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Eric Ferguson

Jeff BackerJeff Backer, the Republican candidate challenging incumbent State Rep. Jay McNamar in HD12A, has an issues section on his web site that appears to have been written by the candidate himself, or at least not by a consultant. The statements of his positions come across as sincere but, disappointingly for someone who has already held public office, also shallow. What he says seems heartfelt — just not thought through. The recurring reaction when reading his take on issues is, “Are you sure that’s what you wanted to say?”
Let’s just dive into maybe the most egregious error. In his guns section, in just the second paragraph, Backer smacked hard into Godwin’s Law*, “For instance, Hitler enacted gun control laws that disarmed the populace before he went on his WWII rampage.” I’ll accept that Backer sincerely believes Hitler put strict gun controls in place and that this was a necessity for enforcing Nazi control. The sincerity of a belief doesn’t correspond to its factual accuracy, and Backer seems to have preferred the zombie myths** of the gun lobby over actual history. Hitler actually loosened gun laws and wanted Germans better armed than they were. Finding out wasn’t hard.

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McFadden benefits from allegedly involuntary donations

by Eric Ferguson on September 26, 2014 · 0 comments

Meet the New Boss ... Same as the Old Boss

Receiving involuntary donations: something else Romney and McFadden appear to have in common

Some of the more control-freakish and ideological employers push their employees to donate to the employer’s preferred candidates. They may stay on a legal line in terms of requiring employees to make donation as a condition of employment, but when the employer pushes for those donations to go through the employer, the message is pretty clear. One such employer is Murray Energy Corp., which is being sued by a former employee on the grounds she was fired for failing to donate to the specified candidates, including Mike McFadden.
Before going into details, just to be clear, I’m not accusing McFadden of knowing about this. The allegation is Murray’s CEO, Robert Murray, directed involuntary donations to his specified candidates, one of which is McFadden.

The allegation from Jean Cochenour, detailed in her suit and well-summarized by the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr., is as follows: Cochenour worked at a mine in Marion County as a foreperson. While in that position, which is supervisorial, she received letters from Murray detailing candidates to which she should make donations. One letter, which she received after she’d already been fired, is included in the lawsuit. It ends like this [click the image to enlarge]:
Murray letter to employees



Torrey Westrom does double denial

by Eric Ferguson on September 24, 2014 · 1 comment

clowncarTorrey Westrom is a state senator in the reddish-purple SD12. He’s the GOP nominee challenging US Rep. Colin Peterson in CD7, and presumably he’ll be seeking reelection to his senate seat in 2016 (so yes, sticking to my prediction Peterson wins reelection). He recently gave an interview to the St. Cloud Times where he engaged in double denying, hitting both climate change and the debt ceiling.
Maybe “denial” isn’t quite the right word for the debt ceiling since he plainly knows the debt ceiling is real. He does seem to be in denial about the catastrophe that would be unleashed should the government smack into the debt ceiling and be unable to borrow enough money to pay its bills. If you need a reminder of how we nearly had a financial crisis on the scale of 2008, only this time with a Congress looking to commit sabotage rather than defuse the crisis, read “Why the debt ceiling clash happened”. Sen. Westrom seems to be among those who need the reminder, judging from what he told the Times, “Westrom told the Times that he wouldn’t vote to increase the federal debt ceiling unless Congress strikes a deal with President Barack Obama to balance the federal budget.”
Does he understand that if the government runs out of borrowing authority, bills go unpaid, including bond payments, Social Security, vendors’ bills, payroll, the whole thing? Does he get the long term implications of the government failing to pay its bills not because it can’t, but because it can but won’t? Republicans talked in 2010 about using the debt ceiling to force Democrats to agree to massive spending cuts when they realized they would definitely take the US House, and made good on their threat in 2011. When dreaming of the leverage they would get, they did so realizing how serious the impact would be.


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Too fun to pass up. State Rep. Carly Melin in HD6A was a clear favorite for reelection anyway, but any remaining worries just got harder to justify.

A Minnesota House candidate is being sued in civil court after cutting his neighbor’s garage in half in a property dispute.
A lawsuit filed by Mark Besemann, of Iron, against Roger Weber, a Nashwauk Republican, asks for $20,000 in damages to the garage and $20,000 in punitive damages, as well as a small portion of Weber’s land.
The case was to be heard this week in Itasca County District Court. But, Besemann’s attorney, Jaclyn Corradi Simon, said the case has been delayed to Dec. 15. Simon says Besemann found himself in the middle of a family dispute.
Weber’s sister sold the garage, house and 1 acre to Besemann while Weber owned the 39 acres around it. Weber says half the garage was on his property. Weber’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Or maybe Weber is just trying to show that unlike most Republicans, he’s willing to split the difference.


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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