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Klansmen marching in Georgia in 1948 (
by Steve Timmer
Oct 31, 2017, 11:30 AM

Longing for the days of Jim Crow

Virtually all of you are aware of the expensive piece of thinly-veiled dog-whistle racist electioneering in the Edina school board election perpetrated by Katherine Kersten and the Center of the American Experiment. Some of you may even be aware that I wrote about it some time ago.

Let me first observe that the Kersten piece and the CAE mailing of it throughout Edina are good examples of the consequences of the destruction of campaign finance and practices law and the emboldened rhetoric encouraged in the age of Trump.

There were a couple of Edina high school students who did a great job of responding to Kersten: Charles Heineke and Tanner Jones. They are both terrific writers who also have the advantage of being eyewitnesses.

I wrote a letter to the Edina Sun Current newspaper on this subject that appeared in the October 19th edition. Here it is:

Katherine Kersten’s article in the Center of the American Experiment’s “magazine” that was carpet bombed in Edina has received much comment, most of it negative. Estimates of the cost of producing and mailing the piece are upward of $60,000, tens of thousands, anyway. All to influence a nonpartisan school board race. Make no mistake: That is what it was intended to do.

This electioneering effort was kicked off by a briefing to SD49 Republicans by the CAE’s president, John Hinkeraker. The CAE, in turn, receives major funding from the Brothers Koch, according to Source Watch.

And according to the Sun Current’s reporting, there are three candidates for the school board, featured on the SD49GOP website (and only the three of them), who were also in attendance at the briefing and offered their own remarks: Owen Michaelson, Chad Bell, and Faisal Deri. The Republicans say they aren’t “endorsed,” but that’s parsing it a little; they clearly have the imprimatur of the SD49GOP, well, and the Koch brothers, too. And by being on a page of the SD49GOP website they have received material resources from it.

These three candidates also coordinated with a (theoretically) independent organization. None of them disclosed the relationship.

Whatever your politics, if you believe the words “local” and “nonpartisan” have any meaning, you will reject Michaelson, Bell, and Deri out of hand as unworthy of local and nonpartisan support.

Now is as good a time as any to tell the CAE and its national funders – or any other national groups that want to stick their noses into our affairs – to just butt out, and take their lackeys with them.

The following week, the paper published a remarkable reply from fellow Edinan Mike Ebnet. Here is that letter:

Last week, Steve Timmer criticized Katherine Kersten’s article decrying partisanship in Edina public schools. This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Timmer is a DFL partisan and writes for LeftMN.

Timmer’s criticism includes, “If you believe the words ‘local’ and ‘nonpartisan’ have any meaning, you will reject Michaelson, Bell, and Deri out of hand.” Apparently those three may believe Kersten is right.

Do you think Timmer would have criticized the U.S. Supreme Court when it told the Board of Education of Topeka that separate schools for blacks and white was unconstitutional? Or if Timmer would have criticized President Eisenhower for sending in troops to override local control of Little Rock Central High School? I think Timmer only wields the “local” argument when it is convenient to him. Doesn’t build a lot of trust in what else he says, does it?

What is most telling is that Timmer’s criticism of Kersten’s article centers on anything but her assertions. In lieu of any information to the contrary, I would have to believe he has no evidence to refute Kersten’s account of partisanship in Edina schools and that the partisanship exhibited by teachers is lowering academic results and bullying students.

Whatever your politics, tell Timmer to just butt out if he doesn’t have any evidence. We don’t need his partisan ad hominems.

Ebnet finds equivalence in the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education and President Eisenhower’s intervention to desegregate the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the one hand, and the heroic efforts of Kersten and the CAE to throw a school board election in Edina, on the other. Really, I could not believe it.

I wrote a letter to the Sun Current and asked for a rebuttal. I prepared one and sent it to the paper. In acknowledging the request for a rebuttal, the Sun Current said, Well, we received some pushback from your first letter. I wrote back and said, Jeepers, I hope Mr. Ebnet was not the best pushback you got.

I had a vision of conservatives across Edina hunched over their computers in darkened rooms, with a tall glass of bile over ice at their elbows, staring in incoherent rage at screens that looked like this:

To the Editor:_

Yeah, maybe this was the best one.

After deliberation, the Sun Current told me that my letter wasn’t really a rebuttal and that it was “unable” to publish the letter. The Sun Current is able, naturally, to publish the letter; it just doesn’t want to. I could have argued uselessly about the meaning of the word “rebuttal” but I just decided to write this story instead. Here’s the rebuttal letter I sent to the Sun Current that it won’t publish:

In a response to my letter in the Sun Current on October 19th, Mike Ebnet wrote in the October 26th issue objecting to my complaint about the obvious electioneering in the school board race by Katherine Kersten, the Center of the American Experiment and its funders, the Brothers Koch.

Mr. Ebnet says that he supposes I was okay with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. That was outside interference with a local school board, wasn’t it? he asks. I imagine that he intended it as a rhetorical question, but I am going to answer it. The vision of the CAE as the NAACP and Katherine Kersten as Thurgood Marshall (who argued the case as the NAACP’s lawyer) is too delicious to resist.

It’s a terrible analogy, naturally. Of course I am okay with Brown, and for Mr. Ebnet to use it in the present context leaves me with a lot of unprintable words. Suffice it to say it was really tone deaf.

There is a substantial difference between the courts enforcing the 14th Amendment which applies to government institutions at all levels everywhere in the United States, on the one hand, and dog-whistle electioneering by private groups, on the other.

I am sorry that Mr. Ebnet doesn’t see the difference.

He also accuses me of “lacking evidence.” I didn’t write Ms. Kersten’s article. What was lacking in proof was Ms. Kersten’s claim that the district’s All for All program resulted in lower academic performance. She even admitted as much in an article published in the Sun Current on October 12th. It is not incumbent on me to prove the negative.

I stand by what I wrote, and I think it rings even more true after Mr. Ebnet’s letter.

But I will elaborate a little since I am one of the owners of the real estate here.

Ebnet’s letter attempts to turn civil rights law on its head. There is no functional difference between Klansmen terrorizing African Americans to keep them from registering to vote and Ebnet’s defense of another private group’s systematic bullying of a school district to abandon its “All for All” equity and diversity programs.

I recently read an article at a website called The Undefeated. (I was pointed to it by a Facebook friend, Pia “Teach” Shannon.) It was about a book event in Washington, D.C. featuring Ibram Kendi, the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and a professor at the American University in Washington. One of his observations is that:

“racial progress is always followed by new and more sophisticated racist progress”


The adoption of diversity and equity programs such as”All for All” is met by the backlash of Kersten’s “A is for Activist.” There really is nothing new under the sun. This is fearmongering — Tanner Jones pegged it — racism by telling residents their children’s academic future is threatened by “coddling the blacks.” Katherine Kersten didn’t use those words, but that’s what she meant.

In his letter, Mike Ebnet says, ” Apparently those three [Republican supported candidates] may believe Kersten is right.” I am sure they do, Mike; that’s why they showed up at the CAE “briefing” in late September and spoke, along with the CAE’s president, John Hinderaker.

That’s also why they have no business on the school board.

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