The Minnesota Capitol Dome | Steve Timmer photograph
by Steve Timmer
Oct 18, 2016, 12:30 PM

Mourning opportunities lost, a reprise

Below the bubbles is a story I wrote in the wake of the 2014 elections and the DFL’s loss of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

One of the things I predicted — although it wasn’t that hard — was this:

My friends, you can look forward another [2016] election cycle just like the last [2014] one, only worse, and I thank the DFL Caucuses in the Legislature, especially the leadership, for it. Good job.

And it has certainly come to pass. In a follow up story (there were four in total), I wrote this:

But this [failure to pass electioneering and disclosure legislation with the resulting flood of dark money] is why it is a mistake to fail to pay attention to political systemic issues. While everyone was out counting coup on issues like gay marriage, the bullying bill, unionization of health care workers, etc. — all important things — neglecting the political system itself contributed to a loss of the House. If a few close races had gone the other way, it might not have happened.

And if the legislation had passed, my friends, we’d have a much better handle on who was spending all the money to influence voters. As it stands, outside money is outspending the candidates themselves by an order of magnitude in some swing districts.

This is nuts. If the DFL manages to control both bodies in the legislature after the election, the battle for leadership ought to include some close questioning on the issue of organizing the bodies to get electioneering and disclosure legislation passed.

– o O o –

I refer to opportunities lost during the DFL’s Golden Age, that is, the last two legislative sessions [’13 and ’14]. Opportunities that if seized would have improved the political environment considerably, but now are gone, and probably gone for a long time.

Gee, I sound bitter.

One big opportunity lost was a chance to pass a bill like SF1915 or HF1944, the “electioneering and disclosure” bills. Bills with these provisions came up in 2013 and 2014; in 2013, these provisions died in a “conference committee” that lasted maybe ten minutes and was obviously a done deal before the committee met. I know; I sat there with a half dozen other people in slack-jawed awe while a preprinted “conference report” (read: backroom deal) was handed out.

In 2014, the bills didn’t even make it to the floor of either chamber.

Before proceeding further, I should discuss what these bills would have done.

All of you are undoubtedly mindful of the odious and odiferous offal of “independent expenditure” groups like the Minnesota Jobs Coalition and the Minnesota Action Network in the recent election. Like the turd laid in House District 12A, an ostensibly “educational ” piece about incumbent DFLer Jay McNamar. The Minnesota Action Network, a canker affixed to Minnesota’s hide by the cankerous Norm Coleman, cried piteously about a vote by McNamar on a bonding bill that included the new Senate office building. A Taj Mahal! bleats the piece.

It played into the theme of the campaign for the Republicans, poking the sense of grievance and resentment of rural Minnesotans. We’d fix the roads and bridges, intimates the piece, even though it’s the Republicans, including the former governor, Governor Tim “Gutshot” Pawlenty, who have always stood in the way of better transportation funding. Fuel taxes fund transportation (mostly), not the bonding bill.

It was an amazing piece of lizardry, but by many accounts it worked.

Jay was defeated, and Norm the Canker is undoubtedly counting coup.

But it really wasn’t Norm, who, let’s be honest, is kind of a high plains drifter on his own, the kind of a guy who would let other people dress him.

It was really all the anonymous money that paid the Minnesota Action Network to produce hit pieces like this around the state. Well, who, for instance? Well, we don’t know, do we?

But wouldn’t you like to know? I know I would. There are the usual suspects, including some who don’t really care about Taj Mahals, but who do care about things like restricting reproductive freedom, or keeping their gun sales or purchases secret, even when those transactions put guns into the hands of felons, gangs, domestic abusers, and just garden variety crooks.

The flood of unaccountable money was loosed, as you know, by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. But lost in the discussion about how political spending was a form of protected free speech by corporations and unions is, that among the grounds defending the ruling, the fact that disclosure of donors would make it all transparent.

Haha; the joke’s on you, my friends.

Wouldn’t you like to know if the people behind the the four-page, full-color hit lit piece on Jay McNamar, accusing him of building the Taj Mahal, was paid for by the MCCL or the NRA?

The majority in Citizens United assumed — without really believing, naturally — that would be the case.

Better rules on electioneering and disclosure wouldn’t prohibit this stuff, but it would direct some sunshine on who’s responsible for it, and that might mean there would be a little less of it; it might cause it to be truthed up a little, and the source might be material to some voters, at least at the margin.

That’s where elections are won or lost, at the margin.

Before the beginning of the of the 2014 legislative session, I went to a program about Citizens United and its fallout at the Humphrey Institute. One of the questions on everybody’s lips was: Will the Legislature pass electioneering and disclosure legislation this year?

Then DFL House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said, “It will take some heavy lifting.” I thought to myself at the time, You aren’t going to do it, are you?

It doesn’t seem as though they really even tried. This was a major failure to keep an eye on the ball.

Some might say that failure to enact electioneering and disclosure legislation — to at least bring it to the floor and make everybody vote on the record — contributed to the loss of control of the House by the DFL. Include me in the “some.” Well, me and the Republican activists that Michael Brodkorb refers to.

But you say, there’s still a chance! A new legislature might do it! Sure. And Dave Senjem might run a four minute mile. (He is getting in shape, though, so good for him.)

Remember that pro forma conference committee meeting I described earlier? Do you know who was one of the Republican conference members? Kurt Daudt. The new Speaker of the House.

And do you know who Daudt appointed to the top Republican Caucus job in the House? Ben Golnik. It was clearly a reward for all the crap ladled on DFL candidates by the Minnesota Jobs Coalition.

My friends, you can look forward another election cycle just like the last one, only worse, and I thank the DFL Caucuses in the Legislature, especially the leadership, for it. Good job.

I had another issue in mind, but it will have to keep until next time.

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