LeftMN is Minnesota’s freshest political news site focusing on state-level politics and covering the news with a decidedly liberal bias. Early this year I was approached by friend and activist Tony Petrangelo to help him design and develop a news site where he could house all his poll analysis, as well as include editorials, video and audio produced by himself and fellow bloggers Steve Timmer and Aaron Klemz. Since the launch in May, the site has grown to include additional bloggers as well as a weekly podcast and radio show that airs on AM950. If you enjoy good political analysis and journalism as well as the occasional scathing editorial skewering right-wing public figures, check out LeftMN.
When I first heard that Jeff Wilfahrt was running for the Minnesota State House of Representatives, I knew I had to get involved in his campaign. I had seen Jeff give a moving speech at OutFront Lobby Day, remembering his son, a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan and who just so happened to be gay. Jeff gave a tearful speech against the anti-gay marriage amendment, about how his son fought and died for a country and state he loved, and how the best way we could honor his memory is to reject a message that his love wasn’t good enough. Jeff and his wife, Lori, are amazing people, and I’m honored to be working with them. Check out Jeff’s site (archived), and please chip in a few bucks or volunteer some time for his campaign.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m working for a few progressive campaigns around Minnesota. One that I just pushed live is for Marcus Harcus, a progressive activist in North Minneapolis. Marcus is a smart politician with great policy ideas and a lot of youthful energy. Plus, he’s just an overall nice guy and family man. This campaign is important to me not just because Marcus is a good friend, but because he’s running to be my representative, and I think he’d reflect my values well. He is the face of the changing Northside. Good luck, Marcus!
I’m currently building sites for a few progressive campaigns, and I’m happy to announce the launch of the first of these. I recently did a little identity freshening for the Joe Bodell for Minnetonka City Council campaign site. Joe is a strong progressive who is maybe best known as one of the founders of the Minnesota Progressive Project. I got introduced to Joe and his campaign via Tony Petrangelo, another MN Progressive Project contributor and fellow web developer, who suggested Joe’s site could use some work. Check out the result of my handiwork at joebodell.com.
I was reading Ian Welsh, a Canadian political blogger, and his slam on the American left’s assessment of the Greece economic situation, when I ran across two paragraphs from his post that I found so brilliantly succinct that I just had to pull quotes:
Westerners thought that they could have consumer democracy: they didn’t have to participate in it except at election time, when they would vote for parties and platforms paid for and produced by someone other than them. Coke(tm)/Pepsi(tm) politics – you have a choice, you can choose either Coke or Pepsi! Politicians aren’t paid by you (their salaries are the least part of their real income) why would you think they care about your concerns?
You don’t pay for politicians or politics. This is the Facebook rule: if you don’t pay the freight, you aren’t the customer, you are the product. Politicians compete for the money and favors of the rich, and what they sell is the ability to wrangle you: to pass the austerity bills, to cut the benefits, to privatize the jewels of the public system, to force through the multi-trillion dollar bailouts. They control government for the benefit of the rich.
(emphasis by me)
So many people want politicians to be making less money, to relinquish the public salary they’re provided with. This might make sense, given the vast, vast wealth of our current political class, but it’s extremely short sighted. If we want politicians to answer to our demands, then they need to share our concerns and problems. They need to be part of the middle class. Which means they need a comfortable middle class salary, and a comfortable pension when they’re done serving (so they don’t start pandering to future possible employers while in office, deciding policy based on personal gain). It’s really quite common sense, when you think about it from the standpoint of rewards and motivations.
Despite my long-running interest in politics, yesterday was my very first time phone banking. I worked with the DFL House Caucus doing some simple polling around the state, and it was quite a rewarding experience. The other volunteers were quite friendly, and I learned a lot simply by listening to them.
