July 2008

Is ‘home delivery’ overrated?

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Among the ever-multiplying assessments of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s strengths and weaknesses astim_pawlenty.jpg a vice presidential hopeful, few neglect to include one element — a sage analysis as to whether Pawlenty could help John McCain carry Minnesota.

Most often the prediction is that he can’t do it — that the state is too Democratic, and Pawlenty’s popularity here too limited, for him to able to deliver. And this lousy chance of moving Minnesota into McCain’s column is often counted as a strike against Pawlenty’s appeal as a running mate.

And yet, Pawlenty still seems in the running. What may be too rarely examined is the assumption that delivering one’s home state often or always ranks high among the things a veep selection is supposed to do. The theory seems to be that presidential candidates very frequently pick number-twos who can help them scratch out a victory in an important battleground state they might otherwise lose.

But does the historical record support the idea that this is how veepsters are actually chosen? Not very convincingly. At least in the modern era, as regional identity has lost some of its voltage, running mates seem more often to have been chosen because of their nationwide reputations, or some other kind of balance they brought to a ticket — ideology, experience, age, gender.

Here’s a quick review of the past 12 elections:

john_edwards.jpg2004: John Kerry picks John Edwards of North Carolina, a state he has no chance of carrying with or without a native son running mate. Indeed, Kerry loses North Carolina by 13 percentage points, the same blowout margin by which Al Gore had lost it four years earlier, without the advantage of a North Carolinian on his ticket.

cheney2000: George W. Bush chooses Dick Cheney of staunchly Republican Wyoming, while Al Gore selects Joe Lieberman of safely Democratic Connecticut. Neither running mate seems to have been picked for the uneeded help he might provide in his home state (to make the electoral votes bounce, perhaps).

1996: Bob Dole taps Jack Kemp, surely without the slightest expectation that the choice would lead to his carrying Kemp’s native New York.gore

1992: Bill Clinton chooses Al Gore of Tennessee, a state Clinton, from neighboring Arkansas, was almost sure to win without assistance.

1988: George H.W. Bush chooses Dan Quayle of Indiana, among the most solidly Republican bastions in the country. Mike Dukakis names Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas…

And here, 20 years ago, is the most recent example of a running mate choice arguably influenced by the hope that the veep choice could make the ticket more competitive in his home state. But it is not a strong argument. With Texan Bush I at the top of the GOP ticket, investing his running mate pick in an effort to win Texas would have been foolhardy for Dukakis (he lost there by 13 points). But, of course, he made many mistakes.

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Pawlenty vs. Bloomberg?

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Earlier this year, there was a good deal of talk that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might run for president as an independent. No thanks, he said.

On Friday, even while Bloomberg was addressing 100 of Minnesota’s finest independents in the Twin Cities, NBC’s Today Show was speculating that he could be Sen. John McCain’s strongest choice to run for vice president on the Republican ticket — more so than even Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has been on most short lists for weeks.

Air America radio talk show host Rachel Maddow, a political analyst for MSNBC, was asked by NBC political correspondent David Gregory which of five possibilities jumped out at her — Pawlenty, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Congressman Rob Portman, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Silence.

“I don’t know,” Maddow finally said. “I don’t think that John McCain has a great choice. … None of these candidates would be a game-changer. Somebody like Michael Bloomberg would be.”

Bloomberg seemed unimpressed when told of the exchange while meeting Friday with editors at the Star Tribune. No one is going to choose him for veep, he said. Besides, he’s already assured New Yorkers that he will finish his mayoral term in 2010.

“I have 526 or 527 days left to go, but who’s counting,” he said.

Bloomberg, who was in town with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to rally support for infrastructure investment, had just come from Pawlenty’s weekly Friday morning radio show on WCCO. Asked whether Pawlenty would strengthen the Republican ticket, Bloomberg said only that “there’s lots of good candidates.”

Rendell, a Democrat who took over from Pawlenty as chairman of the National Governors Association earlier this month, was more encouraging.

“I’ve been impressed by Tim, getting to watch him as the chairman of the NGA, and I worked closely with him. He can be a good coalition builder … [and he's a] very bright guy as well,” Rendell said.

