The lobbyist scrum (
by Steve Timmer
Jun 20, 2015, 3:30 PM

Aaron Brown is at the end of his rope

Aaron Brown, the Range Raconteur, has been required reading for anybody who is interested in an insider’s view of the Iron Range, one that differs from the fried tripe you get from, say, Bill Hanna.

Reading Aaron’s reactions to the increasingly grisly political news emanating from the Iron Range has been especially interesting. His discomfort with political events on the Range, and in the Minnesota Senate, which are mostly the same thing, has been evident, starting with the news that Sen. David Tomassoni was going for the hat trick in simultaneous political jobs: legislator, member of the IRRRB (which doesn’t pay an extra salary, but does pay per diems and expenses), and adding the Executive Director of RAMS, which does pay a salary. Adding graft to simple patronage and corruption. That’s a double hat trick, I suppose.

Remarkably, the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board gave him a pass on that one, but Tomassoni decided not to take the position, after all. Maybe he finally got around to reading Article IV, Section 5 of the Minnesota Constitution. (Article IV, Section 5 is perhaps not part of the CFB’s brief.)

Aaron commented on some of the other news coming out of the Strib’s reporting by Jennifer Bjorhus about the Range and the IRRRB, too: the funding of a political call center (and losing a bunch of money on it, too), the continuing thirty-year bleeding of the IRRRB-owned Giants Ridge ski resort, and increased scrutiny by the Legislative Auditor.

The Strib’s latest report about one of the Range’s magic lobbyists, though, seems like an important milestone the evolution of Aaron’s thinking and writing about the IRRRB and Range legislating and lobbying. He really aired it out on Minnesota Brown:

What follows are my thoughts and, believe me, they are *not* based on this story alone. In fact, the story is just a trigger. Further, what follows is not based on some personal vendetta against Cerkvenik, the Range DFL or any particular person. In fact, there are a handful of other lobbyists like Cerkvenik not mentioned in the story. I view the whole cast of characters around here as products of a situation. And yes, I’ve worked with the Iron Range DFL in the past and one of my best friends is a state lawmaker from the Iron Range, so I’ve seen the checks whirl about and, earlier in my career, said nothing. But as I wrote during the conflict of interest controversy surrounding State Sen. David Tomassoni earlier this year, Cerkvenik is an example of what I’ve dubbed the “consultant class” on the Iron Range, something that’s limiting progress in the place I and so many others love. Maybe it’s like this other places, but it seems uniquely pronounced here on the Iron Range.

Today, I’m adding a new term: “The Lobbying Cycle.” This cycle has dominated the last 30 years of economic development on the Iron Range and I argue that it is inefficient, ineffective, and propagating a culture of mediocre leadership in our region.

The reason for this is, at least in part, the revered Taconite Amendment and the 1995 power grab by Range legislators for the IRRRB.

You do owe it to yourself to read Aaron’s entire article. And also be sure to read the comments. A flak (a Californian, no less) for Silicon Energy, the company that benefited so handsomely from the magic lobbying and the largess of the IRRRB, while performing so poorly, had the gall — not to mention the poor judgment — to accuse Aaron of disloyalty to the Range. And in a magnificent, measured comment in response, Aaron let him have it.

Adding my own two cents here, it seems that there are two things that have to happen to make headway in draining this Dismal Swamp of governance. The first is changing the leadership of the DFL Caucus in the Minnesota Senate. It looks like there are enough senators to do that, if they summon the courage.

The second thing is to get the Range legislators off the IRRRB and out of an executive agency. That may require the intervention of a public interest law firm to raise the serious Separation of Powers violation that the IRRRB causes.


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