25, 2014 · 2 comments

US soldiers at Ft. Shelby, Prairie du Chien, 1814August marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, and certainly that deserves to be amply remarked upon (if all you know of the war is which Roman numeral it gets, here’s a quick primer). However, it reminds me of a 200th anniversary coming up for the decisive part of a war that’s been remarkably ignored. The title of this post is something of a play on words, specifically the title of the seminal book on the start of World War I, Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. August was also the start of the decisive battles of the oft-forgotten War of 1812. I feel particularly odd at having stayed wrapped up in current events because I’m a War of 1812 reenactor, or at least was. It’s been long enough that I probably lost my present tense status. But it has bugged me for two years that the war’s bicentennial came and went with little notice outside commemorations at the places where events happened.
So I’m fixing that now. This is the anniversary of a war where the US government was run by people who were delusional about our prospects, and thereby got everything wrong. Campaigns went badly, the economy suffered, and the armed forces turned out to be unready for a badly underestimated enemy. No, I didn’t veer of into talking about Bush’s war in Iraq, though learning some history might have salutary lesson for those who led us into our recent debacle. They forgot, however, assuming they knew, which I don’t actually assume.
Maybe the War of 1812 is forgotten because of the bland name, merely the year the war started, and people at the time didn’t know what to call it. That was true of Canadians and British too. Maybe it’s forgotten because it ended in a draw, which perhaps is boring and gives the impression nothing happened or nothing changed — yet this is a very different country than it might have been. Imagine the Mississippi River is our western border. Imagine the Great Lakes are all British. Imagine the country is split in two with the split sustained by foreign force. Imagine the US, far from being the confident nation we take for granted, looked at the outside world with a strong desire to keep its head down and not be noticed, because the idea we could take on a European great power had been beaten out of us. We came close to all of that being reality. Here in August, we mark the 200th anniversary of the events that settled which future we would have.
Warning: this post gets long following the “read more” link, at least long considering it’s a blog. Get comfy.


Johnson, Otto, and primary thoughts

by Eric Ferguson on August 15, 2014 · 2 comments

Fresh off his win in the MNGOP gubernatorial primary, Hennepin County commissioner Jeff Johnson has already released his first campaign video:

Oops, that was Eddie Murphy from “The Distinguished Gentleman”. Sorry, didn’t mean to compare Jeff Johnson to Eddie Murphy. That’s unfair. After all, Murphy is funny on purpose.

Here’s Johnson being funny, presumably not on purpose:


clowncarMNGOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour thinks he’s the most conservative candidate, and he has a case, especially if that case is about holding to conservative principles and refusing to compromise.

I plan to work cooperatively with the Legislature to get this done. But if legislators say no to good ideas, if they get bogged down in the usual political games, I’ll subscribe to Ronald Reagan’s adage: “If they won’t see the light, make them feel the heat.”


So when it comes to abolishing the right to join a union, killing MNSure and replacing it with nothing, across the board cuts in all spending regardless of the effect, and cutting taxes at the top, he’s willing to work with the DFL — on how to implement his agenda. He’s willing to use good ideas from DFLers, provided those ideas are how to better implement conservative ideology. Seek common ground, compromise, split differences, show pragmatism when it comes time to stop thinking like an ideologue and start solving problems, not so much.
Apparently he thinks he can conduct negotiations that consist of the other side giving him what he wants, provided he just shows “leadership”.

“When political insiders talk about being “realistic,” it’s code for “we just have to keep doing it the way we’ve always done it.” I completely reject that point of view. In politics as in business, it takes leadership to get results.

Really, “in politics as in business”? Does he get that unlike in his business, he doesn’t get to fire everyone who disagrees with him? Yet, as he’s the most conservative of the four major candidates, he must have a shot at winning. Great, another “run government like a business” Republican. That’s never worked out badly, other than every time. 


Entenza violated campaign finance laws

by Eric Ferguson on August 3, 2014 · 7 comments

Rebecca_Otto_Matt_Entenza.jpgMatt Entenza had campaign finance violations in past campaigns, and if I were to explain them with the same accuracy and fairness Entenza is bringing to his attacks on Rebecca Otto, I might write something like this: Matt Entenza apparently thinks campaign finance laws don’t apply to him. Maybe he just wanted to be the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board’s pen pal, because he sure keeps having to explain himself. Illegal contributions, forgetting to report spending, having to return money, even MPR says he seems to be trying to do it all.
Was the preceding paragraph twisted and exaggerated? Obviously, which is really the point. Well, maybe not obvious if you don’t dig in to what actually happened, or at least read my other posts on the auditor race and notice I’m a Rebecca Otto partisan so maybe you should check before believing. It might sound reasonable if you have the misimpression that candidates are all experts on campaign finance law. They’re not. Maybe you think every campaign staffer is a 40-year-old with 50 years of experience; more likely 22-years old with three months experience. Certainly I find campaign finance laws complicated, having not studied. I mostly just hope to never accidentally run afoul because I didn’t know to ask a question or someone else screwed up and made it my problem.
What I do have is a greater respect for factual accuracy than Entenza has exhibited in his ambush campaign against Otto. He’s doing to her with his “voter ID” charge what I did to him in the first paragraph: make an attack by twisting isolated incidents barely on the margins of factual accuracy with a hope of finding an audience that will believe it without checking. Though frankly, I’m not exaggerating as much.