Kline versus the flies (and Sarvi)

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Minnesota Republican John Kline is taking on both the Lobster Institute and the Montana Sheep Institute, not to mention olive fruit fly research in France.

All three are among the 30,000 funding earmarks requested by members of Congress in 2007, and Kline wants to put a stop to it.

StopThePork.com is his latest foray into earmark politics in Congress, where he says there is growing momentum for change. A year ago, he was one of only a dozen members who had sworn off earmarks. Now there are nearly 50, including fellow Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann and at least seven Democrats.

His new anti-pork site, which links into his campaign website, is intended to be a vehicle for a petition that he hopes to present to next year’s Congress — assuming he’s still in it, which most political oddsmakers say is a pretty safe bet right now.

“It’s an issue that will be discussed during this campaign, and not just my campaign,” he said Friday.

Indeed, the campaign of DFL challenger Steve Sarvi says that congressional earmarks sometimes have their uses and takes issue with Kline’s well-publicized decision to swear off earmarks for his south metro district:

“If John Kline thinks safe roads and bridges in Minnesota are equivalent to ‘olive fruit fly research in Paris,’ then he’d better talk to Minnesotans whose lives are being affected, sometimes tragically, by our crumbling infrastructure,” said Sarvi spokeswoman Bridget Cusick.

Kline’s take: “It’s not true that if you don’t take earmarks, there’s no money coming into your district.” He noted that Washington funded $516 million in transportation projects throughout the state this year, and “none of that was from earmarks.”

By earmarks, Kline and other critics generally mean special appropriations written into spending bills by members of Congress, usually for projects in their own districts. (Think Alaska Rep. Don Young’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.”) They often come under fire because the earmarked projects crowd out other funding priorities that go through the “regular” appropriations process.

Sarvi’s camp notes that Kline voted against a Democratic reform package last year that required full disclosure of earmarks. Kline spokesman Troy Young said the Democrats’ bill was “hastily and haphazardly written” and didn’t go far enough toward ending the inequities in the earmark system.

Bachmann never came down to earth at ANWR

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

WASHINGTON — They came, they saw, but they didn’t land.

It turns out that Sunday’s congressional tour of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), including Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, ran into some typical North Slope weather. They had to circle around in the air instead of touching down.

“Fog made it impossible,” said Bruce Woods, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman in Anchorage. “That’s not unusual.”

The 11-member delegation, led by House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, made it to Prudhoe Bay, but had to be content with an aerial tour of ANWR’s foggy coastal plain.

The experience did not douse Bachmann’s enthusiasm for drilling for oil in ANWR, which she laid out in a conference call with Minnesota reporters on Tuesday.

“Oil production and the environmental concerns with the wildlife and keeping the tundra area pure and clean, those are not mutually exclusive, they are very compatible,” Bachmann said.

The group saw the most wildlife, Bachmann said, right at “Mile Marker Zero” in Prudhoe Bay. It was a herd of caribou clustered around a pipeline.

Of the subsequent “two hour visual” of the National Petroleum Reserve and ANWR, she said, “the tundra looks exactly the same. The terrain looks the same.”

Opponents of drilling decried the trip as a sham. “They saw nothing,” said longtime oil industry critic Chuck Hamel. “What a wasted trip.”

But Stephen Miller, Bachmann’s spokesman, said the rough weather conditions bolster the arguments for drilling: “These extreme conditions, present even in the best months of summer, are evidence of the core point members learned firsthand from tours and briefings during the trip: ANWR’s 10-02 (proposed drilling area) coastal region is a remote and desolate site.”

Veep fatigue? Here’s an antidote

Friday, July 18th, 2008

We recently had an illuminating conversation with Joel Goldstein, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law. He is the author of “The Modern American Vice Presidency:The Transformation of a Political Institution” (Princeton University Press 1982) and has written widely on the vice presidency, has consulted on vice presidential selection and is frequently interviewed on the subject. He is currently writing a new book on the vice presidency as it has developed over the past 30 years.

You get the picture. The guy knows the vice presidency.

