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I could be wrong. If I’m right, then I have to admire the cleverness of a certain group of Don Samuels’ supporters, even if, as the title implies, there’s something coldblooded about it.

 

A new organization has sprung up for this election season, the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund. They put out a mailer promoting the candidacies of Don Samuels and Iris Altamirano for the Minneapolis at-large school board seats. Altamirano is one of the candidates endorsed by the DFL. Samuels is not. The other DFL endorsee is Rebecca Gagnon. Voters might be fooled by the effort MPED is making to hook together Altamirano and Samuels. The images below are a mailer MPED sent Minneapolis voters (click to enlarge). Some voters have received a robocall supporting Samuels and Altamirano while bashing Gagnon. I didn’t receive one myself and don’t know of anyone who caught who made the calls, but the content sounds roughly the same as the MPED web site. The mailer is positive about the supported candidates, but the robocall and web site are pretty negative. The web site tries to tie Gagnon to the unproven rumors about State Sens. Bobby Joe Champion and Jeff Hayden. Pretty nonsensical rumors unless someone believes the senators are politically suicidal (denying funding to the Minneapolis public schools? Remember that saying about extraordinary claims…), but MPED says, “The Star Tribune and MinnPost also have reported on claims…” and yes, someone made claims, those outlets reported that someone made claims, so true as far as it goes. Other than that attack on Gagnon, it’s all generic “every child can learn” sort of stuff said by all school board candidates everywhere.
 

MPED mailer image 1   MPED mailer image 2

 
So what’s the strategy? It’s more than knowing the word “progressive” plays well in Minneapolis. The trick is Samuels doesn’t need to beat both endorsees. Since there are two positions, he just needs to beat one. Apparently the strategy is to hook him to one endorsee, giving the impression he’s the other endorsee, while simultaneously hitting the other endorsee with a negative campaign. That may explain why Samuels didn’t seek the DFL endorsement, which he never would have gotten for any public office, but instead attempted the same sort of ambush campaign Matt Entenza tried in the auditor primary: keep quiet until filing so opponents aren’t expecting anything, and then hit hard with a well-funded negative campaign. The brilliance of this strategy is it would have worked equally well whichever candidate MPED chose to support or attack. Whether there was a reason or a coin flip, MPED chose to make it appear Samuels is running with Altamirano, even though they’re not similar candidates, and I’ve yet to hear anyone in Altamirano’s campaign have a good word to say about him.
 
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gadflyI ran across this cool website with this cool article, which is a must click and read if you’re interested in education policy at all. (There are four candidates for two-at-large seats: Rebecca Gagnon, Ira Jourdain, Don Samuels, and Iris Altamirano. Gagnon is an incumbent; she and Altamirano are DFL-endorsed. Samuels is very much preferred by the corporate “education deformer” movement.)
 

Now, a distinction must be drawn between this rigorously documented “hard money”, which campaigns raise and spend directly, and the “soft money” independent expenditures made by outside groups that have no limits or reporting requirements. How’s this working out for (Samuels)? Pretty nicely. I’ve written before about the influx of ideologically-driven, out-of-state money into our (formerly local) school board race; this is the post-Citizens United crap that we have to put up with, and it’s troubling that it doesn’t meet Samuels’ definition of “corrupt money”…
 
No one can be sure exactly how much money these plutocrats are spending in their bid to buy our local election, but Samuels seems to be saying he needs it because of all the money being spent on Altamirano’s behalf. There’s a big difference, though: while Samuels boosters are billionaires and their foundations who evidently view our city as a little terrarium for them to experiment on, Altamirano’s “soft” expenditures are coming from, well, us.
(Don’t Samuels!)

A lot of progressive bloggers, including some whose work I downright admire, tend to repeat the claim that there is no difference between the overall performance of traditional public schools and charters. They don’t seem to be doing their homework on that. For example, a new study shows that charters are substantially worse than public schools in Chicago. Another study has the same general result for the Twin Cities.
 