I can understand people’s hesitation to do volunteer work like phone banking or door knocking. It can be intimidating to have that direct contact with strangers, especially when you’re feeling like you’re intruding on those precious few moments they have to relax and spend time with their families. And it’s true, you are being an intrusion. But, based on my experiences last night, simply acknowledging that can make a difference. I didn’t run into any particularly hostile people, but I did bump up against a few very convicted conservatives and people who just didn’t want to talk. In those cases, I simply apologized for bothering them, said thanks for their time, and ended the call. You let it roll off your back, and instead take pleasure in the couple of people you get through to who already support what you’re doing, or, in those rare instances, discover for the first time that they support what you’re doing. A job like this is partially about voter persuasion, and it’s good to keep that in mind. I often imagined I was explaining the issues to a good friend, and tried to keep the conversation chatty when the person on the other line seemed encouraging of it.
I’ve been reading Get Out The Vote by Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber, and there are some experiments documented in that book that really influenced my thinking about how to run a voter contact campaign. For example, volunteer phone banks are often more successful than commercial/professional phone banks, but only if you have volunteers who are enthused about the campaign and willing to engage with the people they’re contacting. The script actually matters little; it seems that making the contacts feel like their opinion is important and that someone is listening is what really matters. Additionally, good volunteer phone bankers can create one vote out of every 20 completed calls, which is among the best conversion rates of all the various voter contact methods tested (such as leaflet drops, TV ads, election day festivals, etc), not to mention it is perhaps the cheapest and most efficient. And, from my perspective, quite a good use of a Tuesday night.
I earlier said that GOP Presidential-hopeful Jon Huntsman was a moderate Republican. I was mistaken, as the recent outline of his jobs plan reveals. This is the basic economic wish list of any GOP member right now. When even the supposed moderates back a plan like this (not to mention the “no tax increases even with ten times the cuts” pledge every candidate made during the last debate), then you know the party has been taken over by the extremists. Though I am unlikely to ever vote for a Republican, the country is best served when both parties have members who act like grown-ups and don’t seem intent on undoing the 20th century.
This year, one out of every four South Dakota students will go to school only 4 days a week due to budget constraints. It looks like the evidence both for and against shorter school weeks is pretty slim, but it strikes me as a move in the wrong direction. Ignoring the relationship between class time and educational outcomes, my secondary concern is how this impacts working families. As the parent of a school age child, I am (along with my wife and my daughter’s mother) constantly negotiating daycare, play dates and extracurricular enrichment activities. In addition to the fact that I can afford those opportunities for her, I’m lucky to have a flexible-enough work schedule that I can cover for days my daughter has off of school (or is too sick to go to daycare). I’m guessing many school districts facing budget constraints are not in particularly wealthy neighborhoods, so the families most impacted by the dedicated childcare time school days provide will be the ones to be hardest hit. Yes, we must think of the children when we make decisions like this, but we must also think about the families and communities that are affected when we force the creation of an entire generation of under-educated latchkey kids.
Ever since I learned about his appointment as Ambassador to China, I’ve kept my eye on former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. First of all, consider that Utah is perhaps the most red state in the country, electing very, very few Democrats. Because of this, the population and the party make allowances for that rarest of beasts: the moderate Republican, which Huntsman clearly is. Secondly, he seems adept at playing both sides in his own bid for the White House. By serving in the Obama administration, he can claim heir to Obama’s policies if they’re successful. By running against Obama this year and next, he can lay the groundwork for a national campaign now while arguing against Obama and the Dems and building up his GOP-bonafides. He’s a shrewd guy, and if Obama wins in 2012, I think Huntsman stands a good shot going into 2016. As Andrew Sullivan says, he’s the Obama of the right.
Chip Cravaack is a first term Congressman representing Duluth and the northern metro. Because he is in his first term he should be interested in making a good impression with his constituents in order to help ensure his re-election. It’s curious to me that he would, then, 1) refuse to hold town hall meetings in the largest city in his district; 2) charge residents $10 for the opportunity to meet him and discuss issues important to their lives and the district; and 3) move his family out of the district to live in a different state (New Hampshire, to be specific). While items 1 and 3 are an insult to the people he was elected to represent, it’s the second item that’s particularly worrisome to me. Town hall meetings are often not pleasant, but they’re a good way to gauge the mood of your district. Pay-to-play is not a sustainable model of representative democracy. We clearly have enough purchased influence in Washington; there’s no reason to bring that back home.