As the vetting process continues and Minnesota, in particular, remains focused on whether tim_pawlenty.jpgGov. Tim Pawlenty might be named as Republican John McCain’s running mate, Goldstein’s thoughts are worth exploring:

-Republicans tend to operate a little more below the radar screen than the Democrats when it comes to whom and when they vet. Seven people were openly interviewed in 1976 by Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, with a press conference following the interviews. In 1984, Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale invited potential running mates to his home.

-Prospective veep candidates are asked to box up years of tax returns, medical records, and campaign reports.

-In 1984, then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who was Mondale’s first choice for running mate, and her husband had a complicated financial picture. Toward the end, the Mondale campaign switched and vetted Geraldine Ferraro and her husband. Ironically, questions about Ferraro’s husband’s real estate dealings dogged her throughout the campaign.

-In 1992, Al Gore pulled together reams of documents and sent them to Bill Clinton’s people. Gore met Clinton’s people in Washington and Nashville.

-If the McCain people are really interested in Pawlenty, at some point they will want to talk to his accountant. They’d also want to know if there are any health issues. In Mondale’s case, operatives for Carter actually talked to Mondale’s doctor because Mondale was taking medication for high blood pressure.

-With a senator or U.S. representative, you are likely to look at voting records. With a governor you are more likely to look at things that have gone wrong. In Pawlenty’s case, that might include the I-35W bridge disaster. These are “potential Willie Horton issues,” as Goldstein called them.

-Timing will be interesting, particularly since the Republican National Convention will be held after the Democrats convene; second, since both conventions will be relatively late; and because the Summer Olympics in China will be occupying much of the public’s attention

“From McCain’s standpoint,” said Goldstein, “he’s got so many different directions that he could go in, so many different needs to address. Does he need to make a play for the base? If [Democratic candidate Barack] Obama picks somebody and it looks like the women’s vote isn’t coming around to him, does McCain think about a demographic play? Does he try and emphasize the fact that he’s a maverick? Does he try and emphasize the fact that he’s a conservative? I don’t see that there is any one person out there that is that much more of a compelling pick than anyone else.”

-Excluding incumbent veeps who were asked to run again (Mondale, Bush, Quayle, Gore, Cheney), the earliest a nominee picked a running mate was when John Kerry picked John Edwards 20 days before the 2004 Democratic convention.

-Governors aren’t often picked as running mates these days. In the past 60 years, Maryland’s Spiro Agnew (Richard Nixon) and California’s Earl Warren (Thomas Dewey) have been the only two governors chosen to run as vice president.

“It’s usually people who have some sort of plausible presidential background,” said Goldstein. “If they ask him who is the prime minister of Portugal is he going to know?”

The answer, of course, is Jose Socrates.

Uldrich ad

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

U.S. Senate candidate Jack Uldrich unveiled his first campaign ad on his website today, called “Reverse Your Thinking.”

It’s long, but if you’re interested in how words are used, stay with it through the end. It is a take off of a video on YouTube called Lost Generation.

The dilemma of Mark Olson

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

In announcing that he would not seek re-election, eight-term Big Lake Republican Mark Olson had some interesting olson.jpgthings to say about the impact a domestic assault conviction had on his decision. Contrary to what might be conventional wisdom with that sort of cloud hanging over your head, Olson said the experience almost convinced him that he needed to run again. How that would have played in his Sherburne County district, especially with former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer the endorsed Republican candidate, is now the great hypothetical.

As usual, Olson did not fail to confound when he was asked about his court case and his political career:

I don’t want to use my case because my case has been exploited enough. I wanted people to understand that being poltically afraid of something because it’s not popular is very problematic for good policy. In all the years I’ve been here there’s no a single area that comes close to the area of family law for how serious the problems are, how destructive the outcomes can be, how destructive the government’s response to the problem can be and how oppressive it is to the people. That is the very hardest part about my saying no. I feel like I’m betraying every person who has contacted me. I feel like I was letting them down because this was a great opportnuty to change policy for the good for families. I found absolutely nothing positive about this system about responding to these situations.