Comments below fold.
 
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(We’re still having a problem with comments uploading correctly. I will manually upload any comments on this, so they will appear, sooner or later. – DB)
 
Sarah Lahm’s conspiracy piece about “billionaire and TFA” money flooding in to support Don Samuels in the Minneapolis School Board race went national last week. Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss (a staunch opponent of ed reform) reprinted Lahm’s original piece from “In These Times.”

A few days later, some Minneapolis voters woke up to find Lahm’s article tucked inside their screen doors with this helpful note, “I noticed a Don Samuels lawn sign in your yard. This may be information you need to make a more informed decision.”

Key word here is “informed.”

Which is sort of funny because Lahm’s piece is so loaded with factual errors, omissions and conspiracy theories, I scarcely know where to begin. It mirrors the stuff we progressives roll our eyes about when we hear it coming from Fox News.

Here are four things wrong with her piece:

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The importance of local races

by Eric Ferguson on October 15, 2014 · 5 comments

Before she was in Congress, Michele Bachmann was a state senator, and before that, pertinent to the title of this post, she was on her local school board. The fact I don’t have to explain who she is might demonstrate the importance of that one school board race.

 
It might appear at this point that the importance of local races is stopping crazy people from getting their start in elective office. Not that I’m saying everyone in local elective office is crazy. Just the Republicans. Yes, that’s an overgeneralization. Not all are Bachmann-wannabes. Local offices are, however, the primary bench for candidates for higher office. My impression, which I hope is wrong, is that Republicans are well aware of this while Democrats largely ignore local offices. I mean that in terms of turning out on election day, researching candidates prior to seeing their names on a ballot, and of course in actually running for office. It’s too late to do anything about the last one for 2014, but there’s still time for the first two. We concede these races to Republicans at our peril, as they get to build a bench of people with electoral office while us, not so much.
 
That’s without even thinking about how local officials do their jobs and affect our lives, apart from their future electoral possibilities. They don’t get national media coverage, much, but when they do, it highlights the effect they can have; the school board in Jefferson County, Colorado, for example. Think the Democrats and independents who skipped last year’s election regret it now? Know how often this happens and we never hear about it? Me neither.
 
And just to not overlook the obvious, Ferguson, MO: a mostly black and Democratic city, a mostly white and Republican city council, and really low turnout in local elections. Though not equally low across partisan and demographic groups. Think that might explain some things?
 
Then there’s the effect of the explosion of dark money. We worry about the presidency and Congress being bought, but I’m thinking we saw in 2012 that there’s a limit to how much spending in a presidential race does any good, and I’m skeptical about its benefits beyond a certain point in US Senate races too, but down the ballot is different. It takes little money to swamp a local race. I’m thinking of that referendum in Columbus, Ohio, to raise local taxes to fund the Columbus Zoo. It failed when supporters were surprised and grossly outspent by Koch brothers money, which was used to tell voters their taxes would double when the actual increase was something like 1%. The referendum failed because the Kochs, despite having no connection, just felt ideologically offended and saw a chance to beat a tax increase with a bit of money and a bit of lying, and that was in a big city. Think of the anecdotes you’ve heard of some mayor getting on getting on the bad side of some special interest, and the low spending local race is suddenly hit with massive outside money, like Richmond, CA, where the mayor has $22,000 while his opponent has $1.3 million, courtesy of Chevron:
 

We’re having a hotly contested race the two at-large school board seats in Minneapolis and it’s drawn a little national attention for the fight over, depending on how you view it, expanding charter schools or privatizing public education. It’s again the exception that proves the rule, because what was the last Minneapolis election to get any national media? There was laughter at our 2013 mayoral race because our combination of an open seat and a $20 filing fee drew in 30-something candidates, but otherwise, that’s it for attention. And that’s in a city the size of Minneapolis. The only time I can recall St. Paul’s elections being noticed was when nominally DFL Mayor Randy Kelly endorsed George Bush in 2004, so some national media were watching as he got blown out in 2005. Those are the only instances I know of for cities the size of Minneapolis and St. Paul, so how much can we count on the media telling us about our own local races?
 