If money talks… does Pawlenty run?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

If raising money is a qualification for the vice presidency, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty may have has helped his chances by collecting more than $500,000 for Ariz. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

Pawlenty, an early supporter and national co-chairman for McCain’s campaign, is the only governor often mentioned as a potential VP pick who shows up in the ranks of top McCain “bundlers” — that is, those listed as having raised more than a half-million dollars.

The list, updated Tuesday on McCain’s website, was welcomed by the Center for Responsive Politics and other campaign watchdog groups, who have pressed both McCain and Democrat Barack Obama to make their online rosters of big donors more transparent.

The $500,000-plus category is a new one for the McCain camp. It used to max out at $100,000-plus. Obama’s top bundler tier maxes out at $200,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which is holding out for a $1 million-plus disclosure category.

Another top prospect in the GOP veepstakes is former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina, who is listed in the $100,000-250,000 range. Another name is significant for its absence among top McCain bundlers: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is on many pundits’ short-lists of potential McCain running mates.

We’re awaiting word from the mullet people

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

One of the most interesting reactions to former Gov. Jesse Ventura’s decision not to run for the Senate came last night from something called the American Mustache Institute, apparently (according to its website) a group of mustachioed fellows based in St. Louis. It holds an annual ‘Stache Bash to raise awareness of mustache discrimination and “support mustached Americans,” as well as raise money for a baseball league for disabled kids.

Anyway, AMI executive director Aaron Perlut expressed keen disappointment that Jesse won’t be on the campaign trail this year.

“As a former mustached American who has acted in such Oscar-worthy scripted dramas as Predator, Conan the Barbarian and the World Wide Wrestling Federation,” Perlut said, “we were strongly inclined to favor his candidacy, especially in a race against a comedian and Norm Coleman, who was apparently named for a character on ‘Cheers.’ ”

But Perlut said they would not have endorsed him “until he grew back his delicious mustache.” Lest we forget, Jesse’s mustache was part of the classic look he adopted as governor from 1999 to 2003, along with his shaved head, and is on display in his official state portrait at the State Capitol. His latest look, long black hair sans mustache, reminds one more of Benjamin Franklin, as one of my colleagues notes today in her column.

The AMI is inviting Jesse to discuss with them an Equal Rights Amendment for mustached Americans and a federal holiday for Burt Reynolds’ birthday — probably over Buds somewhere in the Gateway City, I’m guessing.

The 99-page solution

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Last Sunday, Star Tribune colleague Pat Doyle and I documented how Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office has deleted a large number of its inner offce communications and has been less forthcoming in providing documents to the Minnesota Historical Society for archival purposes than his predecessor.

In reporting the story, I was confronted by the Pawlenty administration’s position on providing public records through the state’s Data Practices Act. I asked to review e-mails from Chief of Staff Matt Kramer and Deputy Chief of Staff Bob Schroeder. After looking at the e-mails, I asked the office to copy 115 documents. I agreed to pay the costs. In a previous request, I had 66 copies made and the bill came to $16.50. The cost when the copying was done for my latest request: a whopping $299.43.

Why the substantial increase? The office cited a portion of state law (13.03 sub 3.C) that allows a government agency to charge actual costs if more than 100 pages are requested. If 100 or fewer pages are requested, they are limited to charging $.25 per page. To be clear, it gives the government agency THE DISCRETION to charge the higher fee. Given the choice, Pawlenty’s office let the meter run, all because of 16 extra pages. For five hours work, the governor’s office charged $294.83 in employee search and copying time (at $53.64 an hour and $26.63 respectively).

Perhaps no one cares if Pawlenty’s office charges the Star Tribune the most it can to provide public records. But these are your public records. It may be more unusual for regular citizens to seek information from their government than newspaper reporters snooping around, but it is no less a fundamental right for you to be able to monitor how your government works … or doesn’t work … and not to be charged exorbitantly for it. In today’s electronic age, in which e-mails can be recovered with the simple push of a button, it shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to retrieve documents.

Public access advocate Rich Neumeister, who follows these things closer than any citizen should, has some basic advice for anyone caught in the price war for Minnesota public records: only request 99 copies or buy yourself an inexpensive scanner. The government cannot charge you for making your own copies.

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