The answer is “not much”.
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abandonedschoolFour candidates won the primary in order to run for two at-large seats. Rebecca Gagnon, an incumbent, and Iris Altamirano are DFL-endorsed. Ira Jourdain is another. The other is Don Samuels, who is regarded by many as an ally of the corporate movement that seeks to undermine public schools.
 

In the aftermath of a failed 2013 bid for mayor, former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels is running for a spot on the school board. If he wins, he will undoubtedly be able to thank the extensive financing and canvassing support he’s received from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER), and various people associated with Teach for America, which has been called a “political powerhouse” for its growing influence in policy and politics beyond the classroom.
 
These groups often project an image of grassroots advocacy but are in fact very well-funded, often through the support of extremely wealthy hedge fund managers and large philanthropic foundations. Together, they and like-minded “education reform” proponents have dramatically, but not necessarily democratically, altered how public education works throughout the United States…
 
So what might out-of-state investors hope to gain from helping Don Samuels get on the Minneapolis school board?
 
The answer may lie in the well-documented, billionaire-led push by education reform proponents to privatize the nation’s public school system. This is often accomplished through efforts to expand “school choice” through district and charter school competition, with the accompanying goals of weakening or eliminating both teachers unions and democratically elected school boards. The infamous Koch brother-funded “American Legislative Exchange Council,” or ALEC, has also used its political muscle to push pro-charter bills through state legislatures across the country.
(Sarah Lahm/In These Times)

And here is another must-read article, from Salon: “The great charter school rip-off: Finally, the truth catches up to education “reform” phonies.” Enjoy the great writing and despise the reality presented, all at once.

 
If you’re in Minneapolis and support public schools, don’t go defeatist. Deform candidates have been having their butts electorally handed to them on a regular basis, nationwide. When it even happened in OklahomaOklahoma – you know it’s for real.
 

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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?
 
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Minneapolis has two ballot questions

by Eric Ferguson on September 11, 2014 · 11 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, MNVotes.org. Talk about obscure. Though I guess all readers can now pretend they already knew. Smarty pants.
 

REMOVE MANDATORY FOOD REQUIREMENTS FOR WINE LICENSES
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:
 

FILING FEE FOR CITY ELECTED OFFICES
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.

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LegacyWebHorizontalI’ve long held forth to anyone I could buttonhole, whom I thought I had a reasonable chance of educating, that Minnesota and the Twin Cities are not some frozen hinterland of the continental upper Midwest, but instead offer some of the best arts, dance, theater and music in the country.

 

Usually I’ve had these conversations in airport bars or at trade shows and business seminars. Few people have been inclined to listen much, but that hasn’t dampened my spiritual calling to civic boosterism. I love Minnesota and the Twin Cities, always have, and if you love something you want to let others know.

 

Minnesota is known for a lot of things — our lakes, our sports teams, our universities, our liberal politics — but it’s not generally known as a center of the arts and a major supporter of the arts community. It should be.

 

While not generally known even to native Minnesotans, our state is home to more than 1,500 arts and cultural organizations. Each year, these organizations pump more than $830 million into the local economy. Of that, the creative sector produces some $700 million in revenues with $430 million in consumer retail sales — equal to about 70% of all sports sector revenues combined. The creative sector employs some 20,000 residents in Minneapolis alone, amounting to about 5% of all jobs in the city. The Playwrights’ Center is recognized across the country as unrivaled in the cultivation of new playwrights and their works. There are nearly 100 theater companies in the state with more theater seats per capita than anywhere in the country except New York City. Per capita revenues for theater companies and dinner theaters is 14 times the national average. Overall, the Twin Cities metro area is rated 6th highest in the Creative Vitality Index nationwide.

 

A lot of that artistic energy, innovation and economic vitality is the legacy of the Legacy Amendment, which I consider one of the greatest collective acts of civic philanthropy in our nation’s history and one which will serve as a model to other states once they begin to realize the astounding social, cultural and economic benefits it produces.

 

For those who need some background, in 2008 Minnesotans passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment Act (Legacy Act) to the Minnesota State Constitution. The objectives of that legislation were to protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater; to preserve clean drinking water sources; to protect, enhance and restore wetlands, prairies and forests and renew wildlife habitat; to support parks and trails; and to preserve Minnesota’s arts and cultural heritage. To accomplish those objectives, the Legacy Act called for an increase to the state sales tax of three-eighths of one percent (0.00375%) beginning on July 1, 2009 and continuing through 2034, to be divided into four funds: 33% for a Clean Water Fund; 33% for an Outdoor Heritage Fund; 19.75% for an Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund; and 14.25% for a Parks and Trails Fund. Note that this self-imposed tax was in addition to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) established in 1988. The Legacy Act passed with a 56% majority, even though a blank ballot counted as a “No” vote, proving to the many doubters that Minnesotan’s ongoing love affair with our state’s astonishing natural beauty and priceless water resources meant far more to them than a handful of pocket change.

 

To date, here’s how the Legacy Act funding breaks down (diagram includes ENRTF funding):

 

Legacy Act Funding

 

http://www.legacy.leg.mn/funding-overview

 

Looking just at the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, you can see why Minnesota enjoys such a lively, thriving arts community and creative sector economy: by this year’s end, for just the first five years of the Act, Minnesotans will have invested more than a quarter-billion dollars in our arts community. An investment of that kind of capital in any area of human endeavor is bound to have an enormous impact. In fact, that’s just what we are seeing.

 

In time, Minnesota will become known for more than bone-chilling winters and sky blue waters. We’ll become known as the center of arts and culture in the center of the continent and a magnet for the best and brightest. At the rate things are going, it won’t take long …

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Minnesota primary election liveblog

by Dan Burns on August 12, 2014 · 15 comments

11:10 – Hagedorn will win his race, Whelan romped in Otto-esque fashion in hers, and I’m headed for seven hours or so of the dreamless. Thank you to everyone who stopped by.
 
10:49 – Don’t mean to flip anyone out, Steve Simon will win, but something strange went down in the DFL Secretary of State primary.
 
10:43 – With 75% reporting it looks like Jeff Johnson will be the GOP gubernatorial candidate in November. He’s ahead of Kurt Zellers 30 to 24.5. But it’s a dismal showing for the party’s endorsed candidate.
 
10:10 – About 37,000 votes were cast Since I’m pretty sure one could vote for multiple candidates in the Minneapolis School Board race, I don’t know how many voters actually showed up, and Ira Jourdain beat Doug Mann for the fourth and final spot in November by 50 votes. I don’t know whether Mann can get a recount or not. Also, Applebaum did win 44B, but only by 37 votes over Tony Wagner.
 
10:00 – With almost 50% reporting the GOP governor thing is not over. Johnson 31, Zellers 24, Honour 22, Seifert 20.
 
9:50 – With almost 40% reporting in MN-01 Jim Hagedorn has about a 60-40 lead over the endorsed candidate, Aaron Miller.
 
9:41 – Matt Entenza has conceded the auditor’s race. I’m quite interested, though, to see whether that 70% spread continues to hold. If so, it will be, among a lot of other things, an indicator that the “sulfide mining uber alles!” crowd doesn’t have anything like the political heft that they (and corporate media) claim that they have.
 
9:37 – With all but one precinct reporting Rebecca Gagnon, Don Samuels, and Iris Altamirano will advance to the Minneapolis School Board general. It will be determined when that last precinct reports, whether Ira Jourdain or Doug Mann will as well.
 

9:30 – With almost 30% reporting Johnson is holding steady at about 1/3, with Zellers next at 24% and Honour in the low 20s. Also, it looks like Jon Applebaum will triumph in 44B.
 
9:15 – With all precincts in those districts reporting Phyllis Kahn and Jenifer Loon have won.
 
9:03 – 83-17, with almost 12% in. Jeff Johnson leads the GOP governor race, with almost precisely one-third of the vote.
 
8:21 – Only 1 % reporting, but it may be worth noting that Rebecca Otto is off to an 85%-15% lead.
 
Races of particular interest for me include:
 
– Otto/Entenza
– GOP governor
– Kahn/Noor (DFL60B – Minneapolis)
– An “embarrassment of riches” tripartite DFL primary in the west metro (Wagner/Tollefson/Applebaum – 44B – Minnetonka, etc.)
– Loon/Kihne (R48B – Eden Prairie)
– Minneapolis School Board at-large
– Hagedorn/Miller (R-MN01)
– And, mostly for perverse amusement, a Republican primary in the north metro featuring two real pieces of work, Abby Whelan and Justin Boals (R35A – Anoka, etc.)
 
I usually go to the SoS website for the latest. If that gets balky, as has been known to happen, CBS Minnesota has been prompt and reliable.
 

I’ll be back starting around 8:30, give or take.

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Aerial_photo_of_downtown_Minneapolis(Update: I was wrong about this. School board elections are non-partisan, and both candidates will be on the general ballot in November. There is no primary.)
 
Three Minneapolis school board districts have elections this year. Districts 1 and 3 are uncontested. District 5 has two candidates, and since both are DFLers, next Tuesday’s primary is for the prize. Nelson Inz beat Jay Larson for DFL endorsement, with 73% on the first ballot.
 

Nelson Inz.

 

Inz believes he has an understanding of the issues facing public schools “from being on the ground and in being in the classrooms,” he said, “and being in daily contact with students.” Trained in adolescent Montessori education with an IB in three different disciplines, he currently teaches at Great River Montessori High School, a charter school in Saint Paul. There he has served on the board and has acted as chair of the personnel committee.
 
Because Inz has worked in both public schools and charter schools, he said he believes he understands the ongoing debate between which types of schools are best for students and the state. And in his campaign, he said he wants to highlight student-centered education.
 
With holistic student-centered education, the education needs to be more of a priority than the testing, he said. That doesn’t mean that testing isn’t important, but kids need a mix of tools to keep them engaged in learning, he said. In addition, Inz said he feels that the district needs to focus on lowering class sizes and reducing the reliance on testing and narrowing curriculum. “You have to have some testing, obviously,” he said, “but you can’t base your entire educational philosophy on limited results.”
(TCDP)

Jay Larson.

 

Larson said he’s very supportive of teachers and their unions and that he believes in organizing and giving others a voice. Growing up in the North St. Paul, he said teachers really helped him through his parents’ divorce, and became heroes to him.
 
These days, as a parent, Larson has an impressive track record as a volunteer and organizer. When Larson and his wife, Sara, first moved into District 5, in the far southeastern portion of Minneapolis, Larson said that no one sent their kids to the surrounding public schools. It was just assumed, he said, that the schools in their area, such as Keewaydin and Wenonah, were not any good; instead, many kids in District 5 were going to charter schools or other nearby school districts. There was even talk, Larson added, that Keewaydin Elementary School would soon be closed.
 
But Larson has been committed to sending his own kids to public schools, he said, especially after Wenonah and Keewaydin merged into Lake Nokomis Community School in his neighborhood.
 
He began attending community meetings about the need to expand the Keewaydin building, he said, and was “amazed by other parents’ passion and unwavering support” for Lake Nokomis Community School. This reinforced his idea that “community schools are the backbone of a neighborhood,” he said.
(TCDP